Thursday, March 1, 2012

Macconais (Southern Burgundy)

After my first cycling trip to the Belgian coast, I started planning all sorts of excursions.  My first wine journey was to the Loire Valley in 2009, but we'll revisit that later, especially as I'll be going there again this May.  

Let's go to Burgundy.

In June of 2010, the family had left for summer vacation, and I thought it a perfect opportunity to visit Southern Burgundy.  I had always loved chardonnays (I'm not ashamed to admit that I like the "old-fashioned" type of chardonnay that California made famous - so buttery and oaky that it was like drinking a heart attack with the coffin at the ready).  Burgundian whites are, by definition, chardonnay (except for the limited amount of Aligote they produce).  Now, everyone goes for "mineral-y, slate-y". All stainless steel, no oak.  Damn that Parker, damn him to hell!

By then I had upgraded from my 7 speed city bike to an aluminium Kettler Traveler trekking bike (I sold the city bike to a Latvian colleague - to whom I probably became the "dodgy colleague selling a bike").  I loaded the bike on my new hitch-mounted bike rack and drove down to a campsite/gite run by a very nice british/dutch couple near Cormatin, where I would base myself for the long weekend.

This hamlet of Chazelle is smack-dab in the middle of Southern Burgundy - on the border of the Cote Challonaise and the Macconais, a stone's throw from the famous religious centre of Taize, and the Cluny abbey.  It's right on the voie verte (a dedicated cycling/pedestrian path) through the region.  

I had decided to give each sub-region a day to themselves, and we will occupy ourselves with the Macconais in this post.  I set off on the voie verte southbound in the early morning (I always wake up ridiculously early when I'm sleeping in a tent).  I got to the far end of Cluny at around 08:00 and decided to grab a croissant and a cup of coffee at an organic resto/bakery with this view:  
Uh huh.  Gorgeous.  
Buzzing on a double café serré, I rejoined the voie verte to my next point of interest -- the tunnel of the Bois Claire, an old railway tunnel, the longest voie verte tunnel in Europe (1.6 km):
Long, dark and cold (with complimentary bats).
The lead-up to the tunnel was a climb, but the legs were up for a little suffering, and the day was young.  After the tunnel, the descent was such that I freewheeled for a good 2-3 kilometres and thought to myself: "No way I'm coming back this way..." and thanked myself for having researched a what I thought would be a flattish circuit back up the voie bleue along the Saône.  

I blissfully cycled through a green valley, with vineyards sloping up above me, passing through vintner villages bedecked with flowers.  One of the last villages before Macon was Prisse, in which the grapes in this wine were growing at that particular moment:
Pierre Chanau 2010 Macon Villages (4.75 Euro)
A light citrusy nose with a hint of wet stone. It starts with a slight bitterness and moves into a short burst of mineral-y chardonnay-iness, but falls flabby with a short finish.  It's not a big wine, but instantly recognizable as a Macon chardonnay that's pleasant to drink.  Burgundy doesn't do buttery - oaky chardonnay anymore (Palmer took care of that).  What it lacks in acidity, it makes up in reasonableness of price.

Not too far from Prisse, the voie verte simply ends.  One then joins normal roads to get into Macon (though French drivers are very courteous to cyclists on the road, so it's not a bother).  I rode through Macon, heading for the Saône, where I would pick up the cycle route along the river.  At the very heart of Macon, my odometer hit 2000 km.  It had taken me almost 2 years, but I had hit a milestone.  Looking back, it wasn't such a big milestone, but at the time, I was very proud of myself.

That was the high point of the day.  More in the next post.


  1. Can't imagine riding through such a long tunnel!

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