Let us take you to the Burgundy region of France, a magical area of the country. We find it comfortable (in terms of restaurants, cafés, shops and services), very beautiful, and most of the year not overrun by tourists – though in the height of the season you may in the bigger towns bump into more than a few other people who also want to visit the famous places so well described in the guidebooks.
But elsewhere, in almost any direction there are gorgeous landscapes to inspire you, wonderful little towns to intrigue, and another band of local characters just getting on with local life. In this blog post we’ve listed some of these less obvious places that are our special favorites. Often we find the simple day-to-day activity of the lesser-known towns as interesting as the big tourist attractions. To wander the colorful back streets, to enjoy a cool drink by the river, to find by chance a lively market, a rural fair or a terrific restaurant, these are often the highlights of a trip. Keep on reading to discover Burgundy’s best local visits to explore during your villa vacation.
The wonderfully atmospheric Château de Rully, with its imposing façade and massive round towers overlooking prize vineyards, dates from the 12th century. The present owners, whose family inherited it in 1619, are in a direct line of descent from the family who had it built in the mid 1100s. (The earliest mention of a building on the site was in 851.) The original medieval keep was extended in the Renaissance period to create the vast courtyard and the working buildings with their massive stone roofs – the largest of their kind in Burgundy. Walking through the impressive fortified entrance way gives you vivid idea of how it was in the past. The enormous vaulted kitchen is part of the original keep and its monumental fireplace is big enough to roast an ox! Worth visiting for a wine tasting too as their wines are a connoisseur’s choice.
This small town is a mix of old and new, and you’ll enjoy wandering around the labyrinth of the town center, with its recently restored main square. A must if you’re in search of a gastronomic experience is dinner at Maison Lameloise, one of the legendary restaurants that have gained three Michelin stars. It is here, in Chagny, that a story of Chefs & stars began where three Lameloise generations succeeded each other, Pierre, Jean & Jacques. A long and beautiful gourmet story that has been pursued since 2009 by Chef Eric PRAS.
Another town that owes its importance to being on the main Gallo-Roman road. It was chosen by the initial settlers because of the proximity to the river, which was used for commerce. It has a large old center, with a pretty pedestrian area and an assortment of interesting boutiques, bistros and restaurants.
More recently, Chalon’s claim to fame became centered around photography and film, as it is here that Nicéphore Niepce took the world’s first photograph in 1816. The fascination with the reproduction of images was carried on by others after him, including by Etienne Jules Marey who invented the first chronophotograph, leading eventually to the first films by the Lumière brothers. Be sure to visit the Museum devoted to Niepce and the evolution of photography.
Beaune owes its stature as the focal point of the Burgundy region to one factor – wine. Until fairly recently, Beaune was just another picturesque market town, with medieval features, cobbled streets and a number of historic monuments. In the last hundred years, however, the renown of the local wines has made the town wealthier and more visited than others in the area (such as Nevers, Auxerre or Autun) and its current reputation even dwarfs such statistically larger neighbors as Chalon-sur-Saône and Dijon.
The world’s wine crowds are a hungry bunch, and as prices of Premier Cru have soared, so have the number of excellent local eateries to feed them. From wine bars to Michelin stars, the most varied dining options in the region are scattered around the charming central Place Carnot.
Beaune is criss-crossed with winding alleys and is dotted with historic buildings and squares. The centerpiece is the Hospice de Beaune, a 15thC hospital whose construction was funded by the Rolin family (also influential in Autun) to assure its patron’s safe passage to heaven after a relatively exploitative life. This is a must-visit, made all the more impressive when one learns that it was used as a functioning hospital until the early 1970s. The building is a magnificent piece of architecture, with its glistening multicolored ceramic tile roof, matched by the collection of medieval medical items which provide a fascinating window into life during the Middle Ages.
The most compelling reason to visit can easily be missed. Don’t make this mistake! One of the greatest paintings of the 16th century, Roger van der Weyden’s Christ of the Last Judgment, is housed in a gallery near the end of the tour. This is a true masterpiece and deserves an extended viewing to properly appreciate its artistry and significance. Originally this polyptych was hung in the main hospital ward as a preview of the fate of deathly ill patients: on one side, the blessed are welcomed to Heaven, while the opposite side depicts horrific scenes of Purgatory and Hell.
The Chalonnais region, has many villages and towns to see. It is known for its museums, historical architecture and extremely animated street life and leisure life, as well as for its vineyards: Rully, Mercurey, Givry, Montagny, Bouzeron, Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise, Crémant de Bourgogne. Some of the local dishes include Saône river perch, pochouse, poached eggs in a meurette (red wine sauce), poultry in a wine sauce and of course boeuf bourguignon.
Chalon-sur-Saône is the region’s cultural and economic center.
Buxy is one of the chief centers of production for the Côte Chalonnaise vineyards, and has a wine museum.
Givry is renowned for its red wines, which were much admired by Henry IV.
Mercurey is the ideal place for wine lovers, where they can find excellent Côte Challonais red and white wines. Its main street dates from Gallo-Roman times and is lined with maisons nobles and wineries.
Sennecey-le-Grand is another interesting town, with a rich heritage of architecture and of arts and crafts. Some places to see include the chapel of St. Médard, the Château de Ruffey and the Château de la Tour.
The Le Creusot-Montceau region lies south of the Morvan. This area was one of the earliest centers in France of the Industrial Revolution as it had access to coal, and waterways for transporting heavy goods and materials. The cities of Le Creusot and Montceau are industrial centers which still show traces of these times. Worth a visit in Le Creusot is the Château de la Verrerie, a castle which has been turned into a museum that tells the story of the crystal glassworks and of the Schneider family, a steel industry dynasty. The area around the Canal du Centre in Montceau tells another part of the story of the early days of industry.
If you’re looking for a luxurious way to experience the Burgundy region, we offer luxury villas for your stay. Alternatively, if you prefer an active vacation, we also offer private luxury biking tours where you can explore the region’s beauty and taste its delicacies. Check out HV Travel’s Burgundy Biking Tour for more information.