Among this year's waves of transatlantic travelers there are many who plan to rent or buy one of the diminutive and thoroughly engaging European cars and do their sightseeing in the most adventurous way—on the road. Those who head south out of Paris, perhaps following the much-driven route along the Rhone Valley to the Riviera, are almost certain to be heading for experiences of a lifetime in fine eating and drinking. For, an easy day's drive out of the French capital, the motorist finds himself in the celebrated province of Burgundy.
One thinks first of robust red and white wines when Burgundy is mentioned. The wine enthusiast has a special thrill when he first travels along the Route des Grands Crus, which stretches along vine-covered hills between Dijon and Beaune. In rapid succession he goes through villages with such famous names as Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Pommard and Meursault, each the citadel of a noble wine. But Burgundy is famous for other things, among them Romanesque abbeys, walled towns—and gifted chefs. Their cookery is savory and substantial. Making use of fine Charollais beef, hams from the Morvan, plump chickens from La Bresse, lake trout, fresh-water crayfish, Dijon mustard and the world-famed escargots de Bourgogne (snails), these skillful cooks preside with majesty in historic hotels, country inns and roadside auberges. They have made Burgundy the perfect stop for food-conscious travelers. Lucky wayfarers they are, confronted with a large and baffling choice of gastronomic shrines. I hope to help extricate them from this pleasant predicament by singling out four outstanding dining places whose owners I know well, and whose cooking, wines and service are beyond reproach. You might begin with:
H√¥tel de la Gare, Montbard (C√¥te-d'Or)
This is an unpretentious railway hotel in a little community whose most celebrated citizen was the Count de Buffon, the great naturalist. It resembles the stark H√¥tel de la Gare in hundreds of small French towns, except for one thing: at mealtime it is surrounded by the sleek cars of French gourmets who have motored miles out of their way to taste the cooking of Monsieur Belin, a truly great chef. For years this plump, pleasant man was one of the top chefs on the Normandie, and he has brought all the skills of a maitre cuisinier to his kitchen in Burgundy. Madame Belin presides efficiently at the desk, and cheerful Burgundian maids bring in a succession of sturdy dishes, beginning with hot individual platters of snails, if you care for these, accompanied by a hardy red wine—a Corton, perhaps. After this you are confronted with a choice of splendors: a stuffed trout, tails of crayfish, a tender chicken cooked in wine, or the specialty of the house, saupiquet montbardoise, a superlative ham-and-cream preparation. A green salad and a bit of cheese, and perhaps a soufflé, and your felicity is complete.
Hostellerie de la Poste, Avallon (Yonne)
This is the most historic and attractive of the four hotels mentioned, and an ideal place for an overnight stop. Its ancient courtyard with vine-grown balconies is straight out of the picture books. Since 1707 this friendly hostelry has been caring for the traveler along the high road, but I suspect that he has never in previous eras been accorded the Lucullan reception that guests get today. Your host is Monsieur René Hure, a gracious and discriminating expert in the art of wining and dining. His chef and sommelier are masters of their crafts. Among the exquisite dishes awaiting you are quenelles de homard, a memorable way of sublimating lobster; duck with cherries; trout stuffed with crayfish; and a seductive chicken dish called poulet Los Cisnes. Monsieur Hure's luxurious table ranks among the best 20 in France, and his cellar is rich in the rare treasures of Burgundy in all the great years.
H√¥tel de la Poste, Beaune (C√¥te-d'Or)
Set in the heart of the Burgundy wine region, Beaune is a fascinating old fortified town boasting the most picturesque hospital extant, the famed Hospices de Beaune. Facing vine-grown ramparts is the cheerful, well-appointed H√¥tel de la Poste, for decades a favorite stopping place for exacting wine dealers and motorists.
The younger generation is represented here in the person of Monsieur Marc Chevillot, a talented chef and host, who received his training in the kitchens of the late, great Fernand Point of the H√¥tel de la Pyramide in Vienne. Monsieur Chevillot's grandfather founded this hotel, and he is meticulous in maintaining the culinary standards set so many years ago. Fine Burgundian dishes greet you here, among them snails, crayfish in cream, a terrine of truffled duck and a handsome chicken from La Bresse cooked in Chambertin. The cellar is all you would expect in this wine-famous city.
H√¥tel de la C√¥te-d'Or, Saulieu (C√¥te-d'Or)
The climax of this brief Burgundian expedition will be found in this hospitable small-town hotel set strategically on the Paris-Nice highway. This is the culinary stronghold of the man considered by epicures to be the top cook in France, Monsieur Alexandre Dumaine. A great deal of publicity has descended upon him, but it has left him unchanged. He remains absolutely devoted to his art. French cookery reaches the peak of its splendor in the kitchen of this kindly, twinkle-eyed man. To list his specialties would be futile. There is nothing in la haute cuisine that he cannot achieve if he receives sufficient notice of his guests' desires. And it is perhaps enough to say that his wine cellar is worthy of his cooking.
If possible, telephone ahead for your table. Madame Dumaine, a charming little person who speaks beautiful English, will meet you at the door. With her as a guide in composing the menu and in ordering the wine, you are assured of a repast that will never, never be forgotten. I think you will agree that Alexandre Dumaine, le premier cuisinier du monde, is also France's best ambassador of good will.
AMERICAN TRAVELERS: Samuel W. Lewis and his wife Sallie, of Houston, are given a friendly welcome by the proprietor-chef, Marc Chevillot, as they arrive at H√¥tel de la Poste in Beaune.
GUEST COLUMNIST: Samuel Chamberlain, shown wearing the ribbon and silver winelaster's cup marking him as a Chevalier du Tastevin, lived in France for IS years. Etcher, architect and photographer as well as a writer, he has produced more than 40 word-and-picture books. An authority on European food and wine, he is the author of the handsome gastronomic guidebook, Bouquet de France, and of its companion volume published in 1958, Italian Bouquet.