Certain areas around the globe are synonymous with specific products: Germany has cars; India has curries; Argentina has steaks; France has wine - in particular, Burgundy wine.
Around the world, the region's wine is renowned and sought after. I visited as a child and remember the landscape of gently rolling hills, lined with vineyards, first laid in the Middle Ages.
This year, I ventured back to the area, to find out more about Burgundy and its product of exquisite quality.
Arriving into Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, the first thing that always strikes me is the multicultural nature of the iconic city: a Chinese taxi driver, a Nigerian baggage handler, an Indian security guard.
That rich tapestry of different coloured skins and backgrounds is a beautiful sight to behold every time you arrive in the City of Light.
From Paris a short train ride brings you to Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, and from there to Beaune, which is the jumping off point for adventures in the region.
The Region and the Wine
Wine is definitely the number one reason for coming here and from Beaune you can venture out by car or bike to many of the vineyards and producers to get lessons and talks - as well as the all-important tastings - on the various different wine regions.
The basics are that the Burgundy region is mostly single varietal, with the red wine produced coming from the pinot noir grape, while the white wines are chardonnay.
Within the region there are five sub-regions: Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Chablis.
Then, within those, the vineyards are divided into 'climats' (or 'terroirs') which put the wines into four categories, or growths, called 'cru' in French: regional, village, premier or grand. The system works like a pyramid of quality, with the grand cru being the pinnacle, regarded as the most expensive and prestigious wine in the world.
It isn't the simplest of systems to understand, and getting the experts' help is advised. A great place to do just that is the Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne (Burgundy Wine School) in Beaune. The school gives classes on the history of the region, the terroir, the production methods and also offers very good tastings.
During your stay there are many options on where to absorb and learn about the vines: it's a matter of picking and choosing and deciding what suits you best, and which vineyards you want to learn more about.
Château Ziltener is a good choice. A former Cistercian priory, it is now Swiss-owned and runs a four-star hotel and wine cellar. They do tastings for individuals and for groups in the original building.
Château du Clos de Vougeot is one of the most iconic brands in wine and the original castle where the Cistercian monks produced the famous drink is now open to the public. And for tastings of that special wine, the tour and tasting at Maison Bouchard Aîné et Fils is highly recommended. The producer is one of the region's most famous, and tastings take place in the cellar of the Hôtel du Conseiller du Roy.
The Imaginarium in Nuits-Saint-Georges is an audiovisual exhibition, which traces the entire history of the region and its intrinsic link to wine. The exhibition also covers the production of Crémant de Bourgogne, which is attempting to steal some of the limelight from Champagne as one of France's sparkling white producers.
For lovers of white, a visit to the Chablis is essential. The region is northwest of Beaune and produces the most famous chardonnay in the world. La Chablisienne is a co-operative there and offers fantastic tours of the vineyards as well as tastings.
The tour takes in the production area before sampling in an adjacent glass-walled room that has the factory as its background. It's a great setting and Xavier Ritton is an amiable host whose knowledge of world wines is unparalleled.
The options are many in Beaune, but there a few that I would highly recommend. Restaurant 21 Boulevard is set in an old wine cellar and combines a fantastic wine list with a traditional regional menu. The snails with truffle pasta and cheese sauce, as well as the veal steak, are the winning options here. Another similar option is Caveau des Arches. It's set in a stone cellar and combines classic dishes with a modern twist.
Outside of town, at Puligny-Montrachet, one can combine tastings and food at Domaine Olivier Leflaive. The producer makes some of the world's great white wines and guests can book in for a tour of the vines and factory with the owner. It's an excellent tour and following it, the group sits down for lunch with Olivier at his restaurant, run by his daughter.
However, the show-stealer is the Michelin-starred Loiseau des Vignes. Located in a restored, listed building, this eatery goes down as one of the best in the region and France. Moroccan chef Mourad Haddouche expertly weaves together flavours of France and Africa, while an entire wine list of 70 offerings by the glass means the sommelier can keep you guessing from the first course to the seventh.
Other Cultural Attractions in the Region
The Hospices Civils de Beaune is an ornate and fascinating building, perfectly maintained and highlighting the fantastic work performed in helping terminally sick patients in the 15th century. Seeing some of the antiquated medical equipment isn't for the squeamish.
Burgundy mustard is another product famous the world over, and Beaune is home to a local producer in the Moutarderie Fallot. Located in the centre of town, it's very accessible and will tell you all you ever wanted to know about that spicy little condiment.
There are tours available and a tasting at the end. It's still a family-owned and run business and the care put into the tour is a cut above most similar experiences.
And just in case you hadn't got enough information on wine, there is also a wine museum in town, which also has superb revolving art exhibitions.
The other cultural attraction is just walking around soaking up the town. There are cafés and bars dotted all over the place. Simply pick one, relax and watch the world go by.
In terms of getting around, hiring a car in Paris or Dijon is a great option - just make sure to spit not swallow during those tastings. However, biking is also doable, with bikes and guides for hire in the town centre.
I've had the fortune to work across four continents and a multitude of countries and cities, seeing many of the world's most famous sights and attractions.
And without question Burgundy, for me, ranks as one of the great areas to visit.
Its fantastic wine, made famous by the pinot noir grape, is truly spectacular, while the distinctive culture and gastronomy of the region is quite simply special. Visiting the region is an experience any seasoned traveller will relish undertaking.
There are regular flights to Paris Charles de Gaulle from Irish airports. From there catch a train from Gare de Lyon to Dijon Ville. Beaune is a short drive away.
Where To Stay:
Hotel de la Paix is reasonably priced and has exceptionally friendly staff: www.hotelpaix.com
Where To Learn More about the Wine:
Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne: www.vins-bourgogne.fr
Chateau Ziltener: www.chateau-ziltener.com
The Imaginarium: www.imaginarium-bourgogne.com
Château du Clos de Vougeot: www.closdevougeot.fr
Domaine Olivier Leflaive: www.olivier-leflaive.com
Tour and tasting at Maison Bouchard A îné et Fils: www.burgundyeye.com/wine/winegrowers-merchants/beaune/maison-bouchard-aine-et-fils
Tour and tasting at La Chablisienne: www.chablisienne.com
Chablis vineyard visit in Citroen 2CV: firstname.lastname@example.org
Where To Eat:
21 Boulevard: www.21boulevard.com
Le Caveau des Arches: www.caveau-des-arches.com
Table d'Olivier Leflaive: www.olivier-leflaive.com/table-d-hotes/la-table
Loiseau des Vignes: www.bernard-loiseau.com/uk/beaune-loiseau-des-vignes.php
The Hospices Civils de Beaune: www.hospices-de-beaune.com/index.php/hospicesdebeaune/L-Hotel-Dieu/Le-Musee
Mustard tour and tasting at la Moutarderie Fallot: www.fallot.com/en
Word and photos: Tadhg Peavoy
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