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Regal retreats and tranquil cruises in Burgundy

State room in La Belle Epoque hotel barge
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Except for its main cities - Dijon, Mâcon and Nevers, and a few lovely towns such as Beaune, Cluny and Auxerre, Burgundy is a mostly rural region. But this is rural in an almost royal sense. Don't expect to find simple farm accommodation and guest houses serving peasant food. Burgundy's most characteristic hotels are historic chateaux converted into luxury boutique hotels and guest houses or chambre d'hôtes.

 

Chateaux hotels


Set beside vineyards, in river valleys or on the edge of the regional forest of Morvan, the chateaux hotels of Burgundy are usually surrounded by acres of their own, well-manicured grounds and historic gardens and positioned to take advantage of magnificent views.


Their style reflects the history of this wealthy wine region. Chateau de Gilly, near Clos de Vougeot on the Route de Grands Crus, was the 14th century home of the abbots of Citeaux, a Cistercian monastery. It shows off its medieval vaulted stone ceilings and Burgundian stone fireplaces. Yet the 19th century inspired French provincial décor , with its floral wallpapers, velvet upholstered chairs and flowers everywhere, is unmistakably feminine. Not far away, an even earlier 12th century Cistercian chateaux, L'Abbaye de la Bussière, is not far from the vineyards of Nuits St. Georges and hidden away in private gardens with its own small lake.


Chambre d'hote


Many of Burgundy's independent wine makers have welcomed visitors to their "caves" for centuries. That tradition of hospitality has now been extended to opening their homes to paying guests in a chambre d'hote, or bed and breakfast basis. It's a way of meeting the locals and learning more about wine and wine making. The couple who own Chateau de Melin, a small 16th century estate south of Beaune, age and bottle wine from their 22 hectares of Côtes de Beaune and Côtes de Nuit vineyards in the cellar beneath their home. The Chateau les Roches, built in 1900 for a rich man's mistress, is a Belle Epoque fantasy of a guest house, that looks like it belongs in Deauville or Biarritz.


Hotel barge cruises


One of the most relaxing ways to tour Burgundy is to stay on a luxury hotel barge watching the Burgundian vineyards slide by and stopping here and there for wine tastings. Once converted working boats, most hotel barges today are purpose built. They carry small numbers of guests - usually six to ten, a gourmet chef and sometimes bicycles for guests to use ashore. In Burgundy, European Waterways, the continent's biggest hotel barge operator, cruises the Burgundy Canal and the Canal du Nivernais with cycling options as well as minibuses that ferry guests to vineyards and attractions ashore.