Burgundy is located at the south east of the Island of France and sits on 31 582 km2. It has a population of 1 610 067 and is composed of 4 departments whose prefecture is Dijon: Yonne (89), the Gold Coast (21), Nievre (58) and Saone-et-Loire (71).
Human habitation in this region goes back at least 90 000 years; the Neanderthals and later the Cro-Magnons sheltered themselves in the caves of Arcy-on-Cure. Later, it was the site of a grand Celtic era and was decisive in the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. Vercingetorix gave up the throne to Caesar in Alésia, capitulating after a long siege. Traces of this Gallo-Roman time still remain in the areas around Alise-Sainte-Reine, home to a vast archaeological building site.
The tribe of Burgondes gave its name to the area; later during the Middle Ages, the kingdom of Burgondie was divided into the lands of Comté of Burgundy (now Frank-comté) and a Duchy of Burgundy made up of several counties. Many cities were born during this period, such as Dijon, the old ducal capital whose perfectly preserved historical center testifies to the power of the Dukes of Burgundy, power that still echoes through Dijon’s palace its architecture and its ancient walls. Clamecy, the area’s wood capital, shelters the old town of the Counts de Nevers. The urban resurgence of the medieval era also resulted in many small cities such as Noyers-sur-Serain, Semur-sur-Auxois and Flavigny. It was also in this region that were born the great monastic reform movements of the Middle Ages, giving rise to an intense spiritual, artistic and intellectual tradition of which many monuments still speak today. Cluny held a prevalent place and had a significant Roman heritage both religious and military. In the same way, the historical center of Mason and its Saint-Vincent basilica, Sens and its Cathedral, and Paray -le Monial and its basilica all date from the Roman times, between 10th and the 12th centuries. Lastly, Autun had great influence, and several sites of the area are classified world heritage sites by UNESCO, such as the cisterienne abbey of Fontenay and Vezelay that was a major meeting place for the pilgrims on the road to Saint-Jacques-of-Compostelle.
Geographically, Burgundy is characterized by a patchwork landscape, rich in diverse natural sites. The greatest part of the territory is at an average altitude varying between 150 and 600 meters and is divided between agricultural landscapes (60 %) and forests (32%): In the north are sedimentary plains among which is the Sénonais, a chalky plain irrigated by the Yonne river, and the country of Othe, a forest plate covered with clays and sands. Its makes up low Burgundy, along with the limestone plateaus of Auxerre and Tonnerrois. South of the Yonne lies the solid granite mass of Morvan, covered with forests and strewn with lakes (Lake Setton) and with slate villages. Here nature is preserved by a regional natural reserve where visitors can explore unusual landscape features like peat bogs. There are also local handicrafts and agricultural products to discover.
This area of the Burgundy is characterized by a dynamic and powerful agriculture, specialized in oilseeds and grains. In the east, ancient Jurassic plates cover the major part of the land with a varied terrain with elevations up to 600 meters. To the southeast of the gold Coast, the plain extends. Here runs the Saone and its tributaries, which connect the Parisian basin and the Rhone; its well-fed meadows and its open fields characterize the area.
The river is navigable and offers multiple possibilities of river-based activities. The old Gallo-Roman ports like Chalon, Auxonne and Mâcon follow one another along the river, and add cultural interest to the landscape. The southwestern district of the Gold Coast is attached to Morvan, with Saulieu being the entry point. In this territory, the wine growing for which Burgundy is so well known is the principal agricultural activity. This area produces such world-famous vintages as Côte de Beaune (the town of Beaune is dedicated to all kinds of wine-related pursuits) and Nuits-Saint-Georges. In the west, the Nièvre borders the Eastern part of the Central Solid mass, the mountainous zone of Morvan of which Château-Chinon is the historical capital.
The region joins the Parisian basin and presents a diverse landscape, from rocky plates and woodland foothills to vine-covered slopes and abrupt peaks. The Loire, last wild Europe River, runs through the towns of Digoin, Decize and Nevers and is connected to the Seine by several canals. To the south, the Saone-et-Loire district bears the name of the rivers that cross it. Here stand the mounts of Charolais and of Brionnais, with its high pasture country where the famous Charolais beef is raised. The mountains of Mâcon and the limestone peaks of the Beaujolais region are famous for their vineyards and the wines they produce. Considered a primary crossroads for its network of roads, rivers and rail systems, Burgundy is virtually unavoidable whether traveling from the north or the south.
But why would anyone wish to bypass Burgundy ?
With all its riches: the highest quality vineyards, its diverse landscapes and natural sites and its fascinating history represented so well in beautiful chateaux and monuments, Burgundy is an ideal place for discoveries, exploration and activities of all kinds.