To cycle or not to cycle, that was the question one spring afternoon. Sitting in a holiday apartment, in the beautiful French town of Beaune, we pondered our dilemma. Bicycles were booked for the next day, but the forecast was for thunderstorms – potentially. It might thunder but, it might not. Our romantic visions of cycling through the vineyards of Burgundy was under threat by the capricious sun and rain.
With typical British grit, we decided to risk it, packing cagoules along with sunscreen.
Our route was the Beaune to Santenay velo-route: a journey through some of the most prestigious wine producing villages of Burgundy, and indeed the world. We picked up bikes at Bourgogne Randonnées, a long established cycle hire shop near the train station. A gentle rain started falling as we headed out of town. Within a few minutes we were in vineyards and the sun was out.
Cyclists share the small roads and tracks that criss-cross the vineyards with the farm workers and owners. From time to time a truck or car will carefully sneak past, at other times workers will look up from their labours among the vines to wave. Mostly though, you are left to meander past neat rows of lovingly tended vines and take in the stunning views. Periodically a sign will declare the vines to be ‘premier cru’ or ‘grand cru’ – the very best of the best.
The velo-route cuts through the heart of the villages from which the prestigious Burgundy wine appellations take their name. Immediately outside Beaune lies Pommard, famed for its pinot noir based, strong, tannic red wine and home to Chateau de Pommard, an eighteenth century mansion converted to an art museum and wine tasting cellars.
Next comes Volnay which produces light, aromatic, elegant red wines. From here cyclists hit the toughest part of the route as it climbs to Meursault, producer of flinty, dry, chardonnay wines. The gorgeous town square is a perfect place to stop and enjoy the cold drink you will need.
The hard work of going up is rewarded by the free-wheeling descent into Puligny Montrachet, where lunch awaits at the Michelin starred Le Montrachet restaurant. The set lunch menu is excellent value for money and an affordable way to sample the superb cooking of chef Thierry Berger. The chic, stylish dining room is a wonderful oasis of luxury on the dusty track. Thankfully, the waiters are unfazed by the rather grubby, sweaty cyclists that turn up for lunch.
Refreshed, well fed and relaxed, we continued onto Chassagne Montrachet. The sun was shining and the sky a sapphire blue.
Both the Monrachet villages produce delicious, buttery, elegant wines that are highly prized by wine connoisseurs across the world. The co-operative wine cellar in the centre of Chassagne village sells wines from the whole area and has six or seven tasting bottles open each day. There is a nominal charge for the tasting and the knowledgeable staff are friendly and helpful.
As we mooched in the cellar, a massive crack of thunder broke over our heads, followed by a flash of lightening and the rush of water as dense sheets of rain started to fall. Within minutes, the roads around the cellar became streams. There was no option but to wait it out, and what a fine place to wait! Eventually, however, it became apparent that we had to hit the roads. Our bikes were due back, and the return trip was by train at Santenay station.
For half an hour we cycled in the pouring rain, careering through vast puddles, heads bent under the weight of water, mud splashing up onto our jeans. Slowly, the rain eased, the sky cleared and the warmth of the sun came through. Bedraggled, damp and caked in mud, we arrived at Santenay.
As we waited for the train, we looked along the platform. It was lined with sodden cyclists and their mud-splattered bicycles.
Our day had been filled with the rich greens of the vineyards, the dazzling gold of stone houses, the breath-taking views across the Côte de Beaune and the luscious nectar in our wine glasses. Despite the rain and mud, cycling through the vineyards really was as romantic as I had imagined.