Wines & Sights: Explore Beautiful Burgundy!
Pretty Paris might be hogging the spotlight for trips to France, but when it comes to food and wine, there’s no French region you’d rather be other than Burgundy. Burgundy’s UNESCO-listed vineyards produce the most sought-after wines on the planet and Dijon’s mustard is second to none. Be it in a busy city square or far-flung charming village, there’s always something to delight the taste buds in Burgundy.
The wonder also doesn’t stop at the region’s gastronomic scene. Burgundy’s illustrious architectural heritage traces back to Celtic antiquity and boasts marvels from the Renaissance, Middle Ages and Gallo-Roman times. Medieval villages, hilltop towns and fortified cities dot the Burgundian countryside, perfect for those who seek some respite from the bustle of crowds. Burgundy’s expansive vineyards and sprawling mustard fields also make for a great cycling experience.
The home of the legendary Dukes of Burgundy from early 11th to late 15th centuries, it is impossible to be in Dijon and not notice the many architectural and historical marvels that attest to the city’s rich and colourful heritage. The massive Palace of the Dukes stands guard in the heart of the capital and testament to the might and power of the Burgundian dukes in the past. The impressive Ducal Palace now functions as the city hall and houses different administrative offices, but go beyond that modern-day façade and venture inside and let the grand interior transport you back to the time when the famous dukes were in power, two of which are entombed in the palace. If you want unparalleled views of the city, climb up the tower of Philippe le Bon where the panoramic cityscape will make you want to kill some time at the top.
Museums and churches are sprinkled all over Dijon you won’t be hard-pressed to find one where you can spend an enriching afternoon. The streets of old Dijon are also filled with wood-beamed store buildings and carved Renaissance stone structures leading to the compact city centre. Don’t forget to check out the stores for the famous Dijon mustard! First used at the table of King Philip VI in 1336, the unique Dijon mustard has become so well-loved a lot of people come to the city just for it and plenty of tours in Burgundy actually even include mustard tastings.
Thoroughly Burgundian, the imposing Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is a15th century massive stone fortress overshadowing the valley of Canal de Bourgogne and one of the last remaining examples of the region’s military architecture. Curtains and towers built in the Hundred Years War to defend the village and the plains are still intact, as well as the huge stone tower dating back to the 12th century. For art connoisseurs, the citadel’s chapel boasts of some 15th century tempera paintings.
Equally remarkable is the ancient village surrounding the castle, and why the opulent old homes? Châteauneuf-en-Auxois was once a very prosperous borough and wealthy Burgundian merchants made a point to build their house inside mainly for protection against the unrest in the land but also as a symbol of their high standing in society. Amble through the narrow streets and you’ll see stair turrets and pediments in some of the houses.
The fortress’s silhouette, together with that of the medieval village that surrounds it, forms one of the finest sights in Burgundy.
Just look at Beaune’s ramparts, moat and battlements and it’s pretty obvious that the town has had its share of history which was for the most part tied to the rise and fall of the Burgundian dukes. However, beautiful Beaune is famous not for its medieval structures but for its must-taste wine. Surrounded by the Côte d'Or vineyards, Beaune is not just Burgundy’s wine making capital but also one of France’s key wine centres! When in Beaune, you’re actually in the presence of some of the world’s most sought-after wines that it is almost a sin to leave without enjoying a glass. The most famous Wine Auction also happens in Beaune!
One cannot talk about the Wine Auction without talking about Hospices the Beaune since the auction takes place within its walls. The 15th century Hospices the Beaune attracts its own visitors with its colourful, geometric glazed-tile roof and medieval wine cellars, not to mention the Last Judgment polyptych commissioned from Rogier Van der Weyden, allegedly the most influential Northern Renaissance painter of his time.
Be ready to snap hundreds of pictures when you’re in Auxerre! With imposing churches puncturing the skyline and aged buildings lining the streets, the lovely inland port town of Auxerre is nothing, if not picturesque.
A lot of the old structures in the town are not just old; they’re ancient! The soaring Gothic Cathedral dates back to 1215 but go deeper and you’ll find an 11th century Romanesque crypt with stunning frescoes and apse chapel. Near the cathedral is the former Benedictine Abbaye Saint-Germain which houses a Carolingian crypt from the Early Middle Ages, the resting place of the Merovingian kings of Neustria. Does "I think, therefore I am" ring a bell? If you’re a fan of the philosopher René Descartes, you’ll be interested to learn that his tomb is in one of the church’s side chapels. If there is one ultimate must-see in Auxerre though, it is the Tour De l’Horloge. Walk under the decorative turreted arch and come face to face with the town’s iconic 15th century Gothic clock tower.
Le Clos de Vougeot
Ah, yes. Vineyards. Burgundy’s world-famous vineyards need no introduction and Le Clos de Vougeot is a solid destination in any Grand Crus tour. Hailed the largest single vineyard in Côte de Nuits, Le Clos de Vougeot is a huge must-visit for certified and self-confessed wine lovers and a highlight on the Route des Grand Crus, or Road of the Great Wines. Monks in the nearby Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux built Le Clos de Vougeot out of a wine farm in the 12th century and cultivated it until the Revolution. Make sure to check out the medieval fermentation room and its four large presses. The elegant Renaissance castle which was added in 1551 also makes for a striking centrepiece as it stands in the heart of the lush vineyards and commands attention even from a far.
Joigny doesn’t always make it in most travel itineraries, but this charming old town by the Yonne River is a treasure trove of historical monuments and centuries-old houses. The 16th century houses spilling down the Côte St-Jacques terraces are definitely the first thing you’ll see as you near the town, mostly featuring half-timbered facades and carved wooden decoration. The most notable of the houses are perhaps Maison du Bailli, Maison du Pilori and definitely Mason de Blois that will greet you as you enter the castle. You also can’t miss the gothic Church of Saint-Jean with its decorative tomb, statues, carvings and vaulted ceiling. Not far is the impressive Renaissance Chateau des Gondi which, together with the church, dominates the view of Joigny from the bridge.
Here’s a tip. Cross the river at sunset if you want to see the full magnificence of Joigny. The town turns into a magical golden sight as the sun goes down specially when seen from the opposite bank.
As far as Burgundian hidden gems go, Irancy beats them all. Located really off the beaten track and sheltered by hills in varying shades of gold and green, the beautiful old town of Irancy in the Grand Auxerrois region will surely take your breath away. Follow the aged streets of the village, explore its narrow alleys and marvel at the 16th century houses. Visit the town’s 13th century church which is hard to miss since it punctuates the town’s vistas and all paths seem to lead to it. While in Irancy, grab the chance to experience what the town is really known for: its red Pinot Noirs. The Pinot Noirs are the reason why most wine tours in Burgundy stop by the town, no matter how far or “hidden” it is.