Beaune, “the Capital of Burgundy”
Beaune is the capital of the Côte de Beaune, which together with the Côte de Nuits makes up the Côte d’Or, the heart of Burgundy. Côte d’Or is a small wine district some 80 kilometres long, from Santenay in the south to Marsannay in the north. For the wine traveller Beaune, that lies in the middle, is the perfect point of departure for a roundtrip amongst the Burgundy vineyards.
Beaune has a population of approximately 20,000 people. It is not only one of France’s most well-known wine-producing towns. It is also a town rich in history. Here you will find cobblestone streets flanked by lovely, well preserved medieval houses with charming courtyards. And of course, the fantastic Hôtel-Dieu, which alone makes it worthwhile to visit Beaune. Hôtel Dieu is owned by the charity institution Hospices de Beaune.
But the most valuable treasures in Beaune are not immediately visible. Who would suspect that hidden away in underground cellars lie bottles of wine worth – well I would not even hazard a guess at their value.
Many famous wine houses, négociants, have their offices and cellars in Beaune itself. Joseph Drouhin, Louis Jadot, Louis Latour, Bouchard Aîné, Bouchard Père et Fils, Patriarche, Chanson and many more. The two last you can visit quite easily for a nominal entrance fee. It is worth it, just to get a look at their impressive cellars. The cellar of Patriarche with its 15,000 square metres of wine storage, is, it is said, the largest cellar in Burgundy.
Naturally, there are plenty of restaurants, cafés, wine shops and everything else you need to make for a pleasant visit. But watch out for the wines stores. Some of them are tourist traps. Buying red bourgogne is always a bit risky because the quality varies enormously between the different producers.
A coffee on the central square, Place Carnot, a glass of wine in one of the wine bars, or perhaps a Kir for apéritif. There are many excellent restaurants, ranging from typically Burgundian to star chefs. There is even one or two excellent Japanese restaurants, a cuisine that goes excellently with the “local” wines.
For the soul, Hôtel Dieu, and an impressive hospital
The Hôtel Dieu is one of France’s great attractions. Situated right in the centre of Beaune, it is a fine example of that special Flemish/Burgundian style that existed here during the 15th century. At the request of the ruling Duke of Burgundy, artists and painters from both Paris and Flanders moved to Dijon and helped with the ornamentation.
The building was completed in 1443 and has functioned as a charitable hospital from that time right up to 1971 when the hospital moved to more appropriate modern buildings on the outskirts of town and the Hôtel Dieu was made into a museum.
It is impressive from the outside but do not miss going inside as well. The inner courtyard, with its colourful patterned roofs, so typically Burgundian, is the biggest attraction.
The Hospices de Beaune also owns 75 hectares of vineyards, predominantly in Côte de Beaune. The wine from these vineyards is auctioned off with pomp and circumstance the third weekend in November every year. The income goes to the running of the hospital.
For the mind – books, and more books
Eating and drinking is a pleasant occupation, but it is also nice to read about food and wine. I recommend a visit to the Athenaeum opposite the H0tel Dieu. This shop sells a remarkable assortment of wine accessories, wine and books, as well as other things that do not have anything to do with wine whatsoever.
The biggest section is the book department, with an unbelievable collection of food and wine books, in both English and French. Here you will find editions that you cannot find anywhere else. You will gladly linger for a long time happily browsing. They even have our own book on organic wines on their shelves.
For the body – cafés and restaurants
In all probability, after all this browsing, you will be in the mood for a glass of wine. You can either choose one of the cafés on the town square, the Place Carnot, a few meters from the Athenaeum, or the little Bistro Bourguignon, which is both a wine bar and restaurant with a very ambitious cook. Jazz concerts are held here on Saturday evenings.
Or go along to the Marche aux Vins, which lies between the Hospices de Beaune and the Athenaeum, housed inside an old church from the 14th century. Which incidentally is the oldest church in Beaune. Here, for a small fee, you can taste a large selection of Burgundy wines of various vintages in an old vaulted cellar.
In Beaune, you can eat well and it is easy to find restaurants that serve Burgundian specialities like jambon persillé which you eat with an aligoté, a simple white Burgundy wine; or oeufs en meurette (poached egg in a red wine sauce). You will find snails prepared in a variety of ways and of course the classics, beef bourguignon and coq au vin. If you are looking for more sophisticated food then there is the Le Benaton, which received its first Michelin star a few years ago, or the very popular La Ciboulette.
The style of the Burgundian kitchen is a little bit on the rustic side. You always have to remember to save a little space for the tasty local cheeses, in particular the rich époisses.
The époisses is not produced industrially anywhere at all. It is still produced by hand according the original method developed by the monks. During the three-month-long maturation phase, the cheese is washed regularly with marc de bourgogne. Marc is the local grappa, in other words a brandy that is produced by distilling the grape skins and pips remaining after pressing the grapes. A small marc is excellent when you have eaten just a tiny bit too much of the Burgundian specialities.
Another great speciality in Bourgogne is the pain d’épices, which is a kind of soft ginger biscuit with a honey and aniseed taste. And of course the Dijon mustard and the black currant liqueur.
The classic apéritif Kir originated here, invented by Father Félix Kir. It should always be made with an aligoté white wine with a dash of the cassis (black currant) liqueur.
Should you get tired of the local gastronomy, then you can try Restaurant Bissoh, a Japanese restaurant with good sushi and meat that is prepared traditionally in the middle of the restaurant. Their wine list is one of the best in town.
A walk in the vineyards
Leave the town for a while for a stroll out to the vineyards – it is just a short stroll on foot. Beaune is one of the biggest appellations in the Côte d’Or. There are many well-known vineyards within walking distance from the town centre. Vineyards like Les Teurons and Les Grèves.
It is always fun to go out to the vineyards, whatever the season, just to look at the vines, the soil, the pruning and other methods that are employed. You learn a lot. And after all the food, you probably need the exercise.
The restaurant scene – as well as wine shops – can change fairly quickly. If someone on the list has disappeared, or if you have suggestions for new ones, please let us know!
Ma Cuisine, passage Sainte-Helene ph:03 80 22 30 22. You will find this very popular little restaurant in a pleasant passage by the Place Carnot. Good prices, pleasant service, emphasis on local gastronomy. (approx 30 euros for a meal). Reservation recommended.
La Ciboulette, 69 Rue de Lorraine; ph: 03 80 24 70 72. French cuisine with a certain elegance (45-60 euros for a meal).
Le Bistrot Bourguignon, 8 rue Monge, ph: 24 03 80 22 23. Wine Bar and restaurant, wines by the glass that are not expensive and exciting food. (from 20 euros)
Le Benaton, 25 rue du Faubourg Bretonniere, ph: 03 80 22 00 26. This restaurant received a well deserved Michelin star (Guide Rouge) a few years ago. (menu from 50 euros)
Caveau des Arches, 10, Boulevard Perpreuil, ph: 03 22 10 37 A fine old vaulted cellar serving French specialities. (menu from 23 euros)
La Part des Anges, 24 bis, rue d’Alsace, ph: 03 22 07 68. Trendy, stylish Restaurant and Wine bar.
Restaurant Bissoh,. Japanese restaurant, very high-class, superb wine list (40-60 euro).
Note: In season it can be difficult to get a table in some of the restaurants. It can be a good idea to book if you have decided where you want to go.
Cave du Passage Sainte-Helene, Passage Sainte-Helene, belongs to the restaurant Ma Cuisine. This seems to have closed.
Athenaeum de la Vigne et du Vin, 7, rue de l’Hotel-Dieu
Patriarche Pere & Fils, 7 rue du College, ph 03 80 24 53 78
Marche aux Vins, 2 rue Nicolas-Rolin
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