Start with the visit to chateaux…
Burgundy counts more chateaux than any other region of France. Nearly 100 castles, medieval strongholds and chateaux of every architectural style dot the landscape from Vézelay to Cluny. It is impossible to explore a region the size of Burgundy during one holiday but, even a short visit will illustrate abundantly the richness of the region’s heritage and the important role it played in European history.
The region is dotted with impressive chateaux, many of which are open to visitors. Many are ‘chateaux forts’ when defence was a priority. Others reflect the Renaissance period where style was more important.
La Rochepot is definitely in the defensive league though its marvellous Burgundian roof reflects a somewhat romantic image of mediaeval times.
Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is more forbidding. High on a hillside overlooking the A6 to Paris and the Burgundy canal, you can still feel that somebody is watching you from the ramparts, just checking that your intentions are friendly! Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is a good example of the remaining vestiges of Burgundian military architecture from the 14th century.
In Bussy-Rabutin the style is mixed with satire. Its owner was exiled here for life after a spell in prison in Paris. His offence was to insult the court and in particular the favourite lady of King Louis
14th. He had the walls decorated with paintings of the members of the Court with some not very flattering remarks on their looks and sexual desires. The French-style gardens are delightful.
The chateau’s construction dates from 1605 and houses the «Salles dorées», the most richly painted apartment from the period of Louis 13th and still perfectly conserved! Gardens are definitely the delight of Cormatin. The chateau is stunning but, it is the gardens that many visitors come to see. They are being painstakingly brought back to their original glory and design.
The newly renovated ‘Château d’Ancy-le-Franc’ has the largest number of mural paintings dating back to the Renaissance, making it a rival to Fontainebleau. Musical concerts and cooking classes are organised in the chateau. Guided tours, concerts, cooking classes and wine tasting are available.
Nothing quite prepares you for Bazoches. It was the former residence of Marshal Vauban, the great military engineer and also architect of castles and fortifications for Louis 14th This exceptional site is entirely furnished and surrounded by a garden built from plans drawn up by Le Nôtre. And from the gardens the abbey and village of Vézelay can be clearly seen!
First built during the 12th Century, the Château de Sully is one of the most beautiful Renaissance castles in Burgundy and France. Historic château of the Mac Mahon family, Sully is the largest Renaissance chateau in the south of Burgundy. It is still lived in by the Magenta family.
Go on with something unexpected:
Guédelon, an amazing adventure in history!
At the heart of the Puisaye (northern Burgundy) a group of 50 workmen has taken up the unique challenge of building Guédelon castle using only medieval materials and techniques! The only one of its kind in the world, the building site takes you right back to the 13th century: no mechanical noise, just the sounds of stone being cut, wood sawn and horses’ hooves.
Work on the site began in 1997 and is scheduled to take 25 years to complete. Hundreds and thousands of visitors from across the globe have flocked to see the only construction site of its kind in the world. Throughout the seasons they have watched Guédelon’s workers rise to this extraordinary challenge; the curtain walls, the postern, the fixed bridge, the vaulted guard rooms, the groin-vaulted cellar, and the roof timbers have all been builtunder their watchful gaze.
The materials needed for the construction of the castle – wood, stone, earth, sand and clay – are all to be found here, in this abandoned quarry. Before the gaze of thousands of visitors, all the trades associated with castle-building: quarrymen, stonemasons, woodcutters, carpenters, blacksmiths, tile makers, basket makers, rope makers, carters and their horses are working together to complete the castle.
Guédelon proposes a unique opportunity to witness the different stages of a castle’s construction; each phase being of interest in its own right. Guédelon offers something for everyone: academics, historians, teachers, students and families. The site is accessible to people with limited mobility. Guided visits in English.
Then move on to the majestic:
Fontenay abbey: Highlight of Romanesque art
Fontenay abbey is a Cistercian jewel in the crown of northern Burgundy, its remarkable state of preservation due to the remoteness of its leafy valley setting. A superb place to visit and refresh the spirit .The abbey has UNESCO World Heritage status and is often used as a location for films and concerts.
Fontenay abbey was founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard in a marshy valley near Montbard. Originally a dependant of Clairvaux abbey, Fontenay flourished up to the 16th century. Royal interference in the abbey’s affairs (known as the “commende”) and the Wars of Religion led to its decline. The abbey became public property in the French Revolution and was sold to the Montgolfier family who used it as a paper mill. In 1906 Édouard Aynard, a son-inlaw of the family, bought it back to restore it. His descendants opened it to the public as a living museum of 12th century Cistercian monasticism.
The village of Vézelay: Pilgrims’ hill
On the edge of the Morvan, Vézelay is a major site for Christianity and a charming hilltop village. The climb to the basilica is almost a rite of passage. Over the centuries many artists and writers have found inspiration here. Spiritual, literary or poetic – the essence of
Romanesque art prevails…
In the 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux preached the Second Crusade in Vézelay. The village harboured the relics of Mary-Magdalene and became a major spiritual centre on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim way.
Whether you come by car, on horseback or on foot along the famous GR 654 footpath, one of the
great Santiago de Compostella routes, be sure to savour every moment of your ascent to the
basilica: The basilica of Saint-Marie-Madeleine is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was restored
by Viollet-le-Duc. Take time to admire its imposing narthex before entering the great nave, flooded
Abbey church of Cluny: spiritual heart of medieval Europe
In 2010 six countries in western Europe celebrated the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Cluny abbey. Visit the imposing remains of the abbey church as part of a pleasant holiday in the Clunisois, exploring its heritage and equestrian traditions.
Cluny abbey was founded in 910 by Guillaume d’Aquitaine. Building was completed in the mid-12th century, the high point of the abbey’s history. For five hundred years, until Saint Peter’s in Rome was built, the abbey church of Cluny was the largest religious building in Europe (177m long). It produced a number of Popes. The first church was built in the 10th century in Carolingian style. In the following century a second church was the first example of “early Romanesque art”.
Less than a hundred years later building work began on the basilica of St-Pierre-et-St-Paul. The abbey church was demolished during the French Revolution and only part of it remains. As you walk around town you can begin to see how vast the buildings must have been…Today, to complement the tour, a 3D film recreates the gigantism and the atmosphere of the church in the 13th century. Cluny also provides a rare example of a monastic town and its medieval houses have been remarkably preserved.
Priory of La Charité-sur-Loire: UNESCO World Heritage site
La Charité-sur-Loire is a well-known ‘book town’, possessing some of the finest Romanesque art and architecture in Burgundy. Its priory church is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been beautifully restored. From the 11th century paupers and pilgrims seeking charity from the abbey monks gave rise to the name of this important fortified crossing point on the Loire. Its long stone bridge – the oldest along the river – became a symbol for travellers.
The powerful Benedictine abbey of La Charité-sur-Loire was the “eldest daughter-house of Cluny” on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim way and founded fifty filials across Europe, helping to curb the violence of feudal times.
During the Hundred Years War La Charité was fought over by Armagnacs and Burgundians. In 1429 Joan of Arc laid unsuccessful siege to the town. Although it has lost is great Romanesque
door and original nave, the church is still magnificent.
Fairy tale setting with a sweet centre
Close to Fontenay’s abbey, the picturesque village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain stands atop its rocky spur. Its abbey, narrow medieval streets and ramparts all bear witness to past grandeur. Today it is
classed as one of the loveliest villages in France and is famous for making sweets.
Lovely medieval village in Serein valley
In Northern Burgundy, Noyers-sur-Serein surprises visitors with its halftimbered houses, carved pilasters, soaring wisteria and medieval arcades. This lovely village, nestling in a meander of the river Serein, boasts a number of charming little squares. Welcome to one of the loveliest villages in France.