Burgundy considers itself the heart of France, a prosperous region with world-renowned wine, earthy but excellent cuisine and magnificent architecture.
Franche-Comté to the east combines gentle farmland with lofty alpine forests.
Unlike many other parts of France, this region, situated at the very heart of the country, is not a clearly defined entity. It is in fact a tapestry of many varied landscapes, valleys, plains uplands and mountains. With a surface of 32,000 sq Km, Burgundy covers some 6 % of France, roughly the same size as Belgium.
Under the Duke of Valois, Burgundy was France’s most powerful rival, with territory extending well beyond its present boundaries.
By the 16th century, however, the duchy was ruled by governors appointed by the French king, but it still managed to keep its privileges and traditions.
Once a part of Burgundy, Franche-Comté -the Free County- struggled to remain independent of the French crown, and was a province of the Holy Roman Empire until annexed by Louis XIV in 1674.
Burgundy, now as in the past, is a wealthy region, a centre of medieval religious faith which produced Romanesque masterpieces at Vézelay, Fontenay and Cluny.
Dijon is a splendid city, filled with the great palaces of the old Burgundian nobility and a collection of great paintings and sculptures in the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
The vineyard of the Côte d’Or, the Côte de Beaune and Châblis yield some of the world’s most venerated wines.
Other richly varied landscapes – from the wild forests of the Morvan to the lush farmland of the Brionnais – produce snails, Bresse chicken and Charolais beef.
Champagne region lies to the north, the Jura and Franch-Comté to the east and the Lyonnais region and the Loire valley to the west.
Although it lies in the east of the region, the Saone valley, together with the limestone Cote d’Or uplands between the region’s capital of DIJON and the smaller rural town of Autun, forms the historic heart of Burgundy. In the Dijonnais, as it is called, every type of landscape is represented, so this corner of Burgundy serves as a good starting point.
Although much is heavily cultivated, other parts of Burgundy are densely wooded. As well as the sores of natural watercourses, the region boasts also many pretty canals. They were dug in the 18th century when France was developing as an industrial power, but now the canals are of little commercial value. The Rhine-Rhone canal connects Dijon with the Rhine and the opening of the canal de la Marne ŕ la Saone linked the region with Paris. The Canal de Bourgogne, built between 1775 and 1834 winds it way through Burgundy for 242 km and the Canal du Nivernais, which was completed in 1842, meanders from the Yonne to the Loire.
Given Burgundy’s central location, the region naturally enjoys a continental; climate with clear seasonal differences. It can be very hot in the summer. In winter, though, it can be bitterly cold and a glass or two of something warming is sometimes required. The weather fronts usually approach from the west, and if the moisture-laden clouds on the way from the Atlantic are slow-moving, then that invariably means a steady downpour in the geographical heart of the region.
In the southern department of Saone et Loire, however, spring often arises at the end of February with blossoming vegetation and warm temperatures. But take care in the hilly upland regions in Central Burgundy. Even in March the meadows here will be covered with frost first thing in the morning.
Burgundy makes an ideal year-round destination. In the depths of winter, many hardy souls enjoy tours around the churches, monasteries, fortresses and chateaux, although admittedly it is more fun in the warmer months. Autumn is a very popular time of the year, as conditions are bright and sunny, but not too hot for touring. However, morning mists may put a damper on some sightseeing. Rainfall levels are highest in October (§and also May and June) but the changing leaf color on the vines and trees creates a beautiful spectacle. At this time of the year, the farmers are busy in their vineyards harvesting their precious crop and on the Cote d’Or, in the Chalonnais, the Maconnais and Chablis, there is much to be done. Anyone starting a tour in the Bourgogne in Dijon and then heading south could be forgiven for thinking that every square yard of soil is given over to wine production. Bur grapes are not the only crop.
Of all the French regions, only Corsica and the Limousin have a lower population density. Almost half of the Burgundians depend on their soil against 26 percent for whole France. Take now the Cote d’Or, not just a wealthy departement but with the city of Dijon at its heart, relative densily populated.