An introduction to the the Côte-d’Or
Fittingly known as the Champs Elysées of Burgundy, the Côte-d’Or takes its name from the prestigious 30-mile stretch of vineyards through its centre, which produces some of the world’s most revered wines. An essential stopover on the tourist trail from Paris to Southern France, it receives more visitors annually than any other department of Burgundy. Lying along a fault-line of the Massif Central, the Côte-d’Or has a straight chain of round-topped hills running through its heart, on which the fabled wine estates grow their crops. Its vineyards are divided into two areas. The Côte de Nuits extends from Dijon to five miles beyond the town of Nuits St Georges and produces predominantly red wine from Pinot Noir grapes. The Côte de Beaune begins from where the Côte de Nuits finishes and produces some red wines, but is more renowned for its whites, made from Chardonnay grapes.The west of the department around the Parc du Morvan is intensely wooded, while the east of the department contains the broad Saône river valley.
The Côte-d’Or’s position in the centre of Europe gave it great importance throughout history. From the Bronze Age, when very first merchants brought tin to the region from Cornwall, the area became an axis of trade and communication. In the Middle Ages, the dukes of Burgundy were vying with the Kings of France for control of the country and Dijon rivalled Paris in terms of wealth and importance. Burgundy ceased to be an independent state in 1477 when Duke Charles the Bold was killed in a siege of Nancy. The then king of France, Louis XI, quickly took advantage and permanently seized the duchy, annexing it for France
- Nuits St-Georges
The unique and extremely pleasant climate of the Côte d’Or is an important reason for the quality of its wines. It usually experiences more hours of sunshine each year and less annual rainfall than its neighbouring regions. While the Côte d’Or’s continental climate means it suffers cold winters, these are balanced against hot summers and the department usually enjoys excellent weather from April to October
The Côte d’Or’s prefecture of Dijon is the former seat of the Dukes of Burgundy and their legacy remains evident in the city’s architecture. Among its many fine medieval and renaissance buildings are 97 listed national monuments, giving the city the feel of a giant open-air museum. Perhaps the most impressive sight in the city is the Place de la Libération, designed by Mansart, one of the architects who created Versailles. On one side of the square is the ducal palace, which is open for visiting.
The main attraction for visitors to the Côte d’Or is the route des Grands Crus, an 80-kilometre tourist trail that begins in Dijon and ends in the village of Santenay. Bordered by vines on all sides, the route is punctuated by 33 towns and villages, including some of the most famous names in wine.
The wine capital of Burgundy, Beaune possesses a warren of wine cellars under its streets that if laid end to end would stretch over 50 kilometres. Beaune’s principal attraction is the Hôtel Dieu, a hospice founded in 1443 by Philippe Rollin, a former chancellor of Burgundy. Every year it plays host to an auction, whose sales dictate the prices for that year’s vintage of Burgundy wine. The auction is the main event in a public festival that attracts over 400,000 visitors to participate in wine tastings and competitions.
Despite hosting dinners for royalty and heads of state, the château of Clos de Vougeot is also open to the general public who can view its thirteenth-century wine presses. Other sites worth visiting in the Côte d’Or include the Gothic abbey of Saint-Seine-l'Abbaye and the Romanesque church at Saulieu as well as the village of Beze in the north-east of the department, whose vast underground caves can be visited by boat.
Food and Drink
Known in French as ‘’la région gastronomique’’, the Côte d’Or produces some of the best meats and cheeses in France. While a diversity of international cuisine is available throughout the department, especially in Dijon, the Côte d’Or’s finest restaurants specialise in local cuisine. Rich red wine sauces, snails and Charollais beef feature heavily on the menus of its many Michelin-starred eateries in dishes such as Boeuf Bourguignon and Meurette.
The diverse scenery of the Côte d’Or provides walkers with a large choice of routes The Morvan national park contains many walking trails though its dense forests that shade walkers from the summer sun. The towpaths of the Canal de Bourgogne can be followed through Nuits-St.-Georges, the fabled vineyards of the prestigious Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and finishes in Dijon; while the GR7 and GR76 trails run through the Cote d'Or and can be followed all the way to Lyon.
Sports and activities
The gorges of the Côte d’Or are an amateur rock climber’s paradise and abseiling as well as hot-air ballooning and cycling are commonly practiced by tourists to the department. Golfing enthusiasts can indulge their passion on any of the department’s seven courses. These include the Golf du Château de Chailly, which was constructed by former racing champion Alain Prost, and contains swimming pools, tennis courts and a wine tasting cellar.
If price is an indicator of quality, the hallowed terroir on the south-eastern facing slopes of the Côte d’Or escarpment produce the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines in the world. Bottles from the best villages, Montrachet, Meursault and Vosne Romanée can command up to £1,000 from the vineyard. You are never far from a wine merchant or producer in the Côte d’Or and all of them allow tastings of their products. Many of the producers offer tours of their properties allowing visitors to witness every stage of the winemaking process. Bouchard Aine & Fils in Beaune educate their customers on the different wines of Burgundy in trips through their cellars, giving information on how to taste wine and the history of wine making in the department.
Ease of Access
A crossroads of France, the Côte d’Or enjoys excellent motorway links to Paris and Lyon as well as the south of the country. While there are currently no flight routes connecting Dijon’s airport to the UK, the city can be reached from Lyon’s Saint-Exupéry airport in less than two hours and Paris Orly airport in two and a half.Eurostar services run from London to the Dijon, taking five hours and ten minutes and Dijon can be reached from both Paris and Lyon by TGV in two hours.
Value for Money
The restaurants of the Côte d’Or are serve substantial two-course meals from upwards of £7, while wine and other speciality products such as mustard and blackcurrant liqueur are inexpensive compared to UK prices. It is also much cheaper to rent accommodation or hire cars in the Côte d’Or than in Britain.
Holidaymakers looking for a relaxing, cultural break need look no further than the rural landscapes and historic towns of the Côte d’Or. Families on a budget, couples on a romantic break, wine enthusiasts and large groups will all find plenty of entertainment in one of France’s most colourful departments.