The Burgundians were one of the Germanic peoples who filled the power vacuum left by the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire. In 411, they crossed the Rhine and established a kingdom at Worms. Amidst repeated clashes between Romans and Huns, the Burgundian kingdom encompassed what is today the borderlands between Switzerland, France, and Italy. In 534, the Franks defeated Godomar, the last Burgundian king, and absorbed the territory into their growing empire.
Burgundy’s modern existence is rooted in the dissolution of the Frankish Empire. When the dynastic succession was settled in the 880s, there were four Burgundies:
The two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Burgundy were reunited in 937 and absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire under Conrad II in 1032, as the Kingdom of Arles. The Duchy of Burgundy was annexed by the French throne in 1477. The County of Burgundy remained loosely associated with the Holy Roman Empire (intermittently independent, whence the name “Franche-Comté”), and finally incorporated into France in 1678, with the Treaties of Nijmegen.
During the Middle Ages, Burgundy was the seat of some of the most important Western churches and monasteries, among them Cluny, Citeaux, and Vézelay.
During the Hundred Years’ War, King John II of France gave the duchy to his younger son, rather than leaving it to his successor on the throne. The duchy soon became a major rival to the French throne, because the Dukes of Burgundy succeeded in assembling an empire stretching from Switzerland to the North Sea, mostly by marriage.
The Burgundian Empire consisted of a number of fiefdoms on both sides of the (then largely symbolic) border between the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire. Its economic heartland was in the Low Countries, particularly Flanders and Brabant. The court in Dijon outshone the French court by far, both economically and culturally. In Belgium and in the south of the Netherlands, a ‘Burgundian lifestyle’ still means ‘enjoyment of life, good food, and extravagant spectacle.
In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Burgundy provided a power base for the rise of the Habsburgs, after Maximilian of Austria had married into the ducal family. In 1477 at the battle of Nancy during the Burgundian Wars the last duke Charles the Bold was killed in battle and Burgundy itself taken back by France. After the death of his daughter Mary her husband Maximilian moved the court first to Mechelen and later to the palace at Coudenberg, Brussels, and from there ruled the remnants of the empire, the Low Countries (Burgundian Netherlands) and Franche-Comté, then still an imperial fief. The latter territory was ceded to France in the Treaty of Nijmegen of 1678.
Burgundy wine is made in the Burgundy region of eastern France, in the valleys and slopes west of the Saône, a tributary of the Rhône. The most famous wines produced here—those commonly referred to as “Burgundies”—are dry red wines made from pinot noir grapes and white wines made from chardonnay grapes.
The “Wine”region runs from Auxerre in the north to Mâcon in the south, or to Lyon if the Beaujolais area is included as part of Burgundy. Chablis, a white wine made from Chardonnay grapes, is produced in the area around Auxerre. Other smaller appellations near Chablis include Irancy, which produces red wines and Saint-Bris, which produces white wines from Sauvignon blanc.
There are 100 Appellations in Burgundy and these are classified into four quality categories. These are Bourgogne, village, premier cru and grand cru. Eighty-five miles southeast of Chablis is the Côte d’Or, where Burgundy’s most famous and most expensive wines originate, and where all Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy (except for chablis grand cru) are situated. The Côte d’Or itself is split into two parts: the Côte de Nuits which starts just south of Dijon and runs till Corgoloin, a few kilometers south of the town of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and the Côte de Beaune which starts at Ladoix and ends at Dezize-les-Maranges. The wine-growing part of this area in the heart of Burgundy is just 40 kilometres (25 mi) long, and in most places less than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) wide. The area is made up of tiny villages surrounded by a combination of flat and sloped vineyards on the eastern side of a hilly region, providing some rain and weather shelter from the prevailing westerly winds. The best wines – from grand cru vineyards – of this region are usually grown from the middle and higher part of the slopes, where the vineyards have the most exposure to sunshine and the best drainage, while the premier cru come from a little less favourably exposed slopes. The relatively ordinary “village” wines are produced from the flat territory nearer the villages. The Côte de Nuits contains 24 out of the 25 red grand cru appellations in Burgundy, while all but one of the region’s white Grand Cru wines are in the Côte de Beaune (the exception being Musigny blanc). This is explained by the presence of different soils, which favour pinot noir and chardonnay, respectively.
Further south is the Côte Chalonnaise, where again a mix of mostly red and white wines are produced, although the appellations found here such as Mercurey, Rully and Givry are less well-known than their counterparts in the Côte d’Or.
Below the Côte Chalonnaise is the Mâconnais region, known for producing large quantities of easy-drinking and more affordable white wine. Further south again is the Beaujolais region, famous for fruity red wines made from Gamay grapes.
Burgundy’s terrain is continental climate characterized by cold winters and hot summers. The weather is unpredictable, with rains, hail, and frost all possible around harvest time. Such a climate results in vintages from Burgundy varying considerably.
In Burgundy, la Puisaye-Forterre, land of Colette and Guédelon, is a haven of preserved nature with many surprises. This territory made of small winding roads, forests, ponds, hollow roads, and exceptional natural spaces classified under Natura 2000, is home to many places of memory. Located in the north of Burgundy, one hundred and fifty kilometers southeast of Paris, the territory of Puisaye-Forterre is straddling two départements, Yonne and Nièvre. It is a place with preserved landscapes, iron, ochre and water. La Puisaye-Forterre is the birthplace of the writer Colette. This territory is entirely rural and is characterised by the diversity of its landscapes, its colours and the richness of its architecture. It is also a land of bocage and hilly landscapes.
The name “Puisaye” would have a Celtic origin (“Poy” meaning wet country and “saga” meaning forest). It then became “Poiseia” or “Puseio” in the 12th century to evolve latter on into “Puisoye” and finally “Puisaye”. Thus, la Puisaye is a region with moist and verdant plateaus, with heavy and cold clay soils, and many hardwood forests that house large ponds. The landscape features are identity markers of the small region. Moreover, here water, groves and forests are ubiquitous providing a biodiversity haven. To cap it all, la Puisaye is ranked among the remarkable landscapes of Burgundy.
We also have compiled a short list of experiences we think you might enjoy:
Interested in tasting? Head to le Domaine d’Edouard for wine, Les Mauvais Garçons for beer, Ouche Nanon for whisky.
Enjoy an invigorating walk? Hike with a local guide.
Fancy a view from above? Embark on a hot air balloon in Treigny.
Traveling with kids? Visit the animal farmhouse “Moulin de Vanneau” in Saints.
Friendly with horses? Meet the riding stable of Champignelles.
On the hunt for antiques? Visit l’Œil d’Or in Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye and La Recyclerie either in Saint-Amand or Toucy.
Miss the city ? Visit Auxerre and its historical monuments.
Want to shop for meaningful gifts? Head to Les Créacteurs in Saint-Sauveur to discover the work of local artists.
Ever heard of Colette? The famous author’s house is now a museum and provides a comprehensive tour of her works. Musée Colette, Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye.