Essentials & Advice | Burgundy | By Liana Mallia
Have you never been to the most glorious region (in our humble opinion) of all of France? Or perhaps you’ve been here countless times, to savour the incredible wine, soak up the atmosphere of those magical vineyards, and enjoy equally exquisite Burgundian food. Either way, if it’s your first time or your fiftieth, I’m here to sing the praises of our spiritual second home.
David Butterfield—son of our co-founders George and Martha—makes wine here in Beaune and likes to say that while Toronto is B&R’s ‘heart’, our European operations office in Beaune, is the ‘soul’ of B&R. After making my way there, I must confirm that it’s true. Here’s why this wonderful region keeps producing trips of amazing vintage year in and year out—and why you should make your way here—especially if it’s your first time.
Diving back into over fifty years of Butterfield lore and legend, it’s our Burgundy Biking trip which paved the way (or pedalled the way?) for thousands of bike trips to come, in regions as far-flung as Morocco and Vietnam (and anywhere else that looks great by two wheels).
Burgundy is the grande dame, the original, the classic, the quintessential B&R trip, and it doesn’t get any better than pedalling through the vineyards and vistas and sipping Grands Crus in the very region where they were grown. (We also know pretty much everyone in town, so getting that last-minute table at Les Caves de la Madeleine shouldn’t be a problem)
Believe me, first-timers and non-bikers, when I say you can do it. Caveat: I am not a professional biker by any means: I am a professional sitter. (As the Digital Marketing Specialist in the Toronto office, I’m most often found behind a desk than behind a set of handlebars).
I’m also a mere commuter biker—I don’t travel more than 10 kilometers (a little over 6 miles) per day. I was a little intimidated at the prospect of going—gasp!—as far as 30 or even 50 kilometres, the average daily ride in Burgundy.
But I’m pleased to say I made it 55 kilometres, with the moral support and encouragement of my guide (merci mille fois, Chris Litt!). I felt fine the next day, even embarking upon another 30-kilometre lunch ride through the rolling hills with our French team. Toronto is wonderfully flat as a pancake, but those Burgundian hills had me working harder than I was used to. But that sense of accomplishment? Well worth it.
Another excellent option when testing your mettle on a bike trip is simple—just choose an e-bike! It’s an incredible thing, especially if you and your travelling companions are of differing abilities. I tested out an e-bike on another ride, and I loved it. (Tip: ‘Turbo’ mode will have you zipping up hills while other folks are huffing and puffing). With an adjustable electric assist, you’re still ‘working’ as little, or as much as you want to, as you can adjust how much boost you get with the click of a button. Easy-peasy.
Let’s be honest, though: you’ve come to Burgundy for the sumptuous cuisine and the wine, right? (Or perhaps those legendary B&R picnics you may have heard about?) I’ll leave the wine rhapsodizing to our experts, but will add a few of my observations about some local delicacies: did you know the oh-so-French specialty, escargot, originated here? The Burgundian snail, Helix pomatia, is the most sought-after, as they’re the biggest and the sweetest-tasting variety. They’re also difficult to farm, so wild-caught snails are the ones to eat. Don’t miss out.
There’s also the matter of that quintessential French condiment: mustard. While most mustard seeds are actually grown in North America and imported, this local moutarderie’s Burgundy mustard is made with local mustard seeds and combined with Burgundy wine. It’s intensely flavourful and even better than anything you’ve ever tasted. (You may even ride through mustard fields depending on the season you come in). Another local delicacy that pairs nicely with mustard is the terrine known as jambon persillé (literally, ‘parsleyed ham’). A slice of it with a dab of mustard and a torn-off chunk of fresh bread? Heavenly.
I also fell in love with the charming little candy, Anis de Flavigny, another locally-made treat. At the heart of these candies lie green anise seeds, tumbled in thin layers of tumbled sugar. Originating in 1591, initially by monks, these local candies are famous countrywide and are still being made on-site at the abbey, although no longer by ascetics. The flavours and beautiful illustrations on each tin make these a sweet souvenir, too.
One of our most beloved hotels, Domaine de Rymska, occupies a working farm in the tranquil Burgundian countryside. This Relais & Chateaux property has been meticulously restored and offers some of the best farm-to-table cuisine in the region. You'll even witness lambs, thoroughbred horses and other majestic creatures trotting about on the hotel's grounds. With a secluded atmosphere and an incredible selection of wine, it’s a place where you’ll feel welcome and at ease.
All good things must come to an end, but the journey didn’t stop after I came home: I bought a touring bike to continue my own exploration of the ‘slow road’ back home in Toronto, and I can’t wait to see how far my two wheels will take me this year. Long story short: once you open your heart to Burgundy, only time will tell what magic it will work upon you, long after you’ve returned.