A large rural region in the east of France, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is most famous for its prestigious Burgundy wine country, and is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Burgundy. The prefecture is Dijon, a historic town of grand palaces, perhaps best known for producing the mustard of the same name. Meanwhile, cities such as Beaune are recognisable for their charming coloured tile rooftops, and other centres have long histories of craft such as watch making, or faience (earthenware pottery).
Beyond the cities, the region has some of France’s most incredible engineering achievements. The geometric design of the Royal Saltworks, the length of the groundbreaking Burgundy Canals, and 2-millennia old Roman ruins are all sights to behold. The region is also home to incredible abbeys, from those dating to the Crusades to modern architectural visions.
The region shares its border with Switzerland. The mountainous regions like the Jura, known for its amazing waterfalls and still alpine lakes are some of France’s most beautiful natural areas. And when it comes to fine gastronomy, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is the birthplace of some of France’s most iconic delights, from Burgundy beef to Escargots Bourguignonne.
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Cities in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
The largest city in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is Dijon, which is also the prefecture. Many cities have roots in Gallo-Roman times, such as Besançon, Nevers, Auxerre, and Mâcon. Some Roman ruins remain, as well as some of the most incredible palaces and fortresses in France. The region is the second least populated region of mainland France, after Centre-Val de Loire.
The name of Dijon is synonymous with Dijon mustard, which was developed and produced in the city. While the mustard is no longer produced in Dijon itself, the city retains its status as a major economic centre in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, and is the prefecture of the region. From early origins as a Roman settlement, Dijon grew in power and prestige when it became the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy from the 11th to the 15th centuries, exerting influence as far north as Flanders and Brabant. Their palace was the Palais des Ducs et des États de Bourgogne (Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy), which is open to visitors today.
The city of Dijon is recognisable for its distinctive toits bourguigons (Burgundy polychrome roofs), a style of glazed tile with yellow, green, terracotta and black tiles arranged in geometric patterns. They are found on many of the city’s rooftops, including the city’s exceptional Gothic cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint-Bénigne de Dijon. The city has several other wonderful monuments, such as the Porte Guillaume, a neoclassical arch dating to 1788. Inspired by classical architecture is the Grand Théâtre de Dijon, the city’s Opera house. Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, opened in 1787, is one of the oldest and finest museums in the country, with a large collection of art that once belonged to the Dukes of Burgundy.
The old town of Dijon is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Climats, terroirs of Burgundy, which encompasses parts of Dijon, and surrounding vineyards. One of the best walking routes to discover the city is the Owl Route (Parcours de la Chouette), named after the Owl carved into the side of the Église Notre Dame, a symbol of the city. The route follows brass plaques with cute owl pictures, with 22 stops that include monuments, Les Halles market, and museums.
Situated in a bend of the river Doubs, Besançon is one of France’s most wonderfully preserved historical cities. With its red tiled rooftops and stone buildings, much of the city dates back to Gallo-Roman times. It is overlooked by the 17th century Citadelle de Besançon, a UNESCO listed fortress designed by Sébastien Le Prestre Vauban, and a masterpiece of military engineering. Roman ruins can still be found in the city, such as the Porte Noire, a well-preserved Roman arch built in the 2nd century CE, and Square Castan, a series of Roman columns.
Besançon is considered once of France’s Villes Vertes (green cities), a clean and ecologically friendly place. The city is also home to French watchmaking, which was established after the French Revolution. The watch making ateliers are famed for their large windows that gave the watch makers ample light to work.
On the banks of the Loire river is Nevers, a city that dates back to Roman times, when it was named Noviodunum. On a hill overlooking the city is the Palais ducal de Nevers, a 15th century Renaissance château which is one of the famed Châteaux de la Loire. Nevers is known for its large number of religious buildings, such as the 11th century l’Église Saint-Étienne; the Église Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay, which resembles an old concrete bunker; as well as the resting place of Saint Bernadette, a 19th century Catholic Saint.
Nevers was once a centre for fine tin-glazed earthenware pottery called Nevers faience. The greatest demand was around 1709 under Louis XIV, but the style gradually fell out of fashion with the advent of porcelain. In its heyday, there were 12 factories operating; today, 5 workshops in the city are open to visitors, as well as the Musée de la Faience.
In the heart of the Burgundy vineyards is the city of Beaune, the capital of Burgundian wine country, and a walled city known for its charming old town and signature polychrome rooftops. One of France’s all-time best wine lover destinations, the wine industry is the main draw for many visitors, with tours to nearby wineries such as Corton and Pomard. Networks of underground tunnels and cellars date back to medieval times, where wine producers offer tastings.
With its stunning roof tiles, one of the most iconic buildings in the city is the 15th century Hospices de Beaune, a former hospital for the poor. Operating for over 500 years until the 1960’s, it now offers tours, and hosts a world renowned charity wine auction. The well-preserved old city walls (ramparts) run in a 2.5km (1.6 miles) ring around the city, and are open to visitors, who can admire city gates, bastions and fortifications.
Auxerre is a charming historic town on the Yonne river, close to the Burgundian wine region of Chablis. With roots dating to Gallo-Roman times, Auxerre became the seat of a bishop in the 3rd century, building its first cathedral in the 5th century. Many of the city’s landmarks are religious buildings, such as the city’s magnificent Gothic cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne d’Auxerre, and the Abbaye Saint-Germain.
In the centre of the city is the Vieux Ville (old town), with medieval streets, half-timbered houses and public squares bustling with cafes. The Porte de Paris archway, with La Tour d’Horloge (clock tower) and the 15th century astronomical clock is one of the best sights of the city. Another old town highlight is the statue of Cadet Rousselle (1743-1803), an eccentric figure from Auxerre who is known for a famous children’s song about him.
The southernmost city of the region, Mâcon lies on the river Saône that serves as a wonderful jumping off point for adventure into Burgundy wine country. The city dates back to Gallic times, when it was known as Matisco, and was expanded under Roman rule. Remains of this time were discovered in 1764, a collection of tens of thousands of silver artefacts known as the Mâcon Treasure. Today, only 9 pieces (statuettes and a plate) remain, and are found in the British Museum. Other Gallo-Roman artefacts (as well as art right up the modern day) can be seen at the Musée des Ursulines.
Mâcon has a grand central cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint-Vincent de Mâcon, completed in 1819 in a Byzantine style. Other architectural sights include the Hôtel-Dieu de Mâcon, a former hospital built in 1775; and the oldest building in the city, the fascinating Maison de Bois (wooden house), built around 1490-1510 and features intricate carvings on its wooden facade. 16km (9.9 miles) north-west of Mâcon is the Château Berzé-le-Châtel, a 13th century castle overlooking the Mâconnais vineyards, and one of the best preserved castles in the region.
Amazing Architecture of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
Outside of the main city centres, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté has a diverse breadth of architectural masterpieces, ranging from Roman Ruins to modern abbeys.
Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
In the small commune of Marmagne is the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay, one of the finest examples of Romanesque Cistercian Abbeys in Europe. It was founded in 1118 by the Burgundian Abbott Bernard of Clairvaux, and was home to Cistercian monks up until the French Revolution in 1789, when the monks departed to avoid persecution. It was used as a paper mill in 1791 by the Montgolfier brothers (inventors of the hot air balloon), before being restored between 1906 and 1911 by Edouard Aynard, whose family still own it.
Today, the Abbey is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a great example of the Romanesque style, with a symmetrical cross-shaped plan, groin vaults, round arches, and thick walls made of local stone. The church is joined by a cloister, and living quarters such as sleeping areas, bakery and forge. It is open to visitors.
Another outstanding example of a Romanesque style abbey is Benedictine Vézelay Abbey, built between 1120 and 1150. Containing the relics of Mary Magdalene, Vézelay is an important pilgrimage site. It was the location of St Bernard of Clairvaux preaching for a second crusade in 1146. In 1190, it was the meeting place of Richard the Lionheart and Phillip Augustus before they departed on the third crusade. The abbey was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its masterful architecture and historical importance.
Notre-Dame du Haut
Perhaps the most unique chapel in the region is the Chappelle Notre-Dame du Haut, built in 1955 and designed by influential architect Le Corbusier. Built on the location of a 4th century chapel that was destroyed in WW2, Le Corbusier’s concrete structure has a distinctive shell-like roof, organic curves and whitewashed mortar textures.
Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans
The forward-thinking vision of French architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans is a large semi-circular complex that operated from 1780 to 1895. Made up of neoclassical buildings characterised by Greek columns, triangular pediments, and geometric designs, the Royal Saltworks was initially designed as a city. Salt was a valuable commodity so far from the sea, so the Saltworks extracted salt from the brine of the river at Salins-les-Bains. Channelled to the Saltworks via underground wooden pipes, wood was cut from the nearby Chaux forest to fuel the boilers and evaporate the brine. The Saltworks is now a UNESCO listed site, and is open for tours.
The Canal de Bourgogne (Burgundy Canal) was built between 1775 and 1832 to link the Yonne river with the Saône, thereby making boat travel possible from the English Channel to the Mediterranean sea. When the 242km (150 mile) canal was completed, it was considered an engineering marvel of its day. The canal is known for its huge array of locks, 189 all counted, as the canal rises as high as 378 metres (1240 feet). It also has a 3.34 km (2.07 mile) tunnel at Pouilly-en-Auxois.
The canal was used for commercial transport in 1833, with the first boats completing the entire journey. However, it was quickly made obsolete by the mid-19th century with the construction of railways. Recent years have seen a resurgence in popularity with private boats and sightseers.
Gallo-Roman Ruins at Autun
The commune of Autun has a long history dating to Gallo-Roman times, and was thought to have been a major urban centre. Many Gallo-Roman Ruins remain, in a relatively good state of preservation. The Théâtre Romain is the remainder of a grand amphitheatre thought to hold 17,000 spectators in its heyday. The Temple of Janus is an impressive 1st century ruin with two remaining walls. Autun also has a mysterious pyramid, the Pierre de Couhard, which was likely a 1st century tomb or funerary monument.
Landscapes of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
Wine, Lakes and Waterfalls of the Jura Region
The Jura region sits between Burgundy and Switzerland, a landscape of rolling hills, vineyards, mountain lakes and dramatic waterfalls. In the winter, Jura is a great skiing destination. Jura wine is one of the main draws to the region, with the main grape varieties being Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir. The most famous wine from the region is Vin Jaune, a rich wine aged for several years in the barrel, and has a sherry-like taste.
There are several lakes in Jura which make it an attractive outdoor destination for tourists. Le Lac de Chalain is considered one of the most beautiful, and a great location for watersports such as windsurfing and canoeing. Other beautiful lakes include Le Lac de Bonlieu, and Le Lac de l’Abbaye. Jura has a lot of spectacular waterfalls, the most well-known of which are Les Cascades du Hérisson (the hedgehog waterfall), an incredible tiered waterfall; and La Cascade de la Billaude, which offers great hiking trails to reach the top.
The Rock of Solutré and the Rock of Vergisson
8km to the west of Mâcon is an impressive limestone rock formation called the Roche de Solutré (Rock of Solutré). Jutting upwards like a stone fist, the rock can be climbed, and offers amazing views of the vineyard landscape below. Just beside it is the Rock of Vergisson, a similar rock formation. The rocks are significant for the discovery of prehistoric bone and stone tools. Dating back to 22,000-17,000BP, the Rock gives its name to a paleolithic culture, the Solutrean.
Eating and Drinking in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
Drinking in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
The Burgundy region is one of the most prestigious and beloved wine regions in the world, with over 100 AOCs. Stretching in a long block from Dijon down through Beaune and Mâcon, almost as far as Lyon, the Burgundy region is made of of the areas Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and also includes the separate Chablis wine region. The clay and limestone soil has been used for wine production in the region since the Romans in the 1st century CE, and the winemaking craft perfected by medieval-era monks.
Specialties of the region are unoaked Chardonnays from the Chablis region, Pinot Noir and Sparkling Crémant from the Côte Chalonnaise, and Chardonnays from Mâcon. The Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits are collectively known as the Côte d’Or (Golden Slope), and specialise in soft Chardonnays and Pinot Noir respectively (including some of the most expensive varieties in the region). Visitors can explore the region by car or bicycle, enjoying the tree-lined roads and local châteaux, with the Routes des Grands Crus being one of the most well-known wine routes.
Dishes of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
The most famous dish from region carries its name, and also features its wine: boeuf à la Bourguignonne (beef Bourguignon, or Burgundy beef), a slow cooked beef dish, cooked in Burgundy Red wine, often with onions, carrots, mushrooms and potatoes. It is a staple of bistros across the country, and was once quotes by Julia Child as being “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man”. Then of course there’s Dijon mustard from the city of Dijon, the region’s most famous condiment.
Also hailing from Bourgogne-Franche-Comté are Escargot Bourguignonne, a national favourite of snails cooked in butter, parsley and garlic. The most famous sausage of the region is perhaps Saucisse de Montbéliard, a pork sausage from the commune of Montbéliard.
Desserts of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
A small gingerbread cake, sweetened with honey and filled with an orange filling, nonettes are a simple and delicious dessert from Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. Another classic is Poires à la Beaujolais, pears cooked in a sweet reduced syrup of sugar and red wine, and served with ice cream.
Cheeses of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
One of France’s most popular cheeses is Comté, the most produced AOC cheese in France, which hails from Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. It is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, produced in large wheels, with a mild taste similar to Gruyère. Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is also famous for its Morbier cheese, a semi-soft cheese with a distinctive layer of ash running through the middle, and a creamy taste.
Mont d’Or is a soft cheese made with raw cow’s milk, with a runny centre and an inedible rind, and packaged in a spruce wooden box. An even runnier cheese is Cancoillette, made by melting metton cheese with milk or water. Époisses is another local favourite, a pungent cow’s milk cheese with a soft texture, often served with Trappiste beer.