Thierry insisted that the wind would be colder as we drive to the hotel. So we took his word, and sat in the open jeep, tucked up like two toddlers, in fluffy blankets. Thierry revved up the engine. And Beaune unfolded like a pop-up book filled with dreamlike cutouts and surprises tucked away in every corner.
How banal can words describing a place be! On Google, Beaune is an ancient town, encircled by medieval ramparts, with remnants of a long history starting from the pre-Roman era through to the Renaissance. Words are so two dimensional. Words don’t show you the many hues of fall leaves, or the blinking lights of the city centre carousal, the steam escaping a freshly rolled crepe, or the heady buzz of that famous Burgundian wine. Beaune refuses to fold itself in words. It insists on being seen, heard, and touched. It needs to be experienced.
Warm Smiles And Happy Folks
Thierry Jeannet, director of operations at Hotel Le Cep – our accommodation in Beaune, was waiting for us at the Gare de Beaune. If you were to bottle the warmth of the morning sun, and pour it into a man with a smile that goes right upto his eyes, you will get Thierry. We soon realized that it’s the Beaune effect. A small sleepy town with a population of about 23 thousand. It’s a laid back life of long lunches, leisurely strolls to work and back, stores closing early, and nearly everyone in the town knowing everyone else. And yet, the vibe is anything but ancient. It’s very here and now. Not electric and throbbing, like it is in Paris. But cool and relaxed, like rare luxury and finer things in life are.
People are warm. Warm. A four lettered word that’s really just a small key to a large treasure of what humans can be. Warm, as in welcoming. Warm, as in happy. Warm, as in I-have-known-you-forever friendly. When you are a traveler, tired from a commute, lugging your baggage around an unknown town, looking for a new address, Warm folks are your rescue, your respite. And Beaune has them aplenty.
A little girl with flying pigtails smiles at you shyly when you wave at her. A man walking two tiny dogs greets you at a lonely kerb. A group of teenagers help you read the map when you are lost. A server at the café asks you if the chocolate is hot enough. A resto-bar owner wants to delve deeper when she sees you don’t eat bread. Everyone in Beaune knows everyone around. And you will feel that you’ve known them too.
Explore. Experience. Enjoy.
Hardly a twenty minutes train ride away from Dijon – the capital city of Burgundy, Beaune has enough to fill your visit with memories. Ancient architecture, world-class gastronomy, cobbled streets and stone buildings. Everything is a walk away. And there is plenty to see and experience. It’s a bit unfair to give a number to the things to do in Beaune, but such is the limitation of language. So use this guide as a starting point. It’s just to get you started. Beaune will hold your hand and take it from there.
Place Carnot, in the centre of the town, will give a famished visitor ample choice of restaurants with rows and rows of outdoor tables, and places serving traditional dishes. Most of these are reasonably priced and serve exquisite Burgundian dishes, including Escargots de Bourgogne (snails with a lot of butter and garlic), Boeuf Bourguignon, Oeufs en Meurette (eggs poached in red wine), Coq au Vin, and frogs legs.
La Maison Du Colombier is a charming gastrobar in the heart of Beaune. It serves tapas, sandwiches, platters of charcuterie, starters and main dishes, plus cheeses and desserts. Their wine list includes more than 900 references, and a great selection of wines by the glass can be had with your leisurely meal.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Michelin Star restaurant, Loiseau des Vignes, opened by Dominique Loiseau in 2007, in the historic centre of Beaune, 250 metres from the Hospices, just beside the Hotel Le Cep. They offer an extensive choice of wines that you can order by the glass! Fine ingredients and beautiful preparations made our dinner a memorable meal. The dinner menu started with an amuse-bouche, and was followed by Snails of the meadows of Fontaines— followed by a juicy Quenelle of Pikeperch in pink Crement. This was followed by an exquisite cheese course and a flamboyant dessert – Crepe Soufflee with apricot and blueberry flaour.
If you are in a mood for a quick stroll across the town, you can pack a quick picnic with bread, croissants, sandwiches, and quiches from the many boulangeries and pâtisseries in Beaune.
La Maison Du Colombier: http://www.maisonducolombier.com/#!home
Beaune’s streets are lined with wine merchants, vineyard office, tasting cellar, retail stores and wine bars. And then, of course, there is the Musée du Vin wine museum. We discovered the joys of the famous Burgundy wine with a private visit and 5 senses tour at the Maison Bouchard Ainé & Fils. We were treated to a tour of the cellars with five tastings along the way – from a basic Macon white to a Grand Cru red. The most fun part of our tour was what can be best described as the smelling room, where the guests are invited to determine the various aromas associated with wine. We also ended up getting quick and entertaining insights into Burgundy’s many subregions, microclimates, grape-growing techniques and wine styles — all this while we swirled, sniffed and sipped a delectable selection of their best wines.
Among other things, don’t forget to try Kir — named after an ex-mayor Felix Kir – a mix of local white wine and black currant liqueur.
Maison Bouchard Ainé & Fils: http://www.bouchard-aine.fr/en/
We were fortunate enough to experience Beaune flaunting its bewitching autumnal glories through its trees: the leaves changing their hues from greens to fiery yellows and feisty reds; the crackling of leaves under your feet, as rays of sun escape the thick boughs to kiss the ground below. And as if a town like this needed any enhancement, pink-hued stone facades up the ante in the picture-postcard stakes at Beaune.
If you can still walk after all those heady spirits in your system, take in the rustic and relaxed vibe of the city, with miles of cobbled streets to explore along the many quiet lanes. And if at any point you feel the heady buzz of wine leaving you, you are never more than just a short walk away from nearby restaurants.
Hospices de Beaune
Undoubtedly, Beaune’s most famous sight Hospices de Beaune was originally a charity hospital built in 1443. Today, it serves as a museum, with a dazzling rooftop decked with mullticoloured Flemish tiles, a symbol of wealth in Burgundy. It houses several artistic treasures, including an altarpiece depicting the judgment day, and several mural paintings of the 17th century.
The imposing Notre Dame Basilica stands regal in the centre of town. Made in the Burgundian Romanesque style, parts of it date from the 13th century. You can’t miss the chimes of its bell tower while staying in Beaune. Our Beaune Tourism guide gave us some interesting stories about the Notre-Dame, and I’d really suggest you use a guide if you don’t want to miss out on the exciting history and trivia about the Basilica. It’s best known for its collection of 15th century tapestries depicting the life and times of Virgin Mary, and while you can visit the church for free, there is a small charge for viewing the tapestries.
Fallot Mustard Mill
One of the top producers of the well-loved Dijon mustard resides in Beaune. The Moutarderie Fallot is a short walk away from the centre of town, and you can book a tour to the “mustard museum”. It’s an experiential tour with videos, commentary and even a chance to make your own mustard! By the way, Dijon Mustard refers to the process and ingredients used in making the mustard, and not necessarily refer to the nearby Dijon. Fallot is the only traditional producer of the said mustard left in Burgandy, and the company has been producing Dijon Mustard since 1840. Once you are done with the tour, visit the Mustard Bar, where you can taste the different varieties of mustard and buy the ones you like. I assure you, it’s a rather difficult choice to make, what with all the utterly delightful flavours.
Fallot Mustard Mill: https://www.fallot.com/en/la-moutarderie-fallot/
Dijon’s five-star, 65-room Hotel Le Cep owns its charm to uniting two private mansions and their historical 16th century courtyards. Le Cep is situated right in the heart of Beaune, minutes away from the Hospices de Beaune and the Notre-Dame Basilica. Some of the famous guests to have stayed at the hotel include Catherine Deneuve, Nicole Garcia, Goldy Hawn, Gene Hackman, Kurt Russel and Gerard Depardieu. This family run hotel has its own unique charm, with its different suites done up in quirky and classic fabrics, antique furnishings, and eclectic themes.
Hotel Le Cep: http://www.hotel-cep-beaune.com/en/
We made a short video of our stay in Beaune. Hope you love this small town as much as we did!