Visiting Beaune in Burgundy France With a Small Dog
On a gorgeous October morning, my grandma dropped us off at the train station in Tournus. (More on that adorable town later). I could sense excitement in the air. Mom’s hands were doing their fluttering thing. It happens when she gets excited. She talks a little too fast, her hands act like birds caught in a net, and her whole body has a joyous, nervous energy. It’s adorable actually. You can ask Dad if you don’t believe me.
See, we were going to Beaune. Mom, who has been to the region many times to visit Grandma (her mom), had already seen what we were about to discover for ourselves, and she could not wait to share it with Dad and me. I could tell it was going to be great, so my curiosity was tip-top-peeking at this point. I mean, heck, I had already been to Chalon-sur-Saône and seen the birthplace of photography. Based on Mom’s excitement, I suspected that whatever Beaune had to offer was going to top that. And you know what, Dear Reader? I called it!
When we got off at the little train station in Beaune, I had a moment of glee as I watched two young women in summer dresses and straw hats take their bikes off the train’s bicycle car. Oh yeah – the entire region is super bike friendly. You can hop on and off trains with your bikes. SO cool! And these women were the picture of European charm. I couldn’t resist pulling on my leash to go in for a pet. It all made the bipeds think of a great adventure – maybe a cycling one. Not sports bikes but casual Amsterdam comfort bikes. I feel a plan hatching!
After that, we collected ourselves and followed our little map to the great old center of the town. There, we popped into the tourist office to get our tickets for the Hospice of Beaune.
Dear Reader, I may have a penchant for slight embellishment, but believe me fully when I say to you that I was utterly gob smacked by the Hospice. I may have fallen over is I had not been in my sling bag.
Small dogs under 10 pounds are allowed inside the Hospices de Beaune so long as they are in carriers of some sort. This includes sling bags YAY! – Do call or email ahead to let them know you are coming. I was stunned at how much of a non-issue my presence was for the lady selling tickets.
Anyway … with me on Dad’s hip, we rounded a corner and stepped into the main courtyard. To this:
It blows your mind away. That roof … it … it… wow. And it is all the more surprising since you can’t see it from the outside. You actually have to enter the courtyard.
L’Hôtel-Dieu (as it is called in French) with its superb gothic facades and it’s varnished roof like a tapestry of geometric colours, is a flamboyant and remarkably well preserved historical monument. And it’s got a stellar history! I just have to share some of it with you.
The hospice has been around since the August 1443 and is a superb example of medieval architecture. Nicolas Rolin (Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy) and his wife, Guigone de Salins, built the hospice as a charity for the poor – one of the first examples of social medicare, in a way. All that gorgeousness for the care of the destitute and ill!
The hospice has a massive collection of over 5,000 objects, furniture, and medieval tapestries for its rooms. The hospice even has an organ for music!
And one of the most famous icons in the world is there. I kid you not. The Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden hangs behind glass walls with stunning tapestries, all protected from light. And all still pet friendly! The security guard didn’t even bat an eyelash as I entered in my sling bag. Dear Reader, even if you aren’t religious, this art will hit you hard in the chest. The magnificent colours, the tortured souls, the quality of the delicate features. S u p e r b.
All of this beauty was created in a dark time for the region. The 100-year war wasn’t over. Beaune was suffering from famine and misery. Three-quarters of the town’s residents were homeless. So, the rich husband and wife team decided that a good way to buy their redemption was to create a hospital for the poor. (In medieval times, the Church encouraged people to spend money on good things as a way of improving their odds of getting into heaven.) The Chancellor and his wife used the profits from their wine production as the main source of income to build the hospice. In building the hospice, the couple also created a few jobs for the locals. And so the hospice was built, stone by stone and tiny little varnished roof tile by roof tile.
On the 1st of January 1452, the hospital opened its doors and received its first patients. Nurses (sisters) lived and were trained on site. The hospice quickly gained a good reputation. Not only did the poor go, but also did the rich. The rich were asked to make substantial donations, and they did, thus keeping the hospice going and growing! Soon, the hospice even had its own apothecary and pharmacist.
Art was purchased so the sick could have something beautiful to gaze upon, to soothe their souls. A far cry from hospitals – or vet offices – of today!
The hospice and the nurses cared for the poor and outcast over many years. And believe it or not, the care continues to this day. Oh sure, this wing is now a museum. But, Dear Reader, in 1971, a new modern hospital was built right next door with a connecting garden. The new hospital also includes a retirement home. The “palace for the poor” is still there after all this time, centuries later. I find it amazing, don’t you?
I like to think that the Chancellor and his wife knew it would last like this, propelling their names and good deeds into the future.
We left the museum and its lovely gift shop and found a place to have lunch. Right across the street. A pleasant spot in the sun on a terrace providing us with a view of people going in and out of the hospice. It was fun to see the look of wonder on the faces of even the most blasé of tourists.
We then decided to go see one other large monument in Beaune: the big BIG church!
The Collégiale Basilique Notre-Dame was built from the 11th to 15th centuries in Romanesque and Gothic styles. (It took time to build things to last!) Notre-Dame was once affiliated with the monastery of Cluny, an ancient Benedictine order. The church is notable for its extra-large porch, which I got to enjoy while the bipeds did the hand-off thing. (I wasn’t allowed inside.) Mom struck up a conversation with an elderly man who was resting in the shade. He shared many stories with us, telling us how his family has been involved in restoring this church over five generations.
The biggest reason for visiting the Notre Dame Church lays hidden inside. There, in the center, is a super, s u p e r long 15th-century tapestry. The bipeds told me that the visit is TOTALLY worth it! The tapestry is extraordinary.
The tapestry is a collection of five separate panels, showing the life of the Virgin. The panels have a total of nineteen scenes covering the Virgin’s birth, her life as the mother of Jesus, and her assumption and crowning in heaven. The tapestry is amazingly vibrant in color. In 1891, it was classified as Historic Art.
After the church hand-off and visit, we had a little time to spare before returning to the train station and back to grandma’s. Plus I had been in the bag a lot and had some steam to burn. So we went for a walk in old Beaune. As we came around a corner, we stumbled upon the garden of The Dalineum, an old bank made into a private museum of works by Salvador Dali.
I was stunned. The garden is so beautiful. Mom quickly saw an opportunity for a fun photo with the statue of the “Drawer Venus.” Sitting pretty, I posed for the shot.
The owner (it is a private collection) came out when he saw us and I thought we would get into trouble, but no! It was the opposite! He INSISTED we take a better photo with me IN the drawers. We were happy to oblige!
We were then invited inside the museum (no pics) where you can see a sample of paintings, sculptures, and other works. Some were rather unique, like the weird coffee cup and saucer reflection piece. I would not say it is the most astounding collection, but it is a fun way to spend 45 minutes (if a tad expensive). It IS pet friendly!
By this time, we were a little pooped so we called it a day. And what a day. On our way to the train station, we saw the old city walls. Much of the parking for Beaune is on the outside of those walls to keep the old historical centre free from traffic. I like that the ramparts still have a sort of “demarcation” purpose.
In review: The main attraction in Beaune is, hands down, the Hospice. Built in 1443, this magnificent Gothic hospital is famously topped by stunning turrets and pitched rooftops covered in multi-colored tiles. Interior highlights include the barrel-vaulted Grande Salle (look for the dragons and peasant heads up on the roof beams); the mural-covered St-Hughes Room; an 18th-century pharmacy lined with flasks once filled with elixirs and powders; and the multi-paneled masterpiece icon of the Last Judgment by 15th-century Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden, depicting Judgment Day in glorious Technicolor. But Beaune has more. So give yourself time to visit the town! Take in the Notre-Dame and its tapestry, The Dalineum, the old houses, cobble stone streets, and lovely restaurants. And if you are into wine, carve out some time for some very serious wine tasting with the wine school!