Thursday, June 2 - We're off on our Burgundy adventure!
Another year another bike tour! We’re headed to France again! This time we're taking the "Taste of Burgundy" bike/barge tour aboard the barge “Summerjazz”, Through our friends at Van Gogh Tours, we booked this trip with HAT Tours of the Netherlands.
Our cycling holiday in the heart of Burgundy takes us along the Saône River and Burgundy Canal from Tournus to Dijon. Along the way there will be wine and cheese tastings, visits to historical and culturally rich cities, quaint little wine villages and easy cycling through rolling rural landscapes and some of the world's most famous vineyards!
We fly to Paris via Iceland on Iceland Air with a one hour layover in Rekjavik. We just missed a volcanic eruption in Iceland by 2 weeks that halted air travel for 2 days and tornadoes that hit central Mass. less than 24 hours before our departure so all things considered we're doing pretty well.
Friday, June 3 - Paris to Dijon via TGV
After landing in Paris, we caught the Air France bus to Gare de Lyon, where we caught a 10:20 train to Dijon. We purchased the train tickets without any trouble. We just looked for a kiosk that had a British flag. Got some great information about the Gare de Lyon train station on the internet. We had a pleasant train ride (about 1hr 30 min) to Dijon arriving around noon. We booked a room for one night at the La Jura hotel (a stone's throw from the train station) only to find that the hotel was oversold so they booked us a short ways down the street at the Hotel Campanile. Our room there was just fine. We dropped off our bags and headed out for a quick lunch. Afterwards we walked around Dijon for a few hours. The weather was gorgeous — sunny and balmy after being overcast earlier in the day. We first strolled through Jardin Darcy (above right), a small little park in Darcy Square that is Dijon's first public garden and was established in 1880. It was nicely landscaped with beautiful flower beds and shrubs.
A short distance from the gardens was the magnificent Porte Guillaume (left) on Place Darcy. Similar to the Arche de Triomphe in Paris in design, it was named after Guillaume de Volpiano, who founded and built the Saint Benignus' Abbey in the 11th century.
As we walked towards the city center we noticed
on the ground with a cute little owl on them. It turns out that
Dijon has a trail of historic sights called the "Owl Trail"
which highlights the historical and architectural gems that this
city has to offer. Although we did not follow the trail, we came
across it several times as we walked through town.
Dijon was pretty compact, and we could get around by foot without
any trouble. For dinner, we headed back to Liberation Square to
eat at one of the outdoor cafés. We strolled home later with a stop
for a glace and then had a well deserved sleep! More photos of Dijon:
Saturday, June 4 - Day 1 Tour Begins Today
We awoke to another beautiful day! We're not scheduled to meet up with the tour group at the train station until 1:30pm so we had breakfast and then walked over to the Musee de la Bourguignon, a museum showcasing the life of Dijon and Burgundy that featured dioramas of household life and village shops in the 1800's. It was a very nice take-in (and free!). The museum is located in the cloisters of a former Bernardine monastery. Founder Maurice Perrin de Puycousin started a collection of shops and scenes of everyday life of the Burgundians in the 19th century.
We checked out of the hotel by noon and walked to a café for a quick lunch. We met our group leader, Onno, at the designated spot near the train station at 1:30 and shortly thereafter met up with our group and had some time for introductions before catching the train to Tournus (one hour). Our congenial tour mates are "the gang of 13" consisting of Karen & Jerry, Katie & Scott, Bonnie & John, and Libby & Richard from North Carolina, Fred & Barbara from Mississippi and Biggs & Jerry and Margaret from Florida. Also on board were David and Barbara from New Zealand. We all arrived in Tournus at 3:30 and had a short walk with our bags to our barge, the Summerjazz, with her Dutch crew: owner Saskia, Capt. Albert, chef Annalise and tour leader Onno. We had a nice 3-bunk cabin with a bit more floor space than the other barges we’ve traveled on. The cabin has a wide counter with sink and adjoining shower and toilet. After a quick un-pack and debrief with the crew, we had a nice little walk around the town.
Located on the River Saône between Chalon and Macon, Tournus has an interesting assortment of old buildings, alleyways, antique shops, cafés and restaurants, and it is one of the oldest and most important monastic centers in Europe. At the top of the hill stands the magnificent St. Philibert Abbey, parts of which date back to the 10th century. The buildings around the church include the cloisters (only part of which remains today), the Abbot’s house, (dating back to 1471), the refectory, (used now for art exhibitions), and the chapter house. There are arts and crafts shops and cafés around the church too.
As we entered the abbey, there was a wedding going on! The bride was beautiful in her flowing white gown (left) and the area around the abbey was full of energy and excitement. We visited a few shops, then headed back to the boat.
Dinner was mushroom soup, chicken with pesto sauce, potatoes, veg and salads with yoghurt for dessert.
After dinner we headed back to the abbey for a free organ concert where the sounds of the organ (right) filled the magnificent abbey nave. A nice way to end the day!
Sunday, June 5 - Day 2 Tournus to Tournus loop (40k)
Today started out cool with some breaks in the clouds. We were assigned our bikes (left) and took them for a brief spin along the pier to make sure they were adjusted to our liking. Once that was settled, we set out by 9:30 for a leisurely ride through a few small towns, along farm roads through the fields. It warmed up and dried out nicely. We had a rest stop in the medieval village of Cuisery, considered the "book capital" of Burgundy. Dozens of bookstores and stalls line the pedestrian-only main street. We found a little café and had a coffee. For the next hour, we cycled along through fields of wheat, corn and hemp and past sleepy little villages. We stopped for a leisurely picnic lunch on a nice grassy area alongside a lock near the village of La Truchère (right) and watched several boats pass through. After lunch, we enjoyed some more pleasantly paced cycling along quiet, wooded bike paths (below, left) to back to Tournus.
We arrived back to the barge by early afternoon only to find that we only rode 25k of a planned 40k route as some of group wanted to get back to the boat sooner to catch the French Open at a local café in Tournus. We freshened up and headed off to a flea market along the river (apparently the French collect as much junk as we Americans); then walked through town for awhile and stopped to listen to a funky/jazz street band performance. We eventually headed back to the barge to enjoy a couple of cold beers above deck before dinner.
Dinner was pate over salad, pasta with a choice of Bolognese or smoked salmon sauce and mocha mousse for dessert. After dinner we played boules and dominoes.
Monday, June 6 - Day 3 Tournus to Chalon sur Saône (55k)
We had a good night’s sleep and awoke around 6:30 to an overcast morning. Today's route is 55K to Chalon, with a stop in Buxy for some wine tasting!
We had a nice ride through a few quaint towns and stopped for coffee at 10:30. We continued on along a paved bike path through seemingly endless wheat fields that shone brightly in the sun.
Along the way, we rode through several small villages including the medieval village of Messey-sur-Grosne with its twin-towered castle (left) where the Dukes of Burgundy staged their hunting expeditions in the local forests. The castle was not open so unfortunately we could not visit inside. The surrounding area was quite peaceful and bucolic so we had a short rest here to soak in the sun and the scenery.
Clouds soon moved in, and the rain was threatening but held off as we turned onto a smoothly paved bikepath (converted old railway bed) called the Voie Verte Burgundy (see photo below, left). It was pleasant riding until we entered a forested section of rail trail where swarms of little black bugs swirled about our heads! As long as we kept moving, the bugs were not a big problem.
We stopped for a picnic lunch along the bike path just outside of Buxy, and we liberally applied some insect repellent that seemed to keep the bugs at bay for the moment. At least we could enjoy our lunch without a bug assault! Our plan this afternoon was to visit a wine cooperative in Buxy after lunch, but we still had to wait another ½ hour before it opened, so we cycled into the town of Buxy to do a little sightseeing. The town dates back to medieval times and has an impressive medieval tower (right) on the main road. We visited in early afternoon, when most of the shops were closed, so our sightseeing opportunities were rather limited! The skies were beginning to darken as some more ominous storm clouds were moving in. We hoped to get into the wine cooperative before the skies opened up!
At the appointed time, we all cycled over to the Cave de Buxy for a sampling of the finest Burgundy red, white and rose wines. The co-operative was founded in 1931 and has become the leading producer of Côte Chalonnaise with over a dozen different appellations, producing 2/3 of Montagny's wine output. Here's a view of their wine list! We tasted several delicious wines and ended up buying 2 bottles to take back to the barge. Here's Bill holding our little treasures (left) that he packed safely away in his pannier bag.
We continued along the Voie Verte rail-trail (right) for the start of our 20k ride back to the barge. We had a gentle downhill ride with a nice tail wind almost all the way back that made for quite an enjoyable afternoon of biking!
When we arrived in Chalon, our floating hotel the Summerjazz (below) was docked along a branch in the Saône across from a beautiful bank of flowers planted in a modern art design. We were nestled below a row of gently swaying willow trees with swans paddling nearby – just lovely!
Tuesday, June 7 - Day 4 Chalon sur Saône - Beaune - Seurre (30k)
Although our itinereary indicated we would cycle to Beaune this morning, in the interest of time and distance, it was decided that we would take the train to Beaune instead. In retrospect, we personally felt that with the excellent bikes we had and the slower pace of the bike riding, we could have easily cycled through some of Burgundy's most beautiful vineyards to Beaune! Oh well... The train cars have bike racks in them! (left) so it was easy to stow them for the train ride. After loading up the bikes we hopped on board and headed off to Beaune. As we rode along, we could see the gently sloping vineyards off in the distance from the train window.
In a scant 30 minutes we arrived in Beaune. After a quick cycle into the town center, we locked up the bikes and headed our separate ways to tour the town. We took a tour of the Hotel Dieu (right), a hospice built in 1443 by a wealthy benefactor to care for the sick. There was an impressive kitchen (left) that had two magnificent faucets in the shape of swan's necks! Afterwards, we window shopped for awhile as the sun broke through the clouds and had lunch at a nice little sidewalk café. We were to meet back up with the group at 2:30. The changeable skies began to cloud up again and before long the sky opened up and it began to hail! We waited it out for 15 minutes before Onno decided to head out so we could be in Seurre by 5pm for our cheese tasting appointment! We got pretty soaked but managed to avoid the thunder and lightning. After 45 minutes or so, we biked out of the rain and into the sun. We stopped briefly to ditch our rain gear (right), following along first through a forested road and then out in between more fields of grain, sunflowers and hemp. On arrival at the barge, we had a few minutes to regroup before heading to town to have a cheese tasting at a local gourmet artisan cheese shop. We were presented (left) with five cheeses to sample: a chevre (goat cheese), three soft cheeses (one of which was from the nearby Abbey de Citeaux, my personal favorite) and a Roquefort. Yum!
Dinner on board was cassoulet with sausage, chicken and lamb served with rice, fennel au gratin and finished with a duet of chocolate and pistachio ice creams.
Wednesday, June 8 Seurre to St. Jean de Losne - St. Jean de Losne Loop (35K)
We awoke to a cold, steady rain. Plan A was to be on the bikes by 8:45 to cycle to a monastery, but we all decided to switch to Plan B — stay on the barge until noon to our final destination St. Jean de Losne and then bike over to the monastery. Saint Jean de Losne, lies at the junction of the River Saône and the Canal de Bourgogne.
With overcast skies threatening more rain, we headed at 11:45 and went a few miles before stopping at a bakery/bar to eat our picnic lunch inside the bar. It was nice to eat inside because it was cool and raw out at this time. After eating our boxed lunches, we enjoyed coffee and pastry. The skies began to brighten as we headed off through farmland and forest to the Abbey de Cîteaux (right) .
Cîteaux Abbey was founded in 1098 by a group of monks under the leadership of Saint Robert of Molesme, who became the first abbot. Today, the abbey belongs to the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance and has about 35 members. The monks, faithful to a tradition of reflection, reverent prayer and manual work, sell their products to the public. One of their most famous exports is the soft and mild flavored Citeaux cheese. This was one of the cheeses we sampled in Seurre, and it was quite delicious! We had the opportunity to sit through a service to hear the monks sing. Although we had envisioned an old cathedral where the hooded monks’ voices would reverberate hauntingly off the stone walls, we were somewhat disappointed to see that the service was held in a modern, nondescript chapel with modern, white robed monks. C'est la vie!
Afterwards we headed back to the barge, taking a slightly different route through farmland and then along the canal. We had a short break aboard; then biked back into town to visit the small Maison des Mariniers museum that houses a permanent collection of exhibits about the French canal and barge system. The earliest canals in France were built in the 1600s.
Dinner tonight was chopped steak patties with Roquefort cheese and lentil salad.
Thursday, June 9 - St. Jean de Losne to the Canal de Bourgogne (55K)
We awoke to a grey, cool day and had a chilly ride along the canals and through farmland to Auxonne. Along the way we cycled by Ecluse #73 (right) to watch a boat pass through the lock. Just as we arrived, the lock began flooding! See short video here
We had a rest stop just outside of the town where this photo of us was snapped! (Thanks, Gerry!) The town of Auxonne is best known for having housed Napoleon for a few years at its military headquarters. We toured the town by foot for an hour and found a lovely little patisserie where we purchased a couple of fresh croissants for a snack along the way! We later rejoined the group for lunch at a café.
Afterwards we headed through more farmland and small villages on our way to the Chateau at Longecourt. We stopped enroute for a vin rouge at a little cafe in the town before arriving at the chateau. Chateau de Longecourt is owned by Count Roland de Saint Seine who lives there and opens his home for tours while operating a small B&B. He was quite charming and generous with his time and showed us through the halls, kitchen, salon and guest rooms, plus the garage where during WWII American soldiers had drawn Sad Sack cartoons on the walls during their occupation.
We had a short 6K ride back to the barge along the canal, arriving at 6:00 in time to enjoy coffee and some brownies warm from the oven. We freshened up and returned to the salon for cocktails before dinner.
Tonight we had a French/Moroccan themed dinner (hummus starter, followed by ratatouille, couscous and catfish, with strudel for dessert). Diane took a short walk by the canal after dinner to look at the landing field for the French Air Force, which was nearby, but no planes were flying at the moment. Apparently the jets were flying missions to Libya as part of the NATO initiative. We heard planes taking off and landing late into the evening.
Friday, June 10 - Canal de Bourgogne to Dijon (35K)
We headed out through a rural farmland area onto a dirt road through endless fields of wheat and mustard. We turned onto another unpaved road that Onno said was an old Roman road that ran straight south from Dijon. Like the legions of Roman soldiers that must have marched on this road ages ago, we followed that rough and rocky trail for a few bone shaking kilometers until we thankfully rode back into civilization and onto a paved road! (left)
We stopped at the aptly named "Au rendez-vous des touristes" cafe for coffee and vin rouge! We were a chatty and boisterous group, and we managed to send the few locals inside fleeing for peace and quiet! There was an interesting map on the wall of France with each region highlighted with the culinary achievement for which it was known. Very cute.
We cycled into the Clos de Vougeot vineyard where the Cistercian monks of Cîteaux Abbey built and ran the chateau as a vineyard from the 1300's until the French Revolution. Apparently, those Cistercian monks knew what they were doing. They produced cuvées from the different parts of the vineyard and then blended them to produce what was considered wine of the highest quality. Clos de Vougeot is currently the largest of the Burgundy Grand Cru vineyards.
One of our group was too sore to continue so Onno called a taxi to come and take her back to the barge. Unfortunately, the cabbie wouldn’t take the bike, so Onno had to wheel it along side him as he rode for the rest of the day.
We pedaled out through the vineyards on the Rue des Grand Crus, stopping occasionally to enjoy the beautiful views and cycled along for a short stretch before stopping in the little wine village of Gevrey Chambertin for a picnic lunch in the park. After lunch, we visited the local cave of Phillipe LeClerc (left) for one last wine tasting! Encore!
Back on the bikes and fortified by the vin rouge, we continued our cycle through the vineyards back towards Dijon. We stopped in the village center of Couchey and realized that 4 of our cycle mates riding at the back of the group had taken a wrong turn and were now missing. Onno and Gerry (FL) cycled off to run reconnaissance, leaving us in the town center. As luck would have it, the madam who ran the local bar "Cafe de la Place" (right) noticed us loitering nearby and threw open the doors to her establishment. Serendipitously, she also operated a bakery out of the side entrance, so we all descended upon the bakery and then ended up ordering beers and some vin rouge while we waited, making madam very happy!
When we finally reunited with the lost bikers, we cycled the final kilometers into Dijon along busy roads, careful not to lose anyone else! We finally made it back to Dijon by 4:00pm.
As we sat down to enjoy our farewell dinner (left), Gerry (NC) and David (NZ) each raised their glasses and gave toasts to the crew to thank them for a great trip! We heartily concurred!
Annalise outdid herself with dinner — cucumber Dijon soup, bouef bourguignon a la Dijon, potatoes frites, endive gratin and chevre salad with a crepe a la mode for dessert. Bon appétit!
After dinner, everyone drifted off early to pack.
Saturday, June 11 - Tour Concludes
We got up by 7:00am to finish packing, as we needed to be off the barge by 9:00am since the next tour arrives on the barge at 2:00pm! We said our goodbyes to those still remaining onboard. Onno escorted the rest of us on foot to the train station where we bought our own tickets for the 10:50am TGV train to Paris. More goodbyes and hugs ensued as we headed to our departure platform. The train ride was fast and pleasant - standard French fare. Upon arrival at Gare de Lyon, we had lunch at a nearby café; then quickly caught the Air France bus to the airport. We overnighted at an airport hotel a few km from Charles DeGaulle since we had a very early Sunday morning flight home. The next morning we were up at 5:00am to catch the shuttle back to the airport with a transfer to Terminal 1 for our Icelandair flight. Our journey home was uneventful, thank goodness, no more erupting volcanos! Our layover in Iceland got us thinking it would have been fun to take an extra day there to explore, but there’s always next year . . .