The Hospices de Beaune is in the centre, just behind Place Carnot. It is a beautiful 15th century building with a remarkable roof structure. The interior, which is now a museum, is set out as the working hospital which existed from 1452 until the 1970’s. It is one of France’s main tourist attractions.
It was founded at a time when Beaune had been devastated by the 100 Years War and the plague, and the people were suffering greatly. The project was devised and paid for by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of Burgundy, and his third wife Guigone de Salins. Although Guigone was only 19 when they married, (and he 47), she had a strong personality, and encouraged her husband to use some of his wealth for this worthy cause. After the death of Nicolas in 1462, Guigone continued to manage the Hospices and work with the sick until her own death in 1470.
Over the years the Hospices received gifts of vineyards by way of charitable donations, and the sale of the wine helped to fund its activity. Today the Hospices owns some 60 prime hectares of land under vine, which as well as contributing to its upkeep, has helped fund a new hospital with modern facilities. The wines are sold by the barrel at an auction which takes place on the third Sunday in November each year in the new Market Hall. The auction is managed by the London Auction house Christies, and has become a celebrity event.
The first nurses to work at the Hospices in the 15th century came from the St John’s Hospital in Bruges, built in the 11C, and one of the oldest surviving hospital buildings in Europe (and which still operates as a hospital today). In recognition of their services, in 1989 a cuve of Batard Montrachet was named after them. ‘Les Dames de Flandres’, is auctioned each year at the wine auction. Festivities take place over 3 days to celebrate the event, known as ‘Les Trois Glorieuses’, with food stalls, dancing and music in the streets.
Just opposite the Hospice is a shop called Athenaeum, which sells wine, but more interestingly, every book, map or other modern wine artefact to do with the wines of Burgundy.
Behind the new Market Hall is Place Carnot, the town’s main square. Beaune is an affluent town, and this is reflected in the various shops and boutiques on Place Carnot and the roads that lead off it.
To the west of the Hospices is the Cathedral Notre Dame, and just behind the cathedral the Wine Museum. Construction of the Cathedral began in circa 1115, and continued until the 13th century. It is the home to a magnificent series of 16th century tapestries depicting the ‘Life of the Virgin’.
In front of the Cathedral is the wine producer Joseph Drouhin, and their caves are some of the oldest in Beaune. They offer an excellent visit followed by a tasting of their wines. Patriarch also occupy ancient cellars, as do both Bouchards – Aine, and Pere et Fils, and all are worth visiting time permitting.
Beaune is an attractive walled Medieval City and its ancient buildings within the walls are still largely in tact. After Paris, it is the next most visited city in France, and Nicolas Rolin and Guigone can take much of the credit for that. The Tourist Office can be found on the circular road around the town, in a building which also contains the Musees des Beaux Arts.