Heading to one of our luxury villas in Burgundy? Lucky you! It’s a gorgeous region with plenty going for it – but why take our word for it? We’ve been out and about (again), talking to people in the know, and this time we managed to snag an interview with travel writer Janine Marsh. She told us all about what’s great about Burgundy, and how you can get the best out of your trip there.
Tell us a bit about yourself! What do you do, how long have you lived where you are and what makes you an expert in the region? Do you have any special connection there?
I’m a travel writer and editor of thegoodlifefrance.com and The Good Life France Magazine – where you can learn everything you want to know about France and more… I have a home in northern France where I am maid to 6 cats, 3 dogs, 4 geese, 25 ducks and 25 chickens!
Why should people travel to Burgundy at least once in their life? What might they find surprising on their first visit?
Burgundy has it all – glorious countryside and vineyards, amazing gastronomy, a fabulous history, picturesque villages, awesome towns, the Burgundy Canal and an incredible capital city – Dijon. There are also more chateaux in this region than any other in France, many of them with well-stocked wine cellars, gourmet restaurants nearby and swimming pools. A lot of them are available to the public as luxury hotels.
And what makes people come back time and time again?
The diversity of the local landscape, the chance to stay in a fabulous chateau, the amazing local heritage, picturesque villages, waterways and the peacefulness of the countryside… Plus cheese, wine and the most incredible gastronomy.
Summarize the region for us in three words!
Wine, chateaux, gastronomy!
Have you had any famous visitors or well-known events (historical or otherwise) take place in the region?
The Dukes of Burgundy were once more powerful than the royal family of France. Their footprint in Dijon is incredible. Hugely wealthy, the Dukes of Burgundy were patrons of the arts and spent fortunes making Dijon as beautiful as possible. An enormous palace, wide open squares, medieval streets with gorgeous mansions – their legacy is on every corner.
Time for some travel inspiration – can you give us your recommendations on:
The first thing to do – you should drop your bags and… wander round Dijon and take in the sights of this historic town that bears so many traces of its illustrious and very prosperous past. Wander into a modern clothes shop and discover an ancient well left over from the 15th Century. Dip down an alleyway and find a hidden medieval house that looks like it was built yesterday. Rest your feet and people-watch at Place Francois Rude, encircled by cafés and bars whose tables spill onto the pedestrianised square. It’s a lively place named after the Dijon-born sculptor of “La Marseillaise” which graces the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The locals call it Place du Bareuzai thanks to the statue of a naked man treading grapes; the name means ”red stockings” (from bas rosé) which the winegrowers had after crushing grapes with their feet.
Your favourite restaurant and/or bar, and why – is there something served there that visitors should really try? There’s a huge choice of places to eat in Dijon, but I especially love Les Oenophiles restaurant for its 15th-century pigeonnier, 17th-century dining room, 100% home cooked food and incredible tasting boeuf bourguignon, the region’s signature dish.
An activity that really takes in the best the area has to offer? Wine tasting in Beaune, home of the famous and really quite sensational Hospices de Beaune. It’s a pretty town where they take their wine seriously. When one of the locals discovered that robbers had been tunnelling from her wine cellar into the local bank, she called the robbers “idiots” for ignoring her wine collection which she felt was worth far more than the gold or money in the bank! The Hospices de Beaune was a cutting-edge hospital in the 1400s, and incredibly enough, parts of it stayed open until the 1990s. It is a fascinating place to visit, and you will never forget the site of that magnificent multi-coloured tiled roof. It’s about 20 minutes by train from Dijon, or you can take the scenic route by tram for around an hour and 20 minutes.
Something free to do – perhaps that people can’t do anywhere else? The unique and free to enter Museum of Burgundy Life in Dijon has an eclectic and rather wonderful mix of objects, but the recreations of shops and their contents from the 19th and early 20th Centuries are truly superb.
The best activities and things to do for families? A picnic along the canal, cycling – there is 800 km of cycle routes and five major routes. A must-see on the way is the Chateau of Guedelon in Yonne, a medieval castle being built in the 21st Century. (Open March – November)
Your best-kept secret of the region? Chateauneuf-en-Auxois is a fairy-tale looking picture perfect hilltop Burgundian country town. It overlooks the Burgundy Canal and is officially one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France”. A great place to spend a relaxing day out, though there is not a lot to do other than wander, wonder and eat – the views alone are worth the detour.
What would your perfect day in the area comprise of?
A morning in Dijon at the market, coffee in the square with a nibble on a nonette (the local gingerbread cake); browse the second-hand book stalls, lunch in the Place Francois Rude and then hop on the tram to Beaune which is slower than taking the train but a fun and charming route.
What’s the one experience that really captures the essence of the region for you, and why?
The market at Dijon with its Eiffel-designed architecture, the great man and designer of the famous tower in Paris was born there. Burgundians love their food, and in this market, you will really see, smell and taste the love that goes into preparing it. From bread with little heart shaped ends to snail cake, divine chocolate nibbles, amazing cheese like Epoisses, produced in a little village of the same name, washed down with locally produced Chablis. There is a café in the centre of the market that simply oozes joie de vivre as happy customers sit and chat… and eat.