The next morning, I parked the Pink Lady in a car park not far from the Hospice and walked through delightful streets with mixed old and new cobblestones. I wasn’t really expecting this because I was wearing high heels. (I had reserved a table in a rather elegant restaurant). So, dear ladies, my advice is, “wear flat shoes”. Luckily, I always have a second pair of shoes with me for emergencies.
The town centre is breathtaking, the obviously restored buildings do have their own medieval flair. Normally I am not a fan of guided tours, but this was really a must. Isabelle’s meeting point was behind the modern and functional Tourist Information. I loved the entrance roof. It has a steep slope covering a beautiful red door.
My first impression was that I really wanted to find out more because everything was so inviting. Isabelle took us into the courtyard.
We were surrounded by a huge building with wooden balconies and the most intricate roof I had ever seen. Varnished roof tiles are carefully arranged to display a majestic pattern in yellow, red, green and black. My eyes were always drawn back to the roof. Its beauty is beyond words. Isabelle’s voice jolted me out of my dream, and I followed her like an enthusiastic child. Why is this place so famous and so amazing?
Towards the end of the 100 Years’ War, life was pretty bleak. There was unrest and, together with the plague, the countryside was decimated. A local person by the name of Nicolas Rolin built this masterpiece together with his wife. He had been inspired by the so-called “Hôtel Dieu” in Flanders and Paris. These fantastic structures were built for the poor and most disadvantaged people. And, he made sure that all the craftsmen involved came from Beaune itself to help build his “Palais pour les Pôvres”.
I think what struck me was the harmony of everything. We went to the “Poor Room” where the sick were taken care of. Then to the apothecary with its beautiful collection of mortar and earthenware pots and literally hundreds of little white porcelain storage jars, some of which were breathtakingly beautifully decorated. The design seemed more important than practicality. I was literally standing in the middle of a hospital dating back to the Middle Ages, which is also one of the country’s most prestigious historic monuments.
But I do also want to add, it has 60 ha. of vineyards and their wines are pretty good. (I made a note to come back on the 3rd Sunday of November when they are sold at auction, and credit cards are accepted). It’s a charity fair which is in the diary of every wine professional, connoisseur, and simple wine lovers, like you and me.
But there was more. Isabelle took us down into the wine cellar. It really put Arnaud’s cellar in the shade. I mean, this was old. It dated back to the 15th century. Tucked away under the low stone arches were with endless rows of barrels. The smell of wine, oak and sulphur was everywhere and it was a “touche” damp. A ghostly silence prevailed.
There was so much wine here!!!
After the barrels, we were led deeper into the cellar. We stood in front of a wrought-iron gate separating us from an incredible number of bottles, all in neat rows. It felt like being in a Romanesque church, the curved ceiling, dark naves and just a few lamps hanging from the top. It had a spiritual feel about it. Dionysus would have liked it here. Our voices dropped to a whisper, and we were drawn along a very narrow corridor. I almost felt like a priest walking to the altar and the congregation and flock of bottles waiting for me to commence a religious ritual. Somehow, the place could have done with some dusting. No, just kidding.
At the end of the corridor, we arrived in heaven, in the form of the sales area. Elegant package displays, each wine more famous than the other, standing side by side waiting to be transported to their new homes and fates. I knew Burgundy produces expensive wines. Very generously, they had decided to have a clearance sale. Bottles reduced from “only” €65 to “just” €59. I decided to pass. Perhaps the next Tabac would sell me the winning lottery ticket so that I could indulge myself in a little extravagance.
Isabelle said her goodbyes to our little group, and I was left to my own devices. I headed back to the courtyard and sat down on the steps of the well.
After a good few minutes, I wandered back to the Poor Room. It reminded me of horse boxes, except that in each box was a rather comfy-looking bed, with immaculately white and clean bed linen, all covered by a red blanket. Interestingly, behind all the boxes was a narrow corridor so that the nuns could discreetly remove the dead bodies from the room. The curtains facing the room were drawn at night, also to ensure privacy when somebody had to use their “commode chair”.
The whole room looked like a church, with discrete wall lighting, accentuating the beautiful stained-glass windows. The ceiling and the walls were connected with a series of monk and animal heads. There were also fierce-looking animals spewing out beams to the other side of the room. It sent a shiver down my spine. There was an altar, fully equipped, which was used during a religious service. Interwoven to this atmosphere were glass display units showing old (made of glass!!!) syringes and other medical instruments. Looking at those, I was glad not to have lived in those times.
I can’t say that I found the kitchen to be very practical for a catering company like mine. But I did like the enormous swan necks attached to the taps, heads staring down into the cooking pots on the gigantic wood stove. The huge collection of wine goblets was rather impressive, as were all the lovely copper pots on the shelves above them. I stared at the beautiful oil lamp collection made of pure silver and, of course, the magnificent tapestries hanging on the wall.
Just before I walked back to the entrance, I sent Geneviève a WhatsApp, “Thanks for the tip. You could have warned me about wearing high heels in Beaune”.
I headed out. My lunch table was waiting for me, and I was getting rather hungry.