After an incredible morning spinning through some of France’s most beautiful wine country in the heart of Burgundy, we decide to ride north out of the town of Beaune to the historic village of Nuits-Saint Georges, a perfect lunch spot. Riding through this corner of France leaves an indelible mark. One village after the next, it seems, carries the name of another world-famous wine. Ironically, the villages themselves are often quite modest—workaday towns in most cases. But it is clear that all of their wealth is derived from their surrounding vineyards, and the villagers here have been working these lands for centuries to guarantee their sparkling reputation.
Words/Images: James Startt
“The vineyards here have long been divided into little parcelles, or clos,” says Olivier, a former Burgundy cycling champion, who is leading the ride today. “And one of the things that really strikes me about the landscape here is the way that the clos are divided, separated by striking stonewalls that lace around the countryside. The locals here call them murets. They are very impressive, especially on a summer day like this, when the murets really reflect the light.”
Sitting down in one of the town’s many small outdoor cafés, we sketch out our afternoon ride over a salad and glass of the local table wine—a Nuits-Saint Georges. “bien sûr!” After spending the morning on the southern side of Beaune around Pommard, we want to discover the legendary Côte d’Or region just north of town, before rolling further north to join up with the Canal de Bourgogne, one of France’s many picturesque canals, and finally finishing in Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a pristine fortress village dating back to the feudal era.
With lunch digested, Olivier cruises out of town toward Savigny-lès-Beaune and Aloxe Corton, easily finding remote roads that cut between miles and miles of vineyards. Continuing north after Savigny-lès-Beaune, the scenery changes distinctively as trees replace the vineyards, but soon enough the road opens up again and we find ourselves skirting the Canal de Bourgogne. According to the map, we’re paralleling the A6 autoroute, one of the country’s major arteries. But here in the valley, only kilometers away, it’s another world.
And while the summer heat intensifies in the afternoon sun, Olivier continues riding comfortably. “The new Giro Chrono Pro kit is great,” he says. “Intelligently designed and really breathable. And the Prolight Techlace shoes are honestly the best shoes I’ve ever had. They are super-light and the sole is really stiff, while the three adjustable straps make it easy to adjust while you are riding. Everything is just so well thought out. And then, of course, the new Aether helmet is the icing on the cake. Just when you think that Giro can’t make a better helmet, they do!”
The cycling path that follows the Canal de Bourgogne crisscrosses the canal that dates back to the 18th century, before finally reaching the road that leads to Châteauneuf-en-Auxois; and, almost immediately after crossing the canal for the final time, the château comes into view.
Dating back to the 12th century, this small hilltop village surrounded by the walls of a fortress, provides a stunning example of village life during the Middle Ages. Today, sheep and cattle still graze on the lower slopes of the hill, while several hundred villagers still live here. “It’s still a very active village,” says a local merchant. “But in its heyday there were over 1,000 people living here and it was really the center of the region.”
But while it may be one of France’s most picturesque villages, the climb to its medieval gates is nothing less than brutal. With pitches at 15 percent, there’s nowhere to hide. “You’ve really got to chose the right gearing from the beginning,” Olivier says. “If you start out in too big of a gear you will never recover before the summit.”
Powering up the climb, Olivier has little time to take in the scenery. But there’s real satisfaction as he enters the old town gates. “It is only when you get to the top that you can take in the scenery. The valley below is really amazing. What a unique place, so unchanged. Just drinking out of the century-old water fountain is special,” Olivier says before adding. “Wow, that was well worth the effort. Unforgettable!”
For more information head to giro.com