Breakfast at the Hotel des Ramparts consisted of croissant, baguette, rusks, madeleines, yogurt, apple sauce, juice and coffee. The croissant was okay, but wasn’t quite as golden and buttery as required by our rigorous croissant standard of excellence – we’re still looking for a great croissant in France. We loaded up the car in the rain and got on the road two minutes before the 9am pay-for-parking deadline! Headed to Autun.
The road out of Beaune had extensive vineyards – these are some of the prime locations in Burgundy. We witnessed the vendange, which is the grape harvest, in full swing. Groups of harvesters were scattered across the fields with very large plastic cone shaped receptacles strapped to their backs. They didn’t seem deterred by the rain.
The roads were pretty quiet, as were the towns, either due to the rain or the vendage. We were making good time so we were open to exploring side roads when we saw something interesting. The first being Chateau de Rochepot. Patrick spotted a tower in the distance as we were going through a very old village, so I turned around for a photo opportunity. It looked far too good to pass up, so we drove over for a closer look.
We arrived and were the only ones there. It wasn’t open for another 30 minutes and we had a nice walk around the “castle”/chateau. It was more defensive than other chateaux in the area with a moat and drawbridge (two layers deep), arrow slits in the ramparts, trap doors for dropping surprises on unsuspecting marauders below the ramparts, and gun ports. The tour guide was a local woman with a fantastic laugh who made a very lively guide. She was very knowledgeable and because there were only two French speaking guests provided the tour in English.
- Fabulous sink in kitchen and beautiful tile floors in kitchen and dining hall
- Built-ins in the tower bedrooms were spectacular
- Roof tiled in the Beaune style, using colorful glazed tiles arranged in geometric patterns
- Outdoor kitchen bread ovens were enormous and the town people were invited to use them
- Sweeping views of the village and the valley
- Stables/carriage house was huge and in great repair
We were surprised to learn about the sizeable destruction of the chateau in the 18th century when the owners fled and the town people quarried the stone for building. There were no roofs remaining and practically no furnishings. The new owners (former French prime minister) renovated the place (25 year effort) and did a beautiful job.
Continuing on, we soon arrived at the Chateau Sully. This is a giant renaissance chateau flanked by two even more giant separated wings containing stables, theatre, servants quarters, orangery, and much more!
The gardens were fairly expansive, with a lot of espalier. Many very old quince trees, apple, and pear trees, fish ponds, vegetables and flowers, clover, herbs, in a lovely repeating pattern in each section. I picked up a few seeds (hollyhock, rose hips, tomato cherry, and peas.) We found out there is only one gardener full-time and some spring/summer part time helpers. It’s a 1 hectare plot and there is a lot to do! That explains why for example the trees were not really well maintained, many of them over-aged and no longer trained in the formal manner.
We wandered around the grounds for about an hour waiting for the tour to begin and found the Lavoir – wash house. It was set in the woods quite a distance from the house and was an open-sided construction, still with the equipment inside. We also found the old chapel, which contains a cemetery and an old belfry. This was right next to the icehouse which was dug out of the ground and mounded high with dirt for insulation. It had an inner wall and an outer wall about three feet apart that must have acted as insulation when the roof was intact. And had an entrance that went below ground to either prepare or retrieve the ice.
The owner and her two children are still living in a section of the chateau, but only a small section, the rest is either closed or part of the tour. While a lot of it is in good repair, the newer entry foyer has a lot of plaster damage that doesn’t look like it will last. And the guide explained that as of 2010, the state will no longer provide subsidies for repairs to chateaus, whether public or private.
Back on the road and feeling a bit hungry by now. We are about 11 km to Autun and there were many other temptations to stop, but we pressed on! Priorities were: a hotel and a bite to eat. As we drove through the city, we followed the direction of the St Lazare’s Cathedral spire in the distance. The Michelin guide said there was a place to eat behind it. So wound our way up TINY winding roads until we reached the cathedral – immediately found a parking space and set off for food.
Everything was closed… So we decided to look for a hotel. The one in the guide just happened to be right around the corner. Hotel Les Ursulines. Outside it’s a nice old building, covered in ivy, commanding a great view of the town and valley beyond. Inside, it’s been turned into modern hotel rooms – presumably these were previously the cells for the nuns. We secured a very nice room facing the inner garden.
Next order of business: food. Serendipitously, we found ourselves at the New St.George – salon de the and café bricolante. It was a tiny and charming place, with an equally tiny and charming owner running it all on his own. There were old games, vintage coffee making equipment, antique tables and chairs, and even a small fireplace about waist-high in one of the walls. The warmth of the fire was most welcome on this wet and chilly afternoon. We had a very tasty menu of salad, savory galette, and apricot coconut tarte, accompanied by coffee from a Lavoisier coffee maker (which the guide at Rochepot had just been telling us about).
Finally we felt sufficiently restored to continue our exploration. Actually we wanted to do some wine-tasting, but the only cellar in town supposed to be open on Monday was closed. In fact a lot of places seem to be closed Sundays and Mondays, including restaurants – not what you would expect in a tourist area. Instead we got a first look at the cathedral, which is most impressive. The Beaune cathedral was modeled after it, and it’s huge; and full of wonderful details to impress the faithful: the famous tympanus, a multitude of gargoyles along the many roof lines, stone pillars with detailed carvings illustrating the scripture, stained glass, ancient frescoes (many sadly damaged, but hinting at former glory).
Exhausted from all the sight-seeing, we were ready for dinner. Not such an easy matter as it turned out, because there weren’t that many restaurants and most were closed. We finally ended up in a place just opposite the cathedral, and it turned out to be a good choice. We enjoyed a really nice meal of regional fare (including the famous Oeufs en Meurette, which were surprisingly good) with a bottle of Haute Cotes de Beaune; and at a very reasonable price too.