Beaune in the heart of Burgundy

September 29, 2011

Not all wine regions have a clear focal point, but in Burgundy, there is no doubt that all roads lead to Beaune, the historic capital of the region and today a vibrant small town devoted to wine and gastronomy. Buzzing under the summer sun, or silent under winter snows, at any season for many wine lovers Beaune has become a place of pilgrimage.

Produce market at Beaune, Burgundy

The food market in Beaune is a food lover's paradise ©Wink Lorch

There are two places I have always made my own pilgrimage to when visiting Beaune: the Hospices de Beaune has been in existence for over 550 years, and is correctly named l’Hôtel Dieu; and right opposite, Athenaeum, a quite amazing wine book shop, founded just 21 years ago, in 1989. On my last visit in December with World Wine Tour 2010 I was finally able to add a third legend to the list, Ma Cuisine, a tucked-away restaurant that is only open on four days a week, and requires booking well in advance.

Les Hospices de Beaune – a hospital for the poor
Wine lovers know the Hospices de Beaune in particular for its famous wine auction held each November. The auction sells the barrels of the latest vintage of wines from some of the Burgundy wine region’s best-known Grand and Premier Cru vineyards, which many years ago were donated to the Hospices to fund its good works.

The buildings of the Hospices, built in 1452 using Flemish-inspired architecture as a hospital for the poor, are stunningly beautiful with their distinctive and colourful tiled roofs, but venture inside and you discover a sense of peace, humility, history and unexpected treasures too. The buildings were used as a general hospital until 1971 and for the past 40 years have been a much admired tourist attraction, well worth a visit.

Hospices de Beaune kitchen

Invalid's rabbit stew - classic Burgundian cuisine ©Wink Lorch

It is so atmospheric walking through from the inner courtyard into the main hall lined with beautiful dark wood bed ‘stalls’ where the poor and sick were cared for. A mock up kitchen makes you believe they were well fed, and the beautiful pharmacy gives a hint of the sort of potions they were given to make them better.

The original funding for the beautiful Hopsices buildings and indeed the amazing furniture and works of art, came from Nicolas Rolin, chancellor for the Dukes of Burgundy, who decided to assuage his guilt of living a profligate life, by using some of his wealth in this way. The works of art in the Hospices have been regularly added to by legacies and donations and there are some wonderful pieces, including amazingly intricate tapestries.

If you can’t get there soon, then for a closer look at the Hospices take a look at the series of videos (in French) from the regional online magazine Bourgogne Live:

Making the most of Beaune’s gastronomic delights
The choice of restaurants in Beaune is large, and it definitely pays to plan in advance to make sure you eat at somewhere authentic, rather than at one of the overtly tourist restaurants that you will stumble across once you are in the town. Our Côte de Beaune guide includes four restaurants in Beaune itself, and one that had been recommended to me countless times by not only our writers, but by wine producers and UK Burgundy importers is Ma Cuisine.

Beaune Premier Cru 2006

When in Beaune ... ©Brett Jones

Having eaten at many restaurants in Beaune over the years, when I ate at Ma Cuisine, I realized what I had been missing. Small and simple, tucked along a quiet road just inside the old town walls, the emphasis here is on simple, tasty local food, designed to show off your choice of wine from the massive list. If you have money to spend and love Burgundy, you will have a hard time choosing the wine, but help is at hand, and even if you are on a relatively meagre budget, there is a Burgundy wine for everyone here. You simply have to go, but make sure you phone ahead and choose the right day. If Ma Cuisine is closed or full, then another original choice we have enjoyed recently is Le Comptoir des Tontons, with a delightfully laid-back atmosphere, good local, mainly organic food and a decent selection of Burgundy wines at fair prices.

Wine books and gifts galore
It’s best to put aside a good hour for a browse around the wonderful Athenaeum shop right opposite the Hospices and open all day every day, even through lunchtime and on Sundays. Athenaeum started life as a specialist wine book shop; today, much extended, it offers an unrivalled selection of wine books in French, English and other languages, not just covering Burgundy, but the world. As well as a very good French wine map section, the wine accessory department ranges from serious wine glasses and decanters, to greetings cards and a plethora of items you never knew you wanted. There is a fair kitchen department too and last year, I did my Christmas shopping there.

Pernand Vergelesses, Burgundy wine village

Pernand-Vergelesses, just outside Beaune ©Brett Jones

I’m taking it as read that you are unlikely, as a wine lover, to visit Beaune without setting aside some time to taste wine. Apart from Athenaeum that has a fine selection of wines, there are several decent wine shops in the town listed on our guide, and these are the places to go to buy old vintages. Even if Beaune is the heart of the Burgundy wine region, it is best to avoid the over-touristy tasting places in the town, instead arrange in advance to visit a few wine producers in the villages outside Beaune, in the heart of the vineyards. Be aware that more than anywhere, most wine producers in Burgundy require advanced appointments, and for the finest producers, a personal introduction from an importer or specialist wine retailer is often needed.

Much more information on other shops, restaurants, places to stay and recommended wine producers to visit can be found on our Côte de Beaune travel guide. All information on the website is free to view, there is a small charge to download the PDF versions of the guides.

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Wine Travel Guides loves good Wine Photos

March 15, 2011

We are currently working on updates to our travel guides to wine regions in France, Tuscany and Rioja. Up to now, we have only included one stunning photo per guide, the majority supplied by Mick Rock of Cephas Picture Library, professional specialists in wine photos. Now we have the facility to add photos to individual entries on the guides.

Edmond Jacquin et Fils

Jean-François Jacquin in Savoie ©Brett Jones

Like the picture on the left, we are gradually adding photos to the producers recommended on our site, as well as the places to stay, eat and shop, and we thought you might like to help. Would you like to see a photo you have taken on Wine Travel Guides and receive a PDF travel guide of your choice as a thank you?

Here’s what you should do:
Look through the travel guides on our website – all content is free to view. Find the guides to the regions you’ve visited, and on each guide click through the list of Producers and the Places to Stay, Eat and Shop to see if we include a producer or place you’ve visited and photographed on your visit. If you find one and would like us to share your photo on our website, then if it’s suitable, we will upload it, make sure you are properly credited and we will send you a free PDF wine travel guide of your choice for each photo we use.

How to send photos and conditions:

  • Send us any in-focus, bright pictures that represent the wine producer or venue well.
  • Size should ideally be around 300 x 400 pixels and 200 – 500KB.
  • Provide a caption to explain what your picture represents.
  • It is ESSENTIAL that you own the copyright for the picture. Include your name and/or how you would like the copyright credited.
  • Email as an attachment to admin[at]winetravelguides[dot]com. (We will not download pictures from your site or 3rd party site).
  • In your message let us know which PDF(s) you would like to receive as a thank you. These will be emailed to you as soon as we’ve published your picture (and we’ll include a note with the link so you can see your photo on our website and share it).
  • We reserve the right to edit your picture and your caption.
  • We reserve the right to accept or refuse your pictures.

There is no time limit on this although we will gradually be adding more pictures that we find ourselves so you may miss certain slots. As you plan your wine travels over the next few months, bear our request in mind so that you can send us any relevant photos on your return.

Thank you so much in advance of your help! And, as this is the perfect time to plan your wine travels for the year we are delighted to offer all readers of this post a special 30% discount off our normal price for Annual membership that gives access to the latest version of all our 52 PDF guides ready to download and/or print. Simply go to the Join Here page or to the Gifts page if you want to offer this to someone else, and enter the promotional code D2BLG0311. Once you click enter, the usual price of £29 will reduce to £20 (approx. US$33 or €24). This offer is valid until 30th April 2011.

We look forward to seeing and posting your photos on the site, and in a few months, we’ll post some of the best ones here on the blog.

Postcript: UK readers may like to check out the special opportunity to bid for a Savoie evening with Wink Lorch presenting a special selection of Savoie wines. 100% of funds received will go straight to Wine Relief, the UK wine trade’s fundraiser that supports Comic Relief’s work in Africa and the UK. Hurry! Bids must be in by March 18th 2011.


Visiting the Quieter Part of Burgundy

August 17, 2010

By Brett Jones

I always enjoy visiting Chalon-sur-Saône, a bustling city in Southern Burgundy, with a calm centre that straddles the river, the Cathedral Square on one side and Rue de Strasbourg, a street replete with restaurants, on the other bank.

300093 PANORAMA Cathedral, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

We recently visited Burgundy during the Grands Jours de Bourgogne where wine tastings are organised in different regions of the area. After the giddy heights of the major appellations it was refreshing to reach this gentler area, the Côte Chalonnaise, where the vineyards are interspersed with fields of cows, chickens and other animals in La Bresse.

300095 Rotisserie St Vincent, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

There is a good choice of restaurants and bars. Near the cathedral is the Rotisserie St-Vincent offering a classic, local menu.

300145 120 Wine Bar, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

For simpler fare you can try 120 Vins wine bar (say it in French: Cent Vingt pronounced Son Vin…).

300152 120 Wine Bar, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

You choose from a blackboard wine list, which not only specialises in the wines of the Côte Chalonnaise but other parts of France. When we were there we stayed local, choosing a Givry Clos des Vignes Rondes, Domaine François Lumpp 2008. It went well with a plate of local ham and cheese which was a pleasant respite after all our serious meals of the previous days!

The Rue de Strasbourg, on the other side of the river, is lined with restaurants from quite grand to simple.

300110 Le Bistrot, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

We have enjoyed lunch a couple of times at Le Bistrot were the owner cooks and his wife looks after the restaurant. Small, very informal with short, but perfectly formed menus. In the summer you can eat outside on the car-free street.

300125 Chocolatier Allex, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

In the centre of town you can indulge yourself in chocolate heaven at Allex Pâtissier-Chocolatier, whose window displays entice you to buy even if you are full up after a good meal!

400084 Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10

The next day we travelled to the wine village of Rully where we were intrigued by the number of large, indeed very large houses in this village. Appararently in the late 19th century with the arrival of the railways, a branch line was built from Chalon, and a number of wealthy burghers built country houses in Rully, to enjoy its mild climate.

400037 Lunch, La Grange, Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10400039 Lunch, La Grange, Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10

We ‘discovered’ a new restaurant in the heart of the wine town of Rully, La Grange.

View La Grange

Here in the converted stables of the Château Saint Michel, chef Ludovic Briday, who was at the famous Lameloise restaurant in Chagny just to the north, offers a choice of menus as well as à la carte. The wine list, as one would expect in the heart of wine country, is focussed on good local wines with a few by the glass, selected to complement the food.

400065 Dom la Breliere, Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10

Although La Grange is bang opposite Domaine Anne and Jean-François Delorme we decided to visit Domaine Brelière as I had just met the ebullient owners, Jean-Claude and Anna, at the regional tasting a couple of days earlier.

They own seven hectares of vines producing a selection of wines organically, including Crémant de Bourgogne as well as Premiers Crus, all of which can be tried in their charming small tasting room.

We enjoyed this visit to the Côte Chalonnaise, appreciating the softer, calmer aspect of one of the classic wine regions of France, and Wink used our visit as the basis to update and refresh our Wine Travel Guide to this area.

400072 Dom la Breliere, Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10

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A Good Time to Plan a Wine Tour in the Euro Zone

June 14, 2010

It’s high time to plan that wine tour, and also high time that we gave you an update on what’s happening on our main Wine Travel Guides website. With the Euro sliding against the US dollar and to an extent against the UK pound  as well as several other currencies, travel in France, Italy, Spain and the rest of the Euro zone is suddenly less expensive than it was a few months ago.

Châteauneuf du Pape pebbles

Vines in the famous pebbles of Châteauneuf du Pape ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Our biggest news is the recent launch of tailor-made wine tour itineraries aimed at those who are time poor and in need of an extra helping hand with planning a few days or more in the wine regions. The itineraries are based on the information in our on-line travel guides, but are truly tailor-made after we’ve emailed and/or called you to discuss what help you need to make the most of your wine tour. We provide an Excel spreadsheet including distances, timings and map links along with a Word document highlighting how best to secure appointments and get the most out of each day.

Patrimonio in Corsica from Cephas

Patrimonio in Northern Corsica ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Corsica to complete our French Wine Region coverage
Our 50 on-line travel guides are soon to become 52. We already boast that our guides cover all the major French wine regions, but one region has not yet been included… and that’s off-shore, namely Corsica. I’m really excited to share with you that Tom Fiorina of The Vine Route, who has been visiting the island for many years, is currently writing two guides to address this gap and they should be live sometime next month – personally I can’t wait to visit Corsica as their wines are improving dramatically, in keeping with the dramatic landscape.

Media Recognition for Wine Travel Guides
Back in April, we were selected by the UK’s Daily Mail as Website of the Week; we were also mentioned in an article on best new travel technology in the UK Telegraph’s Travel section and appeared in several regional papers, notably by wine writer Liz Sagues in the Ham & High covering North-West London. Importantly, we’ve received some lovely comments from users of our guides and the new tailor-made itinerary service too.

Kaysersberg in Alsace

Kaysersberg in Alsace ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Keeping the on-line information accurate
The huge advantage of on-line guides is the ability to keep information up-to-date relatively simply, though I confess it’s time-consuming with 50 guides equating to over 1,500 recommendations (wineries to visit, places to stay, eat and shop plus attractions) and 400,000 words when you add in the general wine and tourism information. If you spot any errors in our guides, please do let us know.

The good news is that two-thirds of our micro-region guides have been updated in the past 6 months and we try to update each guide thoroughly every 12 – 16 months. The ‘last updated’ date you see on each of our guides relates to the last time we did a thorough update adding several new or replacement recommendations. By the way, at least one well-known guide book series I know that’s available to access on-line is an exact replica of the books, so no more up-to-date than the printed guide books are.

Saint Emilion

The town of St-Emilion ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Other Interesting Travel Planning Resources
Earlier this year NileGuide licensed some of our content as part of their travel planning resources they are building to help you plan your travels worldwide. Do take a look at their website: they have a tool to create your own travel guides which could be useful to link up your wine tours with the other destinations on your holiday itinerary.

Recently I became a Tripbod, one of a team of over 100 local experts who advise travellers through calls and emails on their forthcoming trips. Sometimes, an on-line travel guide or a guide book is simply not enough; on the other hand, our itinerary planning service may be too in depth for you. If you simply want some help with a few ideas of where to visit in the world of wine, especially France, or even some help in my part-time home area in the French Alps, then take a look at Tripbod. Direct access to a person with the inside track can be invaluable.

Vineyards near Cahors

Sunset near Cahors ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Following us on Facebook, Twitter and here on the Blog
Our Facebook Page is gaining a great following which encourages me to update it with interesting links and thoughts. Currently we are highlighting the Facebook pages of wineries listed in our guides in order to give them some support – it’s interesting how some of the most traditional European wineries are responding to the social media opportunity. On Twitter, I tweet about all things wine and travel, with plenty of links to interesting articles in these two related worlds. The next few posts we have planned for the Wine Travel Guides blog are from beyond the scope of our Guides …. out of Europe for once! I look forward to hearing your comments and thank you so much for following.

All the pictures in this post were taken by one of the world’s great wine landscape photographers, Mick Rock, who owns Cephas picture library, one of the major sources for high quality photos of wine, food and travel.

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News! All Wine Tour Content Now Free to View

October 30, 2009

We’ve made some major changes on the Wine Travel Guides website, which will benefit anyone planning a wine tour in France, Tuscany or Rioja and other regions we will add next year. All the contents of our 50 micro-region travel guides to wine regions can now be viewed free on the website.

There’s no catch here, but anyone who would like the convenience of downloading the guides as PDFs to plan their wine trip off-line and print pages as required, can purchase the guides at a very reasonable price of £5 (approximately US$8.50 or €5.50) with discounts for multiple guide purchases. A sample PDF guide can be downloaded on registration; for those of you who have already registered, do log in and take a look as we’ve changed the sample to the Southern Graves and Sauternes guide by Jane Anson.

We have also converted our former Gold Subscription to Gold Membership, which allows any of our guides to be downloaded for a full 12 months (meaning you get the latest, updated guide) including any we add in the future. The price has been reduced too – Gold Membership costs just £29 (approximately US$49 or €32). A package of member benefits is also planned, and these should include discounts on other valuable wine and travel related information.

In case you are not familiar with the content on our Guides, our micro-region guides are bite-sized chunks of major wine regions, for example, we have 8 guides to Bordeaux; 5 to the Rhône Valley; 2 to Tuscany (covering only central areas at present) and so on. Each guide (about 10 – 20 pages in PDF form) includes 8 – 12 recommended wine producers to visit; a few places to stay (ranging from top hotels to friendly Bed and Breakfasts); restaurants, shops and attractions, plus a useful aide-memoir of the regional wines including appellations, grape varieties and wine styles. A wealth of information in a small package.

Most importantly of all, our guides are written by a selection of top wine and travel writers, selected because they have the inside track on their regions – some you’ve already seen on this blog, others are also top-class, including three Masters of Wine and several published book authors. We also make a point of updating our guides regularly, once a year at a minimum with tweaks during the year as necessary.

There are no other travel guides to these wine regions which are as authoritative or comprehensive as ours available anywhere else on the web, so please visit the site and tell the rest of the world about our existence. The main idea of these changes is to open up our content to many more independent travellers who love wine. Increased visibility – and let’s be honest about it, revenue – will allow us to expand our guides to other countries and regions in the future.

Thank you for reading this blatant sales blog post.  I felt that it needed to be spelt out as going from 60 pages to over 1500 pages of quality content is pretty big news for a website! I hope you agree and look forward to your reactions to the changes. I promise you that interesting wine and travel posts will resume soon!

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Group Wine Tour vs Private Wine Tour: Pros and Cons

May 20, 2009

There are many differences between participating in a group wine tour and organising your own private wine tour whether you are a professional in the wine business or simply a wine lover. Recently I’ve had a few occasions to ponder on the pros and cons of the group wine tour versus your own private wine tour (by which I mean a tour for just yourself and partner/friends, say, up to 4 people without any professional guide for the trip) so here are some thoughts to share with you.

Note that the points below apply mainly to the choice for wine lovers rather than professionals though many apply to the latter too. I have presumed that this concerns a wine trip with a reputable wine tour specialist. Also, I should say that my thoughts apply particularly to trips in Europe and are not necessarily geared to buying wine. Please do add comments to this debate.

Group wine tour 2 - blogGroup Tours – The Pluses
• No advanced planning – just book and go.
• Someone to drive you around.
• Someone who speaks the local language and can interpret.
• Possibility of visiting certain difficult-to-visit wine producers who only accept visitors on a strict appointment and limited basis.
• Possibility of tasting older vintages or special wines that aren’t opened for individual visitors.
• The price is fixed in advance, often an all-in price.

Group Tours – The Minuses
• An enforced group situation possibly with strangers!
• Usually impossible to adapt or change the itinerary.
• Often slower visits, meals etc as there is a need to cater for everyone.
• Bus travel – not everyone enjoys this.
• Difficult to have access to speak directly with winery owners/winemakers.
• Often impossible to choose where and what you eat.
• Expense of the tour due to organisation/guide/transport.

Private Wine Tour - blogPrivate Tours – The Pluses
• Free to plan your own itinerary, often at the last minute.
• Complete freedom to adapt part way through.
• Travel at your own pace in your chosen form of transport.
• Travel with the people you know and like!
• Visit small wine producers that can’t accept groups.
• Can often chat directly with winery owners and winemakers.
• Eat in small restaurants that don’t take groups.
• Work to your own budget – choose whether to spend more on food or accommodation.

Private Tours – The Minuses
• Usually requires a lot of planning (but many enjoy this part!)
• One person nearly always has to drive a car.
• Can’t necessarily get access to visit very famous wine producers.
• Possible language issues if you don’t know a word of the language concerned and are not very confident.
• Budget is not so easy to control.

A few weeks ago I was a guest on the weekly wine podcast the New Wine Consumer where we debated this very subject – you might want to listen. The consensus was that private wine tours win in most cases providing that you have a willing driver (someone prepared to be rigorous at spitting out the tasting wines or abstain) and that you are confident enough to tackle just a few words of the local language of your chosen destination, however basic. With reference to the wine regions of France, we also talked about whether or not you need appointments to visit, something we note for all the wine producers recommended in Wine Travel Guides.

I look forward to your thoughts in the comments. Happy wine travels!

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Twitter Quiz No. 12 – Ysios in Rioja

April 22, 2009

The most famous wine region in Spain – Rioja – has become recognized in recent years not just for the quality of its wines, but for the number of architecturally spectacular wineries in the region – almost certainly more of note than in other wine regions of Europe. The region is dominated by fairly large wineries, typically more New World size, rather than the boutique, family-owned wineries characteristic of most French and Italian wine regions, so these larger companies are more able to fund these fantastical structures by famous architects.

Ysios winery in Rioja

Ysios winery and vineyards in Rioja with the Cantabrian mountains behind.

The best-known architect-designed project in Rioja is Marqués de Riscal’s new winery building and hotel, designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum just a couple of hours up the road. But, before that was opened, an extraordinary building could not fail to catch your eye driving through the vineyards of Rioja, the winery of Ysios, near Laguardia and owned by the giant Domecq wine group.

Tom Perry, an American resident of Rioja, who writes our two detailed micro-region travel guides to the Rioja wine region explains about Ysios:

The inspiration for the name of this winery was Isis, the Egyptian goddess of magic, and it is truly magical when you see the place for the first time, with its undulating aluminium roof against the stark backdrop of the Cantabrian mountain range. When you approach the winery, the roof reflected in a pool looks like a row of casks. Inside, architect Santiago Calatrava has created a simple yet functional design to make winemaking as easy as possible, with the movement of wine directly from one end of the winery to the other.

Congratulations to Katie of Chicago who magically came up with the right answer and wins a PDF guide of her choice.

Do follow me on Twitter for random notes about wines I’ve tasted, places I’ve been and updates to the Wine Travel Guides website. You might also want to check out our Facebook page – especially if you haven’ t yet participated in our poll as to which country we should focus on for our next guides. Please do make a comment on this blog or join in the conversation on Twitter or on Facebook  to discuss anything about travel in wine regions. A bonus: all Facebook fans and Twitter followers are eligible for discounts on subscriptions to the guides. We’ll do another twitter quiz soon.

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