When you picture the French countryside you’re probably imagining Burgundy. Sweeping fields of green, hillocks dotted with stone fortresses, and placid rivulets befitting a lily-dotted Monet. It’s the rural France of the tourist brochures, and feels like some sort of fairy tale combustion between Robin Hood’s forest and the Beauty and the Beast’s “little town.”
Spring in Burgundy is a particularly magical time to visit — the grass always seems dewy and the blooming rapeseed splashes radiant bursts of yellow across the otherwise beige-and-green landscape. A springtime visit also promises much more personal time with the region’s main attractions before the legions of tourists file through in the height of summer. The area, though bucolic, is considerably compact, making it a great place to explore by bike.
Over the course of the week we’ve detailed a Day-by-Day travel planner of the best things to see, and best places to stop on a cycling tour of what the New York Times called one of the world’s must-see destinations in 2015. This tailor-made trail ensures that you get the best of what Burgundy has to offer: canal-side views, forest-y rambles, crumbling castles, and a generous smattering of good food and wine.
Use L’Esperance as your base for one additional evening, spending the entirety of your day in the quaint village of Vézelay nearby. Live out your fairy tale fantasies betwixt the medieval stone walls of the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site crowned by postcard-perfect basilica.
On your final leg of the trip (leg being the key word) you’re going to have to use your pedaling muscles as you leave the Morvan Regional Natural Park to return to the picturesque Burgundy Canal near the town of Tonnerre. On your way, take a break in Chablis to savor the eponymous wines. Follow the narrow, lock-ridden canal system all the way to end at Migennes and reward yourself with a meal and comfortable night’s rest at La Côte Saint Jacques in neighboring Joigny. (Vézelay to Joigny via Chablis: 105km/65miles)
A beautiful village set on a gently rolling hill, the protected walls of Vézelay host one of the most magical throwback settings in all of Burgundy. Try to time your visit with a midday Sunday mass at the basilica where you’ll hear the carolling of an a capella choir. Feast on classic Burgundian entrees like beef bourguignon at the local restaurant La Dent Creuse. The decor may leave something to be desired but the meals are hearty and spot-on.
Enjoy a tasting at the wine shop or – by appointment – in the aging cellar, and learn about one of the most coveted wines in the world. Like champagne, only wines produced in the Chablis area can actually have its proper name. Leave extra room in your luggage to take a few bottles with you before you leave.
When it comes to food, the gem of Joigny is best saved for last. Jean Michel Lorain’s three-star Michelin restaurant is a parade of memorable platters – each one better than the next – that ends with a tasting from the mammoth in-house cheese cart. (Don’t miss out on the appetizer of lobster and hearts of palm.) The on-site spa is also worth a special mention with a generous indoor pool, a Jacuzzi with a great view over the river, and several suites where facials, massages and unique water-pressure treatments are on offer.