Like Dijon, Autun is a historically important location in Burgundy that has little direct involvement in the wine industry. Situated 26 miles southwest of Beaune, Autun is an ancient town that boasts Roman ruins and a mighty cathedral. The town takes its name from the Roman Emperor Augustus, during whose reign it was founded. Autun was the successor to the fortified city Bibracte as the region’s main Roman settlement. Bibracte, roughly 15 miles west of Autun, had been the site of Julius Caesar's victory over the Helvetii. For those seeking more history and less wine, the excavations of Bibracte can be visited. Some signs of Roman architecture are still evident in Autun, including a theaterthat once held a seating capacity of 17,000 (roughly the current population). It had been one the largest theaters in the western part of the empire. Autun also has two gates which date from the time of Augustus (the Porte St.-André and Porte d'Arroux).
Looming over Autun is a Romanesque cathedral dating from the 12th century that was once the chapel of the Dukes of Burgundy. In fact, the first Duke of Burgundy was the Count of Autun. Gislebertus, a celebrated French sculptor, decorated the cathedral and his depiction of the Last Judgment above the west portal is a main attraction. The cathedral is perched at the top of hill and the town unfolds beneath it through a series of winding streets. Clothing stores, butchers, restaurants and other types of commerce typical of a large town are found. Although a wine lover may start to experience withdraw symptoms after spending more than a day in Autun, it offers some of the best historical sites in the Burgundy region.
The clock tower
The courtyard of the Clos de Vougeot
Floating amongst the vines north of the Vosne-Romanee is a mammoth medieval relic. The Chateau du Clos de Vougeot sits in the upper portion of the walled grand cru from which it takes its name. Created by the Cistercianmonks of Cîteaux Abbey, the Clos Vougeot has been walled since at least 1336. A small chapel previously stood on the site of the Chateau, but that was expanded into the current structure in 1551. For generations, the wines of the Clos were produced by the monks at the Chateau. After the Revolution, the Chateau was sold into private hands and, since 1945, it has been the home base of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an exclusive organization of Burgundy lovers. Today, the Chateau is one the most popular sites to visit in Burgundy. The highlight of the Chateau is an ancient wooden press that was almost used as firewood by German soldiers during the Second World War. Thankfully, a local was able to reason with the Germans and save the unique piece winemaking history. The Chateau Clos de Vougeot is wonderful artifact of Burgundy’s past.
Notre Dame de Dijon
Although most wine lovers think of Beaune as the heart of Burgundy, Dijon is the capital of the region. Dijon was the seat of power for the mighty Dukes of Burgundy and once one of the most sophisticated cities in France. The golden of age of Dijon occurred in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when the Dukes, beginning with Philip the Bold, were the dominate force in France. Dijon lost much of its power when the Duchy of Burgundy was incorporated into France in 1477, but it has remained an important provincial city.
Unlike many European cities, Dijon escaped destruction from the major wars. The city has many half-timbered buildings that date from the 12th to 15th centuries. A distinguishing feature of Dijon architecture is the toits bourguignons roofs which are made of tiles glazed in terracotta, green, yellow and black. These roofs can also be found in parts of Burgundy (the Hospices de Beaune for instance), but only in Dijon are they prevalent. Dijon is packed with stunning churches, including the Notre Dame de Dijon which is famous for its facade covered with creepy gargoyles. The crypt of the Dijon Cathedral dates from 1,000 years ago. Another popular site is the massive Ducal Palace which houses the city’s museum. Kir, a mixture of white wine and crème de cassis, was invented by one of Dijon's former mayors and its mustard remains famous. Only a twenty minute drive from Gevrey-Chambertin, Dijon is a worth a visit if you need a day of rest from the wine route.
Hospices de Beaune
The steeple of the Hospices de Beaune
The sky line of Beaune of is dominated by the distinctive toits bouruignons roof of the Hospices de Beaune, a classic piece of French fifteenth-century architecture. Constructed in 1443, just after the Hundred Years War, the Hospices de Beaune served as hospital for the needy. The original hospital building was named the Hôtel-Dieu (God’sHotel) and today is a museum. Although the museum does not have much to offer in terms of wine, the building is the site of the famous auction held the third Sunday of each November. The Domaine des Hospices de Beaune is a charitable organization that owns vineyards (about 61 hectares) which have been donated to it over the years. A wine baring the Hospices de Beaune label was purchased at the auction in barrel and bottled by a local producer. The Hospices de Beaune is a landmark worth visiting at least once.
Chateau de La Rochepot
La Rochepot is Burgundy’s Camelot. Tucked in the hills behind Saint Aubin, La Rochepot feels far removed from the slopes of the Cote d’Or. Sitting high above the tiny hamlet, seemingly straight out of a fairy tale, is a completely intact castle. However, that was not always the case. The original castle, which dated back to the 13th century, was torn down during the revolution and left in ruin until Colonel Sadi Carnot (the son of a French president) took ownership and started renovating it at the turn of the 20th century. Using old archives, skilled craftsman were able to bring the castle back to life.The views from the castle are stunning and certainly a must see for anyone interested in the region behind its wine culture. Actually, there is wine made from the town. The vineyards surrounding La Rochepot are classified as Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.