Driving Burgundy's Route des Grands Crus

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Monks began making wine in Burgundy way back in the days of Charlemagne, so the locals have had a long time to perfect the art.

Add the plethora of world-class wineries to some of France’s most gorgeous countryside and you have the recipe for a perfect road trip (providing, that is, you stay under the legal limits).

Bungundy’s vignerons (winegrowers) only have small vineyards, rarely more than 10 hectares, and they produce small quantities of very good wine. Burgundy reds are made with pinot noir grapes and the best vintages demand 10 to 20 years to age; whites are made with chardonnay.

The region’s most famous wine route, the Route des Grands Crus, and its often narrow variants wend their way between stone-built villages and steeple-topped churches or the turrets of a chateau peeping above the trees.

Vines cascade down the slopes between hamlets - Chambertin, Chambolle, Chassagne, Montrachet. The Côte’s lower slopes are seas of vineyards; on the upper slopes, vines give way to forests, cliffs and breathtaking views. Signposted in brown, the Routes des Grand Crus generally follows tertiary roads west of the N74.

Coming from Dijon, the Côte de Nuits begins in earnest just south of Marsannay-la-Côte. Most of the area’s grand cru vineyards lie between Gervey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée. In Vougeot, stop at the historic chateau. Vosne-Romanée is famed for its Romanée Conti wines, among Burgundy’s most prestigious and priciest. Continuing south, visit the Cassissium in Nuits-St-Georges.

On the Côte de Beaune, the impossibly steep coloured-tile roof of Château Corton-André is easy to spot, just off the one-lane main street. Pernand-Vergelesses is nestled in a little hidden valley from the N74.

South of Beaune, Château de Pommard, surrounded by a stone wall, is on the D973 on the northeast edge of town. Wander quaint Volnay to its hillside church. Off the main track, St-Romain is a bucolic village situated right where the vineyards meet pastureland, forests and cliffs.

Hiking trails from here include the spectacular Sentier des Roches, a circuit that follows part of the GR7 and the D171 along the top of the Falaises de Baubigny (Baubigny cliffs), 300m above the Saône.

Finally, via the hillside hamlet of Orches, which has breathtaking vineyard views, travel to the fantastic 15th-century Château de La Rochepot.

If you want to educate your palette as you explore Burgundy, consider taking a wine-tasting course at the École des Vins de Bourgogne in Beaune, which run from three hours to three days.