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Beaune, France – Charming Village in the Heart of Burgundy

What to do, where to eat and drink in the wine capital of Côte d’Or

BEAUNE, France – Bright, tiled roofs.

Winding, cobblestone streets.

Hearty French food.

World-class wine.

Lots and lots of wine. And not just in the charming restaurants and bars scattered around this historic, walled town. In this small, French village in the heart of Burgundy, everything seems to revolve around wine—from its festivals to its world-famous annual wine auction to the underground cellars. All of the alleyways and roads seem to inevitably lead to a winery or a vineyard or a vat filled with wine.

But there’s more to Beaune than its world-renowned wineries. So if you need a break from wine tasting in Burgundy or simply feel like exploring one of France’s most charming villages, you’ve come to the right spot to relax, wander, linger, or perhaps a little of all of the above. Beaune has it all.

Brief History

Beaune has long, rich history dating back to prehistoric times when people first began settling in this pastoral part of France. Ancient Romans lived here starting in the third century. Later, Beaune became an important city in the Kingdom of Burgundy. The Dukes of Burgundy lived here in the 1200s and formed a parliament. Then in the 1400s, France took over control of the town.

But no matter who ruled or lived in Beaune, wine always seemed to be an important part of the city. The Romans grew grapes and made wine here. So did the Dukes of Burgundy. They also stored their wine in the city’s ancient cellars, which later housed wines for certain kings of France. Nowadays, many wine merchants are based in this city located in the heart of the Côte d’Or, the world-renowned wine region in Burgundy.

When to Go

There’s no bad time to go to Beaune. Certain times of year simply offer different attractions. Summer’s probably the most popular time of year when tourists descend upon this charming town and the days are long and warm. Temperatures rarely climb above the mid-70s in July and August and rarely dip below the mid-50s at night. Spring is another great time of year to visit the town center’s less crowded and there’s plenty to explore on foot.

But for many people, the best time of year to visit is the fall. That’s when the grapes are harvested in nearby vineyards. It’s also when Beaune hosts its most famous annual event—the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction. Held the third Sunday of November every year since 1859, the auction is part of a three-day festival devoted to great wine and food and attracts wine lovers from around the world.

 

But don’t dismiss visiting Beaune in winter. While the weather might be cold and rainy then, there’s nothing more relaxing than curling up in front of a blazing fire and enjoying a glass of red (or white) wine from one of Burgundy’s nearby vineyards.

How to Get Here

Located in between Dijon and Lyon, there are two main ways to get to Beaune from Paris and other major cities in Europe—by train or by car. Beaune has a train station not far from the city center that is well served by commuter trains, which run regularly from Dijon in the north to Lyon in the south. To get to Dijon from Paris, high-speed TGV trains run regularly between the two cities. Overall, the trip by train from Paris to Beaune via Dijon normally takes around two and a half hours.

The other popular way to get to Beaune is by car. Driving from Paris to Beaune takes around three hours. But if you don’t feel like driving the entire way, one alternative is to rent a car in Dijon after taking the train and drive 30 miles south to Beaune.

And while you could take the highway and be in Beaune in less than 40 minutes, definitely take the Route des Grands Crus if you have time. This winding, two-lane road will take you through some of the most iconic wine villages in Côte de Nuits, the northern half of the Côte d’Or. Such villages include Chambolle-Musigny, Clos de Vougeot, and Romanée-Conti. To the south of Beaune, you can take the Route des Grands Crus and visit many of villages in Côte de Beaune, the southern half of the Côte d’Or. Famous wine villages in Côte de Beaune include Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet.

What to Do

Many people use Beaune as a base to explore wineries along Burgundy’s Grand Cru route to the north and south. But there’s also plenty to see in Beaune itself. And first and foremost, make sure you make time to visit the Hospices de Beaune (Rue de l’Hôtel Dieu). Founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor, the old hospital (patients are treated nowadays in a nearby, modern facility) immediately stands out with its multi-colored, glazed tile roof. Inside, the old hospital has been transformed into a museum documenting what life used to be like there. Rows of curtained beds line one of the barrel-vaulted rooms. Other rooms contain historic paintings, tapestries, murals, and antique kitchenware.

Another must-see attraction in Beaune is a tour of the wine cellars of Maison Joseph Drouhin (1 Place du Général Leclerc). Even if you’re not a wine lover, you’ll be captivated by the historic, dimly lit cellars that date back thousands of years. The tour lasts roughly 90 minutes and includes a wine tasting. Reservations recommended. Before or after, make sure to stop in the Basilique Notre-Dame de Beaune (4 Impasse Notre Dame), a stone church dating back to the 12th century featuring 15th-century tapestries inside.

Also, make sure you take time to explore the ramparts on the walled part of Beaune. Dating back to the 12th century and finished in the 17th century, the circular ramparts and high stone walls provide a unique vantage point to explore Beaune. If you have time, stop along the way at Château de Beaune, which now serves as headquarters for Bouchard Père & Fils (15 Rue du Château), which uses one of the towers as a wine cellar. Reservations recommended.

Where to Stay

The best place to stay and fully appreciate the old-world ambiance of Beaune is Hôtel Le Cep (27 Rue Maufoux). Located in the city center, this 64-room, the five-star hotel oozes charm and makes you feel like you stepped back in time once you walk inside this inviting hotel with a cozy bar area and large fireplace.

If you prefer something more modern, the five-star Hostellerie Le Cèdre (12 Boulevard Maréchal Foch) also provides guests with a prime location for exploring Beaune’s winding streets. And if you want to get away from everything, a few miles outside Beaune, there’s the five-star, Relais & Châteaux property of Hostellerie de Levernois (Rue du Golf, 21200 Levernois) located near an 18-hole golf course.

Where to Shop

You could spend hours wandering from one store to another in Beaune’s charming city center. Wine lovers will especially enjoy the wide selection of well-stocked stores selling many of Burgundy’s finest wines.

But if you’re not sure exactly what you want, you can’t go wrong browsing around the Athenaeum De La Vigne Et Du Vin (5 Rue de l’Hôtel Dieu). Part wine store, part bookstore, you can also find glassware, old maps, high-end pens, souvenirs, music, and much, much more.

Where to Eat

For such a small town, there are many outstanding places where you can find escargot, Boeuf Bourguignon, and other hearty Burgundian specialties in Beaune. Some of Beaune’s best restaurants include:

Le Jardin des Remparts (10, rue de l’Hôtel-Dieu) – A Michelin-starred restaurant in a charming, garden-like setting, this restaurant specializes in new French cuisine featuring seasonal, local ingredients.

Le Carmin (4B, place Carnot) – Another Michelin-starred restaurant, this light-filled, stone-walled gourmet restaurant regularly adjusts its menu based on what’s fresh and in season in Beaune.

Le Relais de Saulx (6 Rue Louis Véry) – Tucked on a side street near the Hospices de Beaune, this charming restaurant serves outstanding French food at reasonable prices. Reservations recommended.

Ecrit’Vin (8 Place Carnot) – Located on Place Carnot, the small park in the heart of the village, this intimate restaurant has a library-like feel and serves outstanding, straightforward food, particularly its Boeuf bourguignon and mouthwatering Challans duck with “confit” of vegetables

Where to Drink

There are dozens of bars to choose from in Beaune. But when it comes to ambience and atmosphere, make sure to set aside time to have a drink or two outside (even in winter) at one of the bars facing Place Carnot, the small park with a carousel. Le Grand Café de Lyon (36 Place Carnot) has numerous tables outside facing Place Carnot.

Other great places to have a drink or a meal in Beaune include La Maison du Colombier (1 Rue Charles Cloutier), 21 Boulevard (21 Boulevard Saint-Jacques), as well as the hotel bar at Le Cep, which has an extensive wine list and a cozy, wood-burning fireplace for those cold days or nights in Beaune.

No wonder so many people return again and again to this charming village in the heart of one of the most amazing wine regions in the world. There’s something for everyone to enjoy in Beaune.

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Written by Ken Ross

A professional journalist since 1993, Ken Ross writes about cocktails, wine, classical music, dance, art, skiing and anything else that pays the bills. You can read his weekly wine column, Wine Press, at Masslive.com every Monday. Follow Ken Ross on Twitter. He lives in Massachusetts.

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