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Jan 12, 2014 10:30 AM

Solo wine trip to Alsace or Burgundy? Miserable or worth trying? Suggestions?

I've traveled solo in the past, but never on a big tour. I'm worried it'll be miserable. Husband will be working in Paris for 10 days, which leaves me about 7 days on my own. I've traveled through a lot of France, but 2 areas that I still have not are Burgundy and Alsace. My favorite wines come from Alsace, but I hear such amazing things about the foods and restaurants in Burgundy. I'd be taking the train from Paris by myself and spending probably 3 days. I could certainly visit both places, but I have a few day trips planned which allows me to get back to Paris to have dinner with husband. I'd like to choose either Alsace or Burgundy and would love to know what to do in either area. Or would visiting both areas be doable in 4-5 days? I assume I should take a tour. What about restaurants, shops, local products?

If it matters, I'm in the wine business so have a pretty extensive knowledge of wine to begin with. Just don't have a lot of experience visiting wineries in France. Been to Epernay/Reims and Bordeaux...both very touristy, more like visiting Napa. I understand that most of France is not like this. Any suggestions appreciated.

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  1. It may be a bit difficult to keep this on the France board if it gets too much into wine so I will try to focus on food.

    Agree that the food scene in Burgundy is likely a bit more diverse and appealing but there are some really great restaurants in Alsace. My favorite, notice I didn't say "best," restaurant in all the world is the Auberge d'Ill. As far a visiting wineries goes, almost all wineries that might interest you in either Alsace or Burgundy will require an appointment. Since you are in the biz you should be able to that. Your biggest obstacle for both areas will be the lack of a car since the wineries are not generally in town and the towns are small and spread out.

    One possibility to do "both" is Chablis and Alsace. Chablis is almost a region unto itself and it is closer to Alsace than much of Burgundy. If you do go to Chablis do not miss the morning's warm gougieres at the boulangerie in the heart of town on the corner opposite Fevre's tasting room. They alone are worth the trip.

    If you want good food and great Burgundy at very reasonable prices in Paris I suggest Le the 11th.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jock

      Just to clarify- we're fine with discussion of local wineries on this board, including recommendations for specific vineyards. Thanks!

    2. "I'd be taking the train from Paris by myself and spending probably 3 days. I could certainly visit both places"
      3 days ? You can't visit both Alsace and Burgundy. Or by the time you arrive one destination, it is time to drive to another. Unless you love mainly the freeways of Alsace and Burgundy, please reconsider.
      Another consideration is train travel. It is difficult to appreciate either place without a car, as the train to the smaller towns where the vineyards are is infrequent.
      If you have a car and has only 3 days, instead of spending all day driving to Alsace and another day driving back, you can take a short drive and base yourself in a comfortable vineyard b&b in Burgundy near Beaune, and visit the great concentration of good restaurants and vineyards nearby.
      Or a train-drive combo. Take the 1.5 hour TGV to Dijon. Pick up a car. Stay in a vineyard b&b on the wine route between Dijon and Beaune and then explore the beautiful region with such a wealth of food and wine focus.
      Let us know more about your definite travel plans so that we can share recommendations that suit you better.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        "Take the 1.5 hour TGV to Dijon. Pick up a car. Stay in a vineyard b&b on the wine route between Dijon and Beaune and then explore the beautiful region with such a wealth of food and wine focus."

        Far and away your best option for three days.

        1. re: jock

          This is good advice except I'd add that Beaune is a good destination from which to pick up a car to tour the Côte d'Or. There are a couple of direct trains daily from Paris Gare de Lyon, you can pick up a rental right at Beaune station and the town is really tiny and easy to navigate out of.

          I have to confess I found the town itself a bit too manicured and touristy (albeit of the well-behaved affluent older tourists). Dijon on the other hand, is a bustling mid-sized town with a life of its own, and generally better eats and food shopping.

      2. I think either place is difficult to really enjoy without a car (or a driver). You can take the train TO either, but you'll need a car once you get there.

        You could stay IN Beaune, and visit a number of tasting rooms that are located in the town (mostly along the periferique). There are wonderful restaurants within the city limits, and cheese shops and patisseries, but you'd be missing so much of the territory.

        1. Okay, so this will be a LONG response. Sorry in advance, but I had some time on my hands today.

          “I'd be taking the train from Paris by myself and spending probably 3 days.” “…would visiting both areas be doable in 4-5 days?”

          I’ll take a risk and disagree with others on the board. Yes, it’s doable in 5 days, but it would just be a taste of each area. I might consider it if I just wanted to get a flavor for both regions to decide where to spend a longer future trip. It would likely be a hectic 2 days in each region and a day or so of travel. You’d have to pick one town in each region and not really stray too far from there. All that said, if it was me, I’d pick one or the other. It could also mitigate your concern of whether you’d enjoy a long travel on your own. If you choose one, you could cut the trip short if you hated it and still have seen a region with no thought that you needed to press on.

          “My favorite wines come from Alsace, but I hear such amazing things about the foods and restaurants in Burgundy.”

          If your favorite wines are from Alsace, I’d go there. I have only been once myself and it was only a one day stopover with no wine tasting, so the rest of my post will be to give you thoughts on Burgundy.

          “I assume I should take a tour.”

          In Burgundy you could do either; take a tour or go on your own. I’ve done both. If you can afford it, I think a private day tour is the way to go. This can give you options to schedule your own tastings through your wine connections or to have the company schedule something for you. The good companies will take your preferences and experience into account and set up something great. Tours can also give a bit of insight on the history of the area and culture.

          I’d agree with Chef June that Beaune is a good base. There is a lot you can do just in town. Several of the big negotiant houses offer tastings, Bouchard Pere & Fils is my favorite of these, and some also have self tours of their caves, such as Patriarche or Marche aux Vins. If you have good wine connections, you should consider tasting at/with Benjamin Leroux, Domaine Nicholas Rossignol, Domaine Des Croix, Domaine Newman, and /orJoseph Drouhin, all with operations in Beaune and all with English speaking folks available. Alex Gambal is another option and you can usually set up something with them via email yourself.

          As for transportation, again I’m going to disagree a bit with other posters, at least for Burgundy. I agree that a car is ideal and let’s you more easily explore. That said, the area is perfectly doable by train if you don’t mind walking a bit. Not great if it’s too cold and rainy of course. If you are going to do tours on one or two of your days, take those out into the vineyards of the Cote de Nuits or Cote de Beaune and tour Beaune and/or Dijon on your own.

          The trains between Beaune & Dijon run fairly frequently and stop at a few of the wine towns along the way. The problem is that the stations are outside of the main part of the towns where you’d want to taste, but it really isn’t too far if the weather is good. For instance, the train from Beaune to Nuits St George is about 10 minutes (then a little less than a 1km/0.6 mile walk to the main town where you’d find most vintners) or 15 minutes to Vougeot (then also about 1km/0.6 mile to town) or 20 minutes to Gevrey-Chambertin (then about a 3km/1.8 mile walk to the main town).

          Vintners I’ve enjoyed/to consider in…
          Nuits St. Georges
          Pascal Marchand

          Chateau de la Tour – I think you can just go by this one without an appointment, but an appointment is better.

          Philippe LeClerc – same thought about this one being somewhat open to just drop in

          “What about restaurants, shops, local products?”
          I mention a couple of restaurants below and there is a lot of info on this board, just use the search. Favorites are Ma Cusine & Le P’Tit Paradis.
          If in Beaune, don’t miss the shop Athenaeum. Great books, wine related items, and other fun tchotchkes.
          Also in Beaune, Laronze Décor (linens) and Laronze Kitchen shop both have great products.
          For the best casis ever, go by Chateau l’Ange Gardien in Beaune and get the Casis de Dijon. YUM! They also do tastings which can be fun, but can also be a bit longwinded.
          Fromagerie Gaugry in Gevrey-Chambertin/Brochon is fun. Go in the morning during the week to see them making the cheeses. An amazing process.
          Fruirouge – some of the best jam, but a bit far, you’d need a car or go on a tour day – outside of Nuits St. Georges in Concoeur
          L’Or des Valois – a truffle farm with tasting of products also near Concoeur
          Beaune market days are Wednesday & Saturday mornings
          Dijon market days are Tuesday, Friday, & Saturday mornings – the covered market there is amazing.

          “I've traveled solo in the past, but never on a big tour. I'm worried it'll be miserable.”
          Obviously I don’t know you well enough to say weather or not you’ll be comfortable by yourself, but I can give you my perspective on Burgundy. While I travel with my husband, many days he doesn’t feel up to doing as much as I like to do, so I spend much of my time on my own. I’ve not felt like an oddity traveling solo. The only time it might be uncomfortable is at tastings you’ve scheduled. If your French is good, you’ll be fine. If not, I’d stick to vintners who speak English since you won’t have someone to punt to if you stumble. ☺ At meals I usually have a book, but only pull it out discreetly if there is a long time between courses. You might consider a restaurant with a communal table if you want someone to talk with. Caves Madeleine in Beaune is a nice option. Also a bar atmosphere can be nice. Brasserie Le Carnot or Part des Anges are suggestions there.

          Hope this helps!

          5 Replies
          1. re: DaTulip

            'Fromagerie Gaugry in Gevrey-Chambertin/Brochon is fun. Go in the morning during the week to see them making the cheeses. An amazing process.'

            Yes while fun and interesting, in the medium of saving time.
            In the center of Beaune is Alain Hess's shop, featuring cheese but a treasure trove of all comestibles from Burgundy and across the street is a shop will ALL Fallot mustards.

            All that notwithstanding, l am a fan of wines from Alsace and spending time there is such a joy, avec car though.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              An interesting shop in Beaune, around the corner from the main place/tourist office is Boutique Védrenne, specializing in cassis and spirits. We bought a very amusing chestnut and apple liquour. It's not at all subtle, rather in your face and delicious. On its own as an aperitif or in a kir. Or with a chestnut or apple dessert.

              We also found a hard-to-source violet mustard in this shop, not the brand that is easy to find but one I prefer.

            2. re: DaTulip

              I appreciate the detailed reply! I'm a very seasoned traveler, I just rarely travel alone. My husband has proposed the idea that he meet me in Wiesbaden for the weekend as he'd just love to be in the middle of German Rieslings. I'd take the train from Strasbourg to Wiesbaden, and at just over 2 hours that sounds extremely doable. Does anyone here have any experience doing this? Is there a better place to go for German Riesling for ~3 days? I am very used to busy travel schedules and don't mind them at all. Spending one night somewhere and hopping on a train to a nearby town for the following night is fine by long as I'm going to worthwhile destinations for my purposes!

              1. re: lobsterkiller

                I prefer the Rieslings of the Mosel region and their vineyards are some of the most picturesque in the world.

                1. re: lobsterkiller

                  lobsterkiller: Bear in mind that there is no direct train from Strasbourg to Wiesbaden. You have to make 2 or more changes and then connect through Frankfurt or Mainz or Offenbach. I find changing trains so often, especially within a 3-hour window a pain...but if you don't mind, it's doable.

                  I spent last weekend in Oestrich-Winkel on the Rhein and took the local train from there to Wiesbaden (takes about 25 min). Oestrich-Winkel is a tiny place. We ate couple meals at the restaurant in the Rathaus, very close to our B&B. The food was surprisingly good and very convenient for us. Of course, Wiesbaden or Mainz has bigger and more diverse food options but in the evenings we wanted something local and close to our B&B.

                  Once you are on the Rhein, the local trains run at the most, every 20 minutes or at the worst, every hour. The buses are more frequent, but slower. The Rhein has plenty of wineyards offering German Rieslings, but most of the food offerings are rich German food. Not sure what you would consider 'worthwhile destination' so you may want to check out the various little towns along the Rhein.
                  There's plenty of destroyed, castles, cute towns, vineyards galore, etc...

              2. Just to put it in perspective, you really can't go wrong with either choice. My wife and I visited Alsace this past summer. We rented a car in Strasbourg, and drove down south. Excellent dinner at Cote Vigne in Kientzheim (tiny town; beautiful restaurant; excellent meal). On general we found the traditional Alsatian food to be on the heavy side (lots of potatoes; cheese; and bacon) but delicious in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way. We had lunch one day at Bar-Brasserie Aux Trois Rois in Ribeauville; to me the lunch was too heavy, and I could feel my arteries hardening, but my wife said it was one of the most delicious meals she had on the whole trip! (It was certainly filling.) We stayed in Katzenthal, right across from the Domaine Jean-Marc Bernhard; strolled in one late afternoon, and spent the next hour with the owner and his wife drinking their lovely wines and laughing! They couldn't have been more hospitable. One day we drove past the Marcel Deiss winery and just pulled in, and wound up getting an hour-long tutorial on the economics of wine growing in Alsace. He poured one amazing wine after another. Unfortunately we didn't have any room in our luggage so as to buy anything. And though (1) we were Americans; (2) we didn't have an appointment; and (3) we didn't buy anything . . . . he refused to take any money for the impromptu tasting! One of the highlights of our trip. So as far as Alsace goes, no need for a tour; but definitely a rental car, to get from one little town to another. The people there couldn't have been friendlier.