Burgundy On a BudgetBurgundy (or Bourgogne in French) is a historic region of east central France. The fertile Rhone and Saone river valleys make up the region's core is, where routes from Paris and the Rhineland to the Mediterranean converge. In the Middle Ages, Burgundy was the great dukedom which rivaled in power and prestige with the kingdom of France itself; in those days it covered a large part of central eastern France, including half of modern-day Switzerland. Today, Burgundy is one of the administrative regions of France, lying across the main lines of communication between Paris and Lyon; anyone travelling by train or on the French motorway network between Paris or north-east France, and Lyon and the south of France, must pass through Burgundy. The historic and modern capital of the Burgundy region is Dijon (population 150,000), a thriving administrative and cultural center, which is also a major communications and freight-distribution hub. Dijon has a historic city center, with old narrow streets, and houses built in the local pale honey-colored stone. Burgundy's wines, especially those of the celebrated Cote d'Or (Golden Slope), are among the world's most distinguished.
SightsThere is a lot of natural beauty within the Burgundy region, from the riverbanks to the mountain ranges, but there is plenty of other sights to see as well. One top sight is the cathedral at Autun - one of the finest Romanesque cathedrals in France, with remarkable sculptures, at the edge of the Morvan hills. In addition to this cathedral, you could visit other Romanesque churches of Burgundy, including the remarkable Abbaye de Vezelay (UNESCO World Heritage Site), starting point of one of the main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostella. There are many other delightful historic churches in the Saone et Loire area.
Burgundy is also home to the site of Cluny, the old town and the remains of the Benedictine abbey, once the largest church in Christendom. You could also visit Avallon, which is an attractive old walled town, or see Guedelon - the castle featured on BBC television's "Secrets of the Castle" series. And of course, Dijon, the region's capital would be worth a visit with palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, the Burgundy cathedral, Museums, and many shops.
RegionsThe Burgundy region is made up of four French departments:
Yonne, capital Auxerre, is a rolling agricultural area bordering on the outer fringes of the Paris region.
Nievre, in the west, capital Nevers, is a hilly department that includes the highest peak of the Morvan hills (Le Haut Folin), and a large part of the Morvan regional nature park.
The Cote-d'Or department, around Dijon, is hilly in the north west, and flat in the south east.
Saone & Loire in the south of the region stretches from the banks of the Loire in the west to the foothills of the Jura in the east, and includes large flat expanses of the Saone valley.
ActivitiesA really interesting and different activity is to explore a medieval hospital: Les Hospices de Beaune - one of the most unusual ancient monuments in France. It is a mediaeval hospital that remained in use until the 20th century. Today the hospice is a museum and art gallery, and contains one of the most famous works of mediaeval Flemish art, the altarpiece by Roger van der Weyden, painted for the hospice, and it is still in its original place.
For something else that's exciting, interesting, and unusual, go to Treigny to see an amazing living history attraction, where, since 1997, a team of craftsmen has been building a mediaeval castle, using historic methods and tools.
Food and DiningThe world-famous Burgundy vineyards produce some of the most prestigious wines in the world, and are one of the things that make the area well known. There are wine museums and tastings that you can go to in order to sample some of these fantastic wines.
The area also has some local dishes to watch for: coq au vin, a dish of chicken braised with wine, lardons, mushrooms, and optionally garlic, beef bourguignon, a stew prepared with beef braised in red wine and epoisses de Bourgogne cheese, a pungent soft-paste cows-milk cheese.
A few restaurant ideas include: Le Bougainville, offering traditional Burgundy dishes with local ingredients, Restaurant Le Chapitre, offering traditional food with a modern twist, and Le Berger du Temps, offering no-frill homestyle cooking.