Travel in Burgundy – Destination Beaune, France
With a few days to spare before our friends were arriving in Beaune for our meetup, we decided to explore some of the other towns and villages in the Burgundy region. We were still getting the feel for living and traveling in the RV so some short trips would be good for our learning curve. The first destination was Chablis.
The shorter driving distances allowed us to play tourist a bit as well and that was really enjoyable. There is a free RV parking lot just on the edge of the town of Chablis and an easy 10 minute walk into the center of town. They also had a free gray water dump station that we took advantage of only to learn that our lever had come free again and it took some wrangling to get back into place.
Chablis is of course surrounded by vineyards and the village center has some large chateaus and many domains have paid tasting rooms and caves for thirsty and curious visitors. As it was quite late in the season many places weren’t open but we still enjoyed wandering around the old streets of town and peaking in at the large chateaus.
On our way back to the camping car we stopped at the market for a bottle or two of the local stuff. Our campsite (La Cascade Campsite) was just a short drive from town and after settling in we had a lovely glass of the white wine the region is famous for. Cheers Chablis!
Next on our Burgundy tour was a stay in the town of Montbard. On our way to Montbard we did a few side trips; one to the Tanlay Chateau in the rain and then on to the Chateau d’Ancy le Franc which was closed at the time but the surrounding village was interesting. Most of the buildings on the main road were for sale for some reason that we failed to figure out. There were only 1 or 2 cafes open, everything else was closed or out of business, it was odd.
We walked the narrow village streets up to the church on the hill for a lovely view of the chateau and the surrounding countryside. The village church also has a very old cemetery and an even older smaller chapel in the cemetery.
After our lovely view of the chateau from the hill, we decided it was time to head to our next campsite in Montbard. (Camping Municipal). Our GPS had other ideas though. She was sure that the roads were much to small for our camping van, so rather than drive through the town we took a “lovely” extra 2 hour detour around. Needless to say, Ms. GPS was ready to be thrown out the window by the end of the day. Especially when she unnecessarily took us through the center of town (super narrow one lane roads) to get to the next site, as well!
Montbard is near the site of the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Founded in 1118, it is one of the oldest and most complete Cistercian abbeys in Europe. Not in the mood to fork over 10 Euros apiece for the self guided tour, we stuck to the outside and had a very nice hike in the forest surrounding the abbey.
Onward and upward we detoured to the tiny village of Vézelay, a town famous for Vézelay Abbey. The town and the famous 11th century Romanesque Basilica of St Magdalene are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites as well. We stayed in the (rustic) municipal camping ground just a short walk from the town and abbey. I would definitely recommend taking this little detour if you are in the area!
From Wikipedia “According to legend, not long before the end of the first millennium a monk named Baudillon brought relics (bones) of Mary Magdalene to Vézelay from Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. In 1058 Pope Stephen IX confirmed the authenticity of the relics, leading to an influx of pilgrims that has continued to this day. Vézelay Abbey was also a major starting point for pilgrims on the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela, one of the most important of all medieval pilgrimage centres.” It is also the site that in 1190 Richard the Lion Hearted received blessings before heading off to the 3rd Crusade.
Vézelay is also where Sebastian the Stinky realized it was his destiny to fight chickens! It seems that the municipal campground had a couple of them wandering around and as Sebastian had never seen such a thing, he was desperate to get them. We had to shoo them away as he was inconsolable and aggravating to live with while they were around. (No chickens were harmed in the making of this post.)
Our final destination on this leg of the trip was Beaune. Beaune was not a town even on our radar but that’s where our friends, Tory and Susie, would be staying for a few days and we could hang out with them. Shani did her research and we pointed the camping car to the municipal campsite called Les Cent Vignes.
Again from Wikipedia “Beaune is one of the key wine centers in France, and the center of Burgundy wine production and business…The town is surrounded by some of the world’s most famous wine villages, while the facilities and cellars of many producers, large and small, are situated in the historic center of Beaune itself, as they have been since Roman times. With a rich historical and architectural heritage, Beaune is considered the ‘Capital of Burgundy wines’.”
The drive into Beaune was like nothing else we had seen. Leaving Chablis had been amazing but Beaune had so many vines, hillside after hillside after hillside with tiny tractor paths snaking in and around them delineated by small stone walls. It is a gorgeous sight to see in early October as the leaves are changing color.
It is a little less impressive when your GPS suggests you turn onto one of the tractor roads and you do because you don’t know any better! With a couple of inches of free space on either side of the van I gingerly kept going forward. Turning around at this point would have been quite difficult in the 7 meter RV and Google was telling us we would meet up with a proper road in a kilometer or two. With only one small emotional meltdown and several deep breaths we made it to the turn and avoided hitting walls or getting ourselves stuck. The subsequent roads to the campground were still very small but manageable.
We had arrived a day earlier than our friends which gave us the opportunity to walk into the city center and get a lay of the land. Beaune is as charming as it gets. We had not done significant research and were blown away at how charming and quaint the place was, truly deserving the “Capital of Burgundy wines” monaker!
Unbeknownst to our friends, we had decided to meet Tory and Susie at the train station. We had originally planned on meeting up after they arrived and were settled in their hotel but I decided it would be way more fun to surprise them as they got off the train. And it was! Though my plans nearly unravelled as person after person exited and we didn’t see them. They must have been the very last people off but it was so good to see my dearest friends after so many years apart! Like all great friendships, things picked up right where they had left off as if no time had intersected our friendship timeline.
Shani had done some research and we thought our best outing would be a picnic in the vines surrounding Beaune and a walk through some of the villages in the area. It was an epic day out! Touted as a bike tour route, it also included some of the tractor paths, including the one we drove down my mistake. (Small cars also used this path and it had a road name so…) Did I mention it was epic? Really it was amazing walking in the vineyards, chatting with old friends, and drinking wine in the Autumn sun. A perfect day out. Tory even got to fulfil his dream of walking the vineyards with a fresh baguette tucked under his arm!
And that was Beaune. Mission accomplished. Next, we were headed to the Provence region for a few days with the possibility of meeting up with our friends again before we pointed our nose south and hit the road gunning for Portugal and the race against our Schengen visa. Stay tuned as we visit Orange, finally see the ocean again and stay in another massive camping village.