An example of flamboyant 15th-century Gothic architecture, the Hospices de Beaune unite the spiritual, artistic and wine-making traditions of Burgundy under one roof. In 1443, Nicolas Robin (Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy) endeavoured to create a hospice that would look after the poor of Beaune, a town struggling with misery and famine at the time of the Hundred Years War. Until 1970, a group of sœurs hospitalières (nuns) took care of orphaned children, the sick and the destitute here.
This large Gothic architectural creation, with its vivid interior courtyard, half-timbered gallery, turrets and multi-coloured roof tiles, is a striking focal point in Burgundy’s wine capital. The four buildings that surround the Cour d’Honneur (three-sided courtyard) are open to the public and make up the former Hôtel-Dieu (hospice), which has since become a museum. The superb ‘Polyptych ofthe Last Judgement’ (also known as the Beaune Altarpiece) by Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden is perhaps its highlight, but there’s a diverse collection of 5,000 works including furniture, tapestries and pharmaceutical paraphernalia. You can also walk around the original ‘Salle des Pauvres’ with its two rows of curtained box beds, as well as the kitchens, dispensary and infirmary – the sequence of rooms demonstrates how this important charitable organisation was run.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Hospices de Beaune also owns a vineyard of almost 60 hectares in Côte de Beaune, Côtes de Nuits and Pouilly-Fuissé. The produce from these vines is sold at auction on the third Sunday of November to connoisseurs and professionals from all over the world – this public event is a great opportunity to find out more about Burgundy wines and of course, to taste them. The Hospices also cater for music lovers: in July the International Baroque Opera Festival is staged in the great courtyard, keeping the musical tradition of the court of the Dukes of Burgundy alive.