After three weeks scouring Burgundy for the Rough Guides, I thought I’d share my personal best and worst of the region.
Best tip: Use Rhino Cars for car hire in France. Not only do they allow you to pick up a car in one city and leave it in another, but they also choose the best deal among all car hire firms.
Best meal: Well, the dinner described in my three-star-Michelin restaurant post has to be tops. I still have the dinner menu on my mantelpiece.
Best surprise: Tonnerre, a beautiful place in rural France with a canal running through it, a good museum and friendly locals. It also has a mystery associated with it; the source of its fountain Fosse Dionne has never been found.
La Côte Saint Jacques in Joigny. One of the top restaurants of France, with approachable staff and in chef Jean-Michel Lorain, the youngest chef ever to have earned three Michelin stars.
Maison Milliére in Dijon. The building stems from 1483; the wonderful back garden is new and a delight; the cooking and atmosphere superb.
Le Petit Rolin in Autun. Not only is it a fine restaurant that serves cuisine bourguignonne, but it uses part of the ramparts as its walls and a Roman column to prop up the roof.
L’Espérance, Saint-Père. Below the historic town of Vézelay, this inn is really a place to relax after eating in its renowned restaurant under chef Marc Meneau.
Best wine tasting: the vertical tasting I had domain Jean-Marc Brocard. A vertical tasting is when you try the same wine in different years and discover how the taste changes.
Best wines. Too many to mention, but I like dry whites and in particular Chablis. So. the grand cru Chablis Vaudesir 2009 domain Brocard must get a mention. I should say that the excellent premier cru Fourchaume 2009 also by Brocard was served to me with my fish dish at La Côte Saint Jacques in Joigny. For new wines, the St-Véran Terre des fees 2011 was very drinkable despite its 13.5% alcohol content. I drank several St Vérans down in the Mâconnais area and it has become my favourite ‘undiscovered’ climat in Pouilly-Fuissé.
Hotel Sofitel La Cloche, Dijon. Built in 1882, and it’s as grand now as it was then. Not cheap, but then it has hosted Rodin, Saint Saëns, Maurice Chevalier and Grace Kelly amongst others.
Le Normandie, Auxerre. Much cheaper and convenient for drivers, it has 24-hr room service. I woke up one day at 11pm after lying for a quick nap at 7pm and they offered to make me a hot meal. (Incidentally, the masculine article is correct. Le Normandie refers to a ship called Normandie; not to the region, La Normandie.)
Worst Hotel: It will stay unnamed, but suffice to say that I was given the second noisiest room I’ve stayed in ever. It was like facing an M25 exit at the point where everyone changes gear and accelerates. Not only that, but they tried to fob me off by saying it was the quietest room in the hotel..
Best Campsite: Chablis. Not only is it situated in a great location by the river Serein, but it also has superb facilities. And it’s the cheapest place to stay in Chablis, too.
Best tour company: Vititours. Franck left Paris for Burgundy, trained as a vigneron and is now passionate about wine.
Friendliest bar: Le Bistrot Bourguignon in Beaune. They saw me stressed and in a hurry and they made me relax. Thanks guys.
Quirkiest sight: The Fallot Mustard factory in Beaune. Great tour and even better tastings of mustard hors d’oeuvres.
Won’t be running to return to: Nevers. Strange place, that. First there are the bikers and boy racers attracted by the F1 ring at Magny-Cours. Then there are the old dears who have come to see the embalmed body of St-Bernadette exposed in the convent church she attended. And then there are the antique aesthetes who have come here shopping for faiance.
Most imposing chateau: Chateau Missery in the Côte d’Or, whose owners I now consider friends and with whom I’m still in touch.
Not really impressed by: Mâcon. I suppose, whenever I thought of Mâcon, I thought of the “Baby of Mâcon” by Peter Greenaway with its cannibalism, incest and the climactic, multiple rape scene. It is with some relief that I report that the worst thing that happened to me there, was getting lost with the traffic signs that said only PARIS, LYON and GENEVE.
Best Napoleon Suite: For €150 you can get the same bedroom in the Hotel St-Louis in Autun. Napoleon stayed there four times, including with Josephine in 1802 and 1805, so the walls have seen some action.
Best tourist gadget: the virtual (or augmented) reality camera in Cluny, worth climbing the Tour des Fromages to look through it below. A live webcam projects the cars and the traffic on the screen, while the background, as you turn the tablet around, is that of the Cluny Abbey at its grandest: around the twelfth century.
Best French stud: If you click for the stud, you have a dirty mind.