here are – at least – two sides to Beaune. Many tourists are probably mislead to believe that there isn't much more to this little town of 21 800 inhabitants than the Hôtel-Dieu, the large cellars and a few more things as they are hurried around on guided tours.
To me Beaune is a charming place to be, not necessarily doing anything more than having a cup of coffee at the café on the narrow Rue Monge, strolling around or letting the younger part of the family ride the carousel at Place Carnot. That is not to say that one shouldn't pay Hôtel-Dieu a visit. I have been there at least five times and I have enjoyed every time. Founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, this hospital was in use until 1971. Inside you can see how the hospital was run in past times as you walk through the Grand'Salle/Chambre des Pauvres, Salle Ste-Anne, Salle St-Hugues, Salle St-Nicolas, cuisine and pharmacie. You eventually end up in the Salle St-Louis and the Salle du Polyptyque, where you can see early 16th century tapestries from Tournai, a series woven in Brussels in the twelfth century and the famous polyptych of the Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden.
There are surprisingly few tourist traps in Beaune. Take Athenaeum for instance, a large bookstore selling glassware and toys as well. You find it right opposite the Hôtel-Dieu, next to the tourist office. This would in many cases also mean prices considerably higher than outside the tourist circuit. But not here; compared to Amazon the prices on books are only slightly higher.
Buying wine in the central parts of Beaune can be a bit of an adventure. Some shops have ridiculous prices, others don't. My advice would be to go out to the outskirts of Beaune, closer to the motorway, on Avenue de Gaulle. This is where you find CPH La Grande Boutique du Vin, a whole house turned into a wine shop. The ground floor is solely dedicated to Burgundy and the first floor to the rest of the world. This is of course far from a reflection of the real world where Burgundy accounts for only 0.5 percent of the world's wine production, but for the fan of Burgundy it is heaven.
Parts of the town wall and the watch towers from the 15th century are still intact. It is inside these walls, or close to the ring road that surrounds it, that you will find most of the commerce in Beaune. Few cars are allowed in the old part of the town, which makes it a lovely place to go shopping. Not surprisingly a lot is centred around wine and everything that comes with it.
Across the Place de la Halle from the Hôtel-Dieu is the market hall. Saturday is the big market day in Beaune and since the market hall itself is far to small to accommodate all the vendors a large portion of the market stands are set up on the square outside and along nearby streets.
Today's market hall is partly the result of the work by Ludovic Allaire, a Dijon architect, who in 1901 got the commission to design the building that would replace the old market hall. The town of Beaune had bought the old market hall and adjacent buildings in 1893 in order to able to build a new and larger hall. Allaire's market hall was very much influenced by les Halles in Paris, designed by Victor Baltard in the mid-1800s.
In 1957 the mayor of Beaune, Roger Duchet, had the façade demolished in favour of a new, more Burgundian-looking style created by the architect Pierre Beck. A steep roof covered with flat tiles replaced the old one and the cast iron columns were replaced by large limestone pillars.
There has been a market hall in Beaune for several centuries. According to Charles Aubertin there was a Grande Halle or a Halle de Monsieur le Duc already in 1203 when Beaune obtained its town charters. He also tells us that from the 14th century the Place de la Halle was called forum bladi (marketplace for wheat).
In 1443 the foundation charter for the Hôtel-Dieu mentions a hall next to the square. In 1515 Francis I, considered to be France's first Renaissance monarch, gave the market hall to the town of Beaune in exchange for the town taking on responsibility for the maintenance and a fee of 50 livres. By then the market hall was no longer just a place for selling and buying wheat – butchers and fish mongers had moved in with coopers and drapers. 18 years later Francis I granted the town to lease the market halls for another period, a period that would last until 1829.
During the second half of the 16th century – from 1559 to 1581 – the town undertook repairs of the building. At this time the northwestern façade of the market hall, the one towards the square, was adjoined to other buildings.
In 1761 plans for reconstruction work began to take shape, but these were never carried out. Instead in 1814 the main hall was pulled down. 15 years later the town of Beaune bought all the buildings for 15 200 francs, putting an end to the long lease that began in 1533.
Another seven years down the line the town decided to pull down the parts of the market hall dating back to the Middle Ages. The Renaissance portal was moved to the city hall, the Hôtel de Ville, where it now surrounds the entrance to the old chapel. The new market hall was opened in 1839.
Towards the end of the 19th century, in 1885 and 1886, the town's architecte voyer ("architectural overseer") Gaston Texier drew up plans for adding small shops to the market hall.
Many of the big négociants are located in Beaune, such as Joseph Drouhin. Louis Jadot, Bouchard Père et Fils, Champy Père et Fils and Chanson Père et Fils. When it comes to Beaune they are not only buying grapes or must; here they are big landowners as well. Well-known examples are Drouhin's Clos des Mouches and Jadot's Clos des Ursules, both premier crus.
On Place Carnot you will find Dennis Perret, a joint operation selling the wines of Bouchard, Chanson, Drouhin, Jadot and Louis Latour.
Once you are done with the cultural activities and the shopping, take the narrow streets westward to Rue du Docteur Bouley and the Parc de la Bouzaize. This small park has a large pond and is right below all the Beaune vines, with Les Teurons just behind the surrounding fence. There is a small ice-cream stand here and the park is a perfect picnic area.
The Parc de la Bouzaize was originally initiated by mayor Paul Bouchard who held office1871-1874 and 1882-1898. There was a need to secure the water supply and the town started to buy land in 1886 and continued until 1910. The idea was to create an English garden, a landscape garden. The park was built in 1893-1894 and in the 1940's animals were added. Today you can find deer and some farm animals, as well as many birds and fish.
Up behind the Beaune vineyards is the appellation of Côte de Beaune. This is neither to be confused with Côtes de Beaune-Villages, nor Hautes-Côtes de Beaune. It is a small appellation, producing only a fraction of what the Beaune vineyards produce.
– It is an appellation for both red and white wine, says Emmanuel Giboulot at Domaine Emmanuel Giboulot in Beaune. It is not very well known or seen very often on the market. I find it very interesting, but you have to spend a lot of time explaining to people what it is. It is not Meursault, which is something people know exactly what it is.
The old postcard above shows the harvest at the premier cru "Clos de la Mousse" at the beginning of the 20th century. Today the "Clos de la Mousse" is a monopole owned by Bouchard Père & Fils. It was a monopole before the French revolution too, but was then confiscated and split in several parts in 1789. In 1826 Théodorine Morelot, the wife of Bernard Bouchard, inherited part of the "Clos de la Mousse" from her father. Bouchard then bought the remaining parts in 1863 and 1872. You will find it between Les Teurons and Les Avaux, right along the road to Bouze-lès-Beaune. The annual production is 17 900 bottles.
© 2013 Ola Bergman