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  • Shelley Dark

7. Dimanche à Beaune

Today we decided to skip our scheduled 20km walk, make a late start and have a leisurely day exploring Beaune itself. Excellent decision!

As soon as we walked out of the hotel this morning, I noticed a bed of lily of the valley outside the front door.

And a clematis in flower behind them. How did I not see them yesterday?

Because it was such a lovely blue sunny day, we did go for a stroll outside town into the vineyards first.

We were fascinated to see this couple on electric tricycles, using wooden-handled curved pruning blades to take low shoots off the vines. This was one of the most beautifully maintained of all the vineyards we have seen. You can see they've tilled not only between the rows, but also between the vines. The woman said they were glad not to need umbrellas today. It was much cooler though with a top temperature of eleven degrees.

Once they finished that row, they had their trikes loaded in a jiffy, and off to the next job.

We passed more lovely houses on the way.

The Beaune peripheral road encircles the medieval ramparts which once protected the town against marauders.

The ramparts are made of sawn local Chassagne stone combined with rough stone panels and oval balustrading. Along the top are gravel paths and a green band of parks and gardens with huge plane trees.

This statue was built by public donations way back in the late 1800's for a staunch republican.

Back in town we realised church was out when we saw lots of locals on their way home dressed in their Sunday best. The cathedral is called the Basilique Notre-Dame and it's in the centre of town. Parts of it date from the 13th century.

Look at those amazing old carved wooden doors! Apparently there are some famous old tapestries inside the church, but I didn't see them.

It's often the little side chapels off the nave which have the loveliest light.

This stained glass window dates from 1865. The nun on the far right is part of the order of the Hospital Sisters of Hôtel Dieu founded here in Beaune.

I had seen an antique fair in a building in town yesterday, so I couldn't wait to visit it. Such lovely old silver..

And embroidered cloths and napkins....

And the very pruning tools we had just seen being used.

Old books, and postcards, and sheets of music.

Today I learned more about this statue. It's by an artist called Bruno Catalano who was born in 1960 and lived with his family in Morocco until he was 10 years old. Then they moved to Marseilles. He felt dislocated, from his school, his friends, his whole way of life, and his teenage years were turbulent. He was a sailor for many years, and has only recently become a sculptor. He has done a series of these figures with parts of their bodies missing. As one art critic said, 'He has found ways to sublimate his deepest wounds into a work whose meaning and beauty border on the universal'.

Beaune's is a photographer's architectural paradise...

One of the big draw cards of Beaune is Hôtel Dieu, so called because it's been a hospital since 1443. We've seen queues like this outside the entry all day. Fortunately for us, our guided tour with Dijon historian Sherry was scheduled for 5.45pm when things had quietened down considerably.

The street side of the complex is plain stone with a slate roof, quite simple as befitted a religious place. But inside, forming the rest of the courtyard and hidden from view, is the very fancy patterned roof and gabled architecture. This courtyard has remained unchanged for 500 years.

The hospital was commissioned by Nicolas Rolin, one of the most famous chancellors of Beaune, as a charity hospital for the poor in 1443. He was a friend of the Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Good (slight misnomer), and collaborated with him in actually selling Joan of Arc to the English. It was a remarkable thing to do.

His third wife was Guigone Salins, a salt heiress - together they made a very rich couple. As an act of charity they decided to build a state of the art hospital for the poor, one based on the unheard-of idea of a limit of 2 people per bed. They founded the order of the Hospital Sisters of Hôtel Dieu to run it by attracting noble women who wanted to do charity work before they married. Some remained in the order. The order still exists today and works mostly in Africa.

This is the Room of the Poor, a large open room with a vaulted ceiling. Nicolas Rolin's monogramme is tiled on the floor with his motto "Seulle" referring to his wife. She is buried in the chapel. Beds line the sides, each with a box behind for belongings, and a table for food etc. He stipulated that there would be no wooden bowls, but only tin, for hygiene. There were no doctors at that time. Barbers performed any amputations. At one stage there was a long dining table down the middle. The previous guide for B & R before Sherry was actually born in this room. It only closed as a hospital in 1971. Other wards were for the nobility but they were expected to pay.

These are the actual red, brown, yellow and green glazed tiles from the roof, which were replaced with replicas in the early 1900's. This style became a feature of Burgundian architecture.

This Hospital nun became one of the first women apothecaries, a matter of some annoyance to the pope at that time.

Out the back are some Alice in Wonderland topiaries.

Lovely gardens which form part of a nursing home now on the site.

Over the centuries, vineyard owners willed portions of their land holdings to the charity so that it is now one of the largest vineyard proprietors in Burgundy. Much of the 150 acres of land it owns produces Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines. On the third Sunday in November each year, a huge charity auction is held which brings wine merchants from all over the world. It's been run by Christie's since 2005. A black tie dinner is held the night before at the Clos de Vougeot. Wouldn't it be fun to go to that?

The celebrations go on for 3 days and include wine tastings, competitions, even a marathon.

Tonight we had dinner at Les Poppiettes, a stone's throw from our hotel. We both had a beautiful white fish whose name I cannot remember, but will as soon as I'm in bed. Our company was Jim, a tennis coach from Florida who has been to the Australian Open many times, and his delightful wife Julie, a talented musician. It made for a fun evening.

Here's another clematis for you. Tomorrow is another day, travelling buddies. John is dropping us off somewhere and we'll walk to our hotel in Meursault. Can't wait to be on the road again! Until then...

shelley dark, writer 

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