If you haven't already figured it out, I'm a bit of a Francophile. But I will confess that going to Beaune was a hard decision. I went in March and the beaches of France were calling. I kept picturing myself catching some rays in Nice, having some Bouillabaisse in Marseille, or going broke in Cannes. Alas, the adventure of a new venue, and the temptation of drinking amazing Chardys won me over. When I arrived, the city of Beaune engulfed me. What's not to love. It's not overrun by tourists (unless you go during their famous wine festival - then again, the wine makes everything o.k.), it is surrounded by amazing wine, has gorgeous architecture, its people are nice AND the food is off the hook.
Beaune could be the culinary and wine capital of France. Located in the middle of Burgundy, Beaune is surrounded by some of the most coveted wine regions including Pommard, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, and more. Beaune is tiny, and when you arrive, you can drive into the center of town. There is parking in the city, but you can park for free outside the city walls. The town is small enough that you will not break a sweat walking from your spot to the center of town. This will also save you the trouble of dodging pedestrians as you try to make your way.
Here's a bit more detail on why I'd go back to Beaune in a heartbeat and what you should see & do while you're there.
WHERE TO STAY?
Beaune is tiny, so no matter where you stay, it will probably be a good location.
We stayed at Beaune Piano Apartment. At $172 per night it beat out most hotels (which were not busy at this time) AND it had a full kitchen and an awesome fridge. Our host, Cristina was great. She attended to all our needs and had pre-stocked the fridge with wine. She had an awesome palate, we loved all her selections. The apartment is part of a complex with a super charming outdoor area. Cristina, our host also stocked up the apartment with staples, which came in handy, especially since most stores are closed on Mondays (yup, even the supermarket - Casino closes that day). I would definitely recommend that you check out Cristina's place if you head to Beaune.
Once we settled in, we started exploring. The town was quiet (almost desolate), but this was not an issue for me. I was ready to unplug and unwind. The city's quiet made visiting sites really pleasant. There was no need to yell at tourists touching art work, stand on line to get into churches, and getting a table at restaurants (even Michelin starred ones) was not an issue. March was a winning month for me. I returned for the Hospices de Beaune Auction in November. If you happen to go to Beaune at this time, make your reservations well ahead of time. Most restaurants will be booked.
WHAT SHOULD YOU SEE?
Musee de l'Hotel-Dieu: This building is tres cool. Its glazed roofs will call you over. It is a bit more flamboyant than the rest of the buildings in the city. It was a charitable project by Nicolas Rolin who was the chancellor of he duke of Burgundy. The building was set to give medical care to those who could not afford it. The museum is more of than just a place where art is stored and shown. It actually teaches you about the beginnings of the wine auction, how the hospital operated, and about its founders. It's super cool for history buffs. This Middle age building has gorgeous Gothic details and a treasure trove of art inside. Most people head in to check out the altarpiece of the Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden. I recommend that you go way before lunch. The museum will close for lunch time, so if you've missed something like the Altarpiece, you'll be SOL and you'll have to return like I did. Tickets cost between € 2.30 (children under 18) to € 7 (adults). It is located at Rue de l'Hôtel Dieu. DO NOT MISS THIS!
Collégiale Basilique Notre-Dame: This Basilica is known as "Notre Dame de Beaune" and the "Daughter of Cluny". She is a Burgundian Romanesque church which has been peppered with Gothic elements including a bell-tower, flying buttresses, and a chevet). Its architectural complexity is a delight. It also holds some gorgeous Marian tapestries and a 12th Century sculpture of the Mother and Child. You can go in for free, but if you want to get a nice historical tour, it will cost you a mere 3€. The basilica is located at Place général Leclerc .
Musée du Vin: A must if you are a win lover. This museum was created in 1946 andhoused in the former Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy which was already a historic building. You can learn all about Burgundy's terroir, climate, and even say a prayer or two to the Patron Saint of the Vine. Entry will cost you 5.40€. The museum of wine is located at Musée du Vin de Bourgogne Hôtel des Ducs Rue .
Wine: There are plenty of places for you to taste wine. Start at Joseph Drouhin, it's right in town, so no driving is necessary. This will give you a nice representation of the region. Then head to the Wine Museum (mentioned above). Then, talk to locals (don't worry, a lot of people speak English, and they want to help out their wine making friends). You may end up making life long friends and tasting wines that will ruin your palate forever (example - Vincent et Francois Jouard - holey smokes their wine is AMAZING).
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Beaune Wine Auction: If you're lucky enough to find a place to stay, you should definitely check out the wine auction. It takes place on the third week-end in November. There's music, theater, and WINE! If you're lucky enough to have money & connections, you can hit up the auction at the Hospices de Beaune (Hotel-Dieu) on Sunday afternoon. It's the world's most famous charity wine auction.
Saint Vincent Tournante: This is my patron saint...ok...not quite. Saint Vincent is the patron saint of wine growers, not wine drinkers. Each year, a different village is chosen to host the St. Vincent festival which includes a procession (I always feel bad for the people carrying around the saints), music, games, and of course, a wine tasting and feast. The festival started in 1938 by the Chevaliers du Tastevin.
Beaune Farmer's Market: Grab your recyclable shopping bag on Wednesdays & Saturdays for the most kick ass farmer's market. It takes place in the Plaza by the Hotel Dieu and has some amazing goodies for you. You can check out the goodies & deets on the FriendsEAT blog where I write all about food stuff.
You need to make sure that you set time aside to go to Beaune's market (8-12am Saturdays & a smaller version on Wednesdays). It is located at the beginning of Paradise road. Local purveyors take over the town square with some amazing products. Prices are cheaper than at the local supermarket (Casino) and the products are of significantly higher quality. Get some eggs. They are some of the best I've had. Also, lots and lots of cheeses, fruits, breads, and incredibly inexpensive oysters. Did I mention the biggest artichokes I've ever seen? Click the link above to see some images of the foods we saw at the market. Go to the stand for the Gagnepain family (butchers). Their product is of amazing quality, and if you can guess the weight of your chicken correctly, it's free!
Take a Wine Class: I've been into wine for over ten years (and I worked in the field for 6). There is still so much I don't know. Turns out Cristina (our host in Beaune) runs an amazing wine school. She does private lessons for groups that are not intimidating AND because she has superb access, you get to taste some of the best wineries in the region. Classes begin at € 200 per person.
So, there's a Dalineum. What is it you ask? It is an amazing museum filled with works of Salvador Dali. The museum's owner, Jean Amiot, collected them over 40 years. He's all sorts of awesome, and, if you behave, he may let you play with a sculpture or two.
Go check out the wineries...there are lots, but we fell in love with Domaine Vincent & Francois Jouard. If you have been drinking the "good" stuff from the larger houses, you've probably had his grapes. Think Premier Cru wines made from 50 year old vines. Gorgeous stuff (read more here).
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK?
Le Pickwick: This British Pub is warm and cozy and frequented by locals. Order a round and Jerome (the owner) will hook you up with some pate en croute and salted peanuts. This is a super comfy joint. You'll like it. Located at 2 Rue Notre Dame.
La Part des Anges: This was my favorite bar in Beaune and my credit card bill will certainly show it. La Part des Anges has great music, great atmosphere, and an affordable wine list. The bartender will remember you 6 months from your last visit. He's that good. Located at 24 bis rue d'Alsace.
Route 66: This is a chic wine bar with some killer charcuterie. It's a great place to people watch, enjoy a little Marc de Bourgogne and meet both tourists and locals. Located at 30 Place Carnot.
La Ciboulette: Before I get to the fancy starred restaurants, you must know that there are affordable restaurants in Beaune. La Ciboulette is one of them. It serves Burgundian dishes without pretention. The service is lovely as well. €30 will get you a 3 course tasting menu. Located at 69 Rue de Lorraine.
Le Goret: This place is all about piggy goodness. Everything on the menu at Le Goret is made of pork (except for maybe dessert, but I had no room for that). Le Goret is not fancy, this is not a place for your first date, but for a well established relationship. The portions are HUGE (one dish could easily feed at least 3 people). This is solid French comfort food, make sure to have your Thanksgiving pants on because when you leave, you'll need to undo a button or two. Located at 2 Rue Maizières.
La Belena: This place reminded me of a Jersey diner in the best way. This is where the locals eat. I had some awesome oeufs en Meurette (eggs poached in wine sauce), a huge steak with potatoes au gratin, and dessert. Our group was 8 people and I think our bill came to somewhere around €200. We left full and a little buzzed (we drank quite a few bottles of wine that evening). Located at 1 Place Madelein.
Caves Madelein: My favorite in Beaune. These guys could easily go Michelin if they wanted to, but I am glad they aren't trying. You must have reservations for this restaurant to get in. No matter what day of the week you try to go, they are booked solid. It is a restaurant/wine shop, and Laurent (the owner) has an incredible wine palate. The food here is superb. They could seriously charge significantly more for their immaculate Burgundian dishes, be glad they don't and go at least twice. Located at 8 Rue du Faubourg Madeleine (and their telephone number so you can make resos 33 3 80 22 93 30) DO NOT MISS!
Le Jardin des Remparts: Talk about a gorgeous restaurant. It's located by the walls of the city in a gorgeous house. In the Summer, there's a shaded garden for you to enjoy the sunshine. The decor here is modern baroque...and I'd risk to say that the food has the same feel. The food here is most definitely French, but modern. There's not a touch of snobbiness to the food. They've got a little work to do if they want to get that first star, but it would not take much. Located at 10 Rue de l'Hôtel Dieu.
Loisseau des Vignes: (1 Michelin Star) Adjacent to the hotel Le Cep, Loisseau offers perfectly executed food and an incredible wine program with over 70 wines by the glass that one can preview in the main dining room. In the Summer, the restaurant sets up outdoor seating in the back garden, perhaps one of the prettiest locations in town. I particularly like that their tasting menu does not change price from lunch to dinner. Your 5 course tasting menu will cost you 75€, but there are other more affordable options as well AND you can order a la carte. Located at 31 Rue Maufoux.
Le Benaton: (1 Michelin Star) There's a reason they've received a Michelin star. The setting is incredibly clean and ultra modern. A lot of thought went into the decor of the restaurant (small details like the table cloths and the magnetic plates make a big impact). Great service and incredibly refined food at very affordable pricing. I suggest you go for lunch and enjoy their 34€ tasting. Located at 25 Faubourg La Bretonnière.
Maison Lameloise: If you are collecting Michelin stars, you cannot miss out on Maison Lameloise in the town of Chagny about 20 minutes from Beaune. It has 3 Michelin stars and will not disappoint (especially when 80 Euros gets you their 3 course tasting - which is really like 8 courses after all the amuse bouches & desserts). It is located at 36 Place d'Armes, 71150 Chagny, France
Au Pres Du Clocher: Head out to Pommard, check out the wineries and grab lunch at Aupres du Clocher. They offer various tasting menus at prices to fit most budgets and they have a wonderful wine list. Antonio and I are split on this one, he hated it (it did not fit his flavor profile - although he recognizes that the technique is perfect)...and I quite enjoyed it. Located at 1 Rue de Nackenheim, 21630 Pommard, France
HOW TO GET TO BEAUNE?
Planes: Fly into Dijon or Lyon airport.
Train: Although there is a direct train, your best bet is to take the TGV from either Paris or Lyon to Dijon. Once you get to Dijon, switch to the local train. The ride will be about 2 1/2 hours.
Automobile: You can get to Beaune from the A6, or A31. If you're coming in from Paris it will take you around 2 1/2 hours, and if you're coming in from Lyon it will take you about 45 minutes. We drove, it was surprisingly painless once we got our GPS to work).
Once you're there, you can walk the city. However, you will need a car if you plan on going anywhere outside the city. This includes wineries. My suggestion is that you make a day of your winery visits so you have time to sober up before getting back in your car.
Parking in Beaune: There is paid parking in the city with meters. However, there are parking lots outside the city walls (like the Republique parking lot) that are free. You can keep your car there the entire week.