on 14 September 2009
This Thomas Cook presented travel guide is aimed at, as the full title suggests, those on a driving tour of Burgundy. It offers fairly helpful breakdowns in five-star format or what is to be recommended in a particular region or town, and/or conversely what is not. Almost without exception (Lyon being that exception) it would appear the Thomas Cook does not recommend Burgundy for children, but as a sensible company it should not of course condone any type of underage drinking. That said, and joking aside, Burgundy is not a great place for most children. It is mostly rural with little activity to distract them, but this is not a review of Burgundy the place or its produce, rather this book.
The guide comes with some French driving basics for those scared of the task ahead, providing some instruction on road etiquette and the meaning of certain road signs. It provides some general travel tips and 'useful' information such as stating that France likes to be an hour ahead of the UK. This may be obvious to you, but perhaps not to some others. Its advice to the novice on hotels and translations of certain local drinks and food is however quite useful.
But this is not the guide's bread and butter. It sets out to bring you great drives in Burgundy, and that it mostly delivers along with adequate maps (though a more detailed one of the whole region is recommended to supplement). The key is in the phrasing. The guide does not state 'the best drives' and it is wise not to because the ones I took on its advice were satisfactory, some very pleasant, but not all. For example, it directs you down the grand tour of vineyards from Dijon to Beaune, driving through such names as Gevry Chambertin and Nuits St George. The problem is that whilst you do drive through these vineyards, you do not drive through the associated towns. It may not take a genius to stray from the path in such circumstances but following the guide too closely will lose you some gems.
Also, it misses out larger mentions of some inexcusable highlights of the region. Where is, for example, reference to Flavigny, the eye-wateringly picturesque town in which Johnny Depp's Chocolat was filmed? The problem, whilst on one of the prescribed drives, it is treated far too fleetingly.
These criticisms aside, this book does deliver on its promise, providing useful driving advice and nice drives around the region. It even provides a couple of town-based walks to its credit. It will not however provide sufficient information on wine, local produce or points of interest, villages and tourist attractions, but it does provide some. In fairness, it doesn't set out to hit these objectives so it is with no surprise that they are not met.
My advice, use in conjunction with a non-driving specific guide and visit the local tourist offices regularly. When open (this is France after all), they can provide a wealth of information that this book doesn't.
I am finding this book very useful in helping me to get my head round the detailed planning of an itinerary which includes the Dijon area (Burgundy), reached from Paris (Fontainebleau), and the Rhone Valley. It goes into more detail than the Eyewitness Guide for the whole of France ( a good starting point for an overview) without getting too bogged down in details. The presentation is very clear with a road map for each section, town plans to show key points of interest, and attractive photographs.
My main criticism is the lack of an index at the end to find places quickly e.g. like Geneuille, Chonas d'Amballan or Grignan where I have already booked overnight stops.
The guide would have been of more use to me if it had also included Franche-Comte i.e. places like Besancon, Ornans and Ronchamp, which one is very likely to want to visit when travelling in the Dijon area. So, I have had to invest in a Michelin Guide on Burgundy-Jura as well in order to cover Franche-Comte, which means duplication and adds to the cost and weight of books carried.