Burgundy is famed for two things in particular: its classic gastronomy and its breathtaking countryside. It is home to such staples of French cuisine as bœuf bourgignon and snails not to mention the finest of fine wines and the delicious aperitif, kir. When it comes to the countryside, glazed tile roofs and classic Burgundian spires punctuate the skyline while the serene Canal de Bourgogne gently traverses the region. It’s classic France.
Two enterprising families have joined forces to offer curious visitors an insight into the beguiling charms of Burgundy; their combination cycling-and-cookery holidays offer up Burgundy in concentrate.
Arriving at Montbard station by TGV, we were met by Andrew from Velo Velo who drove us to the rural idyll that is Marigny-le-Cahouët and home too to the other half of the duo, Frélon’s Fabulous France. Our home for the week was Katherine Frélon’s luxurious gîte; a converted barn with airy proportions decorated with the utmost of good taste – complete, of course, with a kitchen that is the stuff of dreams.
The week is a happy mix of gentle cycling excursions with Andrew and Lorna that explore the local countryside and relaxed cooking lessons with Katherine back at the gîte.
A typical cycling day involved a hearty breakfast followed by a morning of cycling either along the Canal de Bourgogne past carefully tended lockkeeper’s cottages and through tranquil countryside or out to picture-postcard pretty villages such as Sémur-en-Auxois or Flavigny – all with a support van just a phone call away.
The morning’s work is rewarded by lunch alfresco at a prearranged picnic spot: a bright stripy picnic rug and cushions awaited laid with a vast spread of pates, cold meats, fresh salads, crusty bread, a heaving cheeseboard, wine, chilled beers, local apple juice… It was the most delicious picnic I think I have ever seen and we regaled ourselves royally each time.
A day spent in the kitchen was not so much spent slaving over a hot stove but rather getting out and about discovering the flavours of Burgundy. We visited the bustling market at Dijon to buy fresh, tasty ingredients from knowledgeable – and often colourful – stallholders which then provided inspiration for cooking the evening meal. Under Katherine’s expert eye, we learned how to prepare local dishes, all with an added Frélon touch, that were bursting with rich Burgundian flavours. Our version of bœuf bourgignon for example included tomatoes which, while this deviation may cause a local madame to shudder, was an absolute winner when we served it up at dinner in the gîte. Katherine’s relaxed approach to cooking and her enthusiasm for all things edible is inspiring; we learnt an awful lot in a week from how to chop an onion to whole new recipes.
The passion that Katherine, Lorna and Andrew have for their adopted homeland is infectious and what better way is there to get to know a delightful corner of France? We enjoyed every minute, wheeling past rambling farmsteads with a smile and a nod at the ready for the locals and then sourcing the freshest local ingredients and using traditional recipes to taste the terroir… There’s certainly strength in numbers when it comes to this clever collaboration.
The France Show 9 – 11th January 2009