Grand'Salle/Chambre des Pauvres at the Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune, Burgundy.
T

he best thing in Burgundy is free – the atmosphere. There are of course many things to do in Burgundy, but just being there doing nothing in particular is heaven to me. Maybe it is just the Frenchman in me (several generations back) that is feeling at home; that's a thought.

Wine and food aside Burgundy is rich in history and architecture, but don't think you can escape the wine completely. It has been part of Burgundian life for many centuries and it is always present in one way or the other. Take the pride of Beaune, the Hôtel-Dieu, for example. This hospital was founded by the Chancellor Nicolas Rolin in 1443 and was in use up until 1971. Parts of the activities are financed by the profit generated by the annual wine auction Hospices de Beaune. Depending on the vintage the money raised vary between 760 000 to 2 880 000 euros. The auction is an institution, not only in Burgundy, but in the international wine world as well, as it to a certain extent sets the price level for the new vintage.

The auction goes back to 1859, but the Hospices de Beaune has owned vineyards for over 500 years. They cover more than 61 ha and can be found from Morey-Saint-Denis down to Pouilly-Fuissé. 23 wine growers are paid to tend the vines. Then, on the third Sunday in November every year, the wine is sold in barrels at the auction.

The Hôtel-Dieu museum is well worth a visit. I have been there several times myself. Inside you walk through the magnificent Grand'Salle/Chambre des Pauvres with the chapel at one end. You continue through various halls, the pharmacy, the kitchen and end up in the Salle du Polyptyque, a room designed to exhibit the Last Judgement polyptych, This well-known piece of art by Rogier van der Weyden was commissioned by Nicolas Rolin in 1443.

Close to the Hôtel-Dieu you find Musée du Vin de Bourgogne – Burgundy Wine Museum – in the former mansion of the dukes of Burgundy. Close to the Hôtel-Dieu you find Musée du Vin de Bourgogne – Burgundy Wine Museum – in the former mansion of the dukes of Burgundy. Right next to the museum is the imposing Collégiale Notre-Dame. This Roman church dates back to 1120, but had several additions during the subsequent centuries.

For anyone interested in religious architecture Burgundy is a treasure chest. There are many churches and monestaries here. St Antoine's church in Fixey, at the top of the Côte d'Or, for instance dates back to 902 and is one of the oldest Roman churches in the region.

In Nuits-Saint-Georges you find three museums; one more traditional with a focus on local history – Le Musée de Nuits-Saint-Georges on 12, Rue Camille Rodier – and two geared towards the local produce – Le Cassissium on Rue des frères Montgolfier and l'Imaginarium on Avenue du Jura. As the name suggests Le Cassissium deals with Crème de Cassis in all aspects, while L'Imaginarium is dedicated to sparkling wine in general and Crémant de Bourgogne in particular.

If you happen to be in the area on July 14, the French national holiday, you have a large choice of festivities. Every other village have their own celebrations, usually with a lot of fireworks. I can recommend going to Meursault; the Hôtel de ville from 1337 – once a fortress, now the town hall – is used as backdrop for the impressive fireworks. Just be sure to check which day the festivities are; not all villages have them on the same day.

Another reason to have a good time is the Saint-Vincent, the annual celebration of the patron saint of the vignerons. This tradition – with parades, wine tasting and dinner – was founded by the Chevaliers du Tastevin in 1938 and has been going ever since, except for the years during World War II. The village hosting the event changes every year.

Every year many of the wine producing villages also have days when all the cellars are open, combined with other events. Savigny-lès-Beaune for instance has running competitions, food and music to tie in with the wine.

Once you are done with all the cultural activities Burgundy has a lot of outdoor activities on offer. Morvan is a large national park in the middle of Burgundy where you can go for hiking, bike riding, horse riding, fishing etc. The Hautes-Côtes is also well suited for hiking and bike riding.

Since Burgundy is far from the sea your opportunities to go swimming are somewhat limited. On the Côte d'Or there are public swimming pools in both Beaune and Nuits-Saint-Georges. In Seurre, 35 kilometres east of Beaune there is both a public swimming pool and a lake.

© 2013 Ola Bergman