Eurfirst Trip to Burgundy
Updated July 22, 2007
Mention the region's name and deep red wines come to mind. For those who are connoisseurs of good wine, a journey through Burgundy will be memorable. But even tea-totallers will enjoy the quaint charm of Beaune and Dijon and the beauty of the towns that dot this wine-growing region. In the summer, it's hillside are draped with vines that will soon yield their sweet grapes to the local winemakers, its valleys are abloom with sunflowers.
It is most famous for its grapes but the beauty of the region, the ancient castles and great farmlands will win you over. The night before we arrived in Beaune, we had a delightful meal at Paul Bocluse's Le Nord in Lyon. Here the famous French chef has designed meals that the average Frenchman and traveller can enjoy without pawning the family's heirlooms. With a five course meal at under $30.00, Le Nord was the meal we had been saving for and we were not disappointed.
The center of the Burgundy region is Dijon. This industrial city, synonomous with gourmet mustard, is easily reached by car or train from Paris and can be your home base for touring the region. With 17 museums, including one dedicated to its famous "moutard," Dijon is rich in art and history. If so inclined, you could spend many days just wandering the halls of Dijon's many museums. You can also become saturated in Burgundian culture by visiting the many churches and grand houses built over the last five centuries that fill the center of Dijon.
There are however, many love "gites" where you can stay that will provide you with more intimate lodging closer to the beautiful vineyards that are the primary draw to the region.
For many people, Beaune is the center of Burgundian culture. The dramatic l'hotel dieu, a hospital that cared for the poor for more than five centuries, is the primary attraction in the city, though it is a compact town with other historic buildings making it a pleasant place to stroll while stopping for snacks and souveniers along the way.
Famed for its beautiful Burgundian roof and its history of service to the poor, the Hotel Dieu (House of God) has provided medical care for over 500 years. It is now a museum with some impressive artwork as well as a horrifying collection of medical tools used at by physicians who knew little about sterilization and less about pain relief.
The hospital was a gift to the poor from Nicolas Rolin, the Chancellor to the Duke of Burgandy, who in that role had amassed a great personal fortune. Between war and taxation, many of the people of Beaune suffered greatly during his era of leadership so in an effort to procure his own salvation, Rolin funded the hospital. Allow two to three hours to tour the museum and art collection.
The other reason people come to Beaune is to enjoy its great wines. More than 100 vineyards are within a short bike ride or car drive from the city center. After our tour of the Hotel Dieu, we bought provisions for a picket and headed to a bike rental agency. If you are in average shape (able to ride a bike at comfortable pace), you can enjoy the beauty of the region by bike. The rental agency provided us with maps and suggestions that made the mid-summer day delightful. Though we would have enjoyed extra padding on our bike seats, we had a pleasant and safe ride that day while pedaling along the roads of Beaune. Our journey, including a few stops and a picnic in the park, lasted about 5 hours.
Expect to be charged to sample wines as you go. Most of the places you will stop are small wineries that can't afford to roll the cost of samples into the price of their wine, especially when many of their guests are bicyclists who can only buy a bottle or two on their excursions. Instead, the small wineries charge a fair price and allow you to sample what amounts to a glass of wine. The hardest part of the journey was deciding which wineries to visit and which to pass by. We may have missed some succulent samples but enjoyed the choices we made.
There are many companies that offer multi-day bike trips through Burgundy that include lodging and luggage transfers. These can be very convenient and may be cost-effective. But it you are trying to stretch you budget, you probably hold your costs down by making your own sleeping arrangements and renting a bicycle in Beaune. You can find out more about bicycling and other activities in the area at Bourgogne-tourisme.com. Or contact one of the local bike rental companies in Beaune, Randonnees Pedestre Velo for their most current prices and hours.
Portrayal of Nuns Cooking for the Sick
A Nun Cleaning a Bed
The beautiful roof of the Hotel Dieu
Rudimentary Medical Tools
Early Hypodermic Needles