Neither Troyes nor Beaune were on our radar as places to visit until I started researching a different route down through France to Spain via Champagne. So glad we did and; nice as Troyes was, we enjoyed Beaune even more. It’s nice when things just keep getting better.
Upon arrival we reverted to our usual approach whereby I set off on an explore (leaving Vanya to chill) and then, later in the day, we go into town together and I show Vanya around. It works for us because I get to see things Vanya has absolutely no interest in and, in any event, Vanya would never walk as far as I tend to.
I entered Beaune via the Porte Saint-Nicholas and after making towards the larger church spires soon found myself very near the town centre at the Basilica Notre Dame. These old cathedral spires are very effective way-finders.
Beaune is a pretty town and most if not all of the principal tourist sites are located within the footprint of the old town walls, which makes finding them much easier. A great deal of the old town walls have been removed over time and there are none in the immediate vicinity of the Porte Saint-Nicholas but it is possible to walk those parts that are still standing.
Beaune is the capital of the Burgundy wine region and there are plenty of wine merchants operating in the town centre (although you will have to travel a few kilometres to see any vineyards). Many of the wine merchants offer wine tastings but they charge and the charge appears to be much higher than in other French towns. Although it does seem as if almost everything in France is more expensive these days. Clearly France is suffering as much as the UK in these difficult economic times.
We didn’t bother with a formal wine tour but that is not to say that we didn’t sample quite a few of the local wines during our visit – Vanya focusing on the white wines and me on the red wines.
Beaune’s reliance on wine is obvious throughout the town. There are numerous winehouses operating in the centre. The pretty turreted building in the photo above was once home to a rich wine merchant and the statue of wine bottles in the town’s main square says it all.
On a more general note, the most interesting building in the town centre is the Hospices de Beaune (often referred to as the Hotel-Dieu). It dates back to 1443 and was built as an almshouse and hospice for the poor not long after the town lost 75% of it’s population to the plague. It remained a hospital up until 1971 when it was turned into a museum although every November a wine auction is held in the building with much of the proceeds going to local charities. You have to go inside the building and through to the main courtyard to appreciate the beauty of this erstwhile hospital -a half timbered first floor gallery runs around the courtyard and this is topped by the most beautiful glazed tile roof. It is truly striking.
The Hospices de Beaune with it’s beautiful gallery and glazed tile roof.
The second most impressive building in Beaune has to be the 12th century Basilique de Notre Dame. It is a pretty enough building built in the Romanesque style but it is the inside of the church that is most interesting. There is a lovely 13th century cloister area, colourful stained glass windows (of the Troyes School, naturally), an impressive organ, 15th century wall paintings, and a range of tapestries depicting the Virgin Mary’s life.
The front entrance, inside and rear of the Basilique de Notre Dame.
Beaune is one of those towns that is simply a joy to walk. I liked walking the town’s quiet back streets almost as much as I enjoyed the town centre. I stumbled on one area with a great mural which reflected the town’s association with cinema. It goes beyond just providing beautiful settings for films; the inventor of moving pictures, Etienne-Jules Marey, was born in Beaune and the inventor of photography, Nicephore Niepce, and the inventor of the zoom, Roger Cuvilliers were also from Burgundy.
There are plenty of places to sit and chill over a glass of wine or a beer but we really were lucky when we stumbled on a great little restaurant for our evening meal – La Petite Taverne.
I tried the artisan beer during my ‘explore’. The wines followed when Vanya and I went into town together
La Petite Taverne is a bijoux little restaurant of just 12 covers. It offered a great welcome and good food. We settled on a popular local dish, Fondue Vigneronne, washed down with local Beaune red (Vanya settling for a local Chardonnay). We had an enjoyable and fairly long evening in this small friendly restaurant and were delighted when the management presented us with complementary shots of Framboise Sauvage, a raspberry liqueur which Vanya described as savage. No argument there; I politely declined a second.
In La Petite Taverne
Footnote: Vanya considered one of the white wines she tried in Beaune, a Cremant de Bourgogne, so good that we had to track it down. She discovered that it could be bought at the Cave de Bussey in a small hamlet just outside of Beaune called Bissey Sous Cruchaud. Unfortunately, the Sat-Nav (which has long had a mind of it’s own) chose to play up as we travelled to the Cave and; it sent us on a 90 kilometre detour up a motorway. We made it (back) to the Cave just as it was closing but Vanya prevailed upon the owner to let her try a few of his wines and came away with half a dozen bottles. Happy Vanya.
On to Le Puy en Velay.