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  • Shelley Dark

6. Beaune

The Cote d'Or is a limestone escarpment which runs north/south through Burgundy. Tonight we are at its main town, Beaune.

What a beautiful day. This morning, our guide John dropped us at Aloxe-Corton, and we walked south in a loop of twelve kilometres, up over Beaune 'Mountain', and down into the town itself. Above ground it's the capital of the Côte d'Or. Below ground is a maze of wine storage tunnels dating from middle ages. For centuries it was the capital of the Dukes of Burgundy and the site of parliament.

This is our small 18th century 10-room hotel in the historic centre.

I must have hit the wall last night because I didn't tell you about the result of our drenching yesterday. Our sox were wet inside our shoes, and by the middle of the walk, I had rubbed skin off my feet. John's feet were fine. The bandaids were of course back at the hotel in the suitcase. In desperation, with no pharmacie or shop in sight, I went into a bar in one of the little villages. John walked on, thinking I was more likely to get attention on my own.

It was like walking into a bar in Australia. Two men sitting at the bar looked at me as if I were an alien. I couldn't remember the word for bandaid or plaster, or downpour, or saturated or even wet, so I mimed a poor imitation. By the time they understood, they were laughing.

The barman arrived, and yes, in French, of course he had the very thing. The sticking plaster had to be cut off the roll. He pretended to cut off my toes instead. He gave me not only enough for my feet, but spares as well. I told him he was an angel and the other two men guffawed. He wouldn't take money. I left that bar walking on air.

The other thing I didn't tell you from yesterday was that John spotted this cat. One of his favourite subjects. He sneaked quietly across a courtyard. I called out not to frighten it as it was such a fabulous photo I thought I'd try it myself. I saw its whiskers move and its eyes slightly narrow. He got closer and closer. A great shot. I inched closer myself, sure it would disappear. The cat remained totally impassive, watching us intently. I got my shot. We both stood there looking at it. Was it real???? It was a photo! We felt proper dills.

By the way, the tour company organising this for us, Butterfield and Robinson (John calls them Batman and Robinson) always give you a t-shirt. Mine this time is a very pretty emerald green and in the finest Merino wool. Isn't that great? So nice to see wool being promoted as non-scratch, cool, and light. I'll keep you posted as to whether it lives up to its promo when I wear it for a day in the heat. If it ever gets hot! Tonight outside was positively cold, and tomorrow's maximum is going to be 13. Brrrrr.

The beginning of our walk was past more lovely vineyards. The ground is wet underfoot still, as it has been a very wet spring. Unfortunately for the vignerons, there was a very bad frost a week or so ago, which did a lot of damage.

We walked through Savigny-lès-Beaune with its pretty little square. We suddenly saw the Butterfield and Robinson van. John had gone through heavy rain on his way home, and was worried that we might be saturated again. Thankfully we'd only had a spit. It's nice to be mothered!

Each town has a colour theme - see the big planter boxes?

Yesterday at Nuits-Saint-Georges all the planter boxes were yellow and orange with any number of different types of flowers. Today it was mainly pink.

Don't allium make a great display?

I'm so glad the tulips aren't quite finished.

As we walked uphill past the Chateau de Savigny. A collection of vintage and modern aeroplanes in the paddock alongside it looked quite out of place!

The majesty of those grandes allées!

The soil varies from dark through to red like this on the hill.

After a climb, we enjoyed the softness underfoot of the woods on top of Beaune Mountain. It's criss-crossed by hiking trails.

We were sitting on the only bench we had seen when this group of French cyclists came by. They wanted to negotiate a model fee too. And I think they secretly wanted to share our Mars Bars.

The woods swallowed them up as quickly as they had come.

It's amazing to see lots of lilac growing wild, including this pink one. Imagine if planting natives meant planting lilac, and hawthorn, and chestnuts!

White ones too....

Chestnut trees, covered in flowers.

Such pretty hawthorn...

Fresh lime green growth on the conifers.

I made a wish.....

As we came out of the woods into the light, lavender iris began to appear again.

This is drinkable water but the old pump doesn't work. You press the button and water comes out of the tap. The labrador walked along with us for quarter of a kilometre or so.

We broke out of the housing at the top of the hill to see Beaune below. Little did we know we were to taste wine made from this very vineyard, tonight.

It doesn't look it here, but it was a steep descent down into the town. Going downhill is always much harder than going up, isn't it?

Our route to the hotel was through the Parc de la Bouzaize. Quite some park.

This river flows through the town.

John really enjoys photographing wildlife. This is his photo of ducks in a spring mood.

And another of his - a water hen takeoff!!

And a goose drinking.

The lawns were dotted with little white daisies, and the perfume of stocks filled the air....

As we walked into town we admired this house. We both agreed that we'd like to call it home.

We arrived at the hotel by mid-afternoon. I spent a couple of frustrating hours trying to get the wifi to upload photos to the website. Upload speed = zero. I thought we would have to change hotels. Virginie at the desk told guide John when he phoned a bit later, and before you could say Jack Robinson, he had driven here with an Airbox to connect me to 4G. If you don't know what that is, and I didn't, it's like tethering your computer to your phone. Except it's an Airbox. The wifi plan belongs to the tour group, Butterfield & Robinson. That's what I call service.

He left just in time for us to be collected by our wine-maker guide Jane, who took us to the Domaine Newman cellar quite close by, underneath this home. She's an Australian girl who came here to learn wine-making and ended up married to a French man.

She works for the domaine, and also makes wine for her own label with bought grapes. When I asked her how expensive is the wine from Romanée Conti (the vineyard we passed yesterday remember?) she said that each year the domaine sells a mixed case of 14 bottles of wine. There is a waiting list even to be put on the waiting list to buy one. The carton this year cost 15,000 euro to buy. And once sold, it will more than likely be resold for twice that amount.

There is so much to know. Jane went through the production methods and the system of land ownership. She opened 3 vintages of their Domaine Newman Grèves Premier Cru. That means that the particular vineyard it came from is classified Premier Cru, so all the wine which comes from that vineyard has that label. Some vineyards are only a fraction of a hectare.

By the way different areas of France use different appellations. In Bordeaux for example, the wines are classified by the domaine, not the vineyard. So a wine may be a mix from several different vineyards all belonging to the domaine.

We tried 3 different vintages: 2009, 2010, 2012. It was fun comparing them.

We looked at maps of the different vineyards. This is a map of Le Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru vineyards. You can see how many different landholders there are within that one small Grand Cru area.

Jane said that a day's breathing would improve our wine, and that just opening a bottle an hour ahead of drinking it really makes not much difference to the taste. More of the wine's surface needs to be exposed to the air than simply the opening of the bottle, so tip it into a wide-mouthed jug to let it breathe. Pour it back into the bottle later.

It's three minutes to midnight so I must go to bed before I turn into a pumpkin! It's been a lovely day, and I've loved having you with me. Until tomorrow travelling buddies!

shelley dark, writer 

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