From Paris, we take a dreamy late morning train ride through rolling green hills and mustard fields to the medieval town of Beaune. Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy — the famed historical region in east-central France known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
A driver meets us at the station, takes us through the village, and drops us at Hotel Le Cep. The building’s windows are draped with hanging greenery and flower boxes and we step through the massive wooden doors of the entrance. Inside, the atmosphere at the bar fills the air with worldly chatter of wine and cuisine, clanking glasses, and exuberant patrons.
A luxury boutique property that’s been family-owned for 30 years, Hotel Le Cep rests in the heart of town and consists of two private mansions united by their 16th-century courtyards. There are 62 rooms at the hotel, each decorated with antiques and named after a Burgundian village or Grand Cru wine.
The evening of unexpected culinary delights begins with a glass of sparkling rosé mixed with a hint of chocolate-flavored sherry. Then, there are eggs in a nest, snails with smoked ham, pigeon breast with cherry blossoms, and fish dumplings with peas, radish, and rhubarb.
After dinner, there's the tradition of French cheese. Tonight, it includes the iconic (and once nearly extinct) Époisses de Bourgogne, a sublimely creamy and fruity cheese that come from the nearby Fromagerie Berthaut. Among the other characteristics that make this intense yet subtle cow's milk cheese a star, is that its rind is washed in Marc brandy (a process that gives the wheel its distinctly golden glow).
The server delicately scoops the cheese, like ice cream, onto each plate and alongside it, spoons just the right amount of golden raisins. To go with the theme, he gives each scoop a spray of 30 years-aged local Marc then pours us a few inches of red and white Burgundian wine to experiment with the flavors.
Following the cheese ceremony, there is a crêpe soufflé with apricot and anise ice cream and a digestif cart that moves from table to table carrying its array of French cognac and again, the Marc.
With a final bite of confections and pastries, the orchestra of the meal concludes...our first ever fine-dining experience in Europe.
Breakfast of stone fruits, croissants, and more cheese, is followed by a stroll about town and a wine lesson from Jean-Claude Bernard, the owner and general manager of Hotel Le Cep.
Since Roman times, the charming town of Beaune has been home to many of the world’s most notorious cellars and producers. There’s also the prestigious monument Hospices de Beaune, which was founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor, and today serves as the home of the most famous wine auction in the world.
With its 60 acres of grapes, the Hospices de Beaune museum is also a renowned vineyard. And on the third Sunday of each November, it auctions off its wines to improve the hospital's equipment and preserve the museum.
Among its most devout supporters is none-other than Jean-Claude, the charismatic wine collector and enthusiastic host himself.
He offers a plate of escargot served with a buttery herb sauce and shells that are meticulously made from pastry dough. To have snails in one hand, wine in the other, this is the Burgundian experience, Jean-Claude says. Then, he guides us through a brief lesson in the history of Burgundy.
We cover the geography, the smells, the tastes, the vintages.
Wine, Jean-Claud notes, is a succession of positive factors — a combination of sun, wind, and rain.
“You can drink a simple bottle of wine with good friends and it is memorable,” he says while pouring us a sip of Hospices de Beaune cuvée, “and you can drink an expensive bottle of wine alone and in a bad mood and it is nothing.”
That evening, with Jean-Claud’s wine advice dripping through our thoughts, we venture into town for dinner at a quaint place called Biz’tro. Over beef stew, warm bread, a glass of Burgundy wine, and creme brûlée — we meet Rudolf and Mar from the Netherlands, on their way to the South of France to spend a holiday with their children.
“Keep traveling as much as you can,” Mar says before we part.
We leave Beaune the next day, winding back through those same cobblestone pathways, the air from the open window moving through our fingers like feathers.
At the bus stop, we peer back into the streets that lead into the Medieval town. It's here — in this sacred place, among the museums, the churches, and the boutique hotels — that night secretly falls.
And the water from old fountains cascades down onto the ancient stone. Beaune is a nostalgic place, the kind with echoes made from water and wine.
It's a ripple of the past, and all that comes after it.
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