17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Burgundy
The Burgundy region is one of the most interesting parts of France, renowned for its impressive historic monuments. The countryside of deeply wooded forests and green rolling hills abounds with cultural treasures: amazing Romanesque churches, medieval towns, picturesque villages, and awe-inspiring abbeys. The numerous magnificent and well-preserved ancient buildings bear witness to the region's former power and prosperity.
There are more than 300 churches in Burgundy, including masterpieces of architecture in Cluny, Dijon, Paray-le-Monial, and Tournus, and the spectacular Cathedral of Auxerre. Other must-see attractions are the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the village of Vézelay with its stunning Romanesque church and the old Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay. The region has its own unique culture. Burgundian buildings feature a distinctive architecture of colorful tiled roofs, and the hearty cuisine is famously delicious. Visitors should sample local specialties such as escargot, boeuf bourguignon, and poulet à la moutarde (chicken in mustard sauce) to truly savor quintessential France.
The stately palaces and historic churches of Dijon reflect the city's aristocratic heritage. During the Middle Ages, Dijon was the capital of the Duchy of Burgundy, and the Dukes lived in elegant mansions called "hôtels particuliers" that still grace the city with their impressive facades. The top tourist attraction is the Palais des Ducs at the historic center of town. This medieval palace allows visitors to imagine the grandiosity of Ducal life, which included lavish gourmet banquets. Housed inside a wing of the Palais des Ducs, is the renowned Museum of Fine Arts, which ranks among the best art museums in France. The collection ranges from Egyptian antiquities to medieval art and Renaissance Burgundian sculptures.
Another excellent museum in Dijon is the Musée Magnin that displays an extensive collection of French 17th-century and 19th-century painting. The most important church in Dijon is the Eglise Notre-Dame built in the 13th century in glorious Burgundian Gothic style. The spectacular exterior with its many gargoyles provides a contrast to the serene interior, featuring a precious 11th-century Black Virgin. Another noteworthy example of Burgundian Gothic architecture is the Cathedral Saint-Bénigne. The building incorporates Romanesque details from the 6th-century Benedictine Abbey that previously stood on this site.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Dijon
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This lovely historic town was another residence of the Dukes of Burgundy. Beaune's great attraction is the Old World charm found in its cobblestone streets lined with medieval houses. The central feature of the town is the Place Monge, with a tower from the 13th to 14th centuries. Beaune's main sight is the Hôtel-Dieu, a hospital for the poor built by Chancellor Nicolas Rolin and his wife in the mid 15th century. The distinctive Flemish Gothic half-timbered building has a colorful roof of geometric patterned tiles and a graceful courtyard. The Hôtel-Dieu now houses a museum with exquisite tapestries and a renowned 15th-century polyptych of the Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden. Continuing north of the Hôtel-Dieu, visitors will find the Collégiale Basilique Notre-Dame. This church is called the "Daughter of Cluny" because it exemplifies Romanesque architecture developed in nearby Cluny, with a three-aisled basilica and a square tower over the crossing. The church possesses a 12th-century statue of the Virgin Mary and splendid 15th-century tapestries. The Musée des Beaux-Arts, housed in part of the 18th-century Town Hall (originally an Ursuline convent), displays archeological finds and French and Flemish paintings of the 17th to 19th centuries.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Beaune
The quiet little town of Cluny grew up around the celebrated Benedictine abbey of the Cluniac order, founded in 910 by Duke William of Aquitaine. The Benedictine monks of Cluny created what was the largest church in Christendom, until Rome's Saint Peter's Basilica was built in the 16th century. The Cluniac order began a great reform of the church focused on a revival of monasticism following the rules of Saint Benedict. The movement spread to about 2,000 Cluniac houses all over western Europe. New architectural ideas were also developed at Cluny, which reflected the spiritual strivings of the order. The Abbaye de Cluny is an inspiring monument that provides an insight into the most important monastic order of the Middle Ages. Visitors are awed by the soaring Romanesque vaults and the brightness of the sanctuary. In the town of Cluny, which is some distance from the abbey, is the Eglise Notre-Dame, built shortly after 1100 and later remodeled in Gothic style.
In the area surrounding Cluny, there is an astounding concentration of Romanesque churches and castles. Several noteworthy castles include the medieval Berzé-le-Châtel castle with its stunning views, the feudal Saint-Point castle (Château de Lamartine), the impressive 15th-century Château de Pierreclos, the fortified Château de Brancion, and the elegant 17th-century Château de Cormatin.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cluny
Surrounded by ancient ramparts, the enchanting village of Vézelay stands on the top of a hill overlooking the majestic Monts du Morvan mountain range. Listed as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages" (Most Beautiful Villages) of France, Vézelay charms visitors with its gorgeous setting, gracious Renaissance houses, and exquisite Romanesque Basilica. Crowning the village, the UNESCO-listed Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine is a former abbey church founded in the 12th century at the commencement of the Second Crusades. This sacred site was a medieval pilgrimage destination on the "Way of Saint James" trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The Basilica still functions as a monastery and attracts many pilgrims. Open to the public year-round, the Basilica is often filled with inspiring music sung by monks and nuns of the "Fraternités Monastiques" (Monastic Brotherhood). From the vantage point of the Basilica, there are sweeping views of the Burgundian landscape. The quaint village is also a pleasure to explore. Tourists will enjoy strolling the quaint, narrow streets, admiring the old stone houses with their decorative detailing. Many buildings feature traditional paned windows.
5 Abbaye de Fontenay
In the beautiful wooded countryside of Burgundy, the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay was founded by Saint Bernard in 1119. The abbey takes its name from the Latin word for "fountain" because of the nearby streams and waterfalls. The Cistercian monks of Fontenay Abbey devoted themselves to leading a simple life, following the strict rules of Saint Bernard. The stark Burgundian monastery had no decoration whatsoever, so as not to distract monks from their prayers, however there is still beauty and serenity found in the simplicity of the architecture. The abbey church is one of France's oldest surviving Cistercian churches and has a lovely cloister with graceful arcaded galleries. The idyllic gardens are also perfectly designed to inspire contemplation. The abbey is extremely well preserved with its bakery, church, refectory, and sleeping quarters still intact, giving visitors a realistic impression of the 12th-century monks' daily life and the abbey's achievement of self-sufficiency. The Abbaye de Fontenay is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, however it is privately owned, which is a rare occurrence for this type of historic monument in France.
Address: Fontenay Abbey, Montbard 21500
Auxerre is a lively town about 150 kilometers northwest of Dijon on the hills above the bank of the Yonne River. The ancient part of the town, with elegant boulevards and historic houses, has preserved its Old World charm. Tourists will enjoy discovering the architecture and ambience of the Rue de l'Horloge, Rue de Paris, Rue Joubert, and Place Charles-Surugue. Auxerre's most important religious monument is the Abbey Church of Saint-Germain, which has a Carolingian crypt and 9th-century frescoes around the tomb of Saint Germain. The Church of Saint-Eusèbe has a beautiful Romanesque belfry with a 15th-century octagonal spire. The Cathedral of Saint-Etienne dates from the 13th to the 16th centuries and is the fifth church on the site. It is built on the foundations of a Romanesque cathedral and incorporates 11th-century frescoes. The north tower is 65 meters high, and the west front is richly decorated with sculpture from the 13th century. The splendid interior has a beautiful ambulatory, richly carved capitals, and vibrant 13th-century stained-glass windows. The Cathedral treasury contains reliquaries with Limoges enamel decoration, ivory statuettes, and manuscripts.
Sens has a fascinating history, especially during the medieval period. The doctrines of Abelard were condemned at a church council held here in 1140, and Louis IX was married in the cathedral in 1234. Thomas Becket lived here during his exile from England. In 1627, the town became the archbishopric see. Visitors may begin a tour at the 15th-century Palais Synodal, which now houses several museum collections. The Musées de Sens has a collection of Gallo-Roman antiquities, fine Flemish and Dutch paintings, and tapestries from the cathedral treasury (one of the richest in France). Another must-see site is the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, one of the largest Gothic buildings in France, founded in 1140 and completed about 1500. Most of the rich sculptural decoration of the facade was destroyed during the French Revolution, except for a figure of Saint Stephen, the legend of John the Baptist, and the Doorway of the Virgin. The beauty of the spacious three-aisled interior with its bold vaulting is enhanced by exquisite stained-glass windows from the 12th to 17th centuries. Other noteworthy churches include the Eglise Saint-Pierre-le-Rond (13th-15th century) and the Eglise Saint-Savinien that dates from the 11th century.
8 Autun and the Cathédrale Saint-Lazare
Thanks to its proximity to a beautiful nature site, Autun is called the "gateway to the Morvan Mountains." The town has a distinguished history dating back to Roman times. On the east side of the town are ruins of the largest Roman theater in Gaul, which once seated 20,000 spectators; the ancient town gates (Porte d'Arroux and Porte St-André); and the imposing remains of the Temple of Janus.
Autun's most important tourist attraction is the 12th-century Cathédrale Saint-Lazare, one of the finest examples of Cluniac architecture. In typical Romanesque style, the cathedral has a floor plan shaped like a Latin cross, an aisled nave, a plain transept, and a choir with a semicircular end. The spire was built by Cardinal Rolin in the 15th century. A superb Last Judgment sculpture by an artist named as Gislebertus adorns the main doorway. Take time to admire the cathedral's lavish facade-the medallions on the tympanum and intricately carved capitals of three columns are masterpieces of medieval sculpture. The interior features a profusion of exquisite Romanesque capitals, some are original and others have been replaced. The sanctuary has multiple richly decorated chapels, and the third one on the left contains the Martyrdom of Saint Symphorien painting by Ingres (1834). Spend a few moments to appreciate the artist's talent in painting this expressive work, especially his technical skill in creating a complicated three-dimensional crowd scene.
Above the Valley of the Cousin River near the Morvan Forest, the old fortified town of Avallon is still surrounded by its ancient walls. Avallon is renowned for its quaint ambience and beautiful architecture. At the center of the historic quarter is the 15th-century clock tower on the Grand Rue. A must-see site in Avallon is its 12th-century Romanesque church, the Eglise Saint-Lazare. This church features two richly decorated doorways on the west front, which are fine examples of Burgundian Romanesque style. Other interesting historic churches are the Eglise Saint-Julien that dates back to the 11th century, and the Eglise Saint-Martin-du-Bourg, a former abbey founded in the 12th century. Another top attraction is the Musée de l'Avallonnais, a museum that presents the history of the region and displays a small art collection. The museum also hosts interesting temporary exhibitions. Avallon is 15 kilometers away from Vézelay and both towns could easily be visited on the same day. Also nearby is the Abbaye de la Pierre-qui-Vire, an austere working Benedictine monastery in the Morvan Forest where monks spend a life of prayer (they also make excellent regional cheese and fine pottery).
The historic capital of the Bresse district, Bourg-en-Bresse lies in southeastern Burgundy, on the western fringes of the French Jura region. The town is noted not only for the famous "poulets de Bresse" (chickens), which are reared in this area but also for a jewel of Flamboyant Gothic architecture, the magnificent monastic church of Brou. The Monastère Royal de Brou à Bourg-en-Bresse features a harmonious interior, which is entered through a richly decorated Renaissance doorway. Other remarkable details are the ornate rood screen and vibrant stained-glass windows. The choir has 74 fine carved oak stalls (1530-1532) and contains the tombs of Duke Philibert II of Savoy, his wife Margaret of Austria, and Margaret of Bourbon. On the left of the choir is the Chapelle de la Vierge, with a marble altar decorated with scenes from the life of the Virgin. The monastery also houses an art museum with an excellent collection of 16th-century Flemish sculpture. Another important site nearby is the Eglise Notre-Dame built between 1513 and 1532 by the Brussels architect Louis van Bodeghem for Margaret of Austria.
The picturesque riverside town of Mâcon is a delight to explore. Mâcon lies on the banks of the Saône River, spanned by the Saint-Laurent Bridge with its elegant arches. A pleasant stroll through town leads to a discovery of interesting cultural sites and impressive historic buildings. The Musée des Ursulines is an excellent history museum in a former convent built in 1675. The museum displays archaeological finds from Gallo-Roman times through the Middle Ages. There is also a presentation of life in Mâcon such as the daily activities on the Saône River and the work of local artists. Another important monument is the Maison de Bois, the oldest house in Mâcon which was built between 1490 and 1510. The distinctive facade was created entirely from wood paneling, ornately decorated with charming statuettes. Visitors will be amused to see the figures of men with grimaces, monkey masks, and characters with wings. Another surprising tourist experience is the Apothicairerie de l'Hôtel-Dieu (apothecary shop located in the old Hotel-Dieu hospital), which appears exactly as the original 18th-century apothecary. Mâcon's 19th-century church, the Eglise Saint-Pierre, was designed by the architect Berthier who was a student of Viollet-le-Duc.
On the Loire River, the town of Nevers boasts several exceptional historic monuments. The spectacular Cathédrale Saint-Cyr-et-Sainte-Juliette dates back to the 10th century and shows a range of architectural styles. The Romanesque west choir features a 12th-century fresco, and in the crypt is a stunning early 16th-century Entombment sculpture. The cathedral features other fine sculptural decoration throughout including a Renaissance spiral staircase. Another top attraction is the imposing Porte du Croux gate tower, which was part of the town's ancient walls from the 14th century. The Porte du Croux houses the Musée Archéologique, which displays antiquities from the region, mainly Gallo-Roman archaeological finds and Romanesque sculpture. To appreciate the history, see where the Counts of Nevers lived at the Palais Ducal, a fine example of Renaissance architecture of the 15th-16th centuries. The most striking feature of the palace is the central "staircase tower" with relief decorations between the windows. In the northeast of the old town is the Eglise Saint-Etienne, built in 1097 and a rare example of a purely Romanesque church. The church has three Merovingian sarcophagi in the choir. Nevers is also famed for its faience, traditional pottery made here since around 1575.
Paray-le-Monial, on the Bourbince River, is an important pilgrimage destination. The town grew up around a Benedictine abbey founded in 973, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur. This Romanesque basilica was the place of origin in the 17th century of the cult of the Sacred Heart, inspired by the visions of Marguerite-Marie Alacoque (a nun who was subsequently canonized). A massive steeple draws attention to another important church, the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Romay, which is one of the most important Romanesque churches in Burgundy. Dedicated to the Virgin, the chapel was built in the 12th century on the model of the abbey church of Cluny with a massive octagonal tower over the crossing. Nearby is the Neo-Romanesque Chapelle de la Visitation featuring intricate mosaics and frescoes. This chapel was built on the spot where Marguerite-Marie Alacoque had her visions; her glass sarcophagus is in a side chapel on the right. Other interesting attractions include the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), a striking Renaissance building with a superb facade; the Tour Saint-Nicolas, originally the belfry of a 16th-century church; and the Musée du Hiéron, which has an excellent collection of 16th to 18th-century Italian, French, and Flemish paintings.
14 Morvan Regional Natural Park
Established in 1970, the Morvan Regional Natural Park encompasses 173,000 hectares set aside as a nature reserve. The northern part of France's Massif Central, this majestic mountain range is dotted with quaint villages and many enchanting lakes. The landscape also includes woodlands, valleys and gorges, pristine streams and rivers. The name "Monts du Morvan" has a Celtic origin and means "black mountain," probably because of the dense deep-green forests of this area between the Loire River and the Saône River. At higher altitudes in the granite hills, patches of farmland are intersected by hedges and expanses of magnificent forest. The nature park is ideal for hiking, fishing, relaxing, and just enjoying the fresh air. In the middle of this unspoiled nature, there is also an interesting cultural heritage. On Mont Beuvray, Caesar's most dangerous adversary in Gaul summoned an assembly of Gallic chieftains in 52 BC to challenge the Roman invaders. Another attraction in the park is the 17th-century Château du Creuset, an elegant French castle surrounded by 14 hectares of gardens. This château is now a luxury bed & breakfast, ideal for those who want a comfortable retreat in nature.
15 Château d'Ancy-le-Franc
The quaint little village of Ancy-le-Franc lies to the east of Auxerre on the Canal de Bourgogne. The highlight of the village is the marvelous 16th-century château, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture by Sébastiano Serlio, the court architect of King Francis I. The Château d'Ancy le Franc is set in a large park, and the interior is sumptuously decorated in Italian Renaissance style. The interior designs are attributed to Primaticcio and Niccolò dell'Abbate of the school of Fontainebleau. The château features exquisite Renaissance murals; the collection is the largest of its kind in France. Another highlight is its beautiful park.
Address: 18 Place Clermont-Tonnerre, 89160 Ancy-le-Franc
16 Château de Saint-Fargeau
The history of Château de Saint-Fargeau dates back ten centuries. The château was founded in 980 by an Abbot from Auxerre and has been owned by illustrious families, including the Lords of Toucy. In 1652, Anne-Marie Louise d'Orléans, the first cousin of King Louis XIV lived in this château and contributed to redesigning the interior. The Château de Saint Fargeau is one of the most beautiful examples of classic French style. During the summer, the château hosts a theatrical performance about the history of France from Joan of Arc to the French Revolution. The fantastical show features more than 600 actors, 60 horseback riders, and fireworks. The château also has some hotel rooms for overnight guests.
Address: Château de Saint Fargeau, 89170 Saint-Fargeau
The stately medieval town of Tournus lies on the right bank of the Sâone River, to the north of Mâcon. The former abbey church of Saint-Philibert is an impressive monument created in the 11th-12th century. One of the most exquisite Romanesque sanctuaries in France, the Abbaye Saint-Philibert is remarkably well preserved. The building has a large porch and an impressive interior. In the apse is the reliquary of Saint Philibert and under the choir is a large 10th-century crypt with finely detailed capitals. Also of interest are the 15th-century Eglise Sainte-Madeleine, another exceptional Romanesque church, and the Musée Greuze in the old Hôtel-Dieu (hospital), which has an excellent collection of archaeology and paintings.
Other Places of Interest
Listed as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages" (Most Beautiful Villages) of France, Châteauneuf-en-Auxois is a charming village with a fortified medieval castle on the banks of the Burgundy canal. This location provided a strategic position between Dijon and Autun. Built in the 12th-century, the castle features round towers and imposing walls dating back to the 13th-15th centuries. The village is a pleasant place to discover. A stroll around the medieval streets offers a chance to take in panoramic views and admire splendid 14th- to 16th-century houses that belonged to Burgundy merchants.
Another beautiful village on France's list of "Plus Beaux Villages," Château-Chalon is perched on a cliff overlooking a beautiful landscape of vine-covered rolling hills. The village grew up around its namesake castle and a Benedictine abbey. All that remains of these landmarks are the château's central tower and the abbey's Romanesque church, the Eglise Saint-Pierre.
Chalon-sur-Saône is an attractive historic village in the Saône region of Burgundy. Thousands of Roman amphorae were found when the nearby river was dredged. The Tour du Doyenné on an island in the Saône River offers a good view of the old town center.
This ancient village enjoys a wonderful setting on the Seine River, with a scenic riverside path that invites tourists to take a leisurely stroll. The village's oldest quarter, the Quartier Saint Vorles, is particularly charming with its quaint old houses and atmospheric alleyways.
Château de Ratilly
Built in 1270, this impressive medieval château has a noble history. The château withstood the Hundred Years' War and has been the residence of many pedigreed owners including Lord Guy de Vallery, the Knight Jean de Chandiou, and Louis de Menou, Governor of the Duchy of Saint Fargeau. The château now houses an interesting art center that hosts exhibitions throughout the year.
Château de Tanlay
On the Canal de Bourgogne and the Armançon River in northern Burgundy, the Château de Tanlay is a magnificent castle built in the 16th-17th centuries. This majestic building is one of the most elegant Renaissance châteaux in Burgundy.
Just 12 kilometers northeast of Avallon is the little town of Montréal. Full of Old World charm, this picturesque town has a lovely main street lined with attractive 15th-century and 16th-century houses. The 12th-century collegiate church, restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, is a wonderful example of Early Gothic architecture. Take some time to admire the beauty of the sanctuary. Notable features of the interior are a 15th-century altar with scenes from the life of the Virgin and the 16th-century choir stalls decorated with New Testament scenes.
The ancient village of Noyers is nestled in a bend along the Serein River. An important medieval center of farming and trade, the village has many attractive old squares including the Place du Marché-au-Blé (Corn Market) and the Place du Grenier-à-Sel (Salt Storehouse) that are testimony to the village's flourishing past as a market town. The village also boasts many fine 15th-century half-timbered houses.
Listed as one of France's "Plus Beaux Villages," Flavigny-sur-Ozerain was built around a Benedictine abbey founded in the 8th century. This typical Burgundian village features cobblestone streets, old ramparts, and fortified gates characteristic of a medieval town. The former abbey no longer serves religious purposes but still makes the traditional confectioneries flavored with anise seeds, based on a recipe passed down by the monks.
On a rocky ridge above the Armançon River, the little town of Semur-en-Auxois has preserved much of its medieval character with the remains of a grand château, the 15th-century Porte de Sauvigny (from the old town gates), and many old houses. On the highest point is the Gothic Eglise Notre-Dame, which dates back to the 13th century and was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the mid 19th century. Notable features of the church are the Entombment of 1490 and 14th-century stained-glass windows. The former Jacobin convent (17th century) now houses the Musée de Semur-en-Auxois, which displays medieval frescoes and sculpture as well as 17th-century paintings (Corot and Vignon). The Tour de l'Orle d'Or (tower), a remnant of the old castle, houses a collection of archeological finds and folk art.
In southern Burgundy, Semur-en-Brionnais is a pretty village that has earned a place on France's "Plus Beaux Villages" list. The town is the former capital of the historic Brionnais region and was a stronghold of Saint Hugues who founded the Abbaye de Cluny. The village's rich heritage is seen in its 9th-century castle surrounded by old fortifications and the Eglise Saint-Hilaire. This church features graceful arches and columns, typical of Romanesque architecture.
In the heart of Burgundy, the small village of Saulieu offers the charm of the countryside along with the culture of France. The village is known for its exceptional gastronomy and is a good place to indulge in a gourmet meal. Saulieu boasts a 3-star Michelin restaurant at the Relais Bernard Loiseau that serves cuisine of the terroir. The contemporary dining room has panoramic windows overlooking the pleasant gardens.