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Burgundy: Gourmet barging

Burgundy: Gourmet barging
L'Impressioniste gracefully makes her way through the Burgundy Canal at little more than walking pace. It's mid October, when stretched light throws itself across golden trees on the turn. At this speed, each beautiful view is enjoyed for minutes, not seconds. It's quite unlike any journey I have ever made and utterly absorbing.
 
Les Halles - the fine iron and glass indoor market in the centre of Dijon - is missing something, I think.
 
It needs a sign in French above each of the four main entrances. On it, the signs will read “Welcome to Burgundy”.
 
The 19th century building was built by Gustave Eiffel, whose surname you may recognise from one of his more famous enterprises up the road in Paris. But the really impressive bit, with respect to Gus, isn't the building itself – more its contents.
 
In here, you'll find pretty much everything that is good about the food in Burgundy, or the Bourgogne as the locals call it, crammed into one busy little hall.
 
On one side a seller uses a hefty knife to cut a semi circle slab of pungent Epoisses cheese while across the way a pair of old women inspect some deep red slabs of beef from behind glass.
 
Elsewhere tomatoes are gently placed into a brown paper bag which in turn is popped into the market's must-have accessory – a trolley bag.
 
Of course, there's the mustard stalls – more for the tourist than the local one presumes, but still offering a tempting range of jars flavoured with Cassis, tarragon or hazelnuts.
 
Should you only have a couple of hours in Burgundy and Dijon, go and see the fabulous Notre Dame Cathedral, but make sure you join the locals in their daily pilgrimage to the market.
 
But why on earth would you only pay a fleeting visit to Burgundy – one of the 'places to visit before I die' for any lover of food and wine?
 
My visit is far from fleeting. In fact, it's the polar opposite.
 
I'm spending a week inching through the fabulous Burgundy countryside on a barge. She's called L'Impressioniste and she gracefully makes her way through the Burgundy Canal at little more than walking pace. It's mid October, when stretched light throws itself across golden trees on the turn. At this speed, each beautiful view is enjoyed for minutes, not seconds. It's quite unlike any journey I have ever made and utterly absorbing.
 
While the captain of the barge steers L'Impressioniste from one picture postcard lock to the next, I'm being taken on another journey by an equally skilled crew member.
 
Marie doesn't get out on deck much, most of her time is either spent in the aforementioned Dijon market, or more often than not, in the compact kitchen on board.
 
Twice a day the other guests and I are given a lesson in Burgundy dining – three courses per meal, with a selection of cheese thrown in in the evening.
The food is typical, traditional and tasty. Prepared and presented to a high standard, it's the kind of French provincial cooking which is perfect on brisk autumn nights.
 
On the first night it's butternut squash soup with walnut whipped cream before a pert little roasted supreme of guinea fowl with lemon sauce.
 
We generally stick to what this part of France is good at – so not a great deal of fish, but good cuts of meat with perfectly seasoned sauces. The boeuf Bourguignon - with generous chunks of shoulder in a rich, brown sauce - I have one lunchtime is a good example.
 
Each night, sandwiched between the main and the dessert comes a tempting board of cheese, not always local, but always good and always different, from un-matured, light and whippy numbers like the self-explanatory Regal de Bourgogne aux Herbes, through to those stronger, more pungent cheeses you can get a whiff and a nibble of back in Dijon market. I'm a sucker for the Comte but the yellowy Reblochon also leaves an good impression.
 
All of the food is set against a backdrop of consistently good wines – you'd expect no less from this region. Light Pinor Noirs contrast with the unique, minerally Chardonnays – all picked from wineries which surround the canal.
Hopping off the boat allows you to work of the last meal – by cycling along the canal tow paths past curious Charollais cattle or venturing into a town. We moor in the shadow of Chateaneuf, and venture up the hill to have a look about and take in the view.
 
But it's the food and wine which really inspires. Spend a week eating Burgundy, drinking Burgundy and letting the Burgundy countryside work its way into your soul and almost by osmosis, you'll start to feel like that indoor market in Dijon is your home.
 
More about Burgundy
Restaurant review: Les Remparts, Burgundy
 
For more information about Gourmet Barging Holidays:
Tel: 44 (0)1784 482 439
 
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