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Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is a new region (2016) located in eastern France, created from a merger of the historical regions of Burgundy and Franche-Comté. As such, it is difficult to describe Bourgogne-Franche-Comté as a unique territory when the former historical regions are so different!
Burgundy has long been known as a place of artistic and historical interest, famous for its Romanesque heritage and exceptional wines.
Franche-Comté is nature as its best. The region boasts diverse landscapes and large open spaces thanks to the wealth of the Vosges Massif, the Jura mountains, and its many lakes and forests.
Take the time to discover the main historical and architectural heritage of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté but also the wealth of activities that the region has to offer, from wine trails to inland waterway trips, cycling holidays, gastronomic trips, incredible hikes, and alpine ski.
Whether on holiday or just passing through, be sure to check out the local specialties such as Beef bourguignon, Comté cheese, delicious escargots, or the famous Dijon mustard.
The capital of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is Besançon and the region is divided into 8 departments: Côte-d’Or, Doubs, Haute-Saône, Jura, Nièvre, Saône-et-Loire, Territoire de Belfort, and Yonne.
Haven’t you visited this region yet? Let us tell you the best things to do in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.
Citadel of Besançon
The citadel of Besançon, designed in the 17th century by Vauban, is considered one of the most beautiful fortresses in France and one of Vauban’s masterpieces. The Citadel is listed UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, together with nearby Fort Griffon.
The Citadel was built on Mount Saint-Etienne, one of the seven hills that protect Besançon, and it occupies 11 hectares. Overhanging more than 100 meters above the Old Town, it gives a spectacular overview from its ramparts.
In addition to its historical importance, the Citadel hosts today 3 museums: the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation, a museum focusing on traditional life in Franche-Comté and the region’s archeological history, and a museum of natural history.
The lake region, in the department of Jura, offers a magnificent succession of lakes with wooded banks. There are also many belvederes, perfect to admire the lakes and get some fresh air.
The Belvedere of 4 Lakes is perhaps the most beautiful, especially with the fall colors. It is located in the town of Le Frasnois, and offers a magnificent view of the lakes of Grand Maclu, Petit Maclu, Ilay, and Narlay. Nearby, there’s a succession of small waterfalls which make a beautiful 2-hour hike.
The historical region of Burgundy boasts an extraordinary historical heritage, with beautiful French castles, intriguing abbeys, and many pretty small towns and villages. Some of the most beautiful villages in Burgundy are also recognized as “most beautiful villages in France”, with names that you’ll recognize from the labels of your favorite Burgundy wines: Chablis, Meursault, Beaujolais, and Rully…
Hit the road and explore the most beautiful villages of the Burgundy wine region in France. Most of these Burgundian villages are located along 3 of the main Burgundy Wine Trails (Yonne, Grands Crus, Mâconnais /Beaujolais) and each village has its own particular character and of course wines!
Burgundy Wine Trails
The Burgundy wine region(s) are found in the historical region of Burgundy. Like many of the other wine regions in France, Burgundy actually is comprised of several regions and towns.
The wine regions of Burgundy include locations such as Châblis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and Beaujolais.
The wine of Burgundy is extremely complex, and therefore often very expensive. The best way to learn more about the Burgundy wines is by following one of the Burgundy Wine Trails – Grands Crus, Grands Vines, Yonne, Mâcon –, do some wine tastings and buy a couple of bottles your favorite wines!
The Burgundian Abbeys of Cluny, Cîteaux, and Fontenay
Burgundy was once the cradle of the two great monastic movements of the Middle Ages: the Cluniac Order and the Cistercian Order, both followers of the rules of Saint Benoît “ora et lavora” (pray and work). These two orders originated in the abbeys of Cluny and Cîteaux then spread out throughout Europe and we can find “abbey-daughters” and “abbey-sisters” in other countries like Belgium, Spain, Germany, or the United Kingdom.
These are the most interesting Burgundian abbeys that we suggest to visit, testaments to the medieval history of France:
- The Abbey of Cluny (Saône-et-Loire) is the abbey-founder of the Cluniac Order. This is the oldest abbey, built in 910 in Romanesque style. Cluny was once the richest abbey in the Christian world which depended directly on the Vatican. Cluny’s wealth and power was broken during the French Revolution and in 1810 it was pulled down. But the sheer scale of the ruins give a fine impression of what Cluny must have looked like at the height of its power.
- The Abbey of Notre Dame de Cîteaux (Côte d’Or) is the abbey-founder of the Cistercian Order. This abbey was founded in the 11th century and it was built in the Gothic style. Even if it was a model for numerous monasteries that were placed under its control, Cîteaux is less important than Cluny because it depended on the abbey of Notre-Dame de Molesme.
- The Abbey of Fontenay (Côte d’Or) was founded in 1118 under the Cistercian Order and it was built in Romanesque style. Fontenay is an abbey-daughter of the Abbey of Clairvaux (Aube), which in turn is an abbey-daughter of Cîteaux. Despite it is less important than Cîteaux the Abbey of Fontenay is the best preserved and often used as a model to illustrate the typical plan of a Cistercian abbey.
Canals of Burgundy
The Canals of Bourgogne (Nivernais, Centre, Bourgogne, and Seille) are a network of 1000 km of waterways built between the 17th and 19th centuries to transport all kinds of goods, from wood to ceramics.
The Canal du Nivernais was used to transport the wood from the Morvan forest to Paris whilst the Canal de Bourgogne was built to connect the Seine basin with the Rhône basin, allowing to connect the English Channel to the Mediterranean Sea, hence its nickname of “Deux-Mers canal”.
Today, these canals have lost their original purpose but they are a great way to explore the Burgundian countryside and its villages by boat, on foot, or by bike at your own pace.
If you are interested in beautiful castles in France, don’t miss Château d’Oricourt during your visit to this region. Oricourt is the most imposing fortified castle in Franche-Comté and also the best preserved.
Built around the middle of the 12th century on the edge of a plateau, facing the Lure plain, Oricourt castle is a fortified castle with double walls. The first wall surrounds the lower courtyard (farmyard) and the second wall, the upper courtyard (residential courtyard). In the latter, it’s where the owners lived in a group of 12th and 15th-century buildings plus a well, cistern, and of course big cellars.
The walls are dominated by two imposing 25-meter square towers. The castle also counts with a remarkable dovecote built probably in the 15th century.
Notre Dame de Ronchamp
La Chapelle de Notre Dame du Haut, located in Ronchamp (Haute-Saône), is a masterpiece of Swiss architect Le Corbusier. The building is listed historical monument and UNESCO World Heritage since 2016.
This small chapel with a picturesque setting on the top of a hill was built in 1955. There had been a pilgrimage chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary on this same location but it was destroyed during the Second World War.
Unlike most of Le Corbusier’s oeuvre, the chapel of Ronchamp responds to the specificities of the site and its cultural heritage as a place of worship. Le Corbusier also sensed a sacred relationship of the hill with its surroundings – the Jura mountains – and the hill itself, dominating the landscape.
Ronchamp’s architectural ensemble has many similarities with the Acropolis of Athens. Visitors start the ascent from the bottom of the hill to architectural and landscape events along the way, before finally terminating at the sanctus sanctorum itself – the chapel. From there, magnificent vistas spread out in all directions.
Les Hospices de Beaune
Les Hospices de Beaune was a medieval hospice founded in the 15th century that remained in use until the 20th century. Les Hospices are world-known both for its sumptuous and remarkable traditional Burgundian architecture and for its prestigious Burgundian wine estate whose production is historically sold at auction to finance its operation.
Today, the Hospice is a museum of the history of medicine and exhibits, among other things, the polyptych The Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden.
Vézelay is a pretty hill town located in the Yonne department. The town is a major site of Christendom and the starting point of one of the main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostella in France. Both the town and its 11th-century Basilica of St Magdalene are listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Take the time to wander around Vézelay, with its lovely medieval houses, lofty towers, ramparts, and fortified gateways. The Romanesque Basilica of St Magdalene is Vézelay’s beating heart and it hosts the relics of St Mary Magdalene which attires since Medieval times pilgrims from right across Europe.
During the day Vézelay is very crowded and tourists can put you off. Try to spend a night in Vézelay (we recommend the oh-so-pretty boutique hotel Les Glycines) for a totally different experience: at sunset, Vézelay returns to itself – a tranquil Burgundian village beautifully lit up and with a dozen excellent restaurants.
We hope that you enjoyed the main places to visit in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. If you want to learn about other regions head to this article on the Regions of France, where we have summarized the highlights of each region.
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