Villages and Towns

 

Beaune

At the heart of the Burgundian vineyards lies Beaune, a name synonymous with good wine: that is why a visit to this ancient city, which boasts a splendid architectural heritage and some fine museums. First a Gaulish centre and then an outpost of Rome, Beaune was the residence of the dukes of Burgundy up to the 14th century, before they moved permanently to Dijon. The original charter of communal liberties granted by Duke Eudes in 1203 is the in the town’s archives. The fortifications and towers that exist today were built from the 15th century onwards. After the death of the last Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, in 1477, the town stubbornly refused all efforts to annex it by Louis XI and surrendered only after a siege lasting five weeks. Content source: Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide. There is a food market every Wednesday and Saturday morning.

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Dijon

The Roman fortress known as Castrum Divionense, located on the military road from Lyon to Mainz, was long a secondary settlement. Sacked, pillaged and burned on numerous occasions, to be built up again, Dijon entered history in 1015, when it was taken by the French king Robert the Pious. In 1137, a terrible fire razed the city. Change came when the duchy became an integral part of the kingdom of France. The local population rose up against annexation by the Louis XI, and suffered at the hands of the King’s troops. But certain concessions were won: The Etat de Bourgogne (regional assembly made up of representatives from the Clergy, the Nobility and the Third Estate) was maintained in the old ducal palace, along with various other privileges and, most importantly, the Burgundy Parliament was transferred from Beaune to Dijon. The King visited Saint-Bénigne in 1479 and solemnly swore to preserve “the freedoms, liberties, protections, rights and privileges” previously enjoyed by the duchy. Nonetheless, he did build a fortress, repair the fortifications and appoint a governor. From 1851 onwards, the construction of the railway from Paris through Dijon and to the Mediterranean brought new life and new people: the population doubled between 1850 and 1892, as the industrial era took hold. The old district around the palace of the dukes of Burgundy is quite charming. As you stroll along the streets, many of which are for pedestrians only, you will come across beautiful old stone mansions and numerous half-timbered 15th to 16th century houses. The remains of the ducal palace are now surrounded by buildings in the Classical style. Content source: Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide. The food market in “Les Halles” is open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings.

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Vézelay

The beautiful setting of Vézelay, built on a hill overlooking the Cure Valley, the basilica of Saint-Madeleine towering over the town with its old houses and ramparts, constitute one of the treasures of Burgundy and France. Girart de Roussillon, count of Burgundy, a legendary hero whose exploits were sung in the ballad-chronicles of the Middle Ages, who was the founder of the abbey of Vézelay. In the middle of the 9th century he established a group of monks where Saint-Père stands today. After the destruction of the monastery during the Viking invasions, a new monastery was established on a nearby hill, a natural position more easily defended. Pope John VIII consecrated the foundation of the abbey of Vézelay in 878. The abbey was at the height of its glory when Saint Bernard preached the Second Crusade at Vézelay on 31 March 1146. For a century the church had sheltered the relics of Mary Magdalene, the beloved and pardoned sinner. Vézelay was then one of the greatest places of pilgrimage and the start of one of four routes that led pilgrims and merchants across France into Spain and Santiago de Compostela. It was form the side of this hill of inspiration that Saint-Bernard launched his vibrant call for the Crusade, in the presence of King Louis VII of France and his family as well as a crowd of powerful barons. Such was the authority of the Abbot of Clairvaux that he was considered as the real leader of Christianity. His call was received with great enthusiasm by all present who undertook the leave for the Holy Land without delay. Content source: Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide.

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Flavigny-sur-Ozerain

Recently, Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is knows for the movie set of “Chocolat” with Johnny Depp. Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is perched on a rock isolated by three streams. It was a seat of an Abbey since the 8th century and a fortified township in the Middle Ages. Flavigny no longer has its former importance. Its narrow streets, flanked by old mansions, its fortified gateways and the remains of its ramparts recall its past grandeur. Aniseed Candy from the Abbaye de Flavigny – this famous local confection, a tiny seed coated in snow-white sugar, has been made in the old abbey since the 9th century. Content source: Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide. There is a food market every Sunday mornings.

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Noyers

Upriver from Chablis, this charming medieval town has retained its interesting architectural heritage: timber-framed houses or gabled stone ones with quaint outside stairs, cellar doors opening onto picturesque streets and tiny squares…form a most attractive setting enhanced at night by discreet lighting. Between June and September, the Rencontres musicales du Noyers delight music lovers. Stroll through the town, admiring the 14th and 15th century timber-framed houses in place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, the arcaded stone house and Renaissance mansion in place du Marché-au-Blé, the Renaissance façade and square tower of the Eglise Notre-Dame, and follow rue du Poids-du-Roy to the tiny place de la Petit-Etape-aux-Vins. From place du Grenier-à-sel, a passageway leads to the river bank; here, a promenade planted with plane trees offers a pleasant walk and the opportunity to see the seven defensive towers still standing (out of a total of 23), which used to protected the town. Content source: Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide. There is a food market every Wednesday mornings.

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Auxerre

Auxerre, the capital of Lower Burgundy, is built on a sloping site on a hillside beside the River Yonne, at the beginning of the Nivernais canal. The site has also lent itself to the building of a pleasure boat harbour. The town’s fine monuments, testifying to its great past, are highlighted in summer by a son et lumière show near the cathedral; its shady boulevards, its steep and busy streets and its old houses contribute to its overall interest. From the bridges, most particularly from Pont Paul-Bert and the right bank of the river, there are some very fine views of the town, made all the more striking as the chevets of the churches rise straight up along the river bank. There is a food market every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.

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Autun

The cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Lazare), the museums and the Roman remains bear witness to the town’s past greatness. The Gallo-Roman town, built under the Emperor Augustus (Augustodunum), was completed at the end of the 1st century A.D. to replace the Gallic town of Bibracte on the summit of Mont-Beuvray. For some two hundred centuries, this town was renowned for it university and was a melting pot of Gauls and Romans. It contained fifty-four circular towers (now destroyed), four monumental gates (two of which – Porte d’Arroux and Porte Saint-André – still stand), the largest theatre (Théâtre Romain) in Gaul (which could house twenty thousand spectators and has been partially restored), the amphitheatre, razed in the 18th century, the Temple de Janus (an imaginary name given to the impressive ruins of a Romanised Gallic sanctuary) and nearby monuments – such as an arena or theatre, an amphitheatre, temples and thermal baths – that have not yet been uncovered. Nearby is the pyramid of Couhard, a funeral monument from the ancient town (1st century A.D.), standing almost 100 feet high on a square base. No one knows its purpose for sure. For many years, it was the focus of esoteric beliefs. The Rolin museum (Musée Rolin) contains many souvenirs of Bibracte and Augustodunum, including mosaics, crockery and religious objects. Content source: Wonderful Burgundy and Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide. There is a food market every Wednesday and Friday mornings.

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Chablis

Tucked away in the valley of the River Serein, between Auxerre and Tonnerre, Chablis is the capital of the prestigious wine-growing region of lower Burgundy. Consider it a big village, or a little town, Chablis itself still has a medieval feel, harking back to its heyday in the 16th century. The annual wine fair and the village fairs held in honour of Saint Vincent, patron on wine-growers, in November and late January recall the town’s lively commercial past. Content source: Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide. There is a food market every Sunday mornings.

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Avallon

The pretty town, located on a rocky outcrop high above the Cousin Valley, still has its old fortified town centre. Avallon is also the ideal starting point of excursions into the surrounding area and the Morvan region. A powerful stronghold – Avallon was during the Middle Ages one of the key cities of Burgundy: anyone wanting to conquer the duchy had to take Avallon. In 1432, Jacques d’Espailly, known as Forte-Epice, and his band of adventurers from the nearby Nivernais region seized several castles of lower Burgundy. Protected by their fortifications, the people of Avallon did not feel threatened; however, Forte-Epice took the guard by surprise, climbed the walls and seized the town. Called to the rescue, the Duke of Burgundy hurried back, made a breach in the city walls with a bombard and launched an attack, but his troops were forced to withdraw. Infuriated by this delay, he immediately called on knights and cross-bowmen whereupon Forte-Epice disappeared through one of the posterns opening onto the riverside, abandoning his men there and then. Content source: Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide. There is a food market every Saturday mornings.

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Semur-en-Auxois

This medieval town is tightly packed with lightly coloured houses, which stand on top of a rose-tinted granite cliff, overlooking a deep ravine at the bottom of which the River Armançon. Above the houses and cascade of gardens rise the great red-slated towers of the castle keep (Semur became the strong point of the duchy in the 14th century when the citadel was reinforced by ramparts and 18 towers) and the slender spire of the church of Notre-Dame. The church of Notre-Dame was founded in the 11th century, rebuilt in the 13th and 14th century, altered in the 15th and 16th century, extended by the addition of chapels to the north aisle and restored by Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79). Content source: Michelin’s Burgundy/Jura The Green Guide. There is a small food market every Sunday mornings.

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5 Recommended day trips