Just Back: Burgundy

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Senior Travel Books Editor Barbara A. Noe visited the Burgundy region of France as part of research for the upcoming National Geographic book Romantic Journeys of a Lifetime.

Here are some of the high points of her trip, in her own words:

Memorable Moment: At the top of a creaky, squeaky wooden staircase of a 15th-century building, on the rue du Merle in the village of Cluny, a door leads into a network of rooms where France’s only private instrument-making institution resides.

The Bois et Buis workshop, run by the esteemed lute-maker Pascal Cranga, seems to have come straight out of the Renaissance, filled with talented woodworkers bent over long counters, meticulously carving, shaving, and polishing violins, guitars, and mandolins.

At the request of his mentor, young Benjamin—one of the craftsmen who have come from all over the world to learn instrument-making from the best of the best—sits down with a Hawaiian, guitar-like instrument he just completed (he tells me they were popular in California in the ‘20s and ‘30s).

In this centuries-old setting, the air fills with a wistful melody—to think that Benjamin made the very instrument he is playing is mind-boggling.

Craveable Culinary Experience: The province of Burgundy boasts 32 restaurants with Michelin stars, noteworthy news for all lovers of pigeon breast, escargot, and Dijon mustard.

For me, the stand out was the Relais de Montmartre, Frédéric Carrion’s triumphal hotel-restaurant in the southern Burgundian village of Viré.

My culinary adventure began with kirs of three-fruit liqueur on the terrace, with assorted appetizers made from such local summer produce as sweet peas and aubergine (eggplant). We then moved to the dining room for the main performance.

If dinner was not a work of edible art, I don’t know what is: foie gras with frisé and carrots; Bayonne ham with parmesan foam and truffle-oil-infused potatoes; St.-Pierre fish with fennel-seasoned lobster fumé; and the most amazing cheese chariot I’ve ever seen.

We then enjoyed pre-dessert: strawberry parfait with raspberry-swirl cake and chocolate caramel; followed by real dessert: chocolate cake with cherries and vanilla, topped off with chai ice cream.

I think there was more, but I was too stuffed to write it all down. Burgundy wines, of course, were paired with each dish.

Best Place Ever: Can a place be too charming?

That’s the question I kept asking myself in the tiny hilltown of Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, home to a medieval castle complete with turrets, curtain walls, and a grass-filled moat.

But it’s the village lanes that elicited squealing notes of glee: Wealthy merchant houses festooned with roses and lavender and bougainvillea, all adorned with pediments and stained-glass windows. Every now and again I caught a glimpse of the landscapes far below, the picturesque Canal de Bourgogne, rolling fields of yellow mustard flowers, and cow-dotted pastures.

It may sound cliché, but this place is truly out of the pages of a storybook. Prince Charming not included.

Outdoor Oasis: The climates of Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune vineyards were granted World Heritage site status in 2015, a nod to the fabled wines made in this gorgeous realm since the High Middle Ages.

We’re talking such coveted vintages as Montrachet and La Romanée, masterfully created from grapes planted by Cistercian and Benedictine monks on the narrow hills south of Dijon beginning in the 12th century.

Even more alluring, in my opinion, is the 500-mile network of voies vertes bike trails that traverse the region, taking you from one amazing vineyard to the next—with obligatory tastings along the way, bien sûr!

I tackled a short, vine-edged stretch between the villages of Pommard and Puligny-Montrachet, stopping every hundred yards or so to take yet another photo of the drop-dead-beautiful scenery.

Among the many tasting options, one of my favorites was Jean Chartron in Puligny-Montrachet, whose family has produced grands crus here since 1859.

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