Viator’s team of travel insiders is obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere we travel. From traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe, we spend our time scouring the globe for the best tours and activities around the world.
Whether traveling for work or pleasure (or both!) our staff members are always on the go and we want to share their experiences with you! In this new series, Out of Office, we’ll bring you their stories, highlighting the best things to do and see in destinations around the world, as experienced by a real Viator Insider.
The Traveler: Katie Hammel, Senior Travel Editor
What’s your role at Viator? I manage Viator’s network of blogs, assigning, editing and curating content to help our readers get inspired and plan their perfect trip.
The trip: A hopscotch trip though Switzerland and southwest France, including four days in Burgundy in May, 2015
Why did you choose this destination? What appealed to you about the place?
My husband and I scored inexpensive tickets flying into Basel and out of Geneva, Switzerland. With several days to fill in between, we settled on spending the bulk of our time in Burgundy (an easy drive from Basel), then heading the town of Annecy near the French Alps, 40 minutes from Geneva. We’re wine lovers, so the idea of four days in the vineyards of Burgundy was especially appealing.
What did you do on the trip?
During our time in Burgundy, we made Beaune our base. It’s smack in the center of the main wine regions, surrounded by plenty of charming small towns and acres of vineyards. We spent our days exploring Beaune’s cobbled streets, biking to nearby villages, and wine tasting throughout the region. Our goal was to have four very relaxing, stress-free days, and we did just that.
What was the best experience?
My favorite experience was biking from Beaune to Meursault, a distance of 13kms, and then slowly working our way back to Beaune, stopping in the towns of Volnay and Pommard to have lunch, taste some wine, and enjoy a little wine pit stop overlooking the vineyards. Many of the producers in the area are mom-and-pop (or more accurately, pop-and-sons) establishments and many of the people don’t speak very much English.
In Volnay, we stopped at a winery that was basically in the garage of the elderly proprietor – he invited us into his garage for the tasting and, between our poor French and his poor English, we managed to have a lovely conversation as we tasted his wines. It wasn’t the best of any wine I had while in Burgundy, but the experience was so much fun and so memorable, that I bought three bottles.
Did you take any Viator tours?
On our first full day in Burgundy, we took a full day private wine-tasting tour. Most tours actually depart from Dijon but since this was a private tour, it was available from Beaune as well (or anywhere in between Beaune and Dijon). We started with a drive on the Route de Grand Crus, through rows of vineyards just starting to produce tiny grapes, as our guide, Christopher, explained the wines of Burgundy, the complicated classification systems, and what we could expect from the day.
We stopped at one winery in the morning, had lunch in the charming town of Nuits St. Georges, and then – since it was a private tour – we were able to direct the itinerary a bit and skip a visit to the historic hospice in Beaune and instead visit another winery in Gevrey-Chambertin before heading south to visit the final winery of the day in Meursault. It was great to have a driver so we could taste without worry, and Christopher’s knowledge greatly added to our understanding of Burgundy wine.
What was the best thing you ate or drank?
I didn’t eat a bad meal throughout my time in Burgdundy. In addition to Burgundy specialties like Beef Bourguignon, escargot, and stinky soft cheeses, I also indulged in oeufs meurette (eggs poached in a red wine sauce), lots of foie gras, and some of the freshest asparagus I’ve had in my life. Given Beaune’s proximity to Dijon, I also tried lots of mustard (including a delicious goat cheese crusted in mustard seeds) and of course, I drank a lot of Burgundy wine.
What are your top three recommendations to any visitor?
- Rent a bike! It was so much fun to ride through the vineyards. The road is closed to traffic (aside from vintners tending their vines) and the route is mostly flat. Plus it’s never more than 5kms between towns from Beaune to Meursault. Just make sure you wear sunscreen in the summer – I ended up with a sunburn after 7 hours out in the Burgundy sun.
- Be sure to learn at least a bit of French. Many people spoke enough English that we could communicate in a basic way, but some people spoke none, and everyone seemed to appreciate that we at least tried to speak French.
- If you love wine, plan ahead for getting some souvenir bottles home. We quickly realized we wanted to buy more than we could fit in our suitcases, so we headed to a shop called Sensation Vin in Beaune and purchased a special wine suitcase that held 12 bottles. The $100 cost was much cheaper than shipping wine home, and now we have a case for our next trip.
What’s the best Insider Tip you can offer future visitors to this destination?
If you’re not crazy about wine, you’ll find enough to do in Beaune and the surrounding towns to keep you busy for a few days. If you love good wine and good food, you’ll find enough to keep you busy for weeks. Give yourself enough time accordingly. I wish we would have had a few more days in the area; I would have liked to spend another day biking and I would have loved to explore more of the towns around Beaune, including Dijon.
Where are you off to next?
I’m headed to Islamorada in the Florida Keys for a few days in June for a wedding, but my next big trip is in November. I’m taking my mom on her first European trip! We’re doing a wine-themed river cruise from Basel to Amsterdam.