WEEKEND: TRAVEL: The Grape Escape; TRANQUIL BURGUNDY SATISFIES VISITORS' APPETITE FOR HISTORY, FOOD AND WINE

Article excerpt

Byline: Kerry Assinder

PICTURE a glorious sunny afternoon, clusters of grape harvesters hard at work and a fairytale chateau in the backdrop, and you will begin to imagine the beauty of rural Burgundy.

This region of France, celebrated for its rich cuisine, unspoilt countryside and, of course, some of the world's most famous wines, was a sight for sore eyes after an exhausting day-long trip to Paris, followed by a further 250-mile drive south.

After settling into the campsite Lac du Panthier in the small village of Vandenesse, I did what every self-respecting tourist would do - head for the nearest restaurant to sample some traditional cuisine.

A 2km drive away, in the stunning hilltop village of Chateauneuf-en-Auxois, a feast awaited us at the restaurant L'Oree du Bois. I tucked into some of the region's specialities, starting with a warm goats' cheese and walnut salad, boeuf bourguignon (beef in red wine sauce with mushrooms), followed by crepes doused in Kir, a blackcurrant liqueur. This was all washed down with a bottle or two of red wine.

Vandenesse and the surrounding area is ideal for people who love the outdoors. The campsite has the added benefit of being next to a lake, so you can hire all the necessary equipment for fishing, canoeing, windsurfing or sailing.

There are many walks along the pretty canals in this area, and if you like cycling there are dozens of routes that weave their way through the sleepy nearby villages.

Beaune is the unofficial capital of the stretch of Burgundy known as the Cote d'Or (literally, "golden slope"). The town is definitely worth a visit for the wine buff, but is almost completely devoted to tourism and loses some of its charm in the hustle and bustle.

Most of Burgundy's vintage wines are produced here and it's supposedly one of the best places in France for wine-tasting - you can get a free map of all the cellars in the area at the tourist information centre.

Set among acres of lush vines, 15km north of Beaune, is the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot, where you can see the wine-making process. It houses huge 13th-century wine presses that were installed by Cistercian monks to whom these vineyards belonged for almost 700 years until the French Revolution in 1789.

The chateau provides an insight into wine-making history, but what really brings it to life is watching the harvesters labouring in the fields, emptying their bulging baskets of grapes into the trucks. I was fascinated watching them work, and they were clearly enjoying the attention they were getting from passing tourists.

One of them waved some tools at me and asked if I wanted to help. I just laughed and shook my head, but in truth, even though it looked like back- breaking work, if I'd had my trainers on I might have took him up on the offer. …