Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Three Days from Burgundy to Strasbourg

Vineyards of Crêches-sur-Saône
We drove to Mâcon a few days ago, which was an easy drive about 4 hours from our location in Provence (just under five from Nice) over well-marked autoroutes. We pulled off the main road at Crêches-sur-Saône, just south of Mâcon, and stayed in a charming Relais du Silence, a consortium known for quiet and charming hotels in the countryside. This one was called Hostellerie Chateau de la Barge. Our room rate included a wonderful breakfast of fresh eggs, fruit, croissants, juices and coffee. The eggs were so fresh they still had feathers on them. You boiled them yourself in a very interesting hot water device that had holders for eggs and a timer next to it. The room was sparse but very comfortable and extremely quiet.

I wasn't sure what to expect there in the way of food, but we had the best meal we have ever had in France, starting with the frog legs, a specialty of the region. If that is not your thing, they had wonderful other courses to follow and an old fashioned cheese board with a huge selection you could choose from, rather than the modern way of just presenting you with some slices on your plate. The best way to eat in France is to go for one of the menus rather than à la carte. Ours included 4 courses excluding the frog legs, which we ordered separately to try as we had been told it was a specialty in Burgundy.

Gorgeous scenery en route to Strasbourg
We were on our way to Strasbourg and chose this place to break the journey, not having any idea we would land right in the middle of the famed white wine region of the Pouilly-Fumés, -Fuissés, -Lochés etc. all made with chardonnay grapes. It was about five minutes off the autoroute, but you land in bucolic wine country so we spent the next morning exploring vineyards, tasting wines, and driving through charming villages full of ancient castles and churches before doing the additional 3½ hours to the Alsace region.

In Strasbourg we stayed at Hôtel Les Haras. This is in the 18th century building that housed the Royal Stud Farm and National Riding Academy according to the information provided, but felt more like a cloister built around a charming courtyard. It has been recently renovated and is very comfortable. The restaurant was charming but the food was disappointing and overpriced compared to our previous night's experience.

Stained glass cathedral windows
Strasbourg has a cathedral with wonderful stained glass, dating back to 1439. It has a very old and elaborate astronomical clock in it, with a procession of Christ and the twelve apostles when it strikes half past noon. Entrance to the cathedral is free, but they close it to sightseers during services and for the daily tour of the workings of the clock with a movie, which requires an entrance fee. We were touched to see a plaque right next to the clock dedicated to U.S. servicemen who lost their lives in the battle to free Alsace from the Germans during the Second World War.

Canals of la Petite France, Strasbourg
Strasbourg is built along the Rhine. Many houses have a Tudor feel to them with wooden crossbeams in their structure. The old part, called la Petite France, was an easy 5-minute walk from the hotel. It is charming as the Rhine splits up into several canals where the water cascades past the medieval buildings. There were many cafés and restaurants on the waterfront, and we stopped for a drink at a bar right on the edge of a dam. This area is known for the Gewürztraminer wine which is sweeter than a Chardonnay and is the classical drink to have with foie gras. 

Hostellerie de Levernois
Heading back to Provence we stayed right by Beaune in Levernois, again minutes off the autoroute, in a Relais & Chateaux called Hostellerie de Levernois. The grounds are beautiful with lovely old chestnut trees in bloom and right by a fabulous golf course. Again very quiet and a very nice restaurant, with an equally excellent cheese board. Their specialty was a starter called Oeufs aux Morilles, which are poached eggs with morel mushrooms. Absolutely wonderful. This hotel is very popular for its food, golf, and gorgeous settings, so the car park was full of German and Belgian visitors benefiting from the long weekend. Our room at the top had a balcony overlooking the grounds. With the French doors open we could hear the nightingales sing all night long in the chestnut trees right outside our windows.

Castle of Berzé-le-Chatel in Burgundy
Burgundy is really lovely and I recommend it to just drive around aimlessly and stop where you like. We visited Cluny and saw the abbey there, but on the way to get to the abbey we came through Berzé-le-Châtel by accident, which was even more breathtaking with a castle perched on a hilltop. They started building this in the 1300's and it is the most impressive and best preserved fortress in Burgundy. The surrounding gardens were wonderful with wisteria creeping up the walls, lilac flowering and lots of wild flowers in the fields below.

This was meant to be just a quick trip to Strasbourg and back, but ended up being a wonderful tasting of the Burgundy countryside, a truly beautiful part of France. Given the beauty, the wonderful villages tucked away with ancient castles and churches, the great food and wine, and outstanding golf, there is something for everyone. It is a photographic and gastronomic delight. We started this trip in Provence and ended up in northeast France but it is equally doable starting in Paris, driving due east and then south to Burgundy. The three days were unrushed and lovely but we plan on redoing it again next year with more days to wander.

I encourage you to contact Travel 100 Group in Kenilworth (847-256-7570) or Northbrook, IL (847-897-7000) to learn more about this destination and to plan your next vacation.

- Petra Macintosh, Travel Consultant

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