Jill Barth is a wine colleague who writes about wine, travel and food on her blog, L’occasion. She’s not only a contributor to Provence WineZine, Palate Press, VinePair, The Good Life France and other publications, but is a correspondent for American Winery Review and the author of a novel about Provençal winemakers during World War II. I am thrilled to share this article about her experiences as a flâneur, someone who strolls or saunters, in Beaune, a place where I can’t wait to do the same.
I had certain expectations for my first visit to Beaune. Like all travelers to the area, I insisted on seeing the Hospices de Beaune – Musée de l’Hôtel-Dieu, a historical hospital-turned-museum for the poor, which is known for one of the most outstanding wine auctions in the world. I’d described the building, with its stylized and impression-making glazed tiles, to my husband as the colorful building I’m certain we won’t miss. The Beaune Tourism Office describes these regional statement roofs as:
Polychrome roofs are status symbols, whose opulence reflects that of the owner of the building. With their luminous beauty, they initially covered the great cathedrals of the 13th century, then the princely residences of the 14th century, before becoming available to the rich urban bourgeoisie of the 15th century.
Would you believe me if I told that during that trip we failed to find that standout “opulent” place? That colorful, huge, highlight of the town was hard to locate for one reason: we were mostly in the car. It was rainy during the 24 hours we had in Beaune, so we drove through the easy streets, roamed the smaller nooks under a shared umbrella and noticed what we could while popping in and out of shops. We followed maps, consulted guides and referenced begged-for directions. We definitely enjoyed ourselves, but we had to laugh at the situation. What had happened to the Hospices de Beaune?
A year later we were back. The sun was glorious, we had plenty of time for trial and error and as it turns out, the Hospices de Beaune was still in Beaune, right where the maps said it would be. I don’t blame the car or the rain entirely, because until I witnessed it myself I didn’t realize that only one view of the roof is the gorgeous tiles; the other vantage point is of slate roofing, quite a different appearance than I’d been looking for!
This incident taught me a travel lesson: be persistent, be open, wander and roam and do not insist that exact destinations are known.
The bucket list gained one more checkmark when we toured the Hospices de Beaune – Musée de l’Hôtel-Dieu, including the history of the wine auction. The estate belonging to the Hospices is comprised of 60 hectares, mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (the typical stars of Bourgogne wines). Over 20 winemakers mind the estate which provides the large majority of the premiers crus and grand crus auctioned by Christies on the third Sunday in November each year. The vineyards were gifted to the Hospices in 1457 by Guillemette LEVERNIER to assist in supporting the financial needs of, what was at the time, a working hospital for the poor. Proceeds from the auction are currently used to maintain equipment and facilities.
After our sightseeing in town we checked into our hotel, Hotel le Clos, located a few minutes from the Beaune city center in the darling hamlet of Montagny-lès-Beaune. The exquisite garden was in early bloom and we relished the late afternoon glass of wine in our room with the windows slung open to the scents of spring. After a short nap and a long bath we headed into town again for our dinner reservation at le P’tit Paradis where we indulged in more Joseph Drouhin wine and a delicious multi-course meal. The cozy and well-tended service was a highlight of our time in Burgundy, as were the regional dishes with a sense of personality and freshness. Our after-dinner glass of wine was at the antique bar in the lobby of Hotel le Clos, where the service was unfailing, as we began to yawn.
In a single day, after the drive down from Paris, we were able to take in a long drink of the best of Beaune. Details on how to get to Beaune (train or car), the Route des Grands Crus (Burgundy wine route) and booking tours and tickets can be found on the Tourist Office Beaune & Pays Beaunois website.
Here are particular spots that made our stay luxurious and leisurely.
Wine Tasting in Beaune
Most wine estates in Beaune offer tastings by appointment only. If visiting Beaune primarily to taste wine, book times at the wine houses. Visitors can put planning into the hands of an expert by booking a tour with a company. However, there are some exceptional experiences that can be orchestrated independently. Keep in mind that harvest time (September-October) is very busy for estate staff, many of whom may not speak English. Driving while intoxicated is completely forbidden. If visiting a wine house isn’t possible, there are a number of wine shops in Beaune that offer wine tasting on occasion. Look for a sign, perhaps a sidewalk chalkboard, which indicates degustation, which means tasting. It is customary to make a wine purchase after a tasting. Wine is life and livelihood for many establishments and families, so expect to be immersed.
I met with Jacquie at Maison Joseph Drouhin to learn and write about the visitor experience. The Oenothèque encounter, including cellar tour, is available by appointment via email or telephone and there are special events with limited participation openings. I highly recommend scheduling appointments in advance and, if necessary, indicate preferred language. Visits at Maison Joseph Drouhin are generally available in French, English and German. This estate is an excellent choice for those without cars; the oenothèque is right in the city center and very easy to find. Prices for visits are reasonable and are based on the experience booked.
From April to November the team at Bouchard Père & Fils accepts visitors based on availability, Tuesday through Saturday. Again, it is crucial to make a reservation in advance. For 25€ visitors are entitled to a guided tour and tasting in French or English. Currently French tours are presented at 11 am and English tours are presented at 3 pm. The cellars are under Château de Beaune, a 15th century fortress, which is included on a tour that recounts the centuries-old tradition of Bouchard Père & Fils.
At 3 pm Monday through Friday, and 10 am on Saturday, Maison Louis Jadot conducts scheduled visits to their winemaking and maturation cellars, followed by a tasting. Again, an advance reservation is a must. There is also a sales and tasting room open from 3 -7 pm on weekdays, and 11 am to 5:30 pm on Saturdays. Maison Louis Jadot uses these tours to introduce visitors to some of the lesser known, even rare, wines.
Some of best-known French culinary classics such as Escargots à la Bourgogne, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Coq au Vin originated in the kitchens around Beaune in the Burgundy region. Visitors will have a difficult time choosing where to dine during their visit, as food is a second language in Beaune. As with wine tasting, visitors should attempt to make a reservation. Keep in mind that many restaurants close after lunch until dinner service, so contact them online or a few days in advance. Hotels, of course, will make reservations on guests’ behalf, for those that don’t speak French.
Here are three places I personally recommend for service, expression of Bourgogne style and the quality of their food. Each offers a slightly different experience.
Not far from the Hospices de Beaune, down a tucked-away street, hides Le P’tit Paradis. Gastronomic, inventive, seasonal and authentic, the menu at this tiny gem is outstanding. Expect elegant and pleasant service from Jean-Marie, proprietor, as she personally tends to her exclusive guests each evening. Reservations can be made online or by phone.
Brasserie Le Carnot (no website)
The essence of a romantic Parisian café, with tables facing a street brimming with well-heeled and happy people, makes a spot outside Brasserie Le Carnot one of the most desirable in town. This is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine and a few small bites during an afternoon rest in town. The staff is careful and attentive and locals the setting, putting a mark of authenticity on the atmosphere. This is a perfect spot for beer lovers, too. For information, call +33 3 80 22 32 93.
This charming restaurant is located just a few hops down a very quiet, antique road from Hotel le Clos, in Montagny-lès-Beaune. The restaurant features a wood-fired oven, lots of cozy nooks, outdoor seating and a classic Bourgogne menu. Brush up on French to dine here, our server didn’t speak English, but was friendly and confident. For visitors that relish the discovery of personal treats and secret places, this is a treasure located in a very charming setting.
I love a gorgeous hotel with outstanding service. I appreciate a cheerful and stylish lobby and rooms that are absolutely accommodating and comfortable. Though my standards are set, I also seek variety and a sure sense of place when choosing where to book. These three hotels in Beaune will put visitors in the best of hands during a trip to the area.
The gentle service, the quiet sense of cultivation and the fresh and comfortable atmosphere keep me coming back to this darling spot. Once a farm enclosed by a low stone fence (the term le clos indicates this style of establishment), this is now a small, semi-rural hotel surrounded by well-tended lawns and gardens. Claudine, hotel manager, is superbly welcoming. A traditional continental breakfast is available and a selection of rooms offer guests views of the gardens. Prices are reasonable for the atmosphere and service that is traditionally, exquisitely, Bourgogne.
Hotel le Cep is well located and highly cultivated with a sense of elegance and history. While this hotel is established, it remains family-run after 30 years, over which time it has been tended by the father and son team. The establishment is the marriage of two 16th century mansions and their courtyards, aesthetically beautiful and functionally hospitable. There are several dining selections at the restaurant or bar, which features Grand Cru wines, including wines from the Wine Auction of the Hospices de Beaune. The hotel also provides visitors with spa service and a selection of tasteful and luxurious rooms.
A few kilometers outside of Beaune, Hostellerie deLevernois gets my vote for a wine-lovers paradise. The hotel is nestled on 11 acres, neighbors with a golf course and the famed vineyards of Bourgogne. Gorgeous French gardens, a culinary vegetable garden (with produce sourced by on-staff chefs for the restaurant), and an exceptional wine cellar make this hotel a full-service home during a stay in Beaune. Specific experiences, including those focusing on cuisine and cheese, invite visitors to enjoy the bounty of Bourgogne. This brings me to the moment where wine-lovers swoon: The Discovery of Burgundy Wines Experience. Twice weekly, resident sommeliers host tasting seminars in the cellars, relating education and experience to the nearby vineyards, now part of the UNESCO World Heritage site list.
Contact information, via website or phone, is included in the links above. Do you have a trip to Beaune planned? Have you visited? Share your experiences with us as we flâneur though Beaune together!