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Beautiful Bountiful Burgundy

Gillian Arthur

One of my great discoveries of 2011 has been Burgundy and what a glorious walking destination this corner of France is. Of course everyone knows about its world-famous wines and gastronomy but it has much more to offer, especially in the swathes of glorious unspoiled countryside found in Southern Burgundy.

Pernand-Vergelesses

Pernand-Vergelesses

In 2011, I was lucky enough to lead two walking and wine tours to Burgundy, and it has become one of my favorite places in Europe. Here the scenery really is picture postcard with bucolic pastoral images at every turn: green fields filled with white Charolais cows munching contentedly on lush grass, gazing out over leafy hedgerows.

Brancion

The Medieval Village of Brancion

For those with an interest in architecture, there is much to please the eye and stimulate the imagination. Architecture here comes in many forms reflecting Burgundy's long and diverse history; from crumbling medieval castles such as Brancion, which was built in the 10thC and was once the residence of the Dukes of Burgundy to the Disney-like apparition of Château de la Rochepot a magnificent 13th and 15th-century castle with typical Burgundian glazed tiles. Be warned, Burgundy has more chateaux than any other region of France.

Chateau de Cormatin

Chateau de Cormatin

There are also fine examples of religious architecture; dozens of Romanesque churches dot the countryside, some crumbling and some perfectly preserved. If you prefer grander ecclesiastical structures, the huge ruined abbey of Cluny is a must see. Today, after repeated sackings, only the skeleton remains but what a significant skeleton it is. Here lie the ruins of what was once the largest church in Europe before the building of St Peter's, in Rome.

Having seen the ruins of Cluny, you can journey on to the quiet market town of Tournus, and the magnificent abbey of St Philibert This imposing cathedral was built in the 10thC and is classed as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in France. Luckily it escaped the marauding hordes and is perfectly preserved allowing you to see how magnificent Cluny must once have been.

If you like grand country houses then Burgundy has those too and Cormatin is a fine example. This 17th century chateau lies in magnificent gardens surrounded by a moat. My favorite part of the grounds is the whimsical fruit and vegetable gardens, which takes the concept of companion planting to a new level. As well as strolling around the grounds you can visit the interior of the chateau, including the apartments of the Marquise d'Huxelles. Called the "Gilded Rooms", they were created in 1627-1628 and provide the most authentic testimony to the lifestyle of the French nobility in the early seventeenth century. Painted, carved and gilded, ceiling to floor, these ornate apartments dazzle with their vibrant colors and extraordinary detail.

As for the walking in Burgundy - it is glorious and relatively easy, due to the efforts of the French Tourist Board who have developed an extensive network of well-marked walking trails. These sign-posted footpaths cross the countryside, connecting one picturesque village to another and connecting the most important historical sites. This network of trails makes exploring the countryside and visiting its most outstanding sites easy to do. And of course walking is the perfect way to work off a long indulgent lunch.

I have not had time to mention Burgundy's more obvious charms; its food and wine, but as you would expect they are outstanding. In my opinion the cheese board alone makes a trip to Burgundy worthwhile. When you add gourmet food and fine wine, to Burgundy's other considerable charms you really can say that this region of France has something for everyone.


Gillian Arthur owns and operates, Piccolo Walking Tours, designing and leading customized walking and wine trips for small groups in Europe.

© Gillian Arthur 2012

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