The path less travelled in France produced stunning rural vistas, friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture, far beyond our expectations.
Heidi and I hired an electric car at CDG airport in early spring 2022 and drove a six thousand kilometre “figure of eight” around France. Despite moderate fitness levels we hiked and cycled many remote picturesque places. We also found rural and remote areas of France have much to offer serious foodies.
Off the Beaten Path: Nothing ‘ordinary’ to be found
Determined to take the path less travelled we discover stunning rural vistas, super friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture in France, way beyond our expectations.
This is part 7 of a 12-part mini-series which follows our recent 12-week trip.
I invite you to join us and make some delightful discoveries.
Part 7 – Sampigny-lès-Maranges, a small wine village in the Haute Côte de Beaune
Sampigny is one of a number of small wine villages nestled in the hills (Les Maranges) sitting above Santenay in the far south of the Côte de Beaune.
The village is bucolic, home to many small wineries, and entirely devoid of any other commerce. Importantly for us, it is just a short and especially scenic ride along dedicated cycle paths to many of the most famous wine villages in Burgundy.
We’ve visited and stayed in Burgundy many times and always enjoyed its world-class gastronomy, myriad famous wine villages, and a plethora of cycling paths and hiking trails. However, this was the first time we’d decided to get off the beaten path in Bourgogne.
Highlights and Hidden Gems
We stayed in a small gite in the middle of the village after reading a multitude of glowing reviews. It is a self-contained apartment, adjacent to the owner’s home, that sits serenely by a small stream and within a secure gated enclosure. Behind the gite is a very large sun-drenched garden populated by fruit trees, vegetable and herbs gardens, and a large expanse of grass that is always available to guests. We spent many happy hours in the garden reading or dozing in the sun.
Each morning we were served (literally waited upon) by Andre, an exquisite multi-course classic French petit dejeuner. Coffee, fresh juice, fresh fruit, yogurt, baguette, butter, three regional cheeses (different each day), croissants, three types of homemade jams (different each day), and always a freshly baked gateau. And every morning we were glad we’d planned a long cycle or hike along the canals, or through the vineyards or forest.
The breakfast and access to 2 well-maintained bicycles (une voie verte runs through the village) are all included in the modest price.
Walking, Cycling, Touring
Burgundy is saturated with dedicated cycle paths – former canal towpaths or rail tracks and vineyard paths. It is also full of historic and quaint villages through which these cycle paths pass. It makes a beautiful recipe for randonnées à vélo, punctuated with stops for a coffee and pastry, a long lunch, or a mid-afternoon apero; sometimes all three! Pourquoi pas?!
Perhaps the most delightful cycle path virtually passes our front door, on the edge of the village. It is a 9-kilometre stretch of the former railway, repurposed as a sealed cycle path, that winds gently uphill through Les Maranges from the sophisticated mid-sized village of Santenay to arty and historic Nolay. Sampigny sits almost midway along the path. In Santenay the path connects with the Canal du Bourgogne and the vineyard paths that lead to Beaune, providing many options for the cycling enthusiast.
The Santenay to Nolay path initially winds serenely through the forest and then opens to panoramic vistas of vineyards that seemingly run forever. Small stone villages, each with an obligatory church tower, dot the landscape.
Both Nolay and Santenay have quintessential, yet quite different village squares, that are the focal point for excellent restaurants and outdoor bars. Nolay’s is ancient and contains a 13th-century timber heritage-listed marketplace and a large number of well-preserved half-timbered houses. The village also hosts several interesting art galleries.
The square is a great place to stop for a drink after cycling up the hill and soak up the atmosphere.
Food and Wine
There are half a dozen small family-owned wineries in Sampigny. Our host recommended Domaine Duchemin which is a short stroll down the hill from our gîte. It turns out his cousin is the owner and as a result, we managed a 5-star experience. English-speaking Fanny started by walking us through some of the estate vineyards and giving us a multi-generational history of the estate.
It was a lovely late spring morning and the vines were exploding out of their winter hibernation.
We then walked through the cellars and heard a little of the winemaking style of the estate. Essentially they see their job being to let the grapes do the talking with minimal intervention.
Then finally, the tasting. Thanks to Andre we were offered access to all the available wines. They have white wines from some of the great villages in the valley such as Puligny-Montrachet and Saint Aubin; and reds mostly from Les Maranges which is considered to be very much a lesser climat. As expected the whites were excellent and typical of their terroir. Les rouges were also really good and of great value.
There is a tiny 14-seat, rustic restaurant in Nolay called Le menu which does a fixed-price set menu lunch on weekdays only. It is located in the wonderful historic village square. The food is fresh, simple, home-cooked, and authentically regional; and 3 courses plus a carafe of excellent house red set us back 18 Euros each.
It is truly a hidden gem and one must book to get a seat.
Bourgogne is loaded with Michelin-starred restaurants, world-famous wineries, and spectacular towns like Beaune and Dijon.
However, such is the depth of the region that one can almost guarantee a wonderful local meal paired with excellent wines from almost any of the smaller villages that litter the valley which runs from Dijon in the north to Santenay in the south.
Be adventurous and seek out a few. Locals will always steer you in the right direction.
Have you ever visited this part of France? Share your experiences below.
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Merci Mille Fois