|Le Flaneur de la Photographie
The Wandering Photographer in Burgundy
The 'Touring in Wine Country - Burgundy' guide begins:
This observation is precisely correct and for the photographer this is excellent news.
Let's be honest; taking pictures of row upon row of grape vines does not produce that many images for photographers to rave about.
Unlike Alsace, where the intertwined vineyards and medieval villages are inextricably connected with the area's beauty and history, the wine area of Burgundy, though it has its highlights as noted below, is to be quite frank not all that picturesque. But I am probably biased as I live in Alsace.
Don't get me wrong, much of Burgundy is stunningly beautiful, and, unlike in Alsace, most of the superb castles and monasteries in Burgundy are not ruins, but extraordinary examples of Medieval and Renaissance architecture. There is a treasure trove of great images to be had throughout this extremely beautiful part of France.
Burgundy was once a powerful independent duchy, comprising much of what is now the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of eastern France. For well over 500 years, the Dukes of Burgundy were independent, sometimes siding with the English against France in the various struggles of the middle ages, and always a power to be reckoned with by the French monarchy. However, in 1477 Burgundy, through marriages, military defeats, and alliances, finally came under the control of the French crown.
Most Americans know Burgundy for its wine and perhaps boeuf (beef) bourguignon and escargots (snails) à la Bourguignonne - the food from this region is justly renowned worldwide. Burgundy's western border is only about 120 kilometers southeast of Paris (75 miles, or less than an hour at Autoroute speeds once free of Paris traffic) making a visit an easy and very worthwhile outing from Paris.
We will start our photography tour of this beautiful region as if we were arriving from Paris by car along the A6 Autoroute. Reaching the exits for the city of Auxerre (in itself a pretty place) you are in Burgundy. There are very interesting and picturesque places heading northeast or southeast from here on either side of the A6.
We will do a circle starting to the northeast from exit 20 heading on the D965 to the famous wine town of Chablis. Perhaps there we will taste their renowned white wines, to put us in the proper touring mood.
Continuing along this route our first stop is the striking Château de Tanlay, a former fortress turned into a huge stately home in the mid 1600s.
The next goal down the D905 is the exquisite Abbaye de Fontenay. Founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard, this Cistercian Abbey is one of the best preserved in the world. Its situation deep in a forest was intended to give the monks the peace and seclusion they sought. It is no longer a functioning abbey, but has been faithfully restored and offers extraordinary photographic opportunities, especially in late afternoon light. Images taken in the cloisters, chapterhouse and dormitory allow you to make the most of the repeated geometry of the arches, beams and stonework.
Not far from the Abbaye de Fontenay is the stunning small city of Semur-en-Auxois. This medieval walled city sits on the Armançon River. There is an extraordinary image from the river bank below the walls looking back toward the city on the hill above the river with its vaulted bridge in the foreground - the city map in the Michelin 'Guide Rouge' (Red Guide) will show you exactly where to go to see this and other excellent views here and in every other city for which there is a map in the guide, which includes virtually every major and minor city in France.
The nearby town of Epoisses (west on the scenic D954 from Semur-en-Auxois) offers not only has a moated château for picture taking, but is the home of one of the most famous cheeses in France. This soft, tangy, brandy-soaked cheese is truly incredible. It is my favorite cheese and, in my view, alone worth the side trip.
Southeast of Semur-en-Auxois near the pretty village of Pouilly-en-Auxois is Châteauneuf (not to be confused with the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape in Provence). The word means 'new chateau' in French, so there are several in France. The 15th Château (new at the time!) and village sit on a hilltop, and are very well preserved, offering the photographer numerous opportunities for images of the village's narrow streets and of the castle and surrounding countryside.
Continuing east the next major attraction is the capital of Burgundy, Dijon, which for Americans is synonymous with mustard. The center of Dijon, long the home of the Dukes of Burgundy, is very well preserved and contains the Ducal Palace as well as interesting churches and museums.
Just outside of Dijon, heading due south over the next 30 miles, is the famous wine growing region of the Côte d'Or filled with towns whose names cause wine connoisseurs to swoon: Gevrey Chambertin, Nuits-Saint Georges, Aloxe Corton, Pommard, Puligny-Montrachet and many others. This is red wine country, and the Pinot Noirs from here are spectacular, though pricey. There are good pictures to be had here, especially in the principal town of Beaune with its magnificent Hôtel-Dieu (hospital) built in 1443 and noted for its stunning Burgundian tiled roof.
In the very southern part of the Côte d'Or just west of the town of Puligny-Montrachet is the beautiful small town of La Rochepot, dominated by its extremely well preserved castle. With its exquisitely tiled roof, numerous turrets and strategic position above the village, it is the castle photographer's delight. I took my images from the D33 just south of the town across the valley using a tripod and long lens, but images of the castle and in this town abound.
A bit further south, as you enter the area known as the Côte Chalonaise, is another famous wine town, Rully. I am particularly partial to Rully for two reasons, beside the fact that I like the wines they produce. First is the charming Château itself, which might politely be called 'tattered elegance'. Situated on a hill just east of the town, it is a most intriguing place. The wonderful courtyard is surrounded by what used to be stables and servant's quarters. There you can meet the current owners and sample and buy their wine if you wish, which I did. The Château's excellent white and red wines are well regarded. You can also tour the grounds and visit exhibitions of works by local artists housed in the former stables.
Second was an exceptional, and very lucky, photographic opportunity I had here. As I approached the Château on a very stormy day the clouds parted and presented me with an extraordinary view of the Château bathed in sunlight against a very stormy, black sky. All photographers appreciate those moments when the lighting gods smile on us. For me this was one of those moments. Whether or not the lighting gods smile on you quite the same way as they did me, you will find a visit to the Château de Rully very rewarding.
Another stop just to the southeast that, although not all that picturesque, may be of interest to photographers is the city of Chalon-sur-Saône with its Musée Neipce dedicated to the inventor of photography and native son. It contains exhibits on the evolution of photography from Neipce's first images.
Somewhat further south is the very interesting market town of Bourg-en-Bresse. This area is, of all things, famous not for wine but chickens. Yes, it is the chicken capital of France and the only 'appellation contrôlée' (area where very high standards are set by long established regulations - often associated with wine but sometimes other products) for a meat product in France. Throughout France, the very best restaurants proclaim with pride that the chicken they serve is from Bresse. However, unless you are into photographing chickens, the gem here is the Monastère Royal de Brou.
Located in the southeastern edge of Bourg, it was built in the early 1500s. A beautiful building with a spectacular Burgundian roof and several cloisters, it presents excellent photographic opportunities. Evening illumination provides great images, especially from the rear of the church. But some of the best images are of the fantastic carvings that adorn the Carrara marble tombs of the Bourbon royalty buried here.
Having gone east and then south, it is now time to turn back to the west and complete our circle, or more accurately triangle. The first stop as we head in this direction must be Cluny. The ancient Abbaye de Cluny was once the most powerful abbey in Europe. It was eventually closed and much of it dismantled, but is still an impressive site. The town is extremely popular with tourists and the abbey lacks the intimacy of the Abbaye de Fontenay from a photographic standpoint, but its sheer size and historic importance makes it worth a visit.
Further west the city of Autun features the remains of a very large Roman theater dating from the 1st Century and near it the Château de Sully. A beautifully picturesque, very large Renaissance era residence rather than a fortified castle, it is surrounded by a moat and lush parklands and woods.
The next stop must be Vézelay, which is dominated by the Basilique Ste-Madeleine, an absolutely beautiful, huge and picturesque church dating from the 12th Century sitting on a hill above the town. As with all my photographic tours of various parts of France, I have just scratched the surface. There is much more to see and photograph in fascinating and beautiful Burgundy.
Some practical information and a view toward the future: Dijon is just over an hour and a half from Paris's Gare de Lyon by TGV, so it can also serve as a starting point for your tour of Burgundy if you decide to travel by train and then rent a car to explore. Information regarding driving in France, renting cars and the like has been provided in earlier articles. A good site for more information about Burgundy is: http://www.burgundy-tourism.com.
As those of you who have been following Le Flaneur's journeys over the past four months are aware, we have explored photographic possibilities in Paris and a large chunk of eastern France. It is now time to take a break from France and Europe. In a second article in this issue Le Flaneur de la Photographie moves to a new continent and explores taking pictures on safari in South Africa. Future articles will address photographic opportunities in exotic parts of Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa as well as other beautiful parts of Europe and, eventually, return to my favorite country and city, France and Paris. I hope you are enjoying the photographic journey.
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