Things to Do in Burgundy
Also known as Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune to locals, the Hospices de Beaune used to be an almshouse in the 15th century and was used as a hospital for the poor people of the region recovering from the Hundred Years’ War. It was actually used as a fully functioning hospital until the late 1970s; it now houses a museum and a major charity wine auction every November.
The building itself is now regarded as one of the finest architectural gems in France; it was designed by the Flemish architect Jacques Wiscrère, which explains the striking resemblances to architecture typically found in the Flanders region of Belgium. The hospices’ façade is an exceptional example of Northern Renaissance architecture and features an abundance of panel painting, long half-timber galleries and, of course, the signature gabled roof and its multi-colored and geometric tiles. There are also plenty of ironworks, carvings, and tapestries inside the hospices’ walls.
TheFallot Mustard Mill (La Moutarderie Fallot) is the first museum in France to be entirely dedicated to mustard, the renowned condiment that has become the pride and joy of the Burgundy region. Inside the museum, visitors will find a selection of modern and ancient tools that were used to create mustard and its derivative products, revealing many surprising trade secrets along the way. The multi-sensorial and interactive exhibits explain everything from the manufacturing process to the tasting criteria; visitors are even encouraged to test their own knowledge of mustard through different experiences. The museum offers two different guided visits: the first one, called Découvertes, is more traditional and features a mixture of commentary and videos in the museum. The second one, called Sensational Experiences, takes visitors inside the actual production facilities in order to get a better understanding of the process and the challenges the industry faces today. The real highlight, however, is the “mustard bar” inside the Espace Faillot gift shop, where visitors are encouraged to taste as many mustards as they like.
Moutarderie Fallot has been in operation since 1840 and is now the only remaining artisanal mustard producer in Burgundy.
The arresting Château du Clos de Vougeot lies at the heart of Burgundy’s wine country and makes a popular stop along the Route des Grands Crus tourist trail, offering a unique insight into the region’s wine-making history. Although the winery was originally built by monks in the 12th-century, the Renaissance-style château that stands today dates from the 16th-century and the complex includes the original kitchens, medieval vat-house and presses, and Cistercian cellar.
The Clos de Vougeot no longer produces wine, but is preserved as a national monument and hosts regular events, exhibitions and concerts, as well as daily tours, which allow visitors to peek at the historic grape presses and stroll through the surrounding vineyards.
One of Dijon’s most important historical landmarks (and included in the Historic Center of Dijon UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Dijon Ducal Palace was, for centuries, the seat of Burgundian power. Constructed in the 14th century, it is today host to a museum and government offices, and is open to the public.
Domaine du Château de Meursault is one of the most prestigious wine estates in the Burgundy area of France. Located in the Côte d’Or vineyard in Côte de Beaune, the winery spreads over 60 hectares and was founded all the way back in the 11th century, yes, 1000 years ago, to be precise. Initially known as the fiefdom of Foulot MIII, it now produces an acclaimed selection of wines that are frequently served at the top Michelin restaurants across France and elsewhere in the world. At Meursault, tradition in enhanced by modern winemaking techniques, which enables the rich and historic Burgundy terroir to fully be expressed in the 27 different wines produced on site.
Unlike the Bordeaux region, wine châteaux are quite uncommon in Burgundy, a fact that only makes Meursault that much more special. The sprawling estate features a castle, a conservatory, ancient and massive (up to 800,000 bottles or 2,000 barrels) cellars dating back from the 12th century, a park, and many more stunning features.
Winding its way through the Burgundy wine appellations, the scenic Route des Grands Crus (translated as Road of the Great Wines) is the region’s main tourist route, linking together more than 30 wine-growing villages and dotted with grand châteaux and historic wine caves. Possible by car or bike, the route follows mostly quiet country lanes through the heart of wine country, taking in all the wineries of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune wine districts, famed for their pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.
Highlights of the Route des Grands Crus include the striking Burgundy wine capital of Beaune, home to the flamboyant 15th-century Hospices de Beaune (Hôtel-Dieu); the grand Château Clos de Vougeot; and picturesque wine-making villages like Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey St Denis, Vosne-Romanée, and Chambolle-Musigny, where it’s possible to stop off for tastings and winery tours.
Nestled in the Cone Valley, halfway between Dijon and Paris, stands the idyllic village of Vézelay, a ninth-century hilltop fortress that is not only home to one of the most remarkable basilicas in France, but also a UNESCO-classified old town.
Vézelay’s most famous attraction is indisputably the Romanesque Basilica of St Magdelene, an 11th-century marvel that contains the relics of its saint patron, Mary Magdalen. An exceptional place of pilgrimage if there ever was one, the basilica played a significant role in both the Second and Third Crusades back in the 12th century and is now one of the major starting points of the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela.
In addition to outstanding architecture, Vézelay is also home to a prominent wine appellation–Bourgone Vézelay–that specializes in white wines of the Chardonnay and Muscadet variety. Most of the vines were planted by Christian monks back in the seventh century, which slowly grew into what is now a massive production spreading over 100 hillside acres of four villages (Asquins, Saint Père, Tharoiseau and Vézelay).
Built on the site of an old Roman post in the 12th century, Château de Bazoches is one of the finest properties in Burgundy. Privately owned and a listed Heritage Building, the feudal château was passed on to many wealthy Middle Ages families until it was finally inhabited by none other than the father of French engineering, Marshal of France and Louis XIV’s military advisor, Marquis de Vauban. He chose to turn the castle into a military garrison and used his strategic, military intelligence to make Bazoches an unshakable stronghold. The actual owners are direct descendants of the Marshal, and they take great care of the property and its remarkable furniture.
Château de Bazoches is an architectural prowess to say the least; it has a trapezoidal layout, four towers and a massive central keep, which surrounds a quaint inner courtyard. One of the best features of the castle is nevertheless its location, halfway up a hill that overlooks the bucolic Morvan National Park and the village of Vézelay.
The northernmost wine district in Burgundy is not only home to some of the most sought after vintages, it also happens to be staggeringly stunning. Nicknamed the “Golden Door of Burgundy,” the village of just 2,500 occupants has numerous remarkable edifices, including the City Hall, the Porte-Noël, St Martin’s Church and the Maison de l’Obédiencerie, a historic building in which ancient wooden press is hidden.
But what most visitors truly seek in Chablis is the wine. The flowery, crisp white nectar is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes and isn’t quite as fruity as other white wines typically found in Burgundy. Monks from the Abbey of Pontigny, upon settling on the slopes surrounding the River Serein in the Dark Ages, realized that the microclimate they found themselves in could only bring novel flavors to their cultivation. Indeed, the chillier temperatures slightly stimulate the acidity of the grapes, which is only further enhanced by the stainless steel tanks used by local wine-makers, rather than traditional oak tanks.
There are various vineyards and cellars open to visitors in Chablis, each worth a visit; the most popular one being William Fevre, where wine aficionados can taste different Chablis wines by the glass and eat regional delicacies in the atmospheric setting of the village’s historic hospital, surrounded by 51 hectares of vineyards.
This family-owned yet sprawling estate winery, whose cellars are located in the city of Beaune, are geared towards quality and not necessarily quantity. What makes this winery special is its owner’s background; Yvonnick Debray spent 20 years of his life selling Burgundy wines on the French market, and therefore acquired a wealth of information about wine production and the art of being a wine-maker. Domaine Debray produces several wines, reds and whites, belonging to a variety of appellations including classics like Bourgogne Aligoté and Hautes Côtes de Beaune, as well as one Grand Cru, the Corton Charlemagne. The winery is extremely respectful of the soil and only picks grapes by hand; wines are vinified in French oak barrels directly on the estate.
More Things to Do in Burgundy
In Dijon, west of the Ducal palace, looms the twin-towered Dijon Cathedral (Cathedral of Saint Benignus of Dijon). This large, Gothic church is the current seat of the Archbishopric of Dijon, as well as a French national monument. Originally a Benedictine abbey, the cathedral is the latest iteration of a series of reconstructions that have occurred over the past 1,500 years.
The cathedral (as well as its previous incarnations) sits upon the alleged resting place of St. Benignus of Dijon, a 3rd-century martyr known for spreading the Christian gospel throughout Gaul. While he was successful in his proselytizing, he was eventually tried, convicted and executed by the Roman authorities. His grave was originally adorned with pagan markings so as to keep his persecutors from further desecrating his memory.
Over the centuries, the original basilica was razed and replaced with a Romanesque cathedral incorporating two-stories of churches (one underground, surrounding the sarcophagus in the crypt) and a tri-level rotunda. In the late 13th century, the structure, already undermined by a fire in 1137, saw irreparable damage when its crossing tower collapsed and ruined the upper church and much of the one underground. In 1325, the current Gothic-influenced building was completed and consecrated.
Today, in addition to its status as a national monument, the church’s abbey serves as a museum. The exhibits here primarily feature Roman and medieval artifacts.
One of Dijon’s loveliest historical landmarks, the Hôtel de Vogüé dates to the 17th century and was built as a hôtel particulier—a luxurious manor house—for Etienne Bouhier, an adviser to the Parliament of Burgundy. The building is renowned for its stone carvings, colorful roof tiles, grand courtyard, and other ornamental flourishes.
Northwest of Mâcon is the little town of Cluny. Dating to an abbey established in the year 910 (called Cluniacum), the town became the epicenter of a Benedictine reform movement that sought to revive monastic traditions. From this tiny hamlet grew over 2,000 Cluniac abbeys across western Europe, and along with them, Cluny’s distinctive architecture. Three subsequent churches were erected on the site over the next century, but the third one was closed during the French Revolution so its stone could be sold for building projects, leaving behind few remnants.
The two main tourist attractions in Cluny are the abbey’s remaining fortifications, mentioned above, as well as Blanot Cave. The former consists of three towers and the Porte des Jardins (Garden Gate). As for the abbey church itself, the south transept (the “cross-piece” of Gothic cathedrals) and the lower clock tower are all that remain of the abbey church. The Musée Lapidaire, housed in the old monastic granary, contains abbey artifacts such as third church’s figural capitals. Blanot Cave is a labyrinth of connected limestone galleries and huge rooms, 80 m (262 ft) below ground.
One of the oldest and most evocative streets in Dijon, the picturesque Rue des Forges is located in the city’s historical center. Featuring several hôtels particuliers (historical manor homes), the street also wends its way past the Palace of the Dukes and Burgundy States and connects to the verdant Square des Ducs.
Part architectural experiment, part tourist attraction, Guédelon is a 13th-century castle being built from scratch in the 21st century. Using only medieval-era materials and construction techniques, construction started in 1997 and is set to be completed in 2023, with visitors following its progress each year.
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