The best of Burgundy
The Belle France lowdown on the highlights
Since Roman times Burgundy has been cultivated for wine production and today is held up as perhaps the world’s finest wine producing region. And it’s no surprise that many of France’s greatest chefs, most famously Paul Bocuse, have traditionally hailed from this corner of gastronomic excellence.
But there’s much more to it than wine. Burgundy is blessed with vast swathes of rolling, bucolic countryside, peppered with peaceful villages and timbered houses. The sort of places where you can sit in the inevitable central café and order the plat du jour within earshot of the midday carillon bells from across the square.
As a holiday destination it has long been a magnet for lovers of the good life: hiking through the Côtes de Beaune or cycling through vineyards of the Voie des Vignes. Gastronauts seek out the definitive Boeuf Bourguignan and savour authentic French regional cuisine of the highest order. Wine lovers dive into mysterious cellars to taste mesmerising wines and take advantage of at-the-gate prices.
Throughout the region you can walk through ancient woods and mellow stone villages dominated by Romanesque churches and pass through dramatic abbeys and past rows of leafy vines. History, culture, architecture, nature and gastronomy – all play their part. Burgundy never fails to captivate and below is our Belle France lowdown on the highlights.
Soak up the ancient history and elegance of the great Cistercian abbey at Fontenay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating from 1118. Partly restored, you can get a good idea of the spartan living conditions endured by the monks. Then scurry on to your comfortable hotel and enjoy some 21st century creature comforts!
Officially designated one of France’s most beautiful villages, Vézelay sits on a hill and is a mix of characterful old stone houses lining picturesque narrow streets, centred around the 12th century UNESCO listed church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine. There are views of the spectacular Monts du Morvan hills and the Morvan regional park, an area of outstanding natural beauty, is not far away.
Hospices de Beaune
Beaune is the unofficial capital of Burgundy. The Hospices, once a charitable hospital dating from 1443, still holds auctions of wine produced on its estate. The Musée du Vin gives a fascinating insight and the market is well worth catching for all kinds of enticing foods and local delicacies.
Château de la Rochepot
Admirers of the traditional multi-coloured ornate roof tiles of Burgundy will enjoy this. Founded in 1180, it had a chequered history and was partially demolished after the Revolution before being restored to the original 15th century style. A visit gives a real sense of the sweep of history and a glimpse into the life of a privileged household from medieval times.
The ancient capital of Burgundy, it’s a wonderful place to wander and lose yourself. There are many elegantly time-worn buildings and Renaissance gems to investigate. Don’t miss the Musée des Beaux-Arts in the Palais des Ducs, housing treasures from medieval Europe, as well as works by Monet, Matisse and Rodin. Not far away, take a look up at the Eglise Notre Dame – on top of the church is the Horloge à Jacquemart, an ancient clock that was a spoil of war and which has been chiming every 15 minutes since 1383.
The 11th century Benedictine abbey lies north-east of Macon in the Saône-et-Loire département and was, for a time, second only to Rome in its importance to religious life in western Europe. This was largely due to the sacred relics of Saint Peter and Saint Paul that it held. Today it is officially one of 85 National Monuments of France, places of historical significance that are protected by the state.
The Côte d’Or is made up of the Côte de Nuits in the north (mostly reds) and the Côte de Beaune to the south (reds and whites). Various Belle France itineraries are designed take you through some of the iconic villages and vineyards along the way – some customers tell us it’s like walking or cycling through the pages of a restaurant wine list!
It’s hard to pick favourites but below we give a shout out to a selection that spring to mind.
Côte de Nuits
Nuits Saint Georges
The epicentre of the Côte de Nuits, with plentiful vineyards and associated tourist attractions and an attractive old centre.
A quintessential Burgundian village with gorgeous medieval castle.
One of many big names in the wine world, the Clos Vougeot is home to the Confréries des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an ancient and respected wine body. Open to visitors, it’s a fascinating place - don’t miss the vast Cistercian wine press.
Some of the world’s most expensive wine are to be found here, many lying in the cool, dark cellars: La Tache, Richebourg and Romanée-Conti among others.
Côte de Beaune
A true icon of the wine world, the château itself is a photographer’s favourite, with its ornately tiled roof.
Burgundy’s largest private vineyard and now owned by a Silicon Valley magnate, it is enclosed by a high wall, but guided tours are available.
Another of the world’s greatest wine villages – the château here has the largest of all Burgundian cellars, with hundreds of thousands of bottles. Must make choosing a bottle for dinner quite a challenge!
Seemingly a very ordinary, sleepy village, some of the world’s finest white wine is produced here.
Held during the first weekend of September, this festival celebrates the humble blackcurrant, key to the delicious liqueur and the key to the ever-popular aperitif: Kir (added to white wine, traditionally Bourgogne Aligoté) and Kir Royale (added to champagne).
Main article images:
The church and convent building seen from the gardens - By Josep Renalias - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Vezelay from West - By Grahamec - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Le château de La Rochepot - By John Picken - Flickr: Le Château de La Rochepot, CC BY 2.0
Vue du palais des ducs de Bourgogne (hôtel de ville) depuis la place de la libération - By François de Dijon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Cluny Abbey. (2012, May 15) - By Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium - Cluny Abbey, CC BY 2.0
A snapshot of the town of Nuits-saint-Georges (Burgundy - France) under the snow taken at christmas 2010 - By Leroy remy - during holidays in my native town of Nuits St GeorgesPreviously published: Already published on my own Website and Facebook page, CC BY-SA 3.0
Vignoble de Gevrey-Chambertin, combe de Lavaux au fond à gauche, Bourgogne, France. - By Urban - Own work, Public Domain
Château du Clos de Vougeot - By Jebulon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Vosne-Romanée, célèbre petit village vinicole de la Côte de Nuits (région de la Côte d'Or en Bourgogne - France) - By Olivier Vanpé - -, CC BY-SA 2.5
Vue au premier plan du village de Pommard avec derière la ville de Beaune - By Mpmpmp - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Parcelle Meursault Charmes - By M.Cellard - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Chardonnay vines growing the French wine region of Puligny Montrachet in the Cote de Beaune region of Burgundy - By Bryan Dougherty - originally posted to Flickr as P1010125.JPG, CC BY-SA 2.0