After excitedly planning our road trip to Burgundy in France, we were dismayed when news reports came in that there was a fuel crisis. French workers were striking over pay disputes which resulted in six out of eight oil refineries being closed, no fuel being replenished and petrol running dry at thousands of gas stations across the country.
After monitoring the situation, and receiving assurances that there was fuel located locally in and around Burgundy, we decided to still go ahead with our holiday. We just had to make sure we had a full tank before crossing into the country. Thankfully, we were back on track and raring to go.
As first timers taking the Euro Tunnel shuttle and driving on French roads, we were seriously impressed with both. The Euro Tunnel was simple and painless – only 40 minutes on board, it was a pleasant surprise when the voice over the tannoy announced we should get ready to disembark.
The roads were also easy to drive, even on the right-hand side, and straightforward to navigate – a joy in comparison to the gridlocked conditions we have here in the UK and, after avoiding all roads around Paris meant we made it in good time to Auxerre, where we stayed the night before beginning our Burgundy Back Roads tour.
What was totally unpredictable was the shocking weather we had during our time in France. So unprecedented was the rainfall, according to locals the last time it was this bad was back in 1993. Torrential rain also meant that we had to change accommodation, as roads were flooded and impassable.
Hats off, though, to the wonderful Valerie at Pays De Guédelon, who had organised our itinerary. Tasked with managing a group of three bloggers and their families in these exceptional circumstances must have been a difficult juggling act, but she did it with aplomb and we were all looked after by every single host we met along our Burgundy adventure. Meanwhile, with my French of a poor standard, I was secretly pleased I managed to get by during our week, the most popular phrase used: ‘Je ne parle pas français’!
And, even though we could have let the miserable weather dampen our spirits, we didn’t. After all, what are waterproofs and wellies for?
This is an overview of the wonderful towns, restaurants and experiences we encountered during our time in Burgundy – and I will be going into more detail in further posts about some of the activities we got up to.
We arrived in Auxerre after a long drive. So our first thoughts were to freshen up before heading out for dinner and to explore. Auxerre is the fourth largest city in Burgundy – although you wouldn’t really know it! We left our hotel and walked into the centre and came across… nobody. Even though Sundays are meant to be relatively quiet, we were shocked by the lack of people on the streets.
By the time we’d found a brasserie along the River Yonne, we’d already walked around the impressive Cathédrale Saint-Étienne and the stone cobbled backstreets. However, our favourite part was the river bank and the picture perfect views.
Monkey absolutely adored the fountains we found and we spent a good while watching him jumping across. Even though we repeatedly warned him to be careful, he became a little cocky and ended up falling in and banging his face. Which meant our evening out on the town had come to an abrupt end. It also meant Monkey had a shiner for the rest of the trip…
Driving from Auxerre to Chablis is an assault on the senses. Even through the squeaky windscreen wipers, the views of the rolling vineyards, which go on and on, are spectacular. Once we hit the heart of Chablis, Monkey excitedly pointed out at the huge statue of a hand holding grapes… we’d definitely hit wine country.
If you drink wine, then I’m certain you’ve enjoyed a glass from the infamous Burgundy region. Chablis itself is a pretty town to explore – even in the rain. We wandered the streets and found a traditional wine press monument and tried to explain to Monkey how it worked. We peeked at the wine shops and walked across the River Serein – finding a small tow path. We also found the churches of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Martin. What was strange was there was not a soul to be seen again – the rain really had driven people away!
Wine tasting with Au Couer du Vin
The highlight for us though came a few hours later. Meeting oenologist Eric Szablowski outside the town hall in Mairie, we had a warm welcome and were thrilled when Eric showed us to his classic Citreon 2CV. Eric from Au Coeur du Vin is passionate about his craft and it shows in his immense knowledge of wine. He drove us to the heart of the vine yards and explained to us about the history of the area, and the appellations – a protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine are grown.
Hubby and I are huge wine fans, so for us this was fascinating – particularly as Eric had so many stories to tell. Monkey, however, wasn’t bothered at all. He just loved running around and jumping in the puddles.
When we got back into the 2CV, Eric took us through Chablis to a wine merchant in Grand Auxerriores. While we were making our way there, he showed us some of the vine yards that had been destroyed the week previous from an onslaught of hail stones. At the time, winemakers were still accessing the terrible damage, some of who were facing financial ruin. The likes of this natural disaster hasn’t been seen since 1865.
When we arrived at the cellars of Domaine Bersan at Saint-Bris-le-Vineux Eric lead us into the vaults brimming with history. This time Monkey’s interest was piqued having to climb below ground, discovering nooks and the dark, twisted tunnels, which were constructed by villagers and the monks of the Templar order so that inhabitants could live underground in case of a siege. Amazingly, Eric also showed us fossils embedded within the cellar walls that have been there for hundreds of millions of years. Of course, Monkey had to touch…
The best part came when we got to the wine tasting! We even met wine producer Jean-François (below), who told us he was still in shock from the terrible frost that had wiped out nearly all his vines. It was terribly sad, but he still managed to raise a smile. Of course we left with a box of wine, and Eric also kindly gave us a complimentary vintage bottle of red. Such a lovely gesture and one we really appreciated.
After bidding farewell to Eric, we hopped back into the car to make our way to our accommodation, La Maison Jeanne d’Arc, our home for next few days in the delightful Saint-Fargeau. Just a few hours from Paris, this quaint town, situated between the Loire and Yonne rivers, is the historic capital of La Puisaye, and is dominated by the impressive Saint-Fargeau Castle.
We were so happy to be able to relax in the beautiful house, which we had to ourselves, have a hot bath and warm up after our busy day. Plus, by this time we were all famished!
Eating at Le Moulin de Corneil
So back into the car and 10 minutes to the charming village of Mezilles. We were originally meant to be staying here, but due to the river bursting its banks it was not to be. At least we got to see some of it and enjoy a wonderful evening at Le Moulin de Corneil – a converted old mill. Even at dusk, it was a stunning spot – and we tried to imagine how it would be on a warm, summer’s evening…
The menu was traditional French cuisine using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. I opted for white asparagus and crayfish, while hubby went for terrine. We both shared the delicious and rare cote de boeuf which was melt-in-the-mouth sublime.
Monkey also had steak and chips. And we couldn’t resist the cheese board afterwards. The setting amongst the wooden floors, high beams and friendly staff meant we had a truly splendid meal – and we were so fortunate to be told about this hidden gem.
Needless to say we all slept like babies once we returned home. It was only our second day in Burgundy and we had already seen and done so much…