It is impossible to fully explore a region during one holiday, but
we hope to provide an experience that will illustrate the richness
of the heritage and culture that is Burgundy.
Burgundy is the heart of ancient France. It was the center of
the Roman presence in Gaul, the seat of the Dukes of Bourgogne whose
power at one time stretched from the Netherlands to Spain. Evidence
of those times still exists. The height of the industrial age has also
left its mark on the area. Although much of the industry has
moved on, they have left behind the mines and foundries that added
to the wealth of the region. Today, Burgundy is a tapestry of
all that went before and now represents the essence of all that is
France, in history, culture, and gastronomy.
In ancient times Burgundy was the seat of Celtic power. It was
in Burgundy that the legendary Gallic hero, Vercingetorix, met his
match against Julius Caesar. Burgundy abounds with the reminders
of Roman occupation and nowhere is this more evident than in Autun
which was founded in the 1st century BC. Autun is a derivation
of the original name, Augustundum, after the Roman emperor Augustus. Autun
today is layered with the patchwork of history. The list is almost
too long to recount, but pre-Roman remains include the “Pierre
de Couhard” overlooking Autun. Roman remains include the
longest Roman wall existing in France, the original Roman gates of
Porte d’Arroux, and Porte Saint Andre, and the remains of the
amphitheatre. The Cathedral St. Lazare whose first stone was
laid in 1120, and whose magnificent Tympanum was completed by a single
artist between 1130 and 1135, is a masterpiece of Romanesque art. The
medieval Tour d’Ursulines and many buildings in the “cathedral
district” are only some of the remaining medieval structures
that are interspersed with the more “modern” buildings
of the 16th and 17 centuries. The Rolin Museum has on display
statues and exhibits from Roman through medieval times, as well as
18th century paintings by artists such as Ingres.
Napoleon passed through Autun twice in his life. As an adolescent
he attended school at the “Lycée” before continuing
on to military school and history. The school still exists, although
it is now a public school. Napoleon returned to Autun on his
way to Paris after his escape from Elba. Legend has it that he
threatened to raze the town after the local politicians, who were none
too pleased to see him return, failed to greet him with acceptable
pomp. A band and welcoming committee were quickly rounded up
to the satisfaction of all. The building in which Napoleon stayed
exists today, as it did then, as a hotel.
More recent history is perhaps
less noticeable here although the huge Croix de la Liberation on a
hill overlooking Autun honors the resistance movement during the war. The Burgundy region was a principal center
of resistance. The resistance fighters, known as the Maquis, were
especially active in this area, and although the surrounding hills helped
hide them, many paid a high price for their efforts. Memorials
to the fallen are frequently seen on our bike travels.
As old as is Autun, even older is Bibracte, the town that was eventually
abandoned in favor of Autun. Bibracte is an astonishing archaeological
site. A Celtic city that at its peak held 10,000, it was in the
winter of 52-51 BC at Bibracte that Julius Caesar wrote much of his Commentaries
on the Gallic Wars, still one of the most important sources of
information about this region and the times. A visit to the digs
and the museum is a must.
Burgundy has been called the water table of France. The
Seine starts just north of Dijon, The Loire flows along Burgundy’s
western border, and the Saone flows south along the eastern flank. Many
smaller rivers and streams feed these larger rivers and all add to
the lushness of Burgundy.
Dominating the center of Burgundy is the regional park of Morvan. This
stunningly beautiful park, with huge forests, rolling hills and pastoral
valleys beckons hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, and nature lovers. Morvan
in Celtic means “Black Mountains”. Despite the name
these green hills are most inviting.
On one of the highest hills of the
Morvan is Bibracte. The residents
of Bibracte relied heavily on the timber available from the local forests.
Today the forests are well managed, and under strict controls timber
remains an important industry. Oak from the Morvan is still made into
the wine barrels used by winemakers today, as in ancient times.
Burgundy is known as one of the gastronomic centers of France. Mustard
from Dijon, Beef (Boeuf) Bourguignon, Coq-au-Vin, Escargots, all originate
in this region. The Morvan area is home to some of the best cured
hams and sausage you will find. It is also an area known for
its cheeses such as Epoises, Brillat-Savarin, Delice de Bourgogne,
and many others. You will also find many artisanal goat cheeses
for sale from farms along the rural roads. Of course one of the
region’s better known exports is wine and while Autun is just
to the west of the famous Cote d’Or, many wonderful vineyards
between Autun and the heavily visited wine district of Beaune, produce
wonderful wines that are yours to discover.
Federations and Associations: