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ZIPP x PELOTON Chapter 4: Discovering Beaujolais—Beaujeu to Cluny

Words and images by James Startt

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As we reach the summit of the Col de Crie on the Sunday morning we’re surprised to see signs for Cluny, the historic town known for its magnificent Benedictine abbey dating back to the early 10th century; so, after returning to Beaujeu, we decide that it will be the perfect destination for our final afternoon’s ride.

Geographically speaking, Cluny is situated just north of the Beaujolais region in the neighboring Bourgogne (or Burgundy) area, but our two Zipp ambassadors, Tamas and Fifounet, are not picky. Where the riding is good, they’re ready to go—and Cluny just has a certain ring to it. “I’ve heard about it for years, but never had a chance to visit,” Tamas says. “It’s the perfect opportunity!”

Climbing back up the Col de Crie out of Beaujeu, the opening kilometers are familiar territory, although the valley road has warmed considerably since the start of the morning ride. Once we arrive at its summit, instead of attacking the forest road leading back to Mont Saint-Rigaud as we had done only hours earlier, we take a hard right on the D23.

At first, the landscape changes little as we roll down the Col de Crie descent, where the chateaux that decorate the valley call to mind this region’s heritage that so thrived during feudal times. But as we move out of the Beaujolais and into Burgundy, the changes are more apparent as the roads open up.

Tamas and Fifounet also enjoy opening up their speeds as they head toward their final destination. “This whole area is just tailor-made for cycling,” says Fifounet, who’s only too happy to discover other regions close to his native Saint-Étienne. “In many ways, I am not far from home. But it is so different at the same time.”

The landscape is changing quickly too, as the lush vineyards of the Beaujolais disappear. And while Burgundy may also be known for its wines, its prime vineyards around Beaune and the Côte d’Or are considerably further north from our destination. But, like many of the abbeys in Belgium, the monks in Cluny have also been known to produce a pretty fair beer. And another thing that’s quickly changing is the traffic. After spending two days on isolated farm and forest roads, Cluny is bustling on this Sunday afternoon, as it remains a popular weekend destination in the area.

Set up as a Benedictine abbey, Cluny benefited from relative independence of the monarchy of the time. Today, it remains in near pristine condition, offering a rare example of what life was like a thousand years ago. And while the abbey was run by a religious order in the medieval period, it had numerous related endeavors. It oversaw the cultivation of much of the surrounding land and also served as a hospitality house for pilgrims passing by, as well as foreign travelers and the poor, while its library was one of the richest of the time. Combined, the abbey was the motor driving the local economy, and its influence went well beyond the region, expanding all the way to England. Today, the abbey and monastery so central to the Clunaic tradition are well preserved and remain at the hub of this pristine town.

In their warm-down phase, Tamas and Fifounet roll gently through the streets, taking in this town lost in time. Now, more tourists than cyclists, they head past the old Romanesque vestiges and in and out of the many narrow side streets. In stark contrast to the grid plans of many modern cities, the labyrinthine street pattern seemingly grew out from the town’s abbey and each bend in the road offers a little mystery of its own.

“Wow, what an amazing way to finish up,” says Fifounet. “This place is just a jewel!” And Tamas cannot agree more: “Yeah, what a great way to finish an already great weekend!”