Burgundy: First things first

Despite London getting a large share of the holiday and travel press this year, I decided to kick off Tales of the Cork with a visit to Burgundy, France, in June. But before a visit to taste Burgundian wine or savor a local, traditional meal, some planning is in order. I begin this segment with some tips for anyone looking to create a trip to the French Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine growing region.

The following is the first post in a series meant to help everyone prepare for a trip to Burgundy, France. The first steps include flights, rental car and international phone service.

A trip to Burgundy must include the village of Meursault: the center of the wine white world. Tools of the trade? A bottle of white and two 100-year-old instruments.

Getting started: Flights

Assuming France is the country of choice, and wine and food are the reason to travel, I found my trip to Burgundy made easier by flying into Paris-Orly Airport rather than into Charles de Gaulle (CDG). While CDG is often the airport of choice, it is located 16 miles northeast of the city. A better choice for Burgundy-bound travelers is Orly, as it is 11 miles south of Paris.

Orly however, can only be reached via other European airports, so your flight path will include places like London’s Heathrow, Germany’s Frankfurt or Munich and the Netherlands’ Amsterdam airports; however, most of the time, layovers are only 90 minutes. This is easily made up on the other end, traveling to and from the airports via rail links, rental car or cabs (A cab ride to Paris from Orly is about 30 Euros). Also when booking your flights, it may be a good idea to choose your seat immediately, but you will have to pay a premium for this option. I did and was able to choose a “twin” seat in coach with more room (also opt for an exit row or bulkhead seat). I figured comfort was worth the extra money on long flights.

With Orly already south of Paris, traffic snarls and delays are less traveling south. The bonus is that car rental and pick up is within a minute walk of Orly’s front doors.

Getting started: Rental car

Like most metropolises in the world, traffic and navigation are always an issue for a newcomer. I was required to present an International Driver’s License/Permit at the rental counter. These only cost about $15 and need to be obtained at your local AAA office. (Make sure you bring along recent standard passport photos, as they will be needed for the permit) I added a GPS system to my rental car and was out of the airport, traveling south, within the hour of arrival. I found this extra $12 expense worth it because, even when adding an international plan, overseas cellphone roaming charges can be expensive. Plus it is comforting to know I would be “told” in advance by the GPS when and where to turn. This is a good option for a newbie visitor, and driver, in a foreign country.

NOTE: Smartphones can use data for free if used in Wi-Fi hotspots. But good luck getting that option when you are in the middle of nowhere. (See International cell phone plans*)

I rented a Renault Megane from Europcar. Perfect compact 4-door hatchback for my wife and I for an 8-day trip to Burgundy.

A few notes about rental cars though: Be sure to prebook the car before leaving the U.S. and confirm it is for unlimited milage. Also, check with your credit card company that they will cover collision and theft so there is no need to add an extra policy at the rental counter. Plus, if you add coverage, make sure the credit company is listed first on the policy.

In fact, it would be prudent of you to print a copy of your credit card Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver page and note their phone number. In fact often the travel service number should also be noted. The rental company should cover liability.

When booking the car rental from home, be sure to bring along your pre-paid voucher that the agency emailed you. You will need to present it when you check in. You will most likely also have to show your passport and it must match your name on the voucher. Simply presenting your credit card may not be enough and could cause a delay in receiving your car.

Finally, walk around the car with a rental agency person. Make sure any and all dings, scratches or marks are noted. I found multiple errors on the contract. The company quickly corrected the forms upon my inspection.

NEW POLICY: As of July 1, 2012, each car driven in France must carry two breathalyzer kits. The new law is meant to keep inebriated drivers off the road. There will be a four-month grace period before fines the equivalent of $14 will be assessed if drivers are found not to carry them. France also has very strict and harsh penalties for drinking and driving.

Rail Europe to Beaune or Dijon

For those of you who wish to take the TGV from Paris to Burgundy the trip is made effortless by Rail Europe. For as little as $114 return, you can have an airline-style seat (with more legroom) and access to a bar-buffet car, taking in the French countryside through its large windows. If you want more comfort you might check out the first class cabin. Depending on the time you choose to leave, comfort level and number of stops, the trip will take from 1 hour, 37 minutes to 2 hours, 52 minutes. You can rent a car near each station.

Getting started: International cell phone plans

Before a trip overseas, I added three additional items to my cell phone plan. While service providers vary, I use AT&T. The plans are as follows: WORLD TRAVELER (monthly service $5.99). This brings the cost of calling to $.99 per minute. When traveling outside the U.S., I alter my texting plan to 200 texts per month for $30.00 (Overage $0.35 per message). Under this plan, picture/video messages were sent for $0.50 and I also increased my data plan to 120MB per month for $30. Just remember to cancel this service when you return. Now, in the months and weeks to come, this cost vary and may not be needed if you only use your phone in Wi-Fi hot spots.

The village and 11th century Château de la Rochepot is just a short drive south of Beaune. It just goes to show that you never know what is just around the corner in Burgundy.

If you have further questions about your ATT account, please refer to ATT Global or call 1-800-335-4685. Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile customers should contact their providers. I do not promote any particular plan but also want to point out that renting a European mobile phone from companies like Mobal.com may be a good alternative. The company touts recommendations from a variety of sources.

While the decision to travel and setting side time for a vacation is the first step, scheduling the dates and flights are the most important. In my next post on or before July 13, hotel, house and/or apartment rental will require most of our attention. I look forward to sharing behind the scenes stories of those who bring food and wine to us soon.

Salut!

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