Hiking in Burgundy: From Dijon to a Mountain Refuge
Bonjour! Not much is more Vino Vagabond-ish than backpacking through the vineyards of Burgundy, so we decided to spend the first four days of the French leg of our honeymoon doing just that. We envisioned strolling hand and hand down a road actually named the Route des Grands Crus, sticking our faces through the iron gates of Romanee Contee, sampling amazing Burgundies and ending up in darling medieval towns each night for a hot dinner and more mind-blowing wine. For the most part, this all happened, but as always there's more to the story...
But first, let me explain how we cooked up this idea in the first place. It all started when we found 'The Book'. France on Foot is an incredible guide about the thousands of miles of walking trails (GR Routes) that cover the entire country of France like a spider's web. You could literally walk from Calais to Provence if you had the legs and the grit. We were not so ambitious, so we chose to take four days and walk / hike 40 miles through wine country from Dijon to Beaune.
Day one started with a 4 a.m. flight from Istanbul to Dijon and a mad dash through Dijon for more maps. Finally, we flagged down a taxi, and headed to a small town just outside Dijon called Velars Sur Ouche (VsO) where our trail, the GR 7, began.
Despite the fact that our taxi driver, Francois, had lived in Dijon his entire life, he had never heard of anyone hiking on any trail, especially not all the way to Beaune. He about died when we told him teh trail was marked with a small, white and red 'equals sign' marker, and that it could be anywhere in VsO. It could be on a rock, a signpost, a fence, or a freaking turtle for all we knew. To say that Fransois thought we were crazy was an understatement.
Unbelievably, Jeff spotted the red and white marker on a small signpost and we hopped out. We sunscreened up, and finally, more than 12 hours after our journey began, we took our first steps on the GR 7.
And we really did begin strolling hand in hand! "We made it" he said. "Isn't this lovely?" I replied.
But then, the trail went up, and wound deeper into the forest, and then went up again, and again. By this point, we were not strolling hand in hand and it was not lovely. I was out of breath and cursing the extra heels in my bad, while Jeff was barely visible beneath his pack, our tent, and the Camelbak he was wearing like a Baby Bjorn.
"Where are the freaking vineyards?" he said. "Are we on the right fucking trail?" I replied.
We got lost, three times. The last time, we scrambled on hands and knees up a hill towards a telephone tower that was the only point of reference on our map, and finally met up with a better marked part of the trail. I was in tears at this point. No vineyards, no darling villages, no hot meal, no mind-blowing Burgundy, just more freaking forest. We had obviously made a mistake.
The sun was setting and I was of the brink of a full blown melt-down, when we heard children laughing (I'm not kidding), and then out of nowhere an 'angel couple' as I've come to call them, popped out of the forest. They pointed towards the laughter and told us that just a kilometer ahead was a mountain 'refuge' for hikers. So people had heard of this hiking through France thing after all!
We bolted down the trail, and sure enough in the middle of the forest, lay the mountain refuge. I had started to write off the children's laughter as part of my delirium, but kids were actually present. There was a sleepover camp happening all week, which is the only reason the refuge was open and why the wonderful owner, Pierre, was not on holiday like everyone else.
Our exasperation was obvious, so without saying a word, Pierre showed us where we could pitch our tent and disappeared inside the refuge. Then, God bless him, when he returned, he not only brought out a five-gallon jug of drinking water and a bucket for us to wash up in, but he also had in hand two cold Stella Artois and a bowl full of bar nuts. I could have kissed him.
We pitched our tent, took a solid 'redneck shower', and began telling him of our humbling first day and how we wanted vineyards, not forest. We pointed to the map, gestured, and used our broken French to describe the hills and treachery that lay behind us. He listened and nodded, before slyly, pointing to a teeny line on our map that ran between the trail we'd just come in on and another larger trail infuriatingly marked in red letters, 'Route des Grands Crus'. How the hell we didn't see that I will never know.
According to Pierre, that tiny line would take us to the vineyards, to the darling villages, the hot meals, to more mind-blowing wine, and within a half an hour, we'd be out of the forest and into the wine country we'd come seeking. I repeat, I could have kissed him....French kissed him!
Looking back now, day 1 in Burgundy is one of the clearest, most vivid, happy memories I have of our entire honeymoon. It's the first story we tell people when we talk about our trip, and we crack up about the craziness of it every time. As challenging and exhausting as it was, I wouldn't change a thing and am so happy for every moment, because as any traveler knows, it's these stories, the hairy, crazy, 'don't know how I made it' stories, that make travelling so special.