A newly-opened stretch of ‘auto-route‘ leading towards Beaune, the famed Burgundy wine town, early in the morning and yes, I tested the Renault’s ability to move along and that it did – and before you tsk-tsk as soon as it hit the 200 kph (120 mph) I immediately eased up on the accelerator.
(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)
The anticipation of fine wine tasting and excellent cuisine spurred me on – couldn’t get there fast enough. Yeah, the devil made me do it!
‘Autoroutes’ are ‘péage‘, it costs but if you are in a hurry it pays off in saved time and in less fuel spent. ‘Départment’ is the French equivalent of a province or American state, of course nothing close to the same size territory but often with a larger population. Generally, when possible I look for the D signs indicating a regional road to travel from town to town and I’m never disappointed as you wander through the ancient ways and byways of what the French refer to as ‘La France Profonde‘, or alternatively ‘Douce France‘. Indeed the finest of what this superlatively endowed country offers is often in small, out of the way towns and villages. Getting there is half the fun too.
Somewhere on the way from Blois, one of the well-preserved fortified chateaus that dot the French country side – I don’t even know its name.
Vineyards here, there and everywhere – there’s something soothing in the orderly, symmetrical rows going up a gentle slope framed by a wooded backdrop. I always find reassurance in such scenery; must have to do with my familiarity with such panorama from my childhood years in Ay-Champagne.
Beaune is the capital of the justly celebrated ‘Vin de Bourgogne‘ and of course the culinary world dotes on heavenly Dijon mustard. Both of these towns boast of a unique, rich and varied cultural heritage that should make a visit a must on any serious traveler’s agenda. Beaune is south of Dijon, a little over 30 kilometres and going to or from it winds its way along the famous ‘Route de Grand Crus’. Remnants from medieval times are abundant and walking the streets a pleasant dip in the limpid pool of days past.
Medieval city gate ‘Porte Saint Nicolas’ in Beaune is one of the many monuments and buildings the city preserves with care and pride.
Burgundy domaine names that are sure to pass any wine ‘connaisseurs’ lips, figuratively and literally with blissful pleasure and anticipation.
Beaune features a plethora of reputed wine merchants where one can taste the wines ‘gratis‘ before making a decision on which of the fine ‘cru‘ to buy – warning, some of the prices do require a sober judgment but the quality of course is ‘impeccable!‘ It’s a sensual pleasure every one should indulge in no matter how much it pinches your wallet. You only live once and surely you’d not pass up a slab of bbq pork ribs in Chattanooga, would you? Or turn down a beer in Pilsen, right? When in Rome do as the Romans, eat a good plate of pasta.
A welcoming parochial church I passed by each day on my way to the ‘centre ville’. The affluent city of Beaune I’ve visited on occasion before but it never fails to surprise and delight in new ways.
A medieval treasure is the Hospices de Beaune, also known as ‘Hôtel-Dieu’. Built for the poor and sick at the end of the Hundred Years War in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin and his wife. It features and instantly recognizable geometric glazed-tiled roof of interwoven red, green, brown and yellow tiles. The generosity of the benefactors was emulated by other wealthy and powerful families in the region, notably Pommard, Nolay, Meursault so that collectively they have become known as the ‘Hospices de Beaune’. It’s one of the finest example of 15th Century French architecture, this particular building referred to as an emblematic example of Flamboyant Gothic – the facades facing the main courtyard are eye-catching and unique.
Huh… I have to come up with a different pose – you think?
A view of the main ward – would you believe it was in use until very recently when the last patients were transferred to a modern facility although still in use as a retirement home. Indeed, it has presently been transformed into a splendid museum endowed with some 5000 objet d’art and artistic treasures.
Undoubtedly the clean and comfortable convalescence nooks where undreamed of luxury for the sick and downtrodden of ancient days. The aptly named Sisters of Mercy must have appeared as Angels of Mercy, and surely they were heaven sent for the grateful patients.
At one end of the main ward an altar and chapel richly adorned with many artistic treasures among them a famous altar piece ‘The Last Judgment’ by Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden.
Each year since 1851, in November, a charity auction of wine kicks off a three day festival devoted to the food and wines of Burgundy. The Domaine des Hospices de Beaune is a non-profit organization which owns 150 acres of donated vineyards, in Côte de Beaune, Côtes de Nuits and Pouilly-Fuissé, need I point out much of it classified Grand and Premier Cru. The proceeds go to its charitable work in keeping with its long tradition of caring for the poor and sick. Since 1905 the auction has been organized by famed Christie’s and it entices international bids from professional and private buyers.
The central fountain in Le vieux Dijon provides a meeting place for old and young alike – ancient buildings well preserved serve as a scenery backdrop and of course notice the ubiquitous carousel just behind . Although Dijon is a fine city with an illustrious past it somehow slips below the radar of travelers to France (even the French somehow by-pass it); go for it and I promise it will beguile the most jaded tourist.
A quick 30 minutes north from Beaune you’ll come to Dijon, an ancient medieval city reputed as a focal point of French gastronomy (be sure to feast on coq au vin and sip on a delicious crème de cassis liqueur) as well as a lively university town thriving with world class art museums such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Fortunately unlike the majority of large towns in the northern mid half of France it escaped major destruction in World War II, lucky for us who have the good ‘nose’ to find it on our journey.
Eglise Saint Michel in the background and another one, nameless I’m ashamed to admit, in the foreground. There are churches around every corner in this town and as I was struck by the far one I neglected the nearest – mea culpa!
Eglise Saint Michel, an eye-catching and unusual architecture for this part of France.
Beautiful stain glass windows adorn the main facade as seen from the interior. I hold the belief the creation of stained glass art is taken too much for granted and not appreciated to its full value. Perhaps it’s the distance between object and viewer that is the cause, not often can we stand as close as to a painting in a gallery. Other than Marc Chagall, I know of no other artist of note that is celebrated for their stained glass work. Am I wrong?
After Mt. St. Michel I meet the victorious archangel again in Dijon pitchforking the loser out of heaven and into the abyss of darkness.
Hey, I do have another pose – must remember it. Liberation Square fronting the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon is spacious and a favourite meeting place.
City Hall part of the complex Ducal palace where important matters are dealt with – example, getting hitched!
Getting married in Dijon is serious business – first you must pass identification procedures. Perhaps giving the couple one last chance to change their minds?
Let joy reign supreme for now – notice the two walking away couldn’t care less.
And of course, THE world’s best mustard and where it all originated, right there, in that very same shop. Before entering I felt almost as pious as going on pilgrimage to Lourdes. Dijon mustard is near must on my dinner table, anytime, well maybe not for seafood.
Oy, that pose, again! I really have to stop that from becoming a habit. Sure, sure!
The array of different flavored mustards would take a year to taste each and every one on a daily basis. Yet, for the pleasure of my taste buds nothing beats the ‘Dijon Originale’. I use it as a condiment but often as the base for savoury sauces; generously dabbed on sautéed chunks of pork tenderloin or cheaper cuts of beef it will wring out flavour beyond your expectations. Incidentally, don’t let on this gastronomy secret to your dinner guests, it’s ours to know and keep.
Dijon is a hub for cultural events celebrating a glorious tradition in arts and of course its illustrious viniculture. Ducal banners from different ‘houses’ are a reminder of the pomp and glamour associated with the wealthy proprietors of world-famed vineyards and superb wines.
Notice there is no traffic on the street – how I wish we could emulate here in Vancouver this civilized concept where pedestrian traffic is favoured over noisy, polluting cars. The banners are a reminder of past glories and present-day respect for its regional history. That’s it for this short visit to Beaune and Dijon, more coming your way but as the song said – don’t know when, don’t know where but we’ll meet again, count on it.