"Such and such is a MUST DO!" is so overused in travel writing. Spend time reading travel blogs and you will have fourteen "must dos" to cram into your next weekend getaway.
But, for anyone spending time in Burgundy, bicycling the Voie des Vignes is a MUST DO! Along with touring Halong Bay and snorkeling in Nha Trang, both in Vietnam, this was the most fun I've had during our travels thus far.
The Voie des Vignes is a paved 14 mile out and back bike route between Beaune and Santenay.
Winding through the famed, immaculately maintained vineyards of Burgundy, the route is like candy for a wine lover. We began in Beaune, where we are staying, and pedaled southwest to Santenay before turning around for the return ride. So, roughly 28 miles total.
First Stop: Pommard
A truly iconic Burgundy village, people can't get enough of Pommard wines (neither can Nicole)! To describe the versatility of these wines, Beaune-tourism.com cites Pommard winemaker Anne Parent, who describes a vineyard near the south of the village as producing "powerful and structured wines ... reminiscent of a young man with strong rugby player’s shoulders driving a powerful Ferrari," whereas a vineyard in the north might produce, "silky and feminine [wines] ... evok[ing] the elegance of a young golfer driving an Aston Martin." Keep in mind, she is describing an overall area of less than 800 acres.
The village of Pommard itself is quiet, and could easily be pedaled through without stopping. However, during our ride back, we met a Seattle-ite, Alberto, along the bike path who happened to speak French. Earlier in the day, he had met a family member from Domaine Michel Rebourgeon who had been working in the vineyards as Alberto pedaled by. Because of this, at Alberto's urging, we stopped at their tasting room, located in the center of the village, for a tasting. We were glad we did! We tasted a handful of delicious wines (at no charge) and left with a few bottles in my backpack. A recommended stop!
Beyond stopping for a wine tasting, there isn't much else happening in Pommard village.
Second Stop: Volnay
Similar to Pommard, Volnay is another sleepy village with a storied wine making tradition. However, Volnay's wines are known for being, on average, lighter and more elegant than those from Pommard. (Of the few wines Nicole and I have sampled from this area, they haven't been our favorite -- but that's admittedly based upon a small sample size of mostly younger wines.)
Also similar to Pommard, there isn't much going on in the village itself. We pedaled right through heading both out and back, stopping only for a few pictures.
Third Stop: Meursault
Of the villages on the route, Meursault is the busiest. Roughly seven miles in and at the approximate half-way point, this is the place to stop for a break.
Highly recommended is the Artisan Boulanger right off the main square (no website or Tripadvisor page). We stopped there for pastries on the way out, and sandwiches on the return leg. Nearby, the "Casino" supermarket is a great place to replenish the water supply and grab snacks for the road, one of the few such places along the way. (Also, next to the supermarket, La Place bar's outdoor terrace is a popular rest stop for bicyclists.)
Fourth Stop: Puligny-Montrachet
Montrachet is an wine appellation between the villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassange-Montrachet. Here, white wine, made from Chardonay grapes, rules. Montrachet produces some of the highest priced white wines in Burgundy, if not the world. (Nicole and I were able to try a 1999 Montrachet grand cru at a wine shop a few days back -- Wow! I wish we were independently wealthy, we'd drink it all the time!)
The village of Puligny-Montrachet is home to, in our humble opinions, the best place to stop for an extended break during the ride: Caveau de Puligny-Montrachet. A combination wine shop/bar, any of the shop's wide selection of local wines can be enjoyed on the terrace (for a €5 corkage fee) along with a selection of light snacks (mostly cheese or charcuterie). We ordered a 2015 Pommard Premier Cru from Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret. At €37 for the bottle, the sommelier informed us this producer provides great value. It tasted declicious. (Although a Volnay from the same producer we tried later disappointed us.)
Bonus content!: If stopping at Caveau de Puligny-Montrachet, you will approach the wine shop heading down a slight incline toward a roundabout with a bronze winemaker statue in the middle (the wine shop is just to the right of where Nicole snapped the picture below). For style points, grin enthusiastically and pedal a lap around the roundabout before parking your bicycle at the wine shop. Nicole executed this flawlessly during our ride! :)
After enjoying a bottle of wine in Puligny-Montrachet, this would be, by all accounts, a logical turnaround point (approximately 10 miles in, and roughly 2/3 of the way to Santenay). Indeed, when we rented our bicycles in Beaune, the shop worker told us that either Merusault or Puligny-Montrachet is as far as most people go. We pressed ahead.
Fifth Stop: Chassagne-Montrachet
The ride between Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet is an opportunity to see Montrachet's famous grand cru vineyards. From the vantage in the picture above, the grand cru vineyards of Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, on the left, and Bâtard-Montrachet, on the right, (each, technically, their own appellation) are immediately ahead. According to wine-searcher.com, recent vintage wines from these vineyards are fetching approximately $250-$350 per bottle.
The village of Chassagne-Montrachet is unremarkable; we pedaled right through. This is also where the route becomes noticeably hillier. Our legs felt the burn.
Turnaround Point: Santenay
The ride between Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay is a hilly slog (at least it was for us!). Santenay itself features a quaint town square (pictured above). Two restaurants, l'Ouillette and Le Terroir (immediately behind the fountain, on the left and right, in the picture above), both were busy and looked like good places to stop for a longer lunch. We pressed on.
Frankly, at this point, our stamina dwindled rapidly. We didn't linger long in order to get going on the return ride.
If we had it to do again -- what we wish we had known and a few tips
- This ride is no joke and much more tiring than we imagined! In hindsight, Nicole would have preferred to turn around after stopping at Caveau de Puligny-Montrachet. After that point, the ride became noticeably hillier. Moreover, by that time, we had mostly seen the area. You wouldn't be missing anything remarkable to skip the rest.
- The route itself is easy to navigate. Just follow the little green signs.
- We rented our bikes from Bourgogne Randonnées in Beaune. The bikes worked fine, were affordable at €19 each, and we had until 6 p.m. to return them. This gave us plenty of time for the full ride to Santenay and back.
- On the return ride, it is possible to cut a little bit of the distance off in a few places by taking the main roads rather than the more winding Voie des Vignes. We did this and it probably saved us a mile or two.
- Another option, to allow for a more leisurely ride while still pedaling the entire path, is to take a train (with your bike) back to Beaune. Because the train only stops in Santenay a few times each day, if doing this option, it is necessary to pedal an additional 3 miles further to the nearby larger town of Chagny where the train stops regularly. If considering this option, ask for the train schedule when renting the bikes at Bourgogne Randonnées in Beaune which they provided to us.
- There are numerous opportunities to taste wine along the way, either at wineries or wine shops. (Like most places in Burgundy, it is advisable to reserve tastings in advance) However, unless you are planning to shorten the ride by turning around prior to Santenay, or are in way better shape than Nicole and I, I would recommend keeping wine tasting to a minimum. As described above, we stopped for wine twice during the ride. More than that, and we would have been pressed for time.
- If you are touring in Burgundy, and are at all able, do this ride! The route is easily navigated, gorgeous, and mostly easy to pedal. It was, without doubt, a highlight of our time here.
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