Beaune is a small town with a big claim to fame. A three-hour drive southeast of Paris, Beaune in indisputably the wine capital city of Burgundy. Its mustard-famous neighbor to the north, Dijon, is the administrative capital of the area, but the Grand Cru wine roads lead to Beaune.
Beaune, the City of Burgundy
The areas of Burgundy surrounding Beaune and Dijon were named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. The vineyards surrounding Beaune with their recognized unique geography called climats and the traditional ways wines are made led to this recognition. But the villages and towns are also part of the cultural landscape of Burgundy. The historic Hospices de Beaune, known for its flamboyant Gothic architecture and colorful varnished tiles, is the most famous destination in Beaune.
Hospices de Beaune
A chancellor of the powerful Dukes of Burgundy founded the Hospices de Beaune charity hospital in 1443. With lofty skylights, gables, galleries, and polychrome ceilings, the hospital served the poor until the 1990s when a modern, larger facility opened. In the Middles Ages Beaune was home to 10 convents for nuns, many of which cared for the sick and indigent. Today the Hospices de Beaune, also known as the Hôtel-Dieu, hosts official events and serves as a museum related to medical care over the ages with displays of original artifacts.
Vineyards near Beaune
In the 11th century the Cistercian monks replanted old Roman vineyards and discovered which areas on the hills and fields made the best wine. They built short walls called clos to delineate these sections. The vineyards on the middle slopes of the hill were the most treasured and many were labeled as climats. The vineyards were named based for geographic, religious or benchmark features. These names are used today. In Savigny-le-Beaune, a 10-minute drive from the town, the climat shown here is at Domaine Henri de Villamont, the Clos des Guettes (towers).
The kings of France were partial to Burgundy wine, and the textile trades in the town were well known. By the 14th century the Dukes of Burgundy were powerful rulers. Philip the Bold wielded great power over French and Italian politics. The dominant church in Beaune, the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame, reflects the area’s affluence during these years as a trading center is well-known for its Romanesque architecture.
Across from the Hospices de Beaune and beyond, the town bustles with shops and restaurants. Pedestrian shopping streets such as Rue Carnot spoke out from the square and offer an array of fine wine merchants, boutiques, antiquarian bookstores and specialty shops.
Loiseau des Vignes
With the heritage of the vineyards and sustained focus by vintners, Beaune restaurants present food worthy of their neighbor’s world class wines. Beaune has about 100 restaurants, ranging from high-end gastronomy to bistros serving traditional and regional cuisine. The high number of Michelin-starred restaurants—four— is unusual for a town of 23,000 residents. At Loiseau des Vignes, outstanding wine service is one element of their one-star Michelein Guide status. The restaurant is known as the first to offer an entire wine list by the glass.
Located steps away from Hospices de Beaune, Ecrit’Vin evokes the ambience of a Paris bistro with a long bar and brick-walled, cozy dining spaces. In lieu of applying the word ‘gastronomy’ for its food, Ecrit’Vin describes their cuisine as “bistronomy.” Local wine specials are marked on the portable chalkboard and specialties such as poulet de Bresse or boeuf Bourguignon are served.
Hospices de Beaune wine auction
A few years after Hospices de Beaune was founded to help the poor, local gentry began donating vineyards to the hospital for the poor, especially when there were no male heirs to the property. By the mid-19th century, town leaders began to auction off barrels of wine made from the Hospices de Beaune vineyards. One of the first wine auctions held in the world now occurs on the third Sunday of November every year. In 2016 the 156th Hospices de Beaune kicked off in the heritage hall adorned with medieval Flemish tapestries.
“Three Glorious Days” during the Hospices de Beaune auction
At the 156th auction 596 barrels of wine from the 2016 harvest were presented for bid by wine merchants around the world with proceeds donated to heart and cancer research. The weekend of the auction is called Les Trois Glorieuses, the “Three Glorious Days,” an ideal time for consumers to join the wine festivities. Visitors can choose from over a dozen special wine tastings at wineries and historic sites plus two full-on wine dinners with rare vintage tastings. The tasting at Bouchard Ainé et Fils featured wine with foods prepared with diverse spices.
Burgundy wine education
During Hospices de Beaune, the options to taste wine and learn about it increase dramatically. At the Fêtes des Grands Vins de Bourgogne, the public has a rare opportunity to taste fine wines from each region in Burgundy at the Palais des Congrès de Beaune. The École des Vins de Bourgogne offers a wide range of classes from wine tasting amateurs to professionals in the industry.
Tour services for Beaune and beyond
With 100 appellations within the myriad terroirs or landscapes, Burgundy is best introduced by professionals. At Bourgogne Gold Tour, owner Youri Lebault and his team provide exceptional knowledge and services for touring the area. Having authored a book about the Burgundy climats, Lebault is a passionate ambassador with encyclopedic understanding of the wines from each vineyard. With extensive insider knowledge of the wineries, Lebault can arrange special tastings, custom tours during other Beaune events such as the International Baroque Opera Festival in July.