6 Must-See Sights while Barging through Burgundy
If exploring quaint villages, old town squares and ancient castles punctuating lush landscape is high in your to-do list, Burgundy will surely captivate you. With colourful history, gorgeous countryside and architectural heritage dating as far back as the Gallo-Roman and Celtic times, this intriguing French region deserves a spot on your radar, and the best way to explore Burgundy is barge cruising.
Two canals bisect Burgundy: Canal de Bourgogne, which allows a north-south access through France, and Canal du Nivernais linking the Seine and the Loire, two of France’s greatest rivers. Delving into Burgundy through these waterways aboard a charming hotel barge will bring you to the most incredible sights Burgundy has to offer. Here are six of them:
Most Burgundy river cruises include a walking tour of Dijon and there’s no wonder why. The former seat of the legendary Dukes of Burgundy, the old city of Dijon is as awe-inspiring as it is historic and is best explored on foot. Venture into the compact centre of the city and let its wood-beamed buildings and finely-carved Renaissance stone edifices bring you back in time. You also cannot miss the massive Ducal Palace. Built to display might and power, the impressive palace of the Dukes of Burgundy stands at the heart of Dijon and dominates the city. It now functions as the city hall and houses several administrative offices. If you have time, climb the tall tower of Philippe le Bon for spectacular panoramic views. The building alone is an architectural marvel but if that is not enough, one of the oldest museums in France is inside, the Musée des Beauxs-Arts, as well as the tombs of two of the rich, powerful dukes.
With a history tied to the fates of the Burgundian dukes, the medieval town of Beaune is a walled city with the ramparts, moat and half of the battlements still in good condition. Don’t miss the Hospices de Beaune, a 15th century building distinguished by its colourful, geometric glazed-tile roof. Step inside and be sure to check out the Last Judgment polyptych ordered from Rogier Van der Weyden, considered the most influential Northern Renaissance painter of his time. Surrounded by the Côte d'Or vineyards, Beaune is also the wine capital of Burgundy and one of the key wine centres in France. No cruise through Burgundy is ever complete without having a glass of vino in Beaune! Hospices de Beaune actually boasts of 15th century wine cellars and hosts the most famous Wine Auction in the world, so make it a point to sample some while there!
Off the beaten path and surrounded by hills in varying shades of green and gold, the beautiful old town of Irancy in the Grand Auxerrois region will take your breath away. Walk inside the village and explore its tight alleys and close-standing houses most of which show remarkable 16th century architectural style. There’s also the fine 13th century church whose tower punctuates the town’s panoramic views. The real draw to Irancy though is its red Pinot Noirs. The village is nestled in the hollow of a valley covered with cherry trees and vines, making the area conducive for red wine grape growing. Not sure how to get to Irancy? Try a Luciole Wine Appreciation Cruise and you’ll find yourself not just in Irancy, but also in Côte d’Auxerre, Saint-Bris, Coulanges-la-Vieuse, Beaune and Chablis while enjoying the famous wines of the region.
You won’t always find Joigny in most travel itineraries, but this charming old town on the banks of the Yonne River holds several notable historical monuments and makes a striking sight at sunset, especially when approached from the river aboard a barge. The 16th century houses hugging the terraces of Côte St-Jacques feature wooden carved decoration and half-timbered facades, most notable of which are Maison du Bailli, Maison du Pilori and of course, Mason de Blois that will greet you as you enter the castle. There’s also the gothic Church of Saint-Jean known for its vaulted ceiling, decorative tomb, statues and carvings. Don’t miss out on Chateau des Gondi too! That impressive Renaissance structure, along with the church, is what dominates the view of Joigny from the bridge.
Le Clos de Vougeot
Burgundy is not Burgundy without its world-famous vineyards, and the wall-enclosed vineyard of Le Clos de Vougeot ranks high in any Grand Crus tour in the region. Known as the largest single vineyard in Côte de Nuits, Le Clos de Vougeot is a big must-visit for winse lovers all over the world and a highlight on the Route des Grand Crus, or Road of the Great Wines. Cistercian monks in the nearby Abbey of Citeaux built Le Clos de Vougeot, then just a wine farm, in the 12th century and held it until the Revolution. Don’t forget to look around the medieval fermentation room with four large presses, Cistercian cellar and original kitchens from that century. The elegant Renaissance castle, which stands in the heart of the vineyards and commands attention even from afar, was added in 1551.
History buffs, here is something for your list! Cruise the Yonne River and you’ll find yourself in a lovely inland port town. Auxerre makes a postcard-perfect picture with its old town and majestic churches drawing an interesting skyline, but go beyond that and you’ll discover that much of these structures are more ancient than they appear. The Gothic Auxerre Cathedral traces back to 1215 but its Romanesque crypt is from the 11th century, notable for its apse chapel and astounding frescoes. A short walk from the cathedral will bring you to the former Benedictine Abbaye Saint-Germain where you can find a Carolingian crypt from the Early Middle Ages, and to the Tour De l’Horloge where you’ll probably pass under a decorative turreted arch propping up a 15th century Gothic clock tower.
All these remarkable stops can be bundled in one memorable barge cruise. For example, the beautiful 12-passenger luxury hotel barge L’Impressionniste cruises along the picturesque Burgundy Canal, starting at Fleurey-sur-Ouche and ending at Escommes. Hop on L’Impressionniste and you’ll find a stone’s throw away to most of the remarkable destinations listed above including Dijon, Beaune and Le Clos de Vougeot, as well as other destinations in Burgundy such as Châteauneuf-en-Auxois and its medieval castle and the famous winery of Bouchard Père et Fils.