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'Burgundy is about much more than just wine'

Ben McPartland · 15 Feb 2013, 15:11

Published: 15 Feb 2013 15:11 GMT+01:00

How did you end up living in Burgundy?

I first worked in Burgundy back in 1991 on board a hotel barge. Since then I have worked all over France, including other parts of Burgundy but kept coming back here to work. When I met my husband we moved to Chamonix where the children were born but moved back here six years ago to raise our family.

What's so special about Burgundy that kept bringing you back?

I just really love the area and I would not be able to afford my wine habit back in the UK. I love the countryside. It really is super rural here. You can drive for miles without passing through a village and people live in the villages here. There's also the history of Burgundy and the fact there is so much to do here, all the old castles and the museums etc.

You live in the town of Beaune, where do you always take your visitors?

We would always go to the Hospices de Beaune, a 15th century charity hospital that was used as the town's main hospital until 1971.  It was built as a magnificent palace for the poor, supported by donations from the wealthy. These donations included vineyards and today Les Hospices is one of the major landowners of the region, owning 61 hectares of Burgundy’s finest vineyards. 

And what about the rest of the region?

If I were to choose from the whole of Burgundy and the Franche Comte it would be the Citadel of Besançon, fortified by Vauban in the 17th century.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, it not only has well-preserved fortifications but houses a museum to the French Resistance and Deportation, a local history museum, a natural history museum and a zoo. Another favourite family attraction is the medieval chateau of Guédelon they are building in the Yonne, using traditional methods and materials. It is great to visit as each year they have built a little more and added something different.

Which Burgundy wine do you always recommend to people?

It's impossible to choose a favourite. The wine of Burgundy is so varied and never constant, each tiny parcel of vines has a different taste to discover.  Because the parcels also have different owners, the way the winegrower makes the wine influences the taste. Then each vintage is different depending on the weather.  A typical aperitif of Burgundy is a ‘kir’ named after Canon Kir of Dijon, hero of the resistance and Mayor of Dijon for 23 years.  This is made of Aligote wine, (from the Aligote grape) and mixed with Crème de Cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur also made in the region.

What is your favourite restaurant in the region?

Clos de Napoleon in the town of Fixin serves traditional regional dishes, presented beautifully. I take many of my guests there and they always love it especially when I tell them it was featured in the recent BBC series 'Raymond Blanc – A Very Hungry Frenchman'.  The service is brilliant, not too fast, not too slow and the surroundings are brilliant, in front of the fire in an old vaulted cellar in winter, out on the terrace surrounded by vines in the summer. 

Also very popular in Burgundy now are tasting lunches. These take place at the winery, a simple meal accompanied by a selection of the winegrowers wines, with commentaries from the sommeliers on the different wines and how they are made. My favourites are La Table d’Olivier Leflaive in Puligny Montrachet and La Table de Conte Senard in Aloxe Corton.

Everyone has heard of Burgundy but are there any secrets left? 

That there is so much to see and do here besides the wine.  The area has such a rich heritage, so many UNESCO sites, medieval churches, beautiful villages – the film ‘Chocolat’ was filmed in Flavigny sur Ozerain - that there is always something new to discover. So many of my guests come for just one or two days and are so disappointed that they don’t have time to see much, even the guests that come for a week realize that they are barely scraping the surface.

What would you advise to someone thinking of moving to the region?

Understand why the houses are cheap. Outside the Côte d’Or there is very high unemployment and it is necessary not just to speak French but to have an excellent command of the language to find a job.

Has your French life turned out the way you imagined?

No!  I never imagined I would spend the rest of my life in France nor have two bilingual kids.

Tracey Thurlling runs the tour guide company Burgundy by Request which offers bespoke tours tailored to individual needs.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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