In the capital of Burgundy’s region you better believe you can immerse yourself in wine.
Well, not literally: But all around this pretty country town are names that ring out in the wine world, like Santenay and Pommard, so you can go off and taste grands crus and tour illustrious vineyards for days on end.
In Burgundy the food is also superb so you’re going to have a pretty indulgent holiday, and can work it off with easy walks or bike rides in the celebrated Côte by the vines.
Lets exlore the best things to do in Beaune:
1. Old Beaune
Beaune’s ramparts circle the town for 2.5 kilometres, with towers and bastions best seen at the Château de Beaune . While it isn’t possible to see every stone of the walls, because they are often adapted to private homes and shops, you can pass an agreeable hour or two tracking their route.
The last remaining gate is Porte Saint-Nicolas at the old northern entrance of the town.
The most refined bit is on Rue de Rempart des Lions, where a 17th-century balustrade and stairway lead up to a beautiful arboretum with an osage orange tree and Chinese ginkgo biloba.
A late-medieval masterpiece, the Hôtel-Dieu is an almshouse and hospice dating to 1443 and ordered by the Duke of Burgundy Nicolas Rolin.
It is configured around a courtyard with a porch on the lower floor with columns supporting a beautiful gallery that runs around the first floor.
The roof, with gabled dormers, is a fine example of the glazed tile patterns typical in the Burgundy region.
And that’s just the exterior! Inside you should waste no time in seeing the Beaune Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden, a polyptych of 15 paintings commissioned for the almshouse and completed in 1450. On the third Sunday in November the charity wine auction takes place here and is attended by all of the region’s most important vintners, while the accompanying festival offers a wonderful weekend of tasting.
3. Wine Region
Beaune is the capital of the Burgundy wine region, and aficionados’ eyes will light up when you reel off the list of vineyards local to the town: Meursauly, Pommard, Santenay, La Romanée-Conti, Corton-Charlemagne, it just goes on and on.
You’ll be right at the centre of a long tranche of grand cru-producing vineyards from Santenay up to Dijon, where almost every hillside is imbued with special meaning for wine-lovers.
So have no choice but to explore as many of the prestigious appellations as you can, step into caves and wineries, taste the best wine in the world, meet the people who make it and luxuriate in the green countryside and singular atmosphere of this wine heaven.
4. Local Wine Experiences
And you won’t even need to leave Beaune to start your journey.
Directly in front of the Hôtel-Dieu there’s the Marché aux Vins, which is a fabulous introduction to Burgundy, providing tasting sessions for a general cross-section of the region’s wines , among them several grands crus – if you’re happy to pay a little extra.
Also in Beaune, just a couple of streets from the town hall is the cave of the wine merchant and producer Patriarche Pere et Fils.
You’ll be led down into the largest cellar in Burgundy, with five-kilometres of man-made tunnels, and will be able to taste 13 different wines with a souvenir metallic cup that you can take home with you at the end.
And if there’s a wine that takes your fancy just signal and you can purchase it at the end.
5. Château de Savigny
When you plan a visit to this château you might prepare yourself for parterres, tapestries, paintings and such like.
Instead the Château de Savigny has treasures of a different kind, with a fleet of 80 fighter jets in the grounds (MiGs and Dassaults), as well as 300 vintage motorcycles and 35 Abarth sports cars.
Go upstairs for literally thousands of model aircraft, bikes and cars in cabinets.
And then just to change tack completely you’ve also got viticulture exhibitions, with straddle tractors, wine presses and antique manual tools.
That’s because Château de Savigny is part of the Côte de Beaune wine-growing region and sells bottles on site.
The editor and art collector Jean Amiot has spent a quarter of a century acquiring more than 1,000 works by the 20th-century surrealist Salvador Dalí.
In 2011 he set them up in a palatial 18th-century mansion next to the clock tower on Place Monge for everyone to see.
About 150 works from this large collection can be shown at a time, and these can be drawings, prints, watercolours, gouaches, furniture or photographs.
One of the most unique displays is the complete table service (cutlery, glasses crockery), designed by the artist, and there’s also a reproduction of the iconic Mae West Lips Sofa.
7. Château de la Rochepot
If you liked the tiles on the roof of the Hôtel-Dieu you’ll love Château de la Rochepot where the patterns are even more elaborate.
The castle feels like a movie set, in the best possible way: Originally built in the 13th century it was the seat of the Lords Pot, who were closely tied to the Dukes of Burgundy.
But as with many castles in the region it suffered in the 18th and 19th centuries before being reconstructed using archived plans and archaeological knowhow to become a rose-tinted and romantic ode to the middle ages.
Compelling fragments of the past endure, like the 70-metre-deep well hewn from the bedrock.
Hire a bike and ride the route from Beaune to Santenay and pedal over rolling hills on trails used by grape pickers for hundreds of years.
There’s something satisfying about the geometry of the vines, regimented in perfect rows on the hillsides.
But there’s also lots of detours as you ride, from romanesque chapels to villages like Volnay that are both picturesque and bursting with wine pedigree.
The journey needn’t stop in Santenay as the 18th-century Canal du Centre passes through and has more than 100 kilometres of farmland and forest to inspire you from its towpaths.
9. Basilique Notre-Dame
Burgundy is revered for its romanesque wonders, and Beaune has one at the Basilique Notre-Dame.
Most of this church is from the 12th century, except for the chevet and western portal.
From the church’s earliest days is a statue of the Virgin Mary with Jesus in her lap from the 1100s in the choir.
Even more breathtaking are the 15th-century tapestries illustrating the life of Mary and the birth of Jesus behind the choir stalls.
For yet more wonderful art, the chapel of Saint-Léger has murals from 1530.
10. Parc de la Bouzaize
A short walk from the ramparts and backing onto a vineyard is a restful little park for a quiet stroll or picnic.
Beaune isn’t really a hotspot for family holidays, but if you do have little guys with you then you could bring them to the petting zoo to make friends with the alpacas, goats and a pig.
The park’s pond is no ordinary water feature, but in fact the source of the Bouzaize River which wends off for 20 kilometres before meeting the Dheune, which ends up in the famous Saône.
11. Burgundy Cuisine
There are 10 Michelin-starred restaurants in the Beaune area, the cream of which is the three-starred Maison Lameloise in Chagny, often voted as one of the best in France, and, in turn, the world.
You needn’t push the boat out that far to get to know Burgundy’s renowned gastronomy.
Beef Bourguignon, the braised beef and red wine stew, is a speciality at most restaurants, as is coq au vin, another dish that everybody considers quintessentially French.
For something sweet Pain d’Epices is gingerbread spiced with clove, cinnamon, aniseed and cinnamon.
And let’s not forget Dijon-style mustard, produced locally at the Fallot “moutarderie”.
12. Cirque du Bout du Monde
The name,”Cirque at the End of the World” sounds like a bit of an overstatement until you come to this spectacular steephead valley 20 kilometres west of Beaune.
After parking up you take a trail ensconced in hardwood forest until all at once an arena of limestone cliffs blocks your path.
These top out at more than 500 metres and provide a habitat for peregrine falcons and white-bellied swifts.
What’s cool is that it’s a totally different scene according to the season: In winter there’s a gossamer waterfall against the rocks and a river in the valley.
In the warmer seasons these will have dried up but you can follow the riverbed to a set of caves that you can’t when the river’s here.
13. Specialty Shops
In a town that has built its reputation on Epicureanism, wine caves are accompanied by purveyors of other high-quality food and drink.
On Place Carnot is the Alain Hess fromagerie, which stores more than 200 varieties of cheese in its cellars, such as well-known ones like l’Epoisses, Chaorce and Soumantrain.
But the shop also makes its own type, Le Délice de Pommard, made with triple cream and local crushed mustard seeds.
And after wine, the blackcurrant liqueur Crème de Cassis is the other pride of Burgundy and can be purchased from the elegant Vedrenne shop on Rue Carnot.
One of only a clutch of surviving relics in Burgundy from the 100 Years’ War, Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is a sweet little village above the valley of the Canal de Bourgogne.
The village’s château dominates the landscape from its natural balcony 500 metres up.
On the D18 or from the canal banks you can spot the fairytale towers and their conical roofs from many kilometres away.
In the 15th-century the castle was the property of Phillippe le Bon, who was a right-hand man of the Duke of Burgundy, Phillippe le Bon.
This raised the status of the village, and courtiers and merchants moved here, explaining why the houses on Grand Rue are so grand, with arcades and towers of their own.
When the Dukes of Burgundy ruled their lands from Dijon in the middle ages the city was possibly the most powerful in France.
Dijon became a centre for culture and science, and clues to those glory days are almost everywhere you look.
Take the Parcours de la Chouette(Owl’s Trail) and all of the old quarter’s most beautiful and riveting sights are marked with a cheerful owl motif.
The hard part is staying on the trail, as the city’s boutiques, cafes and fascinating museums may blow you off course a few times! Gaze at the Ducal Palace, where those Dukes resided and marvel at the resplendent renaissance mansions on the Rue des Forges.