Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Burgundy at my Feet

Much as I love Paris in many ways, I'm not really a big-city girl. Deep down inside of me is a little girl who grew up in a country where the entire population is a lot lower than that of the world's great metropolises, in a capital city where fields, hills and beaches are never more than a short bus ride away. Part of surviving Paris, for me, is therefore finding as many opportunities and places to escape to as possible, and I was delighted to discover the other weekend that Burgundy fits the bill perfectly. We went to the town of Vézelay, two hours' drive from Paris, to walk in the countryside, taste the wine and visit the beautiful medieval buildings.

I had only ever seen the region from the motorway before, so I was surprised to find out that the seeminly endless landscape contains deep river valleys, lush greenery and interesting towns nestled among the rolling hills. The town of Vézelay itself is dominated by its basilica, perched on a high cliff overlooking the surrounding countryside. The backbone of the town stretches down the hill behind, with old, old buildings and as much French tradition as you could expect to find in one place.

In the afternoon, we went for a walk along the river, following the GR which leads to Avallon. We had also booked a wine tasting and were much amused by the fact that when the wines were described as made “in the traditional way” this actually meant that they were full of chemicals, unlike the organic versions which were also being sold. I wasn’t hugely impressed by any of them, so I just bought one bottle, of Melon, a rare variety of wine that is only produced in that region and also got a couple of pots of local honey.

As with most holidays in France, the food was definitely a highlight of the trip. Burgundy is the home of escargots and boeuf bourgignon, as well as producing some of the country's best wines (with or without chemical help!). The restaurant where we ate on Saturday night was called L’Auberge de la Coquille. It was situated right in the heart of the old town and the food was wonderful. For 19 euros, we had a four course meal that included: snails in garlic butter with parsley, meat in Bourgignon sauce for main course, a generous slice of gloriously runny cheese and a delicious sorbet with cassis to finish, all washed down with Irancy wine.

We were also amazed by just how friendly everybody we met in Bourgogne was. People went out of their way to offer us directions, point us on our way and generally check that we were ok. The waiters at the restaurant were not only polite but friendly and didn't seem to mind that we arrived an hour later than expected and ended up staying very late to appreciate their delicious food.

l arrived back in Paris very late on Sunday night desperate to get out and do it all again, so it's definitely good to know that, when I need to escape Paris next time, Burgundy is just down the road!

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