Biking in Burgundy

Biking in Burgundy

Biking is one of the best ways to see Europe’s ancient towns, rolling vineyards and historic castles. And of course, any good riding holiday should include great food and wine. Beaune, France has it all. I took a couple of riders from Canadian Cyclist magazine for a tour of my top places to bike around Burgundy.

It was quite by chance that Burgundy became one of my favourite spots to ride. In the late 1980s, I was trying to get back into race shape after an injury and had the idea to get in my miles in Europe. I sold a bike, cashed in savings from working in a bike shop, and headed to Amsterdam. The plan was to ride to the south of France, then to London, and be home in Winnipeg by mid-July.

Instead, I ended up staying for three years.

I got a job as a bike mechanic in Beaune, France, and travelled around Europe with my bike. Since then, Beaune has always been a special place to me and it has some of the most diverse riding anywhere (along with some of the world’s best food and wine). So when Sam and Chris from Canadian Cyclist magazine asked if I could show them around Beaune for a few days before Eurobike, I couldn’t refuse.

I brought my own bike from Vancouver with the EVOC bike bag. For trips like this, I like having my own bike. It just feels like home and it’s always worth the effort it takes to travel with. The good folks at Ridley Bikes hooked Sam and Chris up with a couple of lightweight 2015 Ultegra-equipped Ridley Helium bikes for this trip. The Helium has a sub-1000-gram frame but is still compliant and comfortable, which is really important for long days in the saddle on the back roads of France.

Biking in Burgundy

Welcome to Beaune

The three of us met in Beaune, and even though we were a bit jet-lagged it was too nice a day not to go for a short warm-up ride to work the cobwebs out. The traditional first ride for me in Beaune has always been out to La Rochepot, a medieval castle built in the thirteenth century and then rebuilt in the nineteenth century after the French Revolution.

Biking in Burgundy

La Rochepot has one of the nicest examples of the Burgundy tiled roof

The ride starts off on paths through the Beaune and Pommard vineyards, then a bit of climbing takes you to a ripping descent though the town of d’Orches and on to La Rochepot. After stopping to see the castle and snapping some pics, we rode back to Beaune through the vineyards of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, home of some of the best white wines in the world. Beaune is the centre of the Burgundy wine trade, and one of the highlights for me here is tasting wines that I’d never be able to get in Canada.

 

The meeting place in Beaune is always the Grand Café, a busy traditional café in the centre of town. So the next morning, we met there for breakfast, had their specialty – a Grand Crème, a tasty coffee with warm cream – and went over the days’ route, which is one I look forward to every time I’m in Burgundy.

Biking in Burgundy

First stop: breakfast at the Grand Café

The route heads towards Dijon through Pernand-Vergelesses, and then goes up a steep climb to the top of the Côte through the village of Échevronne. After that, the route winds through the Burgundy countryside to Pont-de-Pany. Like all rides through this area, you’re never more than a few kilometres from a town, there’s never a chance of running out of water, and your next available coffee stop is always close.

The best part of this ride is stopping in Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a hilltop fortress built in the fifteenth century with some fascinating history. A café in the central square is the perfect lunch spot; there’s nothing better than having lunch surrounded by a fifteenth-century fortress. After lunch it’s up and over the Côte and through a valley back to Beaune for a 110km day.

When I told Sam and Chris about the riding, I sold it as rolling countryside. After a couple of days of riding, they were pretty convinced it’s just plain hilly. I guess I have to agree.

 

Day three was a bit shorter to leave some time for exploring Beaune and wine tasting. We went up and down the Côte twice – just to confirm that is indeed hilly – and spent time walking around Beaune and wine tasting. One of the spots we went to was Patriarche Père et Fils. They have the largest cave in Beaune and for 16€ you can walk through kilometres of vaults and taste 16 different wines, including some Premier Crus.

That evening, we went to Le Montrachet, a one-star Michelin restaurant. Going there is an event – the food and service are impeccable. (If you ever get the chance to eat there, do it – you won’t be disappointed.) This meal capped off a few days of decadent eating, from a traditional Burgundy meal at Le Gourmandin to a twist on French fare with an Italian chef at Les Popiettes, along with lots of wine tasting. We needed a long ride to burn off some calories.

Biking in Burgundy

Food is good in France

After a few 10am Grand Crèmes at Le Grand, we started our final day of riding. Up and over the Côte (again) then through the Burgundy countryside to Autun, a town that dates back to Roman times. In one 50km section of riding, we only saw five cars and rode through countless ancient towns. Each one is like a postcard and perfectly kept, and it’s clear the residents take tremendous pride in their little corner of France. We weren’t in a hurry and stopped to check out churches and châteaux along the route. In Autun, a pizza restaurant at the base of the cathedral was the perfect spot for lunch and a glass of wine. After a cathedral visit, we headed back to Beaune to end off a challenging 125km day.

Biking in Burgundy

Taking a break for lunch in Autun

Over dinner that night, we toasted Burgundy for being such a good host, and tasted wines from towns we’d spent the last four days riding through. I’ve been lucky enough to ride my bike all over the world, and Burgundy remains my favourite. It may not have the iconic climbs from the Tour de Giro and days aren’t necessarily “epic,” but it does have a beautiful countryside with a maze of roads perfect for cycling. If anyone ever needs a tour guide for Beaune, I’m in.

Tim McDermott
Tim McDermott

MEC’s cycling sage, he's known for his espresso addiction and ability to drop the entire group on lunch rides.