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route des Grands Crus
The mythic Route des Grands Crus is a 60 km stretch of the Côte d’Or from Dijon to Santenay that takes you through the grandest wine appellations from Burgundy. This route encompasses some of the prettiest villages in France for the wine growers not only take a great pride in their vineyards, they also tend their villages too – clusters of stone houses, adorned with geraniums, narrow cobbled streets, all add to the charm. Try and catch the honey coloured glow that descends on the villages and hillsides on a sunny day an hour before dusk – this is one of the things which makes Burgundy so memorable.
Having harboured vines since 500 BC, the well-tended slopes rising above the route represent 32 of the 33 Grand Cru wines from Burgundy (No 33 is Chablis in the north of the region.) Limestone-filled soil and ample sunshine make this stretch of land one of the most complex and exclusive wine producing areas in the world.
Whether you take a car or a bike, the Route des Grands Crus takes you through villages revered throughout the world for their wines: Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Aloxe-Corton, Puligny-Montrachet, and so many others.
The route runs through two regions of the Côte d’Or vineyards – the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. The Côte de Nuits stretches south from Dijon through Nuits-St-Georges to the village of Corgoloin. It is known for subtle, sophisticated reds. The Côte de Beaune, farther south, is known particularly for its white wines. Hundreds of wineries are open to the public along the route. Although it is always best to call and make an appointment, you are free to drop-in at any of the “caveaux” which often offer tastings and tours of their domains.
By Car, by Bike or on Foot
From Dijon, take the N74 highway – the Route is indicated by panels with a brown background showing a white bunch of grapes indicating the road to follow. The Route extends between Dijon and Beaune, and whenever possible follows little country roads. You can travel by car but also on foot or bike.
Experienced hikers can take the Grands Crus Long-Distance Footpath (Grande randonnée® des Grands Crus) which consists of 21 km, 6 to 7 hours on foot, with red and yellow marking, and crosses the Côte de Nuits starting from Dijon (Parc de la Combe Persil) and finishing at Pernand-Vergelesses. From there, you can still continue as far as Santenay along the GR® 7 Long-Distance Footpath.
Otherwise, renting a bike is a great option. Take the “véloroute” from Beaune to Santenay which consists of 22km of perfectly tended bike trails surrounded by vines and picturesque villages.
Travelling Along the Route des Grands Crus
The Cote de Nuits
The most famous and expensive red wines come from La Côte de Nuits, made up of a narrow band of hills south of Dijon. All of Burgundy’s red Grands Crus are produced here apart from one – the exception being the appellation Corton (in the Côte de Beaune).
You may be familiar with the village names from the wine labels: Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Chambolle Musigny, Vougeot, Flagey-Echézeaux, Vosne-Romanée, and Nuits-Saint-Georges.
In Fixin, stop by the beautiful lavoir, the village washhouse which dates back to 1827 and stroll around Le Parc Noisot and Musée Noisot dedicated to Napoleon.
In Gevrey-Chambertin you can take a guided tour around the medieval castle and schedule a wine tasting in the old cellar. There’s the beautiful, sturdy château, the house of the Burgundian writer Gaston Roupnel (1872-1946) and the townhouse of the wine merchant Claude Jobert. Go for a nature and vineyard walk in the Combe Lavaux area. Stay in the heart of the vineyards at the Logis Hotel Les Grand Crus and enjoy lunch or dinner at Chez Guy on the Place de Mairie.
In Vougeot, at the Château du Clos Vougeot, the headquarters of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, you can take a guided tour with a wine tasting, and admire the enormous Cistercian wine press. This is open all year to visitors.
Vosne-Romanée produces the world’s most expensive wine. Here you have the Grands Crus Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, and La Grande Rue.
Nuits St. Georges is a town, rather than a village, and the main hub for the Côte de Nuits. While lacking the tranquillity of the other villages, there are tourist attractions relating to the two industries, wine and blackcurrants. Take a stroll through the town’s old centre where there are many regional food shops, bakeries, and wine shops to discover.
Visit the church of St-Symphorien; the municipal museum (archaeology, painting); the Cassissium, a museum area dedicated to the blackcurrant; the Imaginarium, dedicated to sparkling wine.
The major events to look out for are: in March, “Vente des Vins des Hospices de Nuits” (wine auction); in June, the “Route du Cassis” (rally in the Hautes-Côtes); in July, “Sons d'une Nuits d'Été” (Nuits-Saint-Georges Music Festival); in October, “Fête du Vin Bourru” (wine festival).
The Cote de Beaune
The Côte de Beaune vineyard covers only about twenty kilometres, between Ladoix-Serrigny and Santenay. Along this stretch of land, the greatest dry white wines in the world grow alongside renowned red wines. The villages and towns are Ladoix-Serrigny, Aloxe-Corton, Pernand Vergelesses, Savigny-Lès-Beaune, Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, Monthélie, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Santenay.
Apart from the Corton (red and white grand cru), the Grands Crus of the Côte de Beaune are all whites: Corton-Charlemagne, Bâtard-Montrachet, Montrachet, Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet. For a more affordable bottle, try the Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Monthélie, and many other great (and less expensive) village appellations.
Aloxe-Corton is dominated by the château with its patterned tiled roof - one of the most photogenic in the Côte d’Or . The famous “Montagne de Corton”, a gently rounded hill situated above Aloxe-Corton (to the east), Ladoix-Serrigny (to the north) and Pernand-Vergelesses (to the west) attracts many. The hill is topped by a small forest from which rises the white statue of Notre-Dame de Bonne Espérance, and offers a great view of the vineyards below. The hill is encircled by magnificent terroirs producing some of the greatest wines of the Côte de Beaune: Corton and Corton-Charlemagne, for the red and white crus respectively. Visit the Château Corton-André and Domaine Comte Senard Table d’Hôte.
Pernand-Vergelesses is among the most picturesque of Burgundian wine villages, with its traditional houses, steep little streets and the surrounding vineyards. Climb up to admire the view from the oratory of Notre-Dame de Bonne Espérance.
At the centre of Savigny-Lès-Beaune is the château with its vineyard and the motorcycle, aviation and racing car museum. A good annual event in the spring in the village is 'Bienvenue à Savigny', tastings, music and bonhomie.
Beaune is known as the ‘capital’ of wine in Burgundy and is the epicenter of tourism. You need to schedule a longer stop in this delightful town. Specialist food and wine shops, galleries, museums and churches, top class restaurants and lively cafes are some of the treats in store.
Pommard is next on the itinerary. Château de Pommard has been owned by Maurice Giraud since 2003 and is the largest private vineyard in Burgundy. Its 20 hectares of wines in a single plot belonging to the same owner are enclosed by a two-metre high wall. That very fact makes it unique. Maurice Giraud is also an art aficionado and each year stages an art exhibition. From early April up to the 3rd Sunday of November, open 7/7 from 9.30 am to 6.30 pm. Guided tour and wine tasting 21 euros per person. For other times of the year, make an appointment.
Overlooking the Premier Crus from Volnay, is the Notre-Dame-des-Vignes statue – offering a great view of the village and nearby vineyards.
Monthélie produces mostly red wines, and a small amount of white wine. The best wines come from the steep slopes above the village, such as Les Duresses. The 12C church of St-Germain, the 18thC château and the old houses in the village all add to the atmosphere.
Meursault is a little town, big on character. It is a good choice for accommodation in the Côte de Beaune - stay at the Hotel Les Charmes or bed and breakfast Domaine Berlancourt and get immersed in the wine culture. Château de Meursault possesses one of the largest wine cellars in Burgundy.
There is little in the village of Puligny-Montrachet to indicate that its vineyards produce the best white wine in the world. It is a sleepy place with the Michelin starred Le Montrachet restaurant at its heart. Chassagne-Montrachet is also quiet and unassuming with wine tasting and tasting lunches and accommodation at Château de Chassagne-Montrachet.
Apart from the vineyards, the surroundings of Santenay are worth exploring as the Canal du Centre passes through. The village square of Santenay, the Place du Jet d’Eau, has been given a new lease of life and there is a casino.
Reporting: Agnes Bordage
Guided Wine Tours and Tasting Lunches