Guide to the Route des Grands Crus and vineyard celebrations

The Route des Grand Crus traces viticulture through Burgundy from Dijon to Santenay. The wine route of Burgundy is one to explore on foot, on pedal bike or by car. But take your time for Burgundy wine tasting and discovering the heart of Burgundy wines and some of French wine history in all its authenticity and spectacle.The Route des Grands Crus, one of the oldest and most celebrated wine routes in France, takes in the best of Burgundy wines and landscapes. Running north-south between Dijon and Santenay, it gives you the chance to try some of the best wines in the world and experience life and culture within the vineyards. Read on to discover the best spots on a journey across this ancient wine-growing land and the festivals celebrated along its way.

Route des Grands Crus – fast facts

Distance – the Route des Grands Crus runs for 60km. Some 150km of footpaths crisscross the area. The width of the area included in the route is never more than 2km wide and sometimes barely 300m.

History – founded in 1937, this is the oldest wine route in France.

Geography – rolling countryside with a patchwork of fields, woods and vineyards dotted with picturesque historic villages.

Vineyards – 1,247 climats make up the route and produce the best Burgundy wines 

Population centres – the route takes in 37 villages and 2 major towns (Dijon and Beaune).

Logo – the Route des Grands Crus is marked with brown signs showing a white bunch of grapes.

Time taken to visit – allow at least two days by car, longer if you’re travelling on foot or by bike.

Vineyards on the Route des Grands Crus

Made up of the Côte de Nuits in the north and the Côte de Beaune in the south, the wine route meanders through acres and acres of vineyards. Situated on marlstone and limestone, the vines mostly grow Pinot Noir grapes in the north and Chardonnay in the south.

In Burgundy, a plot of land growing vines is known as a climat and each has its own geographical and climatic characteristics, often surprisingly different to the one just next door. Many are enclosed within dry stone walls or hedges and they often boast an impressive gateway or arch emblazoned with the owner’s name. The Burgundy climats received UNESCO world heritage status in 2015.

Don’t miss the cabotes. These traditional limestone huts on many climats are used by the vineyard workers to store tools or take shelter.

Wines on the Route des Grands Crus

As part of France’s premier wine-growing region, the Route des Grands Crus takes in the very best of the area’s wine. Côte de Nuits wines are exclusively red and the Pinot Noir vineyards give the area’s wines intense red fruit flavours with a touch of oak and earth. They’re full-bodied, bold wines that count among the finest in the world. Not for nothing is this part of Burgundy known as the Champs-Elysées of the wine world. No less than 24 of Burgundy’s 33 Grands Crus come from here.

In the southern Côte de Beaune, it’s all about white wine. Like their red wine cousins, they too rank among the best. These dry wines carry fruity notes – think apple and orange – with more than a hint of oak and are creamy on the palette.

Highlights on the Route de Grands Crus

If you’re a fan of lovely countryside and fine wines, the entire route is a feast for your senses. But among the stunning sights, several stand out and are worth looking out for as you meander along.

Beaune – the small town of Beaune packs in the historic monuments. As well as the Hôtel Dieu (or Hospices of Beaune), the Notre Dame church, wine merchants’ houses and wine cellars are also worth a visit. And along with prime wine, Beaune does food with a capital ‘F’. The town hosts six Michelin-starred restaurant including the triple star Maison Lameloise.

Château de Meursault – in the midst of vineyards producing one of the best Burgundy whites, this 12th century château is one of the finest in the area.

Chenôve – don’t miss the 14th century wine presses, once the property of the Dukes of Burgundy.

Clos de Vougeot – the château built by Cistercian monks sits on the vineyards that produce Romanée Conti, one of the most prestigious and expensive Burgundy wines. Along with the 12th century oak presses, admire the chamber, home to the knights of the Tastevin society whose motto is ‘Jamais en vain, toujours en vin’ (Never in vain, always in wine).

Dijon – seat of the Dukes of Burgundy, this fine city offers a long list of cultural and historical heritage. Known as the city with a 100 steeples, must-sees include the medieval old quarter, the fine 15th century townhouses and the sumptuous city hall.

Hôtel Dieu – the hospice built for the poor in 1443 has some of the most impressive glazed tile roofs in the area. Their bright colours gleam in the sunlight. The building is also home to the world-famous Burgundy wine auction that takes place on the third Sunday in November and sets the gauge for wine prices for the forthcoming year.

Patriarche wine cellars – worth a visit to get an idea of the scale and scope of Burgundy wine, this cellar in Beaune goes back to the 13th century and is the largest in the area. Its labyrinthine 5km contain millions of bottles, many of which have seriously huge price tags.  

Wine events on the Route des Grands Crus

Events in Burgundy naturally centre around wine with a year-round calendar of celebrations and festivities all with a vin theme. The main events on the Route des Grands Crus are:

Le Mois des Climats – a full month of celebrating the vineyards with walks, guided tours, tastings, exhibitions… From 8 June to 8 July. 

Musique et Vin – this week-long festival during the last week of June brings wine and classical music together. Now in its 11th edition, events have their base in Clos Vougeot and include choral recitals with wine tastings and chamber music followed by a gala dinner.

Jazz à Couches – centred around the tiny village of Couches, the 4-day festival brings together some of the world’s best jazz musicians who play against a backdrop of vineyards. 4 to 7 July. 

Grape harvest – actual dates vary from year to year depending on the weather, but the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune generally bring their grapes in during the first two weeks of September. If you’re in the area during this time, ask at the local tourist office for details of specific events.

Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction – this year’s auction (the 158th edition) takes place on Sunday 18 November 2018 at the Hôtel Dieu in Beaune. Christie’s runs the auction, attended by the world’s top wine connoisseurs who bid for their own cellars and for charity. Proceeds from the Hospices de Beaune ‘lot’ (300 bottles) go to a local charity. Festivities – street performances, crafts markets, live music, wine tastings and a half-marathon – take place in the town from 16 to 18 November.

Fête des Grands Vins – coinciding with the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction, this giant wine fair showcases the best of the region’s produce. And there is a lot: more than 3,000 Burgundy wines vie for centre stage in Beaune from 16 to 18 November.

Dijon International Gastronomy Fair – celebrating Burgundy food and wine, this giant food fair is now in its 88th year and ranks among the biggest in France. This year’s edition runs from 1 to 12 November 2018.

See the best of Burgundy from the water

Hire boating in Burgundy presents a feast of fabulous food and wine, impossibly pretty valley and charming historic towns to devour.

Another great way to explore is Burgundy by hotel barge, likened to a floating boutique hotel, it’s a holiday that allows you to take in the best of local wines and scenery, all from the comfort of a luxury craft and hospitality. Soak up the sights and the vin as you cruise the region’s pretty and diverse waterways and enjoy the ultimate Burgundy experience. Discover yours now. 

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The Route des Grand Crus traces viticulture through Burgundy from Dijon to Santenay. The wine route of Burgundy is one to explore on foot, on pedal bike or by car. But take your time for Burgundy wine tasting and discovering the heart of Burgundy wines and some of French wine history in all its authenticity and spectacle.

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