There are few areas of France that give me the same pleasure as Burgundy. It is very close to the top of my list for urban splendor, beauty, wonderful food, some of the best wines in France, and important religious relics you can’t find a more satisfying part of France. The cities of Dijon, Beaune, Auxerre, Vezelay and the hamlets of Nuits St-Georges and Vougeot are the parts of the place that are covered with history, vinyards, beauty and great food and drink.
I arrived from Paris by car through Joigny on the Yonne River to Auxerre near the town of Chablis. I walked around the town center and there, among the timbered buildings, I walked through a narrow street under the famous clock tower which conjured up visions of a lost age. The cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece that houses stained glass windows and a Romanesque crypt with the famous fresco Christ on Horseback.
I knew I would come back and I did. But I moved on to Vezeley, the starting point of the great armies that amassed at the beginning of the crusades. Here the giant Abbey dominates the village. In medieval times it was believed to house the remains of Mary Magdalene and visitors came from all over Europe. The village still attracts visitors to the impressive abbey which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is interesting to note that many pilgrims heading to Spain and St-Jacques de Campostele start their long trek from here.
From there it’s a short drive to the top of Semur-en-Auxois where the view of the town at the point of entry is worthy of anyone interested in painting. It’s a perfect site. I, of course, coming from Montreal, Canada, had to divert my trip to the small namesake of Montreal, between Vezelay and Semur. It was very tiny and a bit disappointing.
Now it was time to head to the largest city and capital of the Dijon region. It would live up to my expectations with good hotels, restaurants, chateau visits and, of course, the great mustard shops dating back centuries.
The great canal de Bourgogne flows through here with a collection of barges and private boats filled with vacationers.
Our dinner that night included Chablis, Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin and a regional Kir. This drink was invented by Canon Kir who had been deputy mayor of Dijon. It is a combination of Crème de Cassis and Aligote grape wine. Escargots were also offered at dinner as a Dijon favorite. I passed but for breakfast, I did try their ‘Oeufs en Meurette’, (poached eggs in red wine sauce). You must try it for breakfast.
But it was time to move on. We headed south with stops for wine tasting at Vougeot and Nuits St-Georges. This has long been a wine country and here the wines are renowned for their aroma and balance. The Cistercian monastic order had a profound influence on the wine industry of today. The monks followed the Roman introduction to wine in the region and became the first producers on a commercial scale. Wine became the region’s first known export.
They were both worthwhile stops but Beaune was our destination. As we drove through a sea of vines along the ‘Route des Vins,’ we noted the sun and temperatures are perfect for vineyards.
Beaune, the capital of Burgundy wine, takes you by surprise. It is comprised of 6,000 hectars of vineyards As you enter the lovely old town center you are visually drawn to the Hospice or ancient hospital, built in the 15th century, with its hundred year old glazed-tile roof, yellow, red, brown and green that lit up in the Beaune sunshine. The origin was probably Flanders.
We paid to enter the Hospice which is highly recommended. Here, the main room is 50 meters by 14 with a 16 meter ceiling that looks like an inverted ship. It goes back to the middle sages with 2 rows of curtained bed units made especially for the destitute, disabled and sick or orphan births. Radiating from this beautiful building are cobbled streets, all interesting to explore.
At the end of town is the quaint old Henry II Best Western hotel which you’ll enjoy if you love historical tradition. The famous wine museum is housed in the former mansion of the Dukes of Burgundy. Farther south, along the Soane River is the river port town known of Chalon-Sur-Saone. It is famous as the birthplace of photography. Named after Niepce, the inventor of photography is the Musee Nicephone with displays of the first lenses and early instruments. In the center of the town is another Gothic cathedral. If you have time, visit the chapel and the pharmacy of the former hospital.
Cluny too has a Benedictine abbey. This masterpiece of Western Christianity was once the largest. The museum of rich Romanesque Art is really worth visiting.
I took pictures of the half-timbered buildings in the region then headed for Macon, a name I grew up with as Macon Superieur was a mainstay on our dining room table. It’s a pleasant but busy town on the Soane River where brick-red ‘Roman’ tiles announce the beginning of the Midi region to the south.
The most famous Macon resident was Lamartine and his museum can be visited at the aristocratic Hotel Senece. If you are coming from the south this is your entry point to the awesome and immense wine growing area wine region and the many Romanesque churches. The best time to visit the region is from the time the grapes start growing to the fall; a time of the best Burgundian weather when harvest turns the grapes into the sweetest nectar for millions of people.
For Information about the region go to:
Comite Regional du Tourisme de Bourgogne
Holiday Inn Garden Court *** Dijon
Res: 33 03 80 60 46 91
Hotel Henry II ***
12/14 Faubourg Saint-Nicholas
Tel: 33 03 80 22 83 84
Dijon Office of Tourisme
33 03 80 44 11 44 Reservations
Fax: 33 03 69 38 90 02