How many times have you fantasized about packing your bags and moving to the French countryside to live a serene, pastoral life?
You picture your slow, sunny days filled with exploring small villages with a market basket hooked through the crook of your arm searching for spring radishes to spread with local cultured butter, discovering vintage copper pots to hang from the kitchen rafters, and selecting the perfect local Burgundy to pair with crispy-skinned roast chicken.
It sounds magical, doesn’t it? I certainly have, many times.
Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini, the mother-daughter team behind The Cook’s Atelier in Beaune, Burgundy have done what so many of us have dreamed. They daringly left their homes in the United States to move to the French countryside, drawing upon their knowledge of France and their food and wine expertise to open a culinary boutique with opportunities for travelers to live like a local, at least for a short time. Along the way, Kendall fell in love and married a Frenchman, Laurent, and they have two adorable little children.
While we can’t all pack our bags and leave our homes for France, we can pretend. Here’s how to do it.
Start in Paris
Once you have booked your days in Beaune with The Cook’s Atelier (see below), begin your trip to France in Paris, spending a few days in that glorious city adjusting to the time change, eating pastries and spending many hours wandering through the picturesque streets of the Marais and St-Germain-des-Prés and beyond. From Paris, you will drive to Beaune, a walled city nestled among vineyards growing the famous pinot noir and chardonnay grapes of the Burgundy region. Before you depart from Paris, go to the awe-inspiring La Grande Epicerie and stock up on a baguette (or two), jam, cheeses, charcuterie and pastries. Plan to leave for Beaune on a Saturday or Sunday morning, so you won’t have to fight traffic out of the city. Pick up your rental car and and make the easy and lovely three-hour drive to Burgundy through rolling green hills dotted with grazing white Charolais cattle. You’ll find many opportunities to stop at a rest stop for an impromptu picnic.
Drive to Beaune, Burgundy
When you arrive in Beaune, check into your charming, light-filled two-bedroom pied-a-terre nestled in the heart of the city and furnished with country French antiques collected by Marjorie and Kendall. You’ll find the tiny kitchen stocked with good pots and pans and knives and excellent olive oil, vinegars and salt, perfect for cooking up the treasures you find at the bountiful Wednesday and Saturday farmers markets. A crock filled with local market flowers will be sitting in the middle of the round vintage dining table by the fireplace in the main room, and you will immediately start to ponder how how to extend your stay.
If you are arriving on Sunday, make sure to bring some groceries to make dinner on your first night in Beaune, because grocery stores will be closed and there will be few restaurants open and serving. We didn’t plan ahead, and so we ended up eating take-out pizza our first night in town. Thankfully, even in the French countryside, you can always find a pizzeria for late-night dining.
Your first night, have a glass of good Burgundy and crawl into your luxurious bed fitted with crisp, white linen sheets. You will never sleep better. In the morning, you will wake to church bells ringing. Throw open the shutters on your bedroom window and peer into the street to see the town coming to life. Your first excursion will be to The Cook’s Atelier for a coffee, the best in town and perhaps the best in Burgundy. As you’re walking through town, stop and pick up a croissant or croissant aux amandes to enjoy with your coffee.
Likely, the effervescent Marjorie will greet you as you walk through the door, making you feel immediately at home. Laurent, Kendall’s gracious husband, will make you a perfect espresso or latte to enjoy with your pastry. While sipping your coffee, ask Laurent for recommendations on what to do and where to eat while you are in town. Then, do a little browsing in their beautifully-curated shop, perhaps picking up a market basket, a locally-crafted salt cellar or a bottle of Burgundy to take back to the apartment. Laurent does the wine buying, and he will be happy to help you pick the perfect wine.
Start to Feel Like a Local
Wednesday and Saturday are market days in Beaune, and they are also the days that Marjorie and Kendall take you on ‘A Day in Burgundy,’ a tour of the Beaune outdoor market and some of the best epicurean shops in town, a group cooking class and long French lunch shared with other travelers. It is an experience not to be missed.
You will meet Marjorie and Kendall and the other guests in the morning to walk through town to discover some of their favorite food producers and purveyors in the local area, including local cheeses, charcuterie, bread makers, and growers. As you explore local shops and the outdoor market, perhaps sampling the freshest, most delicious red strawberries like we did, you will slowly collect the ingredients for lunch. Marjorie and Kendall will fill their French market baskets to the brim with tomatoes and figs, verdant bunches of herbs, a variety of fingerling potatoes, a crusty boule and pints of those strawberries.
Back at The Cook’s Atelier’s bright kitchen, gleaming with copper pots and arranged with stunning bowls of deep purple grapes, brightly-hued peppers, yellow and green summer squash, and tiny white and aubergine eggplant, you will don an apron to begin cooking. Everyone gathers around the huge kitchen island as Marjorie and Kendall talk you through each recipe. Everyone gets to take part in making each dish, from roasting potatoes to searing the beef roast to stirring the batter for madeleines.
After each dish has been prepped, you leave your aprons behind and go upstairs for a glass of champagne and to settle in to a long French lunch, savoring each of the dishes you just had a hand in preparing. Lunch is a leisurely affair, paired with wines and studded with laughter, as guests trade stories of their travels and you all get to know each other through course after course. By the end of lunch, day has stretched towards evening and you will all be friends.
After your ‘Day in Burgundy’ experience, you can take the knowledge you gleaned from Marjorie, Kendall and Laurent to feel like a local. Continue to stop in to The Cook’s Atelier for your coffee each morning and then branch out to explore the area. You will feel like a local, at least for a short time.
Travel Guide for Beaune
Where to Stay
The pied-à-terre owned by The Cook’s Atelier will make all your Instagram dreams come true. The two-bedroom apartment located in the heart of Beaune boasts soaring ceilings, French country antiques, white linin bedcoverings and beautiful natural light. It has a small kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, and a washer and dryer.
What to Do
Sign up for A Day in Burgundy: Market Tour, Cooking Class, Wine & Cheese Tasting, and Long French Lunch with The Cooks Atelier. Or, sign up for one of their one, three or five day workshops or seasonal dinners. Be sure to make your reservations as you are planning your trip to France, as their events do sell out quickly.
Beaune has two farmer’s markets, one on Wednesday and one on Saturday. The Wednesday market is small and charming, but the Saturday market snakes through the town. Don’t miss the flea market section of the market where you can purchase inexpensive vintage copper pots and French linens. You may want to bring an extra suitcase for your finds.
Stop in at the visitor’s center in Beaune for an exhaustive list of things to do in and around town, including historic sites like the Hotel Dieu and the Chateau de La Rochepot to the Fallot mustard factory (bring home mustard!) to wine tasting at the local chateaus.
Where to Shop
The Cook’s Atelier is a cook’s paradise, filled with beautifully curated kitchen tools, walls of copper, a few carefully selected vintage treasures, artisan pantry ingredients and a great selection of local wines hand-picked by Laurent. If you forget to purchase madeleine tins or a copper pot while you are in Beaune, they also have an online shop and will ship to your door.
Alain Hess Fromagerie has an amazing selection of cheeses, many of them from small local producers. If you visit the shop after your market tour with Marjorie and Kendall, you will be armed with knowledge of which cheeses to purchase. You can also buy other pantry provisions here, like delicious French butter, pasta and jams.
La Vie Claire is a small, but well-stocked organic market, where you can buy everything from toiletries to kombucha.
Where to Eat
La Dilettante is a casual wine with a simple but delicious market-driven menu. If you’re traveling with little ones, it’s also very kid-friendly. There is even a changing table in the bathroom, which is a rarity in France.
Le Comptoir des Tontons is another Beaune restaurant that sources from local producers.
Just a little outside of Beaune in Puligny-Montrachet is Le Montrachet, a beautiful restaurant with attentive service, but welcoming. Go for lunch and dine on the outside patio overlooking a beautiful yard and garden.
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Photo Credit: Lisa Samuel