The Abbey-Church of Pontigny: one of the most beautiful examples of a Cistercian church to be found anywhere in France
The “second daughter” of Cîteaux, Pontigny Abbey was founded in 1114 on the banks of the river Serein on the borders of Burgundy and Champagne, but the abbey-church itself was built between 1137 and 1150. Its style mirrors the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic era. At the end of the 12C, the primitive plat chevet was destroyed to make way for the elegant Gothic choir that can be seen today. Pontigny immediately established a high reputation and founded 9 abbeys – its direct daughters – which in turn created 45 others. In the 12C and 13C, Pontigny gave shelter to three exiled English archbishops, Thomas Becket, Stephen Langton and Edmund Rich, and drew a steady flow of English pilgrims to its gates.
Out and about in the Tonnerrois
After marvelling at Tonnerre's remarkable architectural heritage (Hôtel-Dieu and hospital museum, the Fosse Dionne washhouse, Hôtel d’Uzès, etc.), find time to explore the nearby vineyards (once renowned, then destroyed by the phyloxera scourge, and today thriving once more).
Act the lord of the manor
at Tanlay or Ancy-le-Franc, two of the most beautiful Renaissance châteaux in Burgundy (16C). The former houses a contemporary art centre in its outbuildings, while the latter contains the largest collection of mural paintings currently preserved and some superb period apartments.
In the footsteps of Buffon
Born in Montbard in1707, the naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon was also an entrepreneur who founded the Great Forge, an industrial establishment remarkable for its technique and architecture. You can learn more about his life by visiting the Musée de l’Ancienne Orangerie as well as his study located in one of the towers of the Parc Buffon (both in Montbard).
Fontenay Abbey: beauty in its purest form
Fontenay Abbey is one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe. Founded by St Bernard in a marshy Burgundian valley, the abbey has come down to us intact over more than eight centuries as a magnificent example of Romanesque architecture. With the exception of the refectory (demolished), all the rooms are in a perfect state of preservation: the church, the dormitory, the cloister, the chapter room, the heating room, the monk’s room and the forge. Nowadays over 120,000 visitors from all parts of the world come to Fontenay each year. In the summer months cultural events are organised (concerts, theatre, etc.).
The Château of Bussy-Rabutin: licentious behaviour displayed on the walls of the château
Nestling snugly in a wooded vale, and surrounded by formal gardens, the château owes its highly original décor to Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy. He was the cousin of Madame de Sévigné and the author of the Histoire amoureuse des Gaules (A Love History of the Gauls). When exiled to Burgundy by Louis XIV, he expressed his contempt for the court of the Roi Soleil and his nostalgia for his past stormy love affairs on the walls of his château. The Salle des Devises (Room of Epigrams), the Salon des Hommes de Guerre (Antechamber of the Great Warriors), the Galerie des Rois (Kings’ Gallery), the Tour Dorée (Gilded Tower) and Bussy’s bedroom together constitute a testament to the most famous of the libertins or free-thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment.
In the heart of Burgundy: the medieval town of Semur-en-Auxois…
... is perched on a pink granite rock and ensconced in a meander of the river Armançon. It jealously protects its towers, its old drawbridge and its half-timbered houses built in the Renaissance or Classical style. The collegiate church, dating back to 1225, is a prime example of the Burgundian Flamboyant Gothic style. Semur pays tribute to its colourful past on numerous occasions throughout the year: Course des Chausses and Course de la Bague (horse races), medieval festivities, etc. Not to be missed on any account!
Saint-Thibault: a Gothic choir set amidst the fields
The modest church of Saint-Thibault, whose choir is a true masterpiece of Gothic art, is a miniature Sainte-Chapelle lost among the meadows of the Auxois. The doorway is worth a visit on its own. The sculptures of the tympanum, dating from the second half of the 13C, are dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Those in the recessed arches represent the Wise Virgins on the left and the Foolish Virgins on the right.
"Cap Canal" at Pouilly
The Burgundy Canal information centre comprises the Canal Institute (museum area), a hall devoted to the toueur (boat-tower) and the hydroelectric power station. You and your bike can go through the tunnel on a pleasure boat and get off a little further on.
Commarin: superb château on the “roof of the western world”
This is the land so vividly described by writer and native son Henri Vincenot in his novels La Billebaude and Le Pape des Escargots. Incidentally, the books serve as an excellent introduction to this itinerary along the Burgundy Canal. This little village is also the proud possessor of a superb château, dating back to the 14C and restored at the beginning of the 18C by Marie-Judith de Vienne, grandmother of Napoleon’s famous minister, the Prince-Bishop Talleyrand. The 18C furnished apartments, the stables and the park are open to visitors.