The best of Bur­gundy

Wine and dine within the walls of a charm­ing French town

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - MAR­IAN McGUIN­NESS

CHARM OF­FEN­SIVE: The walled, cob­ble­stoned town of Beaune is two hours south­east of Paris bby high-speed train; it nes­tles on Bur­gundy’s Cote d’Or, be­tween Di­jon and Lyon, amid hills shim­mer­ing in yel­low waves when au­tumn trans­forms its land­mark ter­raced vine­yards. Snug within its walls and ram­parts are ar­chi­tec­tural de­lights such as bel­fries, dragon-shaped finials, clois­ters and con­vents, gar­goyled watch­tow­ers, stylised chim­ney pots and half-tim­bered houses with peaked at­tic win­dows. There’s even a tourist train that show­cases Beaune’s main sites and vine­yards. More: beaune-tourism.com; vi­sio­train.com.

WHAT LIES BE­NEATH: While the monks cul­ti­vated wine, the pow­er­ful dukes of Bur­gundy amassed wealth. Cis­ter­cian monks be­gan grow­ing grapes in the 11th cen­tury, trav­el­ling among the four cotes, or slopes, mix­ing the sandy soil with wa­ter and sip­ping it to taste the dif­fer­ences in ter­roir. To sam­ple the fruits of their cen­turies of labour, head to the Marche aux Vins lo­cated within and be­neath a for­mer Fran­cis­can church. Ten kilo­me­tres of wine caves coil be­neath Beaune and each tour in­cludes your own clam-shaped cup called a taste-vin. The wines are dis­played on spaceda­part bar­rels, with ex­plana­tory notes read by can­dle­light. Within this labyrinth are the ru­ins of a 5th-cen­tury chapel, ex­ca­vated in 1971, re­veal­ing the re­mains of 11 plague vic­tims lay­ered inside a stone sar­coph­a­gus. Back in the light of the church nave, som­me­liers are on hand to an­swer ques­tions or or­gan­ise pur­chases. Also check out the wine mu­seum in the for­mer palace of the Duchy of Bur­gundy. More: marcheauxvins.com.

OLD-STYLE HOS­PI­TAL­ITY: Suf­fer­ing from spasms, gout or syphilis? No 15th cen­tury health cover? Luck­ily for the des­ti­tute, the flam­boy­antly Flem­ish Hospices de Beaune was also known as The Palace of the Poor. Built in 1443, af­ter the plague and Hun­dred Years War had rav­aged the town, the last pa­tients were ad­mit­ted in 1971. Against the white stone and tim­ber fret­work, the geo­met­ric roof tiles glis­ten like the be­jew­elled skin of a snake. The tim­ber-vaulted Pau­pers’ Hall is lined with crim­son-cur­tained four-poster beds that al- lowed the in­firm to at­tend mass with­out leav­ing their pil­lows. There’s a me­dieval phar­macy dis­play­ing un­usual med­i­cal in­stru­ments, but the great­est trea­sure is Ro­gier van der Wey­den’s ter­ri­fy­ing al­tar­piece Last Judge­ment. To­day it is viewed via a gi­ant, sus­pended mag­ni­fier that glides across its mind-trip­ping de­tails. More: beaune-tourism.com/dis­cover/hospices-de-beaune.

MAR­KET DAYS: Beaune’s out­door mar­ket, held Satur­days and Wed­nes­days, is con­sid­ered one of the most beau­ti­ful of its kind in France. It is a cel­e­bra­tion of l’art de vivre among ar­cades of colour­ful awnings and dec­o­ra­tive dis­plays of fruit, veg­eta­bles, cheese, condi­ments, crafts and cloth­ing that spill into ad­join­ing streets near the gothic Hospices. There are sausages in all their herbal vari­a­tions along with mus­tards, can­died gin­ger, nougat and gin­ger­bread, all spe­cial­ties of the re­gion. If you’re af­ter a pic­nic-ready tarte, you’ll find them be­ing kept cool un­der the ven­dors’ tres­tles.

BIKE OR HIKE: Beaune is on Bur­gundy’s fa­mous Route des Grand Crus. Start­ing south of Di­jon, the wine route runs for 60km, wend­ing through lime­stone fields, stone ham­lets and cas­cad­ing vine­yards. You can take a bike and wine tour, where ev­ery­thing is sup­plied, or sim­ply rent a bike from Bour­gogne Ran­don­nees and fill your pan­nier with good­ies. Bik­ing the well­signed velor­oute along the vine­yard paths feels a bit like cy­cling through a wine list. If walk­ing is more con­ducive, there are en­tic­ing paths among Beaune’s vine­yards, pass­ing stone wine-grow­ers’ huts ( cabottes), shaded ex­panses of fir trees, and viaducts. More: bur­gundy­bike­tour.com; bour­gogne-ran­don­nees.fr.

KEEN AS MUS­TARD: Di­jon mus­tard is ac­tu­ally made across the world, the name re­fer­ring not to the ori­gin but the process and ingredients. A visit to the Fal­lot Mus­tard Com­pany is an in­ter­est­ing tan­gent as it has been pro­duc­ing Di­jon mus­tard since 1840 and is the only ar­ti­sanal pro­ducer of same in Bur­gundy. It’s lo­cated a pleas­ant five-minute walk from the town’s cen­tre and tours are avail­able of the mu­seum and the pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity. There’s even a mus­tard bar where you can sam­ple Moutarde de Bour­gogne, with its mag­i­cal in­gre­di­ent of Bur­gun­dian wine. More: fal­lot.com.

STROLL AND SUP: The so­cial scene of Beaune rev volves around Place Carnot, the pic­turesque main square. Moth­ers wheel their prams over the cob­bles to rock their ba­bies to sleep while chil­dren de­light in the fairy­tale carousel and adults play games of gi­ant noughts and crosses set up on the grass. The square’s perime­ter of­fers pur­vey­ors of choco­late and cheese, such as Fro­magerie Hess, where Alain Hess’s fam­ily has been mak­ing cheese for four gen­er­a­tions; try Delice de Pom­mard, a triple cream cheese rolled in Fal­lot’s mus­tard seeds. There’s also a wine cel­lar un­der a glass floor, and an amaz­ing deli of Bur­gun­dian ar­ti­sanal de­lights. For your choco­late and con­fis­erie fix, go no fur­ther than the spe­cialty bou­tique of Alain Batt. For a Miche­lin-star gourmet meal, try Le Jardin des Rem­parts or Loiseau des Vignes; the lat­ter of­fers a list of 70 wines by the glass. For more tra­di­tional Bur­gun­dian cook­ing, I rec­om­mend Ecrit’Vin in Place Carnot. More: fro­mageriehess.com; le-jardin-des-rem­parts.com; alain­batt.com; bernard-loiseau.com; ecritvin.fr.

DIF­FER­ENT STROKES: Tem­pera Art Gallery, in Beaune’s cen­tre, owes its name to the pop­u­lar painting tech­nique of the Mid­dle Ages. The paint­ings and sculp­tures, many by lo­cal Bur­gun­dian mas­ters, in­vite the viewer to day­dream and travel into imag­ined worlds. The Da­lineum, in an 18th-cen­tury man­sion, is the in­spi­ra­tion of a pas­sion­ate col­lec­tor of all cre­ations, Sal­vador Dali. There are more than 100 works on dis­play, cov­er­ing wa­ter­colours, draw­ings, gouaches and sculp­tures that cap­ture Dali’s sur­re­al­ism. There’s even the fa­mous Bocca Sofa de­signed on the volup­tuous lips of Mae West, as well as a great shop to ful­fil those Dali fan­tasies. More: cote­dor-tourisme.com; da­lineum.com.

PEACE­FUL PROMENADES: A pop­u­lar place for time out is at the Parc de la Bouza­ize. The 5ha English-de­signed park am­bles be­side the Bouza­ize River and cam­bers up to the ad­join­ing vine­yards. The river runs un­der the cen­tre of Beaune pro­vid­ing hu­mid­ity for the wine caves. Per­haps go for a ro­man­tic walk along its banks with a back­pack of wine and cheese or take a row in a hire boat. For chil­dren, there’s a carousel to ride, ducks and geese to feed, squab­bling moorhens to be en­ter­tained by, and a pet­ting zoo to ex­plore. BE­TWEEN THE SHEETS: Noth­ing is too far from Beaune’s so­cial epi­cen­tre, with ac­com­mo­da­tion to suit all de­sires, in­clud­ing quirky gites and gypsy car­a­vans. As a few fine ex­am­ples, Ho­tel Athanor, built within a 16th-cen­tury con­vent, blends rus­tic­ity and moder­nity. The grand white­washed Na­jeti Ho­tel de la Poste, a for­mer coach house, is Beaune’s old­est ho­tel and of­fers a clas­si­cal feel of toile fabrics and an­tiques while meet­ing mod­ern ex­pec­ta­tions. A mem­ber of the Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World, the fam­ily-owned Le Cep, pic­tured, is an en­chant­ing fu­sion of pri­vate man­sions, court­yards and a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant. More: poste.na­jeti.fr; slh.com; ho­tel-athanor.com; beaune-tourism.com/ac­com­mo­da­tion. • au.france.fr

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