5 Things to do in Beaune, France (Other than the Wine)
Leah Walker September 22, 2017

My first trip to Beaune was around Christmas 2012, which was also my first time in France. I was initially drawn to Burgundy for its world-class wine, but upon arrival, was struck by small-town France. Hailing from a tiny farm town myself {though cotton instead of grapes}, the slower pace spoke to me. I knew that the 24-hours I’d allotted in Beaune wasn’t enough and that I’d return. After 2.5 years of living in Paris and more than five years since my initial trip, I did return to Beaune. This second trip was again about the vin, specifically for my annual trip with Visit French Wine and Atout France USA.

As the unofficial capital of Bourgogne wine country, Beaune is the epicenter for œnotourisme, which is the French term for wine tourism. Perhaps it’s the outstanding bottles that initially bring people to Beaune, but there’s much more to this town of about 25,000. Even if you’re a serious connoisseur of vin, there are plenty of things to do in Beaune other than the wine.

Tour Hospices de Beaune

In addition to the wine, Beaune is most famous for its hospital. Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to Phillipe Le Bon, Duke of Burgundy and his wife, Guigone de Salins, founded Hospices de Beaune {or Hôtel-Dieu} in 1443. The Hundred Years’ War was ending and Burgundy was reeling from plague. This hospital served everyone in the region, regardless of their financial means, from 1452 through the 1960s. The Gothic-style building was inspired by the architecture in Flanders, and its colorful glazed tile roof is typical of Burgundy. This type of roof was a status symbol, dating to the 13th century when they adorned cathedrals. In the 14th century, they were en vogue with aristocrats.

With the price of admission comes an audio tour. Wander through the immaculate courtyards, as well as the four buildings open to the public. See the pharmacy where nuns often mixed medicine and the kitchen where meals were prepared for some 100 patients per day. Visit the Great Hall, otherwise known as the Hall of the Poor, where the destitute slept head-to-toe, two to a bed. Don’t miss the altarpiece created in 1451 by Belgian painter, Rogier van der Weyden. The 9-panel masterpiece once hung above the chapel’s alter, but now resides in a dark room near the Hospices de Beaune’s exit. During the French Revolution, the altarpiece was hidden as to protect it from destruction.

Explore the Ramparts

History in Beaune predates the Romans, and there is plenty of history to uncover. Some of this history is extremely well preserved. Hiding in plain sight are Beaune’s ramparts and battlements. Encircling the town are 1.5 miles of ramparts that run parallel with the busy ring road. These towers have helped keep Beaune safe as far back as the 12th century. With four centuries of construction, exploring the city in these narrow and secluded streets is like a walk through time. Look for the blue signs affixed to walls near the edge of the old town that read Amis des Remparts Beaune. These signs indicate the path of the ramparts. From this vantage point of the town, you’ll see Square des Lions, Château de Beaune, Porte Saint-Nicholas, and the Théâtre de Verdure.

Ride a Bike through the Vines

One of the best ways to discover Burgundy is by bicycle. There are over 21 miles of bike trails in Burgundy that meander through the vines and villages. Beginning in Beaune, there is a somewhat easy Véloroute that covers 13.6 miles to Santenay. Along the way, you’ll pass through the villages of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny Montrachet, and Chassagne Montrachet. Cycle at your own pace and get an up-close look at the plants that produce the world’s best wines. If you’ve still got energy, follow the Voie des Vignes route from Santenay to Nolay. This 8-mile path follows an old rail line. Go on a guided tour or rent a bike from Bourgogne Évasion.

Eat all the Food

Everyone knows that French cuisine is one of the most celebrated in the world. In my opinion, the use of seasonal ingredients and thoughtful presentation by the French is only rivaled by the Japanese. Within France there are a multitude of specialties and regional dishes. The French make good use of the land and their plates reflect that fact. It should then come as no surprise that Burgundy produces dishes that pleased my palate more than any other region in recent memory. Even if you’ve never stepped foot in France, you probably know bœuf Bourguignon. After all, the legendary Julia Child made this slow-cooked beef stew famous in America in the 1960s. Escargots à la Bourgogne {snails with butter, garlic, and parsley} and Coq au Vin {rooster with wine and mushrooms} are two other famous dishes that hail from Burgundy. Depending on the season, mushrooms and truffles are plentiful, as are blackcurrants that are used to make kir, which is mixed with white wine or Champagne for an aperitif. This is France, so I’d be remiss not to mention the regional cheeses. Look for Chaource, Epoisses, and my favorite new find, délice de Pommard. This creamy and light cheese is rolled in mustard seeds and can be purchased at Alain Hess in the center of Beaune. Other flavors include Burgundy blackcurrant, black summer truffles from Italy, and gingerbread from Dijon.

In 2017, Beaune, a town of 25,000, boosts seven Michelin-stared restaurants. To help put that number into perspective, consider that Dijon, just 30 minutes away with a population of 150,000, only has five restaurants that have been honored with at least one star by Michelin. Whether bestowed with a star or not, I did not have a bad meal in Beaune. In fact, this might have been my favorite food trip in France. Here are my restaurant suggestions:

Le Cheval Noir

Loiseau des Vignes {1-star Michelin}

Le Carmin {1-star Michelin}

Brasserie Le Monge

La Cueillette

Restaurant Olivier Leflaive

Ed.Em {1-star Michelin}

Visit Moutarderie Fallot

Though the nearby city of Dijon is synonymous with mustard, Beaune has its own mustard story. Dating to 1840, La Moutarderie Fallot is the last remaining independent, family-owned mustard mill in Burgundy. Today, Fallot makes 5% of the mustard in France. Although sold in 65 countries, the mustard is only made in Beaune. In addition, Fallot is the only company still grinding its mustard seeds by stone, which helps keep the seeds’ flavor.

For €10, take a self-guided tour through the mill, where you’ll learn about the history of mustard in Burgundy, the original mustard-making methods, as well as the present-day process. After, head to the mustard boutique for a sampling of some of Fallot’s 50+ types of mustard. Some of my favorites include Moutarde de Bourgogne and Moutarde á la Provençale. You’ll certainly leave with a newfound respect of the mustard-making process, as well as a big bag filled with Fallot’s fantastic flavors.

 

I was a guest of Beaune Tourism, Atout France USA, and Visit French Wine. In no way was I swayed by the divine wines, scrumptious plates of food, or the small-town hospitality. As always, opinions are mine.

Leah Walker

Leah’s a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that’s in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah’s thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don’t extend to speaking French. Yet.

19 Comments

  1. What a beautiful town. I have only been to Nice in the South of France but I hope to see Beaune as well. Biking through cities must be my favorite activity. It’s such a fun and easy way to explore the area.

  2. I was really surprised that this little town has that many Michelin-starred restaurants! You’d be silly to not try the food in that city; sounds like they definitely know what they’re doing!

  3. I love traveling to small towns, in fact, I prefer it. I don’t know much about this region but it has all the makings for the perfect small town experience with history, wine, food, and one of my favorite things to do in small towns is ride bikes, and here you can ride through the vineyards! Thrilled to put a new small town on my travel list!

  4. As a nurse, I’d love to visit the hospitals. It’s always interesting to see them in different countries. Seven Michelin-stared restaurants in a town of 25’000 is quite a lot! It’d love to eat in one of them some day <3 The cheeses are even out of question, France has some of the best cheeses in the world!

  5. Smaller towns with their slow pace actually attract me 🙂 They have quaint lanes and pretty homes and time comes to standstill! Beaune looks amazing! Such scenic views and what amazing architecture:)

  6. I have only been to Paris, and I firmly believe there’s much more to France than just Paris. Would love to visit Beaune whenever I’m anywhere around Burgundy, though not a wine lover but a bike ride alone vin fields would be fun!! Like to know more on the history about town and the architecture!!

  7. My gosh, this place looks absolutely heavenly. I can’t decide which I would like more – the bike tour or the food. I haven’t seen nearly enough of France yet, and these small towns are what I enjoy the most. I’ll definitely keep your place in mind when I return.

  8. Interesting detail about the status symbol tiled roof. The hospital is absolutely gorgeous but I sure wouldn’t have wanted to stay there during plague time. Beaune sounds like such as wonderful place, and one I’d love to visit, though the Champagne region is next on my list. Now Beaune is on it, too.

  9. I’ve never been to Beaune before but wow do I love that hospital. I’ve never seen such a brightly coloured and detailed place of healing before. It’s also really cool that they would heal everyone for so many centuries. It’s one of the perks that still happens in New Zealand, and I think that public healthcare should be affordable and available to everyone in all countries around the world.

  10. Beaune looks so charming and vintage. A place that really seems to literally bring alive the spirit of France. We hope to see more of the French countryside in the future. Till now our French connection has been limited to Paris. Beaune is a place that we would definitely like to include in our itinerary.

  11. Even though Beaune is the epicenter for wine tourism , it’s nice to know that there’s plenty more to experience and do. I never thought that touring a hospital would be so interesting, but the gothic-style building looks like an incredible piece of architecture. I would love to take a bike through the vines too, so it’s nice to know that there are plenty of riding trails through the countryside – I’m a big fan of outdoor adventure, so sign me up!

  12. I just returned from Lyon and Beaune. I loved both cities. Initially my friend and I were going to stay in Dijon and do a day trip to Beaune. I am so glad we did the reverse. Beaune is charming and the B&B we stayed in was fabulous. Les Jardins de Lois on the ring road and a 2 minute walk to the center of town. Phillipe and Annemarie are the perfect hosts. Extremely warm and accommodating. And they even produce their own wine and you can have a private wine tasting if you stay there.

    Hospices de Beaune was so fascinating. We spent almost three hours there.

    1. I stayed at Les Jardins de Lois! I agree, it is the perfect location and they are outstanding hosts. I was there during harvest, so they were extremely busy, but I wanted for nothing.

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