In the Footsteps Of
The Dukes of Burgundy
Story and Photos by Corinna Lothar
first Valois duke of Burgundy recognized a good deal when he saw one.
His bride, Margaret of Flanders, was reputed to have the ugliest face
in all of Europe, but she was the richest heiress in Europe. When he
married Margaret in 1369, Philip the Bold, the youngest son of the King
of France, acquired Flanders,
Countries, making him both rich and powerful.
Philips ascent raised the curtain on the golden
age of the dukes of Burgundy, a period that runs from 1363 until 1477,
when Philips great grand-son, Charles the Bold, died in battle
and the King of France reclaimed Burgundy. During that 100 years, Burgundy,
located between the kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire, was
independent, rich and powerful, sometimes aligned with England against
France. The dukes are gone, but Burgundy is as golden as ever, inviting
visitors to lose themselves in the medieval century of the Golden Age
of the dukes of Burgundy.
Burgundys roads are lined with low stone fences,
climbing gentle hills guarding the vineyards that produce Burgundys
famous deep, rich pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, vineyards first
brought to Burgundy by the Romans. Black and white Charolais cows graze
in somnolent contentment among fields of rapeseed that paint the hillsides
as yellow as Dijon mustard.
Rapeseed fiels and Charolais cows
The city of Dijon
was the capital of the Duchy and today is the administrative capital
of Burgundy and home to its famous mustard. Its easy to reach,
less than two hours from Paris by TGV high-speed trains. Narrow ancient
streets are lined with half timbered houses. The roads south lead to
the strip of Burgundy, the Cote dOr (gold coast) where the wines,
some of the best known and most expensive in the world, are produced
with patience and care, many of them in small vineyards.
History abounds here, and a visitor can hardly avoid
punctuating visits to the castles of the Burgundy dukes with frequent
sampling stops. A visitor has two reasons to dally in Burgundy,
an innkeeper remarks with rue and wry, a little history and a
lot of grape. The wine goes best with dalliance. Pommard, a Clos
Vougeot, a Chassagne Montrachet or another of the great regional wines
go well with the history. (Philip the Bold forbade the very mean
and disloyal plant named gamay in favor of pinot noir.)
The ducal palace is now the citys Fine Arts Museum,
home to the tombs of Philip the Bold and his son, John the Fearless.
Encircling the bottom of the tombs is a procession of 16 inch high mourners,
each an individual masterpiece carved in alabaster by Claus Sluter,
the Flemish sculptor employed by Philip. The mourners are portrayed
in different poses, such as weeping, praying, singing, lost in thought
(or perhaps grief); some are carrying a rosary, a bible or small bag.
Owl on cathedral wall in
The facade of the cathedral of Notre Dame, a 13th century
Gothic church, is adorned with three stories of gargoyles and columns.
It is believed that the 11th century statue of the Virgin Mary in the
church protects the town and saved Dijon from the Swiss in the 15th
century and the Germans in the 20th.
A Jacquemart clock, brought from Flanders by Philip
the Bold, keeps time in the tower. A stone owl on the exterior of the
church, once said to mark the entrance to the Jewish ghetto, is reputed
to bring good luck when touched with the left hand.
Small brass owls embedded in the pavement mark the stops
for museums, shops and cafes on the 22-stage walking tour of the towns
center. One of the stops, the Maille shop (named for Antoine Maille
who provided the king of France with mustard in 1747), sells dozens
of exotic varieties of Dijons famous mustard. Dijon is also famous
for its gingerbread, introduced to Dijon from Flanders during the reign
of the dukes. It is made and sold in the delightful shop La Rose de
Vergy in many delicious forms.
Moses at the Well of Moses
Just outside the city is the former Charterhouse
of Champmol, now a mental institution, where the tombs of Philip
and his son, John, were originally located. All that remains of
the original buildings are a chapel doorway and the Well of Moses,
a splendid monument depicting six lifelike Old Testament prophets,
carved by Claus Sluter.
In 1380, Philip bought the fortress of Germolles
for his wife, who turned it into the first residential castle
of its time. More than six centuries later, portions of the Chateau
de Germolles remain inhabited, with the original stencils of the
initials M and P on the silken walls of
Philip and Margarets bed chamber still intact. The capitals
above one of the castles ornate fireplaces are Sluters
work. Although much of the original castle was destroyed by fire,
parts of the chapel, the entrance towers and the main buildings
remain and are open to visitors.
Cellar of Chateau de Germolles
The castle/fortress in Chateauneuf-en-Auxois
is one of the last vestiges of Burgundian military architecture of the
14th century. It was given by Philip the Good, grandson of Philip the
Bold, to his advisor, Philippe Pot. The castle is open to the public
and during the summer, concerts, performances and other events take
place in the castle, which contains 17th century decorations and furniture.
Chateauneuf en Auxois
Beaune is the site of another of the dukes
palaces, which today serves as the Wine Museum of Burgundy, displaying
traditional winemaking equipment. The original cellars of the dukes
now belong to wine merchant Joseph Drouhin.
Hotel Dieu in Beaune
In the center of town is the magnificent Hotel-Dieu,
the 15th century hospice, founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor
of Duke Philip the Good, and his wife to remedy the poverty and famine
suffered by the townspeople after the Hundred Years War. The almshouse
served the town as a hospital for poor and rich alike until 1971. It
contains two masterpieces of medieval art: a polyptych of the Last Judgment
by Rogier van der Weyden, and a statue of Christ carved out of a thousand
year old oak. The roof is covered in a geometric pattern of glazed polychrome
tiles. The Hotel Dieu is now a museum; patients are treated in modern
Since 1851, an annual charity wine auction has taken
place in Beaune on the third Sunday of November. For Three Days
of Glory the city celebrates wine and food. The wine comes from
the surrounding vineyards and sets the prices for the years vintage.
The Hotel le Cep has one of the towns best dining rooms and its
wine library consists of dozens of outstanding wines by
the glass, a novelty in France.
Langres, one of the gateways to Burgundy, was
given by an earlier duke to his uncle, Bishop Gautier, in 1179. Ramparts
still surround the city, but only a single arch remains of the third
century wall, as do 12 ancient towers and 7 gates. Denis Diderot, the
encyclopedist, was born here. The city is known for its cutlery, and
the National School for Wicker Culture and Basketry is located in the
near-by village of Fayl-Billot.
A half-timbered house in
Troyes is a city of art and history in adjoining
It was here that the Treaty of Troyes was signed in 1420 after the French
defeat in the battle of Agincourt, giving Henry V of England and his
heirs the throne of France. The term troy weight, the unit
of mass used for precious metals and gemstones, was coined here.
Gorgeous half-timbered houses line its tiny streets,
together with 10 churches and a memorial to the 11th century scholar,
Rabbi Rashi, who was born in Troyes. A museum of modern art shares a
lovely house that was once an ecclesiastical palace. Troyes is home
to Europes largest factory outlet center.
Eating and Sleeping in Burgundy
Although the Golden Age of the dukes of Burgundy ended
with the death of Charles the Bold, visitors can enjoy ancient lifestyles,
but with modern comforts and conveniences. Culinary specialties of Burgundy
include beef (from the black and white Charolais cows) Bourguinon, snails,
foie gras, and cheese. Little cheese puffs (gougeres) are the traditional
accompaniment to aperitif wines and champagne.
Signposts along the roads in Burgundy point to the Route
des Grand Crus (road of great growths), and the Route du Champagne in
region, where eighty of the approximately 5,000 family champagne producers
have signed up for one of the five champagne circuits. For example,
in the three tiny villages that make up Les Riceys, there are nine cellars
where tastings are available for a small fee. The region is famous for
its pink (rose) champagne.
Signpost indicating local champagne houses
A wonderful place to stay, fit for an ancient or modern
duke, is the stunning 12th century Abbey de la Bussiere-sur-Ouche, close
to Beaune and to Dijon. In 2005, it was acquired by British hotelier
Clive Cummings and his wife Tanith. They turned the abbey into an English-style
country hotel with food that is pure French haute cuisine.
Dining room of Abbey de la Bussiere
The Chateau de Besseuil in the village of Clesse has
a unique arrangement for guests: two or three-bedroom apartments with
a large living room and fully equipped kitchen. The comfort is contemporary;
the surroundings of another time; the price reasonable.
The Chateau de Besseuil is an elegant 19th century manor
house, now a hotel-restaurant in a lovely garden. It offers guests a
cooking class as well as well-appointed public rooms and guest rooms.
The 19th century Chateau de Citeaux in Meursault is
a hotel-restaurant and spa specializing in red fruit therapy. The chateau
is surrounded by vineyards planted by the Cistercian monks at the end
of the 11th century. The wines of the estate can be sampled, along with
a very French country picnic at Les Terrasses, a cafe and shop in the
village of Meursault overlooking the chateau and the vineyards.
Chateau de Citeaux and vineyards, Meursault
The Chateau de Chamirey is a mansion rather than castle.
The winery is a family enterprise run by siblings Amaury and Aurore
Devillard. The 17th century winery produces first growth whites and
reds, available for tasting.
For further information see www.burgundy-tourism.com,
and Lorraine; A
Couple Who Loved Their Champagne; Bruges,
Leiden and Dijon; Normandy;
Flanders Fields; Les
Hommes Français; Montpellier,