I’d like to write an occasional series about my favourite day on each of our tours. Let’s see if I get beyond the first piece, but in a spirit of optimism let me start with my favourite day on our Burgundy Tour.
Well. I’ve decided that my favourite day is the first day.Usually, the first day (Sunday) involves too much faffing around with bikes and setup to be a favourite, especially for the guide, but Sunday on our Burgundy tour involves such an eclectic collection of interesting sites that I think it takes the accolade.
How about I write my way through the day, highlighting the things I like about it, and why? And please, if you agree or disagree, let me know!
1. The Abbey De Fontenay.
Once we leave Montbard, within about 5 miles we visit the Cistercian abbey of Fontenay, one of the oldest and most complete Cistercian abbeys in Europe. It’s in a beautiful setting – if you were told to gather a group of family and friends and plan to be self-sufficient, this valley is where you’d choose.There’s a beautiful little stream, and the church, clositer, dormitories, dovecote and forge are all still intact. They have bred their own variety of hydrangea, and the Abbey is credited with the invention of the hydraulic hammer. The gardens have been designated as a ‘Remarkable Garden’ by the French Ministry of Culture.
I agree completely with a TripAdvisor reviewer who said ‘This place is like paradise’.
2. The statue of Vercingetorix.
After we leave the Abbey de Fontenay we meet the Canal de Bourgogne for the first time, which will be our friend on and off for the next 3 days. usually we enjoy a picnic next to the canal at Venarey-les-Laumes. It’s a lovely canal, much wider than British canals, and these days used exclusively for pleasure craft which can be up to 80 metres long.
From Veneray we climb to visit the statue of Vercingetorix, close to the village of Alise Ste Reine.
Vercingetorix was a leader of the Gauls in the time of Julius Casear. Following a significant victory over Casear in the Battle of Gergovia, Vercingetorix was proclaimed King of the Gauls and retreated to a stronghold on top of the hill outside Alesia.
Casear besieged Vercingetorix with fortifications surrounding the hill, but also built fortifications on the downhill side to keep out the expected army sent to relieve Vercingetorix. Caesar’s hope was that if they could defy the relieving army for 6 weeks, they’d go home, leaving him able to deal with Vercingetroix at leisure.
The plan worked, and eventually Vercingetorix surrendered. Alise Ste Reine claims to be the site of this famous battle, and there is a huge 7 metre bronze statue erected on the site. But not just any old statue, it was designed by Eugene Viollet-Le-Duc on the orders of Napoleon III. A real piece of French history.
A few of our customers (I’m talking about you, Gill) don’t agree with me. But this is a huge statue commissioned by Napoloen’s nephew, designed by France’s most celebrated architect, commemorating a French military disaster. Seriously, what’s not to love?
After the statue celebrating France’s despair, we fly down to the Canal de Bourgogne, and climb up the other side to Semur-en-Auxois. As we approach Semur, we cycle along a road that was used as the finsh for a stage of the Tour de France a few years ago. All the flags have gone now (although it took a few years!), but I like cycling along roads with Tour de France history and graffiti.
When we get into Semur, it’s a beautiful medieval village. I love an early evening stroll and a cold beer in the old village centre.
On the Sunday evening we eat at a place called the Saint Vernier. This is classic Burgundy cuisine. Many of the dishes characterised as French cuisine are actually Bourguignon, notably Beouf Bourguignon, but also Coq-au vin, frogs legs, escargot (snails), oeufs meurette, jambon perseillé.
When I’m putting together a tour, I like it if the region has a distinctive culinary identity, and that is certainly true of Burgundy. I try to choose restaurants that particularly showcase the local cuisine, and perhaps the best example on the entire Chain Gang schedule is the Saint Vernier. It is no-nonsense Burgundy cooking – you’ll find all the dishes listed above, and they’re all done right!
It’s not posh, and although we always book very carefully I get the impression that she doesn’t care either way. Five or fifty, arrive, find somewhere to sit, shut up, and eat! But the atmosphere is terrific, locals flock here, and it’s a fantastic traditional Burgundy end to a great day.
Great Galleries of our Burgundy tour on Flickr.
We have some lovely galleries of Burgundy, courtesy of Patrick Hudgell, Roberto Peixoto, Ben King and Peter Wesolowski, among others. Don’t bother with my photos. Peter, Ben, Patrick and Roberto are brilliant, out of my league, and and you’ll find their galleries here – and thank you gents for letting me show your photos.