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Last updated February 17 2020
Route des Grands Crus Burgundy France
The Route des Grands Crus is such a diverse and interesting area that it’s possible to explore in many ways. We’ve travelled along this famous 60 kilometre stretch of road in the southern part of Burgundy (also known as Bourgogne) in France in a motorhome. With no time pressure, we poked our way through the countryside. Row upon row of grapevines native to this region followed us as we drove through the small villages that fill this area with so much colour and custom.
Giving us an entirely different perspective was our journey along the canals of France aboard the Savior Vivre canal barge. For a week, we cruised slowly along the waterway, seeing the villages of southern Burgundy in a different light. During the day, we visited some of the iconic cities of the region.
The Burgundy Wine Route, as it is also known can be seen as part of a self-drive itinerary or by basing yourself in either Dijon or Beaune and taking day trips. There are also many excellent tours and day trips that can be taken in this area.
This article details some of the best things to see and do in Burgundy, where to stay and the most popular tours in the region.
Burgundy quick facts
- Burgundy region of France also known as Bourgogne
- Burgundy is located in the central-east of France
- Burgundy is made up of five wine regions
- Côte de Nuits
- Côte de Beaune
- Côte Chalonnaise
- Harvest is usually between the end of August and mid-September (weather dependent)
- Burgundy has a population of around 1.64 million
- Burgundy has a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters
Where is the Route des Grands Crus?
The Route des Grands Crus begins in Dijon and traces the smaller regional road west of the main highway to Santenay. It runs for about 60 kilometres, including the major cities of Dijon and Beaune and many small villages. The Route des Grand Crus (meaning the Great Wine Trails), represents only a portion of the Burgundy region. It’s an easy drive in one day.
However, it’s an area packed with amazing wine and food producers, which is the most popular reason for visiting the Burgundy wine region. As the oldest wine route in France, it’s also rich in history. The origins of wine in this region dates back to the Monks, and there’s plenty of wine houses here where this history can be seen up close.
The Route des Grands Crus is visibly identified by a series of brown road signs with bunches of grapes on them. Starting in the north, the Côte de Nuits is the area known for producing red wine from the Pinot Noir grape.
As the route gets into the southern areas, Chardonnay grapes grown here produce the white wines of the region. This is known as the Côte de Beaune. Whilst there are other wines grown in this region, these two are the most significant. The Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune are two of five wine areas, growing different types of grapes in Burgundy.
Whilst vineyards can be seen covering the hills and the lower ground as far as the eye can see, the plots are actually quite small. A singular area of land where grapes are grown is called a climat and here, along the Route des Grands Cru, there are over 1,200 climats. Many of them are owned by small growers and not major corporations or labels.
The added beauty of this area is that many of the vineyards are contained within age-old stone walls. Many of the vineyards also have large wrought iron arches, with the name of the vineyard on them.
Wines of Route des Grands Crus
The wines of Burgundy are revered the world over and the Route des Grands Crus is one of the best wine trails in France. Varieties such as Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Aligoté can be found but it is the bold reds made from Pinot Noir and the whites from the Chardonnay grape that hold the fort in the region. This is especially so in the regions of the Route des Grands Crus, known for some of the most expensive wine in the world.
Despite it being a well-known wine-growing region, only around 6% of Burgundy is actually planted with vines. The rest of Burgundy is arable land, used for growing crops and grazing for the prized white Charolais cattle. Here, on the slopes of Burgundy, and on the flat land, the terroir is the single most important factor when it comes to the production of wine here. Terroir, simply, can mean the soil or the earth that the vines are grown in.
But as many winemakers will attest to ” wine is made in the vineyard and the winemaker simply finishes it off”. To them, the terroir is the combination of everything that affects the vines and their quality. From the type of soil to the climate they are grown in, the amount of rain and even the impact of farming practices, all have an effect on the grapes.
The terroir here in Burgundy changes constantly. There are over 400 different soil types here. Pinot Noir wines made from vines three kilometres apart can taste completely different, due to changes and differences in the soil. It’s why you can never have one wine from Burgundy and think you’ve tried them all because they will never taste the same. A Chardonnay might be crisp and acidic from a Côte de Beaune winemaker and the next one you try might be strong with buttery, honey tones.
How to read the label of a Burgundy wine
The appellation process and subsequent labelling of wines from Burgundy is very French and very complex. So much so that to the uninitiated, buying wine from Burgundy can be very confusing.
Burgundy Regional level wines
These are the wines usually produced from the flatter land. They will be less complex and able to be drunk at a younger age. They will also be the least expensive. The regional level wines are great for quaffers for that summer lunch, pre-dinner or BBQ. On the label, all that will be noted is the word Bourgogne as they can be made from grapes produced anywhere in Burgundy. With over 50% of the region producing regional level wines, there is plenty to choose from. Look for wines showing the Bourgogne Blanc (white) or Bourgogne Rouge (red) labels. One of our local favourites, the sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne is also a regional level wine.
Burgundy Village level wines
On these bottles of wine, the label will reference the name of the village where they were produced. So a label saying Marsannay will be made from grapes within the parameters of one village. These will also be easy-drinking wines that are affordable to buy for everyday drinking.
Burgundy Premier Cru
This is where the wines of Burgundy start to take it up a notch. Premier Cru wines can be traced back to the actual plot where grapes were grown within a village. On the label, there will be references to Premier Cru or just the lettering of 1er. The label will also have the name of the village where the grapes were grown and the name of the vineyard. These are exceptional wines and are still very affordable.
Burgundy Grand Cru
This is the top of the line wine found in this part of Burgundy. This is as elite as it gets in these parts and the wine comes from some of the most famous names in the area. Here the name of the vineyard has exclusive naming rights. It is the only thing that appears on the label. So, a bottle of wine from vineyard Clos de Vougeot, for example, will simply have that name on the label. Grand Cru wine can only be called such if the grapes come only from that vineyard. They do not need to label the type of grape.
There are fewer vines available to make Grand Cru wine, adding to its exclusivity. Grand Cru wine accounts for around 1% of all wine produced in Burgundy. Bottles of Grand Cru can sell for anywhere between €100-450 on average and are made to cellar, some for decades. This can fluctuate greatly depending on the year and winemaker. Montrachet, Romanée Conti and Clos de Vougeot are some of the well-known makers of Grand Cru.
Four places you must visit on the Route des Grands Crus
Clos de Vougeot
Built by the Cistercian Monks in the 12th century, the chateau at the heart of the Clos de Vougeot is a standout feature in the Côte de Nuits. That and the incredible stone walls (clos) built in 1336 that define one of the largest vineyards in the area. Clos de Vougeot is one of the premier Grand Cru red wine producers here, but no wine is made on the premises here anymore.
In 1944, the owner of the chateau sold it to the “Friends of the Chateau de Clos de Vougeot who in turn handed the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin a lease spanning 99 years.
The French Revolution saw the church relieved of its property holdings and the vineyard was sold to a private buyer in 1818. It operated as one single vineyard until it was sold again in 1889. This time, the six co-owners divided it up.
Complex French inheritance laws have since seen this vineyard divided down into much smaller plots (or climats). Today, there are 82 different owners of the Clos de Vougeot vineyards. Some owners only own three or four rows of vines.
A visit to the chateau gives insight into the world of winemaking in the Monk’s era. Many of the original pieces of timber equipment are on display in the outer buildings. The winery presses are incredible and it really makes you wonder how they moved such enormous pieces of timber around.
There is a cellar that was built to store thousands of wine casks. Today it is used as part of the grand dining affair, “Tastevinage” run each year by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.
Need to know about Clos de Vougeot Chateau
- Privately owned but some parts are open to the public
- Opening hours: April to October: 9 am – 6.30 pm, Saturday 9 am – 5 pm
- Opening hours: November to March: 10 am – 5 pm
- Closed 24-25 December, 31 December, 1 January
- Free car parking is available in front of the chateau
- Gift shop and bathroom facilities inside
- Group and individual tours are available
- Guided tours are available at 11.20 am and 2.30 pm daily
- Organised group tours are available upon arrangement
Rue de la Montagne
Whilst the Nuits-Saint-George is an integral part of the Burgundy wine trail, it’s a sweet little village in its own right. There’s a small bell tower in the town square and two small churches. The Saint-Symphorien dates back to the 12th-century.
Not a usual addition to a “must-see” list is the local hospital, built in the 17th-century. It still operates as a hospital for the elderly today. Even more unusual is that it owns a wine label. Each year an auction is held where proceeds go to the hospital.
The L’Imaginarium is an interactive world of wine and winemaking. This museum has displays, tours and tasting to help visitors understand the world of Burgundy wine.
Not wanting to let the wine do all the talking, there is also a blackcurrant experience here in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Creme de Cassis is the blackcurrant liqueur and a specialty of Burgundy. At the Le Cassissium, visitors can do a tour, watch a movie and work their way through an interactive museum.
Just past Nuits-Saint-Georges, we stopped by Chateau Premeaux, in the village of Premeaux-Prissey, for a wine tasting with the fifth-generation owners.
Need to know about Nuits-Saint-Georges
- A market is held in the village every Friday
- The Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges wine auction is held each year in March
- If you are driving through here in a motorhome note that some of the side streets around the main town area are very narrow
Another standout along the Route des Grands Cru is the bright mosaic-tiled roof of the Chateau de Corton Andre. The seven-hectare vineyard includes some of the most famous Gand Cru labels (Corton) plus many more. Tasting sessions are conducted at the chateau.
Need to know about Chateau de Corton Andre
- Opening hours 1 April to 31 October: 10 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 6.30 pm daily
- Opening hours 1 November to 31 March: 10 am – 12.45 pm and 2 pm – 5.30 pm
Rue d’Aloxe Corton, 21420
The larger city of Beaune is almost at the end of the Route des Grands Crus and is one of the most beautiful in this area. Beaune and Dijon, as the starting point of the wine trail, are worthy of a more in-depth article, which we will bring you soon.
Where to stay along the Route des Grands Crus
There are many options for where to stay on the Burgundy wine trail, it just depends on how you choose to explore it. As it is only a 60-kilometre stretch, with many of the major wineries in a handful of cities, day trips from Dijon or Beaune are a good idea. If you are self-driving in a rental car, then there are some hotels in the smaller villages.
Hotels in Dijon
- Located right in the centre of Dijon near the Cathedral St Benigne
- Easy to walk to the old city centre
- A 5-minute walk from the Gare de Dijon-Ville train station
- A more moderately priced hotel right in the city centre
- Close to the Cathedral St Benigne and the Owl Trail
- Parking is available on-site
- A popular three-star hotel in the city centre
- Across the road from Dijon’s Opera House
- Recently renovated
- Parking available on-site
- Pets welcome
Hotels along the Route des Grands Crus
- Located in Nuits-Saint-Georges
- Close to the highway
- Parking is available behind the hotel
- Located in Gevrey-Chambertin
- Located in Ladoix-Serrigny
- Located on the outskirts of Beaune
Hotels in Beaune
- If staying in historical buildings is your thing, you must stay at this hotel. A Cistercian Abbey built in the 12th-century and located in the centre of Beaune.
- Close to the hospice, basilica, shopping and restaurants
- Re-built after being destroyed during the French Revolution
- Chain hotel in the heart of the old city
- Close to all the main attractions of Beaune
- Close to the highway which is perfect for day trips to the Route des Grands Crus
Alternatively, if you are travelling the Route des Grands Crus in a motorhome, there are several options available also.
There are approximately 22 France Passion stopover sites in the general area, most of them closer to Beaune. **Note these are current but can change at any time. Always consult your current France Passion motorhome stopover guide to ensure the hosts are still part of the France Passion program**
Not sure what France Passion is? Read our article on France Passion stopovers for motorhomes in France.
There are also plenty of Aires des Service and other stopover areas to be found on Park4nite.
Looking for more information on French Aires des Service? Read our article on free motorhome stopovers here
Burgundy Wine Tours
If you aren’t self-driving your way through the Burgundy Wine Route, there are many tour options available. These are some of the most popular.
- Departs from and returns to Dijon
- Small group
- Stops at traditional vineyards with wine tasting including Grand Cru and Premier Cru
- Explore Beaune and the famous mustard house of Fallot
- Free time in Beaune
- Departs from and returns to Beaune train station
- Wine tastings at three wineries in Côte de Beaune or Côte de Nuits
- Three-course lunch with matching wines at a family-run winery
- Wine tasting at a variety of wineries including Grand Cru and Premier Cru
France travel guides
France is a big country and sometimes we all need some additional resources to help us with travel planning. Here are some useful guides that we have used.
- Food Wine Burgundy (The Terroir Guides)
- Rick Steves France
- Lonely Planet France (Travel Guide)
- Michelin Regional Maps: France: Burgundy Map 519 (Michelin Regional France)
Other France reading
Keep reading some of our other French articles.