With vineyards first planted by ancient Romans, the Côte d'Or—the most revered winemaking area in Burgundy (Bourgogne)—draws wine pilgrims from around the globe. Natives here insist there's no place in France with wine traditions more deeply rooted, more consciously cherished. They have something else to be proud of: In July 2015, UNESCO inscribed the region on its World Heritage List. Plans for a new wine center, the Cité des Vins de Bourgogne, will further celebrate this hallowed terroir.
A far cry from Bordeaux's flat landscape, historically dominated by aristocratic families, the fabled chalk slopes of the Côte d'Or form a snaking ribbon of land in some places no more than a third of a mile wide. This labyrinthine wine terrain about three hours' drive southeast of Paris is owned by hundreds of farmers, many of them descendants of peasant families and some with just three rows of vines in a field the size of a bowling alley.
Rent a bicycle to taste your way along the Route des Grands Crus, which includes oenophile-magnet vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet. At neighborhood haunt La Grilladine, in the medieval town of Beaune, pair the beef bourguignonne with one of the local vieilles vignes (wine from old vines). End the day at Hôtel Le Cep, in Beaune's historic heart. Third-generation family owner Jean-Claude Bernard sets the tone, worldly yet down-to-earth. Which is to say, Burgundian to the core. —Liz Beatty
When to Go: July for the Beaune International Festival of Baroque Opera; October and November for harvest festivals and fall foliage
How to Get Around: From Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport, take a direct TGV high-speed train to Dijon or to Beaune (summer only). From Dijon, you can take a walk lasting several days (depending on the amount of wine consumed) or rent a car to follow the 37-mile Route des Grands Crus south to Santenay. In Beaune, the better option is renting a bike (March through November) to pedal the Voie des Vignes (Vineyard Way) vélo (bike) route to Santenay.
Where to Stay: After touring the vineyards, relax by the heated outdoor pool or in the sauna at Le Clos de la Challangette in Beaune. The unconventional property has two guesthouses with five rooms, two apartments, and two replica wooden Gypsy caravans with curved ceilings, a bedroom, and a bathroom.
What to Eat or Drink: In Gevrey-Chambertin, world-famous for its Grand Cru vineyards, stop for lunch or dinner at cozy Bistrot Lucien in the hotel La Rôtisserie du Chambertin. Pair an earthy village Pinot Noir with a traditional dish such as the jambon persillé (ham, parsley, and jelly) terrine, snails, or beef bourguignonne.
What to Buy: Fromagerie Gaugry in Brochon is one of the only dairies still producing authentic raw milk Époisses cheese. The washed-rind soft cheese originated in Burgundy in the 16th century and is available to sample and buy in the dairy's shop. Other Gaugry cheeses are sold in the shop, along with regional products such as Dijon mustard and gingerbread. While at the dairy, watch the cheesemakers at work. Closed Sundays.
What to Watch Before You Go: The award-winning documentary A Year in Burgundy (Kino Lorber films, 2013) is a season-by-season look at the lives of seven Burgundian winemaking families.
Cultural Tip: Basic French dining etiquette includes keeping both wrists on the table, speaking softly in restaurants, and not taking a second helping from the cheese platter.
Fun Fact: The iconic U.S. car brand Chevrolet has roots in the Côte d'Or. Louis Joseph Chevrolet, the race-car driver who designed the first Chevrolet for General Motors, moved to Beaune as a child. During his teen years in Burgundy, he worked as a wine-cellar guide, and built, sold, repaired, and raced bicycles.