5 Things to do in Beaune, France (Other than the Wine)

From leahtravels.com by Leah Walker
5 Things to do in Beaune, France (Other than the Wine)

My first trip to Beaune was around Christmas 2012, which was also my first time in France. I was initially drawn to Burgundy for its world-class wine, but upon arrival, was struck by small-town France. Hailing from a tiny farm town myself {though cotton instead of grapes}, the slower pace spoke to me. I knew that the 24-hours I’d allotted in Beaune wasn’t enough and that I’d return. After 2.5 years of living in Paris and more than five years since my initial trip, I did return to Beaune. This second trip was again about the vin, specifically for my annual trip with Visit French Wine and Atout France USA.

As the unofficial capital of Bourgogne wine country, Beaune is the epicenter for œnotourisme, which is the French term for wine tourism. And perhaps it’s the outstanding bottles that initially bring people to Beaune, but there’s much more to this town of about 25,000 than the wine. Even if you’re a serious connoisseur of vin, there are plenty of things to do in Beaune other than the wine.

Tour Hospices de Beaune

Other than wine, Beaune is most famous for its hospital. Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to Phillipe Le Bon, Duke of Burgundy and his wife, Guigone de Salins, founded Hospices de Beaune {or Hôtel-Dieu} in 1443. The Hundred Years’ War was ending and Burgundy was reeling from plague. This hospital served everyone in the region, regardless of their financial means, from 1452 through the 1960s. The Gothic-style building was inspired by the architecture in Flanders, and its colorful glazed tile roof is typical of Burgundy. This type of roof was a status symbol, dating to the 13th century when they adorned cathedrals. In the 14th century, they were en vogue with aristocrats.

With the price of admission comes an audio tour. Wander through the immaculate courtyards, as well as the four buildings open to the public. See the pharmacy where nuns often mixed medicine and the kitchen where meals were prepared for some 100 patients per day. Visit the Great Hall, otherwise known as the Hall of the Poor, where the destitute slept head-to-toe, two to a bed. Don’t miss the altarpiece created in 1451 by Belgian painter, Rogier van der Weyden. The 9-panel masterpiece once hung above the chapel’s alter, but now resides in a dark room near the Hospices de Beaune’s exit. During the French Revolution, the altarpiece was hidden as to protect it from destruction.

Explore the Ramparts

History in Beaune predates the Romans, and there is plenty of history to uncover. Some of this history is extremely well preserved. Hiding in plain sight are Beaune’s ramparts and battlements. Encircling the town are 1.5 miles of ramparts that run parallel with the busy ring road. These towers have helped keep Beaune safe as far back as the 12th century. With four centuries of construction, exploring the city in these narrow and secluded streets is like a walk through time. Look for the blue signs affixed to walls near the edge of the old town that read Amis des Remparts Beaune. These signs indicate the path of the ramparts. From this vantage point of the town, you’ll see Square des Lions, Château de Beaune, Porte Saint-Nicholas, and the Théâtre de Verdure.

Ride a Bike through the Vines

One of the best ways to discover Burgundy is by bicycle. There are over 21 miles of bike trails in Burgundy that meander through the vines and villages. Beginning in Beaune, there is a somewhat easy Véloroute that covers 13.6 miles to Santenay. Along the way, you’ll pass through the villages of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny Montrachet, and Chassagne Montrachet. Cycle at your own pace and get an up-close look at the plants that produce the world’s best wines. If you’ve still got energy, follow the Voie des Vignes route from Santenay to Nolay. This 8-mile path follows an old rail line. Go on a guided tour or rent a bike from Bourgogne Évasion.

Eat all the Food

Everyone knows that French cuisine is one of the most celebrated in the world. In my opinion, the use of seasonal ingredients and thoughtful presentation by the French is only rivaled by the Japanese. Within France there are a multitude of specialties and regional dishes. The French make good use of the land and their plates reflect that fact. It should then come as no surprise that Burgundy produces dishes that pleased my palate more than any other region in recent memory. Even if you’ve never stepped foot in France, you probably know bœuf Bourguignon. After all, the legendary Julia Child made this slow-cooked beef stew famous in America in the 1960s. Escargots à la Bourgogne {snails with butter, garlic, and parsley} and Coq au Vin {rooster with wine and mushrooms} are two other famous dishes that hail from Burgundy. Depending on the season, mushrooms and truffles are plentiful, as are blackcurrants that are used to make kir, which is mixed with white wine or Champagne for an aperitif. This is France, so I’d be remiss not to mention the regional cheeses. Look for Chaource, Epoisses, and my favorite new find, délice de Pommard. This creamy and light cheese is rolled in mustard seeds and can be purchased at Alain Hess in the center of Beaune. Other flavors include Burgundy blackcurrant, black summer truffles from Italy, and gingerbread from Dijon.

In 2017, Beaune, a town of 25,000, boosts seven Michelin-stared restaurants. To help put that number into perspective, consider that Dijon, just 30 minutes away with a population of 150,000, only has five restaurants that have been honored with at least one star by Michelin. Whether bestowed with a star or not, I did not have a bad meal in Beaune. In fact, this might have been my favorite food trip in France. Here are my restaurant suggestions:

Le Cheval Noir

Loiseau des Vignes {1-star Michelin}

Le Carmin {1-star Michelin}

Brasserie Le Monge

La Cueillette

Restaurant Olivier Leflaive

Ed.Em {1-star Michelin}

Visit Moutarderie Fallot

Though the nearby city of Dijon is synonymous with mustard, Beaune has its own mustard story. Dating to 1840, La Moutarderie Fallot is the last remaining independent, family-owned mustard mill in Burgundy. Today, Fallot makes 5% of the mustard in France. Although sold in 65 countries, the mustard is only made in Beaune. In addition, Fallot is the only company still grinding its mustard seeds by stone, which helps keep the seeds’ flavor.

For €10, take a self-guided tour through the mill, where you’ll learn about the history of mustard in Burgundy, the original mustard-making methods, as well as the present-day process. After, head to the mustard boutique for a sampling of some of Fallot’s 50+ types of mustard. Some of my favorites include Moutarde de Bourgogne and Moutarde á la Provençale. You’ll certainly leave with a newfound respect of the mustard-making process, as well as a big bag filled with Fallot’s fantastic flavors.

 

I was a guest of Beaune Tourism, Atout France USA, and Visit French Wine. In no way was I swayed by the divine wines, scrumptious plates of food, or the small-town hospitality. As always, opinions are mine.

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