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Burgundy

Burgundy is France’s richest province, historically, culturally, and gastronomically. The region’s fine wines have inspired awe for centuries, and every year the historic town of Beaune hosts one of the most famous wine auctions in the world. Dijon is a splendid city, filled with the great palaces of the old Burgundian nobility. The majestic French Alps attract visitors for winter sports, and, in summer, walking and a host of watersports on the glittering mountain lakes.

POINTS OF INTEREST

VÉZELAY

Tourists come to Vézelay to visit the picturesque Basilique Ste-Madeleine. In the 12th century, at the height of its glory, the abbey claimed to house the relics of Mary Magdalene, and it was a starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The star attractions of the Romanesque church are the tympanum sculpture (1120–35) above the central doorway, the exquisitely carved capitals in the nave and narthex, and the immense Gothic choir.

BEAUNE

The indisputable highlight of the old center of Beaune is the Hôtel-Dieu. The hospice was founded in 1443 for the town’s inhabitants, many of whom were left poverty-stricken after the Hundred Years’ War. Today, it is considered a medieval jewel, with its superb multicolored Burgundian roof tiles. It houses many treasures, including the religious masterpiece the Last Judgement polyptych, by Rogier van der Weyden. The Hôtel des Ducs de Bourgogne, built in the 14th–16th centuries, houses the Musée du Vin de Bourgogne, with displays of traditional winemaking equipment. Further to the north is the 12th-century Romanesque church the Collégiale Notre-Dame, which has a collection of fine 15th- century tapestries.

LYON

Dramatically situated on the banks of the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon has been a vital gateway between the north and south since ancient times. Vieux Lyon, the oldest part of the city, is the site of the Roman settlement of Lugdunum, the commercial and military capital of Gau, l founded by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Vestiges of this prosperous city can be seen in the superb Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine. There are also two excavated Roman amphitheaters: the Grand Théâtre, built in 15 BC to seat 30,000 spectators, and the smaller Odéon. Other major sights are the 19th-century mock-Byzantine Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, and the Cathédrale St-Jean, begun in the 12th century. Vieux Lyon’s fine Renaissance mansions are the former homes of bankers and silk merchants.

The excellent Musée des Beaux Arts showcases the country’s largest and most important collection of fine arts after the Louvre. The modern works, dating from after the mid-1900s, have found a new home in the Musée d’Art Contemporain in the north of the city. An exquisite display of silks and tapestries, some dating back to early Christian times, can be seen in the Musée des Tissus.

ANNECY

Annecy is one of the most beautiful towns in the Alps, set at the northern tip of Lac d’Annecy and surrounded by snowcapped mountains. A stroll around the town’s small medieval quarter, with its canals, flower-covered bridges, and arcaded streets, is one of the main attractions of a stay here. Look out for the formidable Palais de l’Isle, a 12th-century prison in the middle of the Thiou canal. The turreted Château d’Annecy, perched high on a hill, affords fine panoramic views. The clear waters of the lake are perfect for swimming and watersports. Boat trips leave from the Quai Thiou. One way to enjoy the area’s spectacular scenery is to take a boat to Talloires, a tiny lakeside village noted for its hotels and restaurants.

GRENOBLE

The ancient capital of Dauphiné, Grenoble is a busy and thriving city, attractively located at the confluence of the Drac and Isère rivers, in the shadow of the mighty Vercors and Chartreuse massifs. A cable car from the Quai Stéphane-Jay, on the north bank of the Isère, takes you up to the 16th-century Fort de la Bastille, where you are rewarded with magnificent views of the city and surrounding mountains. From here, paths lead down through pretty gardens to the excellent Musée Dauphinois at the foot of the hill. Housed in a 17th-century convent, the museum contains displays on local history, arts, and crafts. On the other side of the river, the focus of life is the Place Grenette, a lively square lined with sidewalk cafés. Nearby, the Place St-André is the heart of the medieval city, overlooked by Grenoble’s oldest buildings, including the 13th-century Eglise St-André and the 15th-century Palais de Justice. Also worth visiting is the Musée de Grenoble, the city’s principal art museum. With works by Chagall, Picasso, and Matisse, the modern collection is especially good.

DIJON

The center of Dijon is noted for its architectural splendor – a legacy from the dukes of Burgundy. Wealthy parliament members also had elegant hôtels particuliers (private mansions) built in the 17th and 18th centuries. The capital of Burgundy, Dijon today has a rich cultural life and a renowned university. The city’s great art treasures are housed in the Palais des Ducs. Dijon is also famous for its mustard and pain d’épice (gingerbread), a reminder of the town’s position on the medieval spice route. A major railroad hub during the 19th century, it now has a TGV link to Paris.

Hôtel de Voguë is an elegant 17th-century mansion is decorated with Burgundian cabbages and fruit garlands by Hugues Sambin. The magnificent 13th-century Notre-Dame Gothic church is best known for its many gargoyles, the Jacquemart clock, and, on the north wall, the sculpted owl (chouette), said to bring good luck when touched. Musée des Beaux Arts has a collection of Flemish masters here includes this 14th-century triptych by Jacques de Baerze and Melchior Broederlam. Palais des Ducs is where the dukes of Burgundy held court but the building seen today was mainly built in the 17th century for the parliament. It now houses the Musée des Beaux Arts. The cobbled street of Rue Verrerie in the old merchants’ quarter is lined with medieval half-timbered houses. Some, such as Nos. 8, 10, and 12, have fine wood carvings. Begun in the 15th century and completed in the 17th century, St-Michel’s facade combines Flamboyant Gothic with Renaissance details. On the richly carved porch, angels and biblical motifs mingle with mythological themes. The Musée Magnin has a collection of French and foreign 16th–19th-century paintings is displayed among period furniture in this 17th-century mansion. The Eglise St-Etienne dates from the 11th century but has been rebuilt many times. Its characteristic lantern was added in 1686.