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Bustling Beaune!  Gentrified Amboise!

10/19/10 - Beaune & Amboise, France   (Shutterfly photo album - Beaune area, Burgundy & Loire Valley, France)

Visiting the busy wine town of Beaune in Burgundy and spending one fabulous night in the lovely Loire Valley before traveling on home

While we enjoyed a gorgeous sun-dappled drive in to Beaune the weather quickly turned cloudy and cold, with bouts of wind and rain.  Along with the many other (mostly European) tourists in town we didn't let this deter us; upon checking into the charming enough Hotel de la Cloche, we even "enjoyed" (it was a bit chilly for Caroline's taste, if she's honest...) alfresco drinks at a busy cafe on Beaune's main square.  As the sun started to set and the day gave way to darkness, we wandered town looking for a restaurant for dinner.  Getting chillier and chillier over the course of our stroll, we chose the place with the roaring fireplace, precisely for the warmth of the fire.  Luckily the food was every bit as wonderful as the cozy atmosphere.  At the charming and friendly Piqu'Boeuf, we enjoyed a local Haute Cote Burgundy wine along with a traditional 3-course menu that included our first taste of the famed regional specialties oeufs en meurette (poached eggs in red wine sauce), boeuf Bourguignon (mmm, more red wine sauce!) and local Epoisse cheese - oh la la, delicieux!

Thoroughly enjoying the hearty fare and charming country style - more reminiscent of nearby Germany than of tres chic Paris - of the town, we eagerly set out on a driving tour through the Haute Cote de Beaune, the picturesque hillside towns surrounding Beaune, on our first morning in town.  Upon our departure, it was cool and drizzly, but the day nonetheless offered a lovely, if gloomy, drive along the Route des Grands Crus and into the misty, vine-covered hills.  Our main hillside destination was a medieval castle overlooking a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, La Rochepot Chateau, that while intriguing, was closed for lunch as it was the off-season, so we merely lurked around the exterior and were on our way. 

For the remainder of our stay in Beaune, the weather continued to be cold and rainy and a great number of the many other tourists in town were dressed enviably in fashionable knee high boots and warm-looking winter coats.  Still, we managed to enjoy our time with a visit to the very cool Marche aux Vins - a tasting room and wine cave located in the basement and main level of a 15th century church. It would have been worth a visit simply for the candle-lit ambiance and interior architecture, but the real draw was the collection of 15 or so wines we were permitted to taste with our tiny silver tastevins on a self-guided tour, for an entry fee of 10 euros a piece.  As a bonus, by showing interest in shipping some wine home we were spirited away to the sommelier's (i.e. chief salesman's) imposing office to taste 8 or more additional bottles of 'the good stuff' this time.

On our final day in Beaune, we yet again braved the cold and rain in order to stroll the highly impressive outdoor Saturday market, where we especially enjoyed the displays of seasonal truffles and other edible fungi for sale.  We also visited the Hotel Dieu - a local medieval-era hospice where, for centuries, ill townspeople simply went to die - that is now an interesting museum.  A highlight of the museum was the charming courtyard surrounded by the beautifully colored tiled roofs of the former hospital that are not visible from the street. 

After enjoying so many wonderful meals as well as the friendly warmth of the locals, we were somewhat loathe to leave the hearty, delicious food and country charm of Burgundy.  But on Sunday morning, we checked out of the Hotel de la Cloche, grabbed a couple of quick cafes and croissants and headed on the lengthy drive to the Loire Valley in hopes of seeing some chateaux!

While not a focus of our trip, we couldn't resist the lure of swinging through the famous and hugely popular Loire Valley on our way back to Paris, in order to see what all the hype was about and to determine if a return visit  was warranted in the future.  After a somewhat boring and less scenic drive than promised by our map, we arrived in the town of Amboise in the heart of the Loire Valley.   Surprisingly, the historic center proved to be quite bustling on a Sunday afternoon - there was a footrace going on, where the racers were doing laps right through the turret of the local chateau (in this case, something more akin to a castle) in town.  After Burgundy, our initial impression was one of significant gentrification.  There was a lot of residential remodeling construction going on around town and even our hotel was much fancier, more modern and renovated that any we'd seen in Burgundy.  The town was charming, but the real highlight was the 8-course tasting menu we enjoyed at our former-mansion-turned-swanky-hotel, the stylish and sophisticated Pavillon des Lys.  From beginning to end, each course was decadent, creative and delicious, but it was the amazing, incredible, to-die-for foie gras that Caroline still dreams of, and the poached quail egg inside of a ravioli, Scott's recurring dream...

After our best night's sleep of the trip, we sadly bid adieu to the Pavillon des Lys and drove the short distance to Chenonceau, one of the most popular chateaux of the entire Loire Valley, according to our guide book.  We planned to arrive as early as possible, fearing great crowds at this super-attraction.  Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised at the small numbers also visiting there, making for a tranquil self-guided tour of the grounds and impressive interior, where most of the lavish rooms offered lovely views over the River Cher.  In fact, we even had the elegantly grand gallery all to ourselves at one point - quite a treat, indeed!  Huzzah, finally, our off-season travel pays off!   While we did enjoy our brief visit to the Loire Valley, we were quite disappointed by the fact that virtually none of the grands chateaux are visible at all without paying the frequently hefty entrance fees, no matter how hard we tried to sneak views from the exterior.  It seems that one may be able to see them at times from the bike paths that wind through the region and we decided that if we were to return it would have to be for a bicycling tour of the area, which is a popular pastime there.  After a final and pleasant lunch of rillette sandwich (for her) and Croque Madame (for him)back in Amboise, we began to make our way back to the Paris area to catch our flight back to the States the following morning.

With the national strikes taking place, we were a bit concerned about finding gas for the rental car (not to mention having fuel for our plane).  Most stations were out of diesel due to the fuel blockade, and we weren't able to find a station open in the evening to fill our unleaded Chevy Spark - but were able to return it half-full for a mere $90 convenience fee!  Between the strike concerns and a terrible night's sleep in the slightly unsavory but only remotely affordable airport hotel with a vacancy, we ended up being quite excited to board our plane and return home!

Hautes Cotes de Beaune

 

At the Piqu'Boeuf in Beaune

 

The grape harvesters were out in full force

 

Tasting in the wine cave at the Marche aux Vins in Beaune

 

The tiled roofs of the Hotel Dieu

 

Chateau de Chenonceau on the River Cher

 

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