Beaune to Chablis on the Autoroute requires only about 1 hour and 20 minutes – you may be surprised to hear me say this but, between Beaune and Chablis, there’s much to do and see that doesn’t include wine! So why not use a whole day to take in the sights?
I revisited a few places last week, many of which I hadn’t visited since pre-covid times – remember those?! Anyway, let me make a few suggestions and observations for you – which are organised sequentially as you head north from Beaune.
1. Hotel, Abbaye de Bussière
Once a ‘destination’ hotel and still a wonderful collection of buildings and gardens in the valley of the Ouches river. Once? Well, the hotel changed hands and the upkeep seems to be difficult for the new team – the service too. Keeping the prices up doesn’t seem to have been difficult though – €600 for a room for the night or €23 for two cokes and a coffee – but for what you get at the moment, the prices are absolutely not justified. That their restaurant seemingly managed to retain their 1 Michelin star seems unbelievable to this casual visitor!
Only about 10km from the Abbaye but given the Hotel’s current state, it’s more likely that you will have taken the A6 Autoroute from Beaune in the direction of Paris & Chablis. It’s actually the first exit from the A6 after you leave Beaune – 37km – and that’s a long way if you were going to Beaune and missed the exit at Savigny! – everybody does it once 🙂
One named the Château de Toisey-la-Berchère, the Châteauneuf sits proudly on the hillside above the Autoroute – like a medieval castle with turrets and flags. It requires taking a few small and steep roads – but Google Maps is your friend – to a quaint village where the castle is situated. The village is one of those places where your mind can wander and you find yourself contemplating buying one of these old houses – it’s a summer dream – because you would of course die in the winter months – many kms of steep snowy roads would be required to visit a supermarket!
The (now) unoccupied castle itself has undergone some renovation and is worth paying the few euros required to gain entrance. Here you will also find wedding photos of the previous owner – Comte Georges de Vogüé – yes, that Comte Georges de Vogüé! He gave away the castle to the state in 1936.
3. Château Commarin
Not a long drive from the Châteauneuf is the fine-looking, twin-winged, moated, Château Commarin. Also a good place to stop and drink a coffee, beer, cola etcetera – maybe to take ice cream too! This is another place where it’s worth paying a few euros to get a look inside the château and walk the gardens – gardens patrolled by pigs who live to munch on the lawn’s dandelions. There’s a rather green-coloured but full moat surrounding the buildings, though it’s fed from behind by a freshwater stream. And what do you know – another house owned by the de Vogüés! In this case, it’s a different branch of the family, some of whom are still resident. It turns out that this important French surname is used by at least 1,000 de Vogüés today.
I offer an optional next stage for those of you with a burning hunger:
4. Restaurant Côte d’Or in Saulieu
Two Michelin stars, sometimes called Le Relais Bernard Loiseau. You will need to book ahead! I only ate here the once but is was beautifully executed food and with top service. If you do stop for a long lunch you may be calmed by the knowledge that they have rooms – so you have the possibility to continue your journey onwards to Chablis the following day!
45 minutes in the car from Saulieu or about the same from Commarin. Flavigny is famous for the small white pastilles/sweets that it produces – principally aniseed but with many other flavourings too. We didn’t visit this year but our experience was ‘different’ on a hot June day in 2022. The ‘sweet factory’ is housed in some old ecclesiastical building and looks quite cool – you can tour the factory for free. First, we wandered around the village; an interesting walk that on this day was spoiled by thousands and thousands of ‘house flies’ sunning themselves on steps and house walls – we soon decided to visit the factory. The factory itself was a good visit with lots to sample and, of course, buy! Given the heat, I was happy to find that they had a cafe – an open place with some trees – but – it was like a killing zone under and around the trees here – dead and dying bees everywhere. I could only assume that they were being poisoned by the strenth of the aniseed smell! You can probably see why we havn’t been back…
6. Abbaye de Fontenay
Of all these stops on the road to Chablis, this is the closest to a must-visit. Not on the scale of Cluny but more complete and so beautifully landscaped that it’s hard to believe that in the early 1900s, this collection of buildings began a new life as a paper factory. Eventually, a Frenchman with far more money than time available to him bought everything and set about restoring all the, by now, blackened buildings. A beautiful, restful, contemplative place. I highly recommend it. The only black mark is that their ‘café’ is simply a room with two vending machines!
You are now already most of the way to Chablis but there’s another worthy visit before you arrive:
Like in Chablis, we are in the department of the Yonne here – not the Côte d’Or. This is a wonderful stop to see the beautiful old houses of the village – perhaps one of the best preserved medieval villages in France(?) It’s a place where the summer dreams return 😉 Before the 25 minute drive to Chablis.