Beaune (pronounced “bone” for all you native English speakers) is at the center of the Burgundy region of France. This is the third and final stop of our wine country tour and is the icing on the cake, to use a non-wine related foodie term.
Before I tell you about Beaune, I have to brag on my wife/chauffeuse a little. A lot, actually. I told you already how she ended up as the sole authorized driver for our rental car. If you’ve never driven in a foreign country, you don’t really appreciate the challenges a driver faces with signage in a foreign language, different expectations of other drivers, and even different sized automobiles. Like much of Europe, the French generally drive smaller cars than we Americans do, and many of those are manual transmission. When the rental car clerk in Paris realized that we had to make a last-minute change in plans for who would be doing the driving, he offered to upgrade, at no extra cost to us, to a) an automatic transmission and b) a larger vehicle. The transmission was a good thing, but the size? Well, let’s just say that after a few days trying to park that vehicle, Anita christened it “The Beast”. That led me to the obvious extension of calling the combination of car and driver “Beauty and the Beast” and, since we are in France, “La Belle et La Bête”:
La Belle et La Bête
The background in that photo was actually a gift. We had a long drive today: five hours not counting stops for lunch and photos. It was going very predictably until we reached an area where the autoroute was under construction and we had to take a detour. Our previous experience with French detours wasn’t particularly confidence-inspiring, so we decided to entrust ourselves to Google Maps. The navigator (yours truly) failed in his duty and got us even further off course, and then we rounded a curve and saw this:
We parked there and just gaped for about ten minutes. Even though we had spent the previous few hours marveling at the beauty of the French farmland and countryside, this particular spot was just stunning.
We finally found our way into Beaune, and our timing couldn’t have been better. The main attraction for us was the Museum Hôtel-Dieu. It was only an hour before closing time and it was devoid of other tourists. There are several “Hôtel-Dieu” sites in France, but this was the first and the inspiration for all the others. In the middle of the 15th century, wealthy Frenchman Nicolas Rolin sought and received permission from the Church to establish a center for the care of the sick and infirm without expecting anything from them in return. It was to be self-sustaining, high quality, and operated to sustain both the physical and spiritual well-being of those who came there for care. This building is part of the result:
The name in French means “God’s Hostel”, and it operated in this facility from its opening in the mid-1400s until it was relocated in the mid-1900s. It is still self-sustaining, deriving its operating income from–what else?–its winery. The building you see here is now a museum, the hospital center itself being a new, modern facility that still operates without charge to its clientele.
From its beginning, the intent was to give the best possible care. The main infirmary illustrates this, with each of the 28 patients having a private space:
There was a nice chapel at the far end of this room, and on the near end there is a window on the second floor where a nun could keep watch on the room to make sure no one went unattended no matter what hour of the day or night.
Tomorrow we are back to Paris to wrap up this trip. The wine tour is done, but there may be something in Paris worth writing about, so check back again.