Burgundy See And Do
Tel: 33 3 80 92 15 00
Founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard and finished in 1147, Fontenay Abbey is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture and one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe. After being abandoned during the French Revolution, the complex was converted into a paper mill, and it took decades to restore it to its former glory (work began in 1906, but the scientifically executed restoration began in 1960). Today, the abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a place of rare beauty. Tucked away in a quiet green valley in northeastern Burgundy, it seems as if it's in the middle of nowhere, but in reality, the down-to-earth town of Montbard (with its TGV high-speed train station) is only a few miles away, as are major attractions such as the Canal de Bourgogne, the Gallic archaeological site of Alésia/Alise-Ste.-Reine, and the medieval village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain. Highlights of the abbey include the rib-vaulted Council Room, monks' sleeping quarters, bakery building and forge, landscaped garden, gatehouse, and tower. Guided tours last about an hour.—David Downie
Open daily 10 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm, November 11 through March 31; 10 am to 6 pm April through June and September through November; 10 am to 7 pm in July and August.
Autun Tourism Office
13 Rue Général Demetz
Tel: 33 3 85 86 80 38
About ten miles south of Mont Beuvray, on the southern edge of the Morvan, is Autun, a walled city founded by Augustus Caesar. One of France's great cathedrals, St. Lazare, dominates the upper section of town, an area studded with landmark buildings on narrow, twisting streets. Below, you'll find a handful of Roman monuments: third-century gates, temples, and an amphitheater. Dedicated in the early 12th century, Romanesque St. Lazare Cathedral has fantastic stained-glass windows; the master French sculptor Gislebertus carved a Last Judgment above the western doorway, a nude Eve above the northern doorway, and 60 capitals. The 12,000-seat Roman amphitheater was once the largest in Gaul. Each August it hosts a kitschy, weeklong Gallo-Roman extravaganza, complete with gladiators wielding cardboard shields and plastic swords. Skip that, but don't miss the amphitheater itself, or walking along Autun's ramparts and through the lively outdoor market, held on the main square each Wednesday and Friday morning.—David Downie
1–2 Quai de la République
Tel: 33 3 86 52 06 19
Founded during the Roman Empire along the Via Agrippa consular highway, Auxerre (originally named Autessio-durum) is an atmospheric town of about 40,000 inhabitants that overlooks the Yonne River in northern Burgundy. Lively and fun to explore, it's a popular destination for river- and canal-cruise vacationers. But don't worry: The town is rarely overrun, even in the July and August high season. Auxerre is also a favorite destination for gourmands and is home to Jean-Luc Barnabet, Burgundy's truffle king. The most appealing part of town is the partially pedestrianized area that links the riverbank and the city's main attractions: St, Étienne Cathedral and St, Germain Abbey. St. Étienne, which was built in the Gothic style between the 13th and 16th centuries, has magnificent stained-glass windows and was recently sandblasted to a blinding shade of white. St. Germain Abbey is a must for anyone interested in crypts (dating to the ninth century, they hold the tombs of Auxerre's bishops) and church history: The abbey's displays run from prehistory to the late Middle Ages and include art, archaeological treasures, jewelry, weapons, and coins found in and around Auxerre. Culture vultures and history buffs will want to spend a whole day in town, but half a day is all you'll need if you're just strolling and shopping.—David Downie
Place de Clermont-Tonnerre
Tel: 33 3 86 75 14 63
One of France's great Renaissance châteaux, Ancy-le-Franc's perfectly symmetrical, chalky white edifice—surrounded by a moat and manicured grounds—was completed in 1550 by Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio. Its location, about 20 miles east of Chablis in northern Burgundy, makes it a great day trip. Visitors can tour dozens of salons, including the wood-paneled Arts Pavilion, which has a gilded fireplace and antique furniture, and view the original frescoes and inlays of the richly decorated chapel. Guided tours last about an hour and begin at 10:30, 11:30, 2, 3, and 4 (also at 5 pm between late March and September). Leave time to walk around the grounds and visit the farm buildings.—David Downie
Open daily late March to mid-November, except on nonholiday Mondays. (Groups can visit year-round with advance reservations.)
Tel: 33 3 85 50 16 55
You'll find France's best-preserved Louis XIII–period interiors at this early-17th-century castle built on 12th-century foundations. A slate-covered mansard roof, gables, and turrets give the limestone château a fairy-tale look. Inside, you'll see giant carved-stone fireplaces, an impressive central staircase, lapis lazuli and gold wall decorations in the boudoir, and a period kitchen with a cast-iron stove. The Grosne River, which runs around the site, creates a natural moat and reflecting pools. If you don't have time to take a tour, purchase a ground pass ($7) and explore the geometrical parterres of lawn, lavender, and boxwood; the classic kitchen garden; and the boxwood labyrinth with its neoclassical birdhouse. The fortified farmstead and orangerie house a café (open only in July and August).—David Downie
Open 10 am to noon and 2 to 3 pm, Easter through mid-November. Interior open by guided tour only.
Tel: 33 3 80 62 86 09
If this fortified Renaissance château's towers, gabled roof, and 12th-century cellars look familiar, it's because they're on practically every postcard and brochure of the Burgundy region. Clos de Vougeot is located on the most popular part of the Burgundy wine route, between Nuits-St.-Georges and Dijon, and despite being a tourist magnet, it's authentic and (unlike most Burgundy estates) easy to visit. (Domaine de la Romanée Conti, in Vosne-Romanée, which produces the most expensive, sought-after red wine in the world, is better known, but it's not open to the public.) Seventy winemakers own parcels of the 125-acre vineyard—all of it Grand Cru—and while the château doesn't sell those wines or do tastings, the 45-minute guided tours are great. Since 1945, the château has been the headquarters of the Chevaliers du Tastevin, an organization of wine experts who wear four-cornered hats and gold and scarlet robes and carry silver tasting cups. Kitsch? Not entirely: They rate the region's wines twice yearly, and only a third of bottlings submitted win approval, giving those wines extra prestige—and the ability to fetch premium prices.—David Downie
Open Saturdays through Thursdays 9 am to 6:30 pm, Fridays 9 am to 5 pm, April through September; Saturdays through Thursdays 9 to 11:30 am and 2 to 5:30 pm, Fridays 9 to 11:30 am and 2 to 5 pm, October through March. Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.
This animated town of 5,000 inhabitants about 15 miles northwest of Mâcon was long home to the biggest, most powerful monastic order in Europe: Cluny Abbey. The Benedictine abbey was founded in 910, and its main church, the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul (constructed between 1088 and about 1130), was the largest in the world until St. Peter's Basilica in Rome was finished nearly 500 years later. Much of the abbey was destroyed after the French Revolution, but you can still explore the soaring right transept, several watchtowers, a wine cellar–granary, the cloister, and sections of the perimeter wall. The abbey museum, Musée Ochier-Palais Jean de Bourbon, exhibits salvaged architectural elements and artwork. For an aerial view of the abbey's remnants and the town, climb the Tour des Fromages, a watchtower used for centuries as a cheese factory and aging facility, accessed through the tourism office. Cluny is also home to the National Stud Farm, which holds competitions and shows year-round, and the town's cobbled streets and squares, lined with medieval and Renaissance houses, are ideal for wandering. If you're shopping for wine, stop at Le Cellier de l'Abbaye. Transplanted American owner Alice Brinton, aided by local oenologist Sonia Blondeau, is particularly helpful and knowledgeable, making this one of Burgundy's best resources for finding little-known and organic winemakers. You can taste a selection of wines at the shop's small bar.—David Downie
Musée Ochier-Palais Jean de Bourbon open daily 9:30 am to 6:30 pm, May through August; 9:30 am to noon and 1:30 to 5 pm, September and April. Closed on New Year's Day, May 1, Nov. 1 and 11, and Christmas Day. Times may vary, call ahead.
Tour des Fromages open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 5 pm, January through March, November, and December; daily 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6:45 pm, April; Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6:45 pm, May and June; daily 10 am to 6:45 pm, July and August; Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6:45 pm, September; Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6 pm, October. Closed Jan. 1 and 2, May 1, Nov. 11, and Dec. 25 and 26th.
Le Cellier de l'Abbaye open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 3:30 to 7 pm, Sundays 10 am to 12:30 pm.
The many attractions of Dijon, Burgundy's capital city, center on the Ducal Palace and the Place de la Libération that fronts it. Toss a coin from there and it will probably land on a medieval church or Renaissance town house; boutiques, restaurants, and cafés line the surrounding car-free streets. The palace houses a miniature Louvre, Le Musée des Beaux-Arts–Palais des États de Bourgogne. The collection, one of France's largest, includes works from antiquity through the Renaissance and Impressionism to the present; don't miss the magnificently sculpted marble tomb of Duke Philippe le Hardi. If it's open (see below for hours), climb the Tour Philippe le Bon, a medieval tower that flanks the palace: You'll be rewarded with views over Dijon's rooftops. While often overlooked, the Musée Archéologique, located in the medieval St. Bénigne Abbey, is worth a visit for its pre-Roman treasures (some excavated from the nearby springs that are the source of the Seine River) and vaulted, subterranean scriptorium. The museum is a 15-minute walk due east of the Ducal Palace.—David Downie
Dijon also makes an ideal base for exploring Burgundy: It has a handful of outstanding hotels and restaurants (including Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge, Le Bistrot des Halles, and Stéphane Derbord), plus good wine shops and bakeries that specialize in Burgundian gingerbread.
Le Musée des Beaux Arts open Wednesdays through Mondays 9:30 am to 6 pm May through October, 10 am to 5 pm November through April. Closed Jan. 1, May 1 and 8, July 14, Nov. 1 and 11, and Christmas Day.
Tour Philippe le Bon open daily for guided tours 9 am to noon and 1:45 to 5:30 pm, Easter through late November. Open Wednesdays (tours at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 pm) and weekends (tours at 9, 10, and 11 am and 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 pm), late November until Easter. Closed Jan. 1 and Christmas Day.
Musée Archéologique open Wednesdays through Mondays 9 am to 12:30 pm and 1:30 to 6 pm. Closed Jan. 1, May 1 and 8, July 14, Nov. 1 and 11, and Christmas Day.
According to legend, Flavinius, a Roman who arrived in Burgundy with Julius Caesar around 52 B.C., fell in love with the site of this enchanting village and decided to stay. Beyond the setting—cupped by the Ozerain River and two other streams, about 35 miles northwest of Dijon—Flavigny is famous for the aniseed candies produced at the Abbaye de Flavigny since 1591. The abbey, built by the Burgundians in the early eighth century, is also worth a visit for its ramparts, views, and crypt, where the bones of the martyr Ste. Reine, of nearby Alise-Ste.-Reine, once reposed. Many of the churches and houses in town date to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, giving the village an enchanting, stage-set look you might recognize—the movie Chocolat was filmed here. You'll want to spend several hours touring the abbey, tasting aniseed candies, and walking around the village.—David Downie
Tel: 33 3 80 24 45 00
For centuries, the Hospices and Hôtel-Dieu of Beaune (better known simply as the Hospices de Beaune) was the main hospital of this fortified town, Burgundy's wine capital. Now it's a museum with an outstanding 5,000-piece collection that includes Renaissance tapestries, furniture, everyday objects, apothecary jars, and The Last Judgment, a haunting religious masterpiece with nine panels painted by Rogier van der Weyden circa 1450. The building's Renaissance architecture is itself a work of art, particularly the half-timbered Grand Salle (the former hospital dormitory), colorful Burgundian glazed-tile roof, and courtyard. Each November, a gala charity wine auction is held here, which helps set prices for the year's top vintage wines and funds the hospice, which is also a geriatric hospital and retirement home.—David Downie
Open daily 9 to 11:30 am and 2 to 5:30 pm, January through late March and late November through December; daily 9 am to 6:30 pm late March through mid-November.
Roche de Solutré
Tel: 33 3 85 35 85 24
In prehistoric times, hunters ambushed mammoths and horses at Roche de Solutré, a startling hogback outcropping six miles east of Mâcon, near the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé. (The Solutrean Phase of the Upper Paleolithic period, 15,000–12,000 B.C., was named for this area.) Today, the outstanding Musée Départemental de Préhistoire stands on the spot where millions of animal bones were unearthed. Exhibitions change regularly: Most feature archaeological items that were unearthed here, while others are thematic (prehistoric weaponry, for instance) and draw on museum collections from around the world. Kids love this museum, as do plenty of adults; many of the items displayed, though thousands of years old, look like powerful works of modern art. After visiting the museum, continue to the top of the cliff (it's an easy stroll from the museum parking lot). On a clear day, the views range across the countless vineyards of southern Burgundy and the northern Rhône Valley.—David Downie
Open daily 10 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm, January through March, October, and November; 10 am to 6 pm, April through September. Closed December, New Year's Day, and May 1.
Rue du Paradis
Tel: 33 3 80 22 08 19
In Beaune, Burgundy's wine capital, some wine shops call themselves museums, but a visit to the Musée du Vin is the best way to learn about the history of wine, from antiquity through the 20th century. The museum is housed in the former palace of the Dukes of Burgundy (the dynasty moved to Dijon in the late 14th century), and the medieval architecture, art, and objects associated with winemaking—antique bottles, glasses, tools, and pitchers—are interesting even if you aren't a wine fanatic.—David Downie
Open daily 9:30 am to 6 pm, April through November; Wednesdays through Mondays 9:30 to 5 pm, December through March. Closed Christmas and New Year's Day.
Noyers is a remarkably handsome, thoroughly restored medieval fortress town on the Serein River about 13 miles south of Chablis. Artists and artisans d'art have opened a dozen galleries in and around town, and there's a museum of local history and naïf art—both the galleries and the museum are cute and charming but ultimately skippable. The town's real draw is its atmosphere and architecture: Half-timbered houses line the cobbled streets, and sections of the city walls and a city gate still stand. There are bakeries, cafés, and restaurants, but if you can, visit on a Wednesday morning to browse the regional food market that sets up on the main square (arrive around 9:30 am, when all the vendors are open). Plan to spend at least an hour or two exploring Noyers.—David Downie
On the southeastern edge of the Côte Chalonnaise wine district in southern Burgundy, Tournus is a handsome town on the Saône River that was founded by the Gauls, turned into a major river port by Julius Caesar, and is now home to about 6,000 inhabitants. While vestiges of the Roman city still stand, the town's medieval foundations are the real draw here. St. Philibert Abbey, a Romanesque fortress church with a labyrinthine crypt and a barrel-vaulted ceiling in the cavernous nave, has stood here for 1,000 years. On the south side of the abbey, monastic buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries surround the remains of an 11th-century cloister. Guided tours, available through the tourist office, last about an hour and 15 minutes.
A 15-minute walk southwest across the historic center of town, the Hôtel-Dieu–Musée Greuze, a local history museum dedicated to 18th-century court painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze, displays art and objects in a 17th-century hospital similar to the Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune.
Tournus's sycamore-lined riverbanks are a great place to relax at a café, and few towns in Burgundy have more or better restaurants (we recommend Aux Terrasses for updated Burgundian classics). If you're staying the night, La Tour du Trésorier, an antique-filled B&B near the abbey, is a good bet.—David Downie
St. Philibert Abbey open daily 8:30 am to 6 pm, October through April; 8:30 am to 7 pm, May through September. Religious services 10:30 am Sundays.
Hôtel Dieu–Musée Greuze open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 6 pm, late March through early November.
The medieval citadel of Vézelay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is celebrated for its basilica, which houses the relics of Mary Magdalene. Though the town remains a pilgrimage site and spiritual center—the basilica draws more than a million visitors each year—most visitors come seeking earthly pleasures: the hotels, restaurants, cafés, and boutiques that line the tilting cobbled streets. You can't get lost: There's one long, main street (the name changes from Grande Rue to Rue St. Etienne) that runs from the Porte de Barle city gate uphill to the basilica. On it is Vézelay's best place to eat, Le St. Etienne, and the area's best gourmet food and wine store, Le St. Vincent, which stocks all the best Burgundies. A 15-minute drive south, in the village of Pierre-Perthuis, is hotel-restaurant Les Deux Ponts.
Due south of Vézelay are the peaks and gorges of the Morvan, a vast parkland that covers the center of Burgundy and is a favored summer retreat for Parisians. Unlike the limestone bluffs of the Burgundian wine country, the Morvan is an eroded granite plateau that ends abruptly a few miles south of Mont Beuvray, the area's geographical and historical high point. Site of the Gauls' ancient "lost city" of Bibracte, where Julius Caesar dictated The Conquest of Gaul in 52 B.C., Mount Beuvray is now an archaeological park. The Museum of Celtic Civilization, located halfway up the mountain, is worth a stop for its historical displays, but the best things about this magic mountain are its hikes and views.—David Downie
Le St. Etienne open Fridays through Tuesdays, late February through mid-January.
Le St. Vincent open daily 9 am to 7:30 pm, Easter through mid-November.
Museum of Celtic Civilization open daily to individual visitors 10 am to 6 pm, mid-March through June and September through mid-November; daily 10 am to 7 pm, July and August. Open year-round for groups with reservation.