Biking in Burgundy(Courtesy Katherine Rodeghier)
I should have packed... Bubble wrap for the champagne and burgundy wine I picked up at wineries I toured. [PHOTO] Because the airlines allow only small amounts of liquids in carry-on luggage, I wrapped the bottles in clothing and packed them in my checked bag. They didn't break, but bubble wrap would have added more cushioning and lessened my worry.
You've simply got to taste... The local cheeses. My favorites in Burgundy were Cîteaux, a soft, washed-rind cheese made at the Abbey of Cîteaux, and Epoisses, with a strong smell and a rich flavor. In Champagne, I liked Langres, especially when matured in Marc de Champagne brandy, and Chaource, a soft cheese that's at least 50 percent fat (and worth every calorie).
My favorite part... The 10-mile bike ride through vineyards from Beaune to Chassagne-Montrachet with Sarah Bird of Detours in France. [PHOTO] We rode on the paved paths winegrowers use, watched them tend the vines, and stopped by the villages of Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault. Sarah explained the wine categories of the Côte d'Or, wine cultivation, and history. Fascinating, and good exercise.
Moment when things got tense... At 2 a.m. the night a fellow traveler came knocking on my hotel room door. Her bed was infested with bedbugs. Because there wasn't another room available, she spent the night on the sofa bed in my room.
Worth every penny... The cooking school offered by L'Atelier des Chefs in Dijon. It was a great value and a wonderful opportunity to learn cooking techniques from French chef Anthony Rabulliot. For $54, I cooked with the chef for an hour and then spent an hour dining on my culinary creations with my cooking companions. [PHOTO] Foie gras wrapped in chicken breast—c'est magnifique!
Never again... I realized I can't eat a two-hour lunch and then go wine tasting (too groggy), or eat a three-hour dinner and try to sleep (too full). The French love their long meals, fine food and wine, but moderation in all things is a wonderful motto I must learn to live by.
Fun surprise... By chance, I was in the medieval village of Auxois on October 4, the festival of Saint Hubert, patron saint of hunters. Locals gathered in town on horses, accompanied by their hunting dogs, for a blessing of the animals. [PHOTO] It was an unexpected, and memorable, bit of local color.
A story I keep retelling... Meeting Bruno Ayer, who claims to be the last remaining druid in northern Europe. [PHOTO] He vacations at Stonehenge on the summer solstice, has a pet raven, and keeps a stone circle on his apple farm in the French Ardennes. Once a chef on the Champs-Élysées, Bruno chucked it all for the rural life; he produces fermented cider and cooks for restaurant and bed-and-breakfast guests at his Ferme de Gironval.
Hotel I liked... Châateau de Montaubois near Signy-l'Abbaye. [PHOTO] Jean-François Monteil, an engineering consultant, and his wife, Elisabeth, who owns an organic-foods store in Reims, are restoring their 18th-century château as a bed-and-breakfast (from $136). They opened in May 2009, with six rooms, plus five apartments in the hunting lodge next door. [PHOTO] The château's rooms re-create the grandeur of Versailles with elaborate furnishings and art.
Wish I'd known that... Charles de Gaulle Airport is not the last stop on the TGV that departs from Dijon. I thought I had lots of time to gather my luggage and exit the train, but it almost departed with me still on board, thanks to my lollygagging.
Still laughing about... The unusual serving pieces at Le Charlemagne, a Michelin one-star restaurant in Pernand-Vergelesses near Beaune. A fish course was served inside a plastic globe with wood smoke blown in. Sweetbreads came in an opened sardine can. [PHOTO] Other courses came in a paper bag and on a glass window block. My knife and fork were imbedded in a rock shaped like a baked potato, which also held a skewer for bread and rolls. The entire restaurant had a Zen feel and innovative decor. I especially liked the goldfish tank below the glass floor.