South of Dijon, the attractive countryside of the Côte d’Or is characterized by the steep scarp of the côte, wooded along the top and cut by sheer little valleys called combes, where local rock climbers hone their skills. Spring is a good time to visit this region; you can avoid the crowds and the landscape is a dramatic symphony of browns – trees, earth and vines – punctuated by millions of bone-coloured vine stakes, standing like crosses in a vast war cemetery. The main administrative and shopping centre is the beautiful city of Beaune, south of which the Great Wine Route checks off the big names in Burgundy winemaking.
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The Great Wine Route
The Great Wine Route
The place names that line the legendary Great Wine Route National 74 – Gevrey-Chambertin, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-St-Georges, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault – are music to the ears of wine buffs. These prosperous villages are full of wine cellars where you can get good advice on different vintages; you can taste and buy direct from the source at most of the vineyards by just turning up and asking.
Beaune, the principal town of the Côte d’Or, manages to maintain its attractively ancient air, despite a near-constant stream of wine aficionados using the place as their base. Narrow cobbled streets and sunny squares dotted with cafés make it a lovely, albeit expensive, spot to sample the region’s wine.
Beaune’s chief attraction is the fifteenth-century hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu. As grateful ex-patients or their families donated vine plots to the hospital, the town prospered quickly to become the centre of the local wine trade. The cobbled courtyard is surrounded by a wooden gallery overhung by a massive roof patterned with diamonds of variegated tiles – green, burnt sienna, black and yellow – and similarly multicoloured steep-pitched dormers and turrets. Inside is a vast paved hall with a glorious arched timber roof, the Grande Salle des Malades, with the original enclosed wooden beds. Passing through two smaller, furnished wards, one with some stunning seventeenth-century frescoes, then the kitchen and the pharmacy, you reach a dark chamber housing the splendid fifteenth-century altarpiece of the Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden and the tapestry of St Eloi, which is comparable to the Lady and the Unicorn in the museum of Cluny in Paris.