In July 2014 I went to Burgundy (Bourgogne) in France together with Dóra, a friend from Vienna with Hungarian origins. It was our first holiday together, but we had a fabulous time. Dóra did a lot of the planning, because she is a very organized person, while I like to play it by ear a lot when travelling. She is also an art historian, which means that I learned a lot about the history of art, in particular about styles throughout the epochs. I, on the other hand, was the driver (important job – you can see me below with our rental car)
and I was also responsible for food and drinks, i.e. finding good places to eat and have a cultivated drink, mandatory in France. You can see Dóra at the background of this sweet bistro/tea house:
We arrived in Paris to take the TGV (high speed train) to Dijon, a pretty town with a great cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Bénigne), particularly impressive on the outside,
le Palais des Ducs (Ducal palace), which houses a lot of medieval art exhibits, amongst others the ducal tombs realized by Claus Sluiter:
Of course we also bought our share of mustard. The hardest part about it was tasting which flavors we wanted. Some were very spicy.
Then we picked up our little car and went to Beaune. It used to be the capital of Burgundy and its main attraction is the Hôtel-Dieu, a former hospital, where patients did not have much privacy. The beds in the big hall were always shared by two people! Well worth seeing was also the 15th century polyptych:
We decided to splash out every once in a while and invested in two very memorable hotels. We spent one night in a real castle, where we felt like princesses when we had our glass of “kir” in style at the lobby:
Another time, we took a hotel room with an impressive view on the hill where Vézélay is situated.
But not only the location of Vézélay is very picturesque, the cathedral is also stunningly beautiful inside:
There were also some social highlights like our breakfast at a small bistro one morning. We had coffee with croissants from the bakery next door, whereas some of the other guests had their first few glasses of wine.
But now about some more cultural discoveries. We saw a great deal of Romanesque and Gothic churches, in fact there was one in almost every village. Since particularly Romanesque churches are not that common in Austria, I was quite impressed and Dóra explained all the style features to me. Below you can see some pictures of minor Romanesque and Gothic churches we visited:
What I really started to love about Romanesque churches are the capitals on the columns:
One of my favorite places on this trip was Cluny because of its church. The cathedral of Cluny used to be the biggest church in the world at the time. They started building the third version of it in 1088. When we went around the remains, it dawned on me that it must have been massive. The portal alone carried one stone that weighed 23 tons. Due to its importance in the Catholic world, it served as a model for many other churches that were built at that time. The Church of Cluny, with a floor of five naves in the main body of the church and two crossings, has the floor plan of the shape of an archbishop’s cross. Very sadly, it was destroyed during the French Revolution, blown up and its stones re-used for other buildings. This is also the reason why there are only small pieces of the portal stone mentioned above:
These now outside pictures used to be inside the church:
This is to show you how big the remaining smaller side aisle is. The dwarf there is me:
The French revolutionaries caused very much damage to a lot of churches. Sometimes they chipped figures or their heads like in Charlieu:
Another highlight was definitely the city of Autun with its old city walls, amphitheatre, cathedral and pretty architecture:
However, our holiday was not only about churches, we also visited castles. I have been a fan of French (Renaissance) castles ever since I spent my summer on the estate of a baroness in the Touraine in 1996. At that time I got to see a number of them for the first time.
This time we had Château Cormatin on our list. It was built just after 1600 and is surrounded by water. A little nice detail were the bush sculptures in the park – little cute animals:
Another castle was Château Sully, also surrounded by water. It is the largest Renaissance castle in southern Burgundy. There was even time for some yoga although the weather started to be quite nasty.
May I present our summer residence: Château Tanlay (we wish):
One of the prettiest towns on this trip was Semur en Auxois, which might also have something to do with the fact that there was finally some sun after a week of heavy rain and cold weather. Anyway, it is a charming place built on a rock with many small streets and lookouts, but see for yourself:
Another highlight for me was the Cistercian monastery of Fontenay, which was founded in the 12th century. This Romanesque building is quite reduced regarding decorations, because the monks were not supposed to be distracted by any pictures, capitals or the like. I was amazed by the atmosphere of the place, because its simplicity rendered me very calm and serene. Yet, I would not have swapped with the monks, who had a harsh life. They all slept on straw bags and apart from the kitchen there was only one more room that was heated. Just imagine the freezing winter months!
When visiting Burgundy, you should definitely not leave out the city of Auxerre. There are many pretty streets and squares with nice cafés.
It also has two beautiful cathedrals, one being la Cathédrale St. Etienne:
Believe it or not, we also visited Montréal on the same trip. Well, it looked like this and is rather small and sleepy:
I cannot provide any pictures for the Grottes d’Arcy, grottos where paintings of Cro-Magnon people were discovered in 1990. The oldest wall paintings inside the grotto are some 28,000 years old (!) and are therefore the oldest wall paintings that we currently know of. The paintings were preserved by a layer of chalk and depict animals like mammoths and bears.
Regarding the houses of prayer that we went to, we even visited a Buddhist temple on the way:
We did not only have one cultural ambitions, we also climbed the Roche de Solutré, a limestone rock, from top of which we had an amazing view:
The last town that we went to in Burgundy was Sens. The end of the trip was gloriously crowned with a “son et lumière” show on the cathedral, a massive building with many impressive windows:
From there, we went to Paris (Sacré-Coeur seen from Musée d’Orsay)
and then to Vienna.
If you think that we crammed in a lot. Yes, that’s certainly true, but it was definitely worth while. It was an amazing trip. I saw great places and learned very much as well.