intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
If the façades of certain period stately homes appear plain from the outside, their design and decorative style may be far more ornate on the inside, which in the case of Galerie Berger is twofold. Firstly, its half-timbered and stone elevation is laid out like an operatic stage setting round a stunning interior courtyard; and secondly, because every room, every drawing room, is overflowing with treasures: tables of precious woods, mirrors framed in gold, dazzling chandeliers, classic sculptures, paintings by old masters, period armchairs, Chinese vases, and works of art in precious metals. The duplex that awaits you at the top of a magnificent outside staircase is the only lodging in the heart of historic Beaune that offers a direct view onto the façade of the hospices.
The collegiate Church of Notre Dame de Beaune and its beautiful cloisters date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. © LeZibou
There is so much to recount of Burgundy’s long history and of the old city of Beaune. Such a richly endowed region has, of course, attracted huntsmen, winegrowers, monks and soldiers since the beginning of time. But for the part of town that concerns us here, the thing to remember is that it was an important fortified Roman settlement on the road between Chalon and Dijon, and protected by a castrum.
At the end of the first millennium, the county of Beaune was one of the first provinces to belong to the Duchy of Burgundy, and from 1203, the town was granted its charter of privileges. The region prospered mostly due to its exceptional wines – the legacy of the Benedictine monks. Beaune was fortified anew during the fourteenth century to protect itself from the marauding armies and free companies of mercenaries that plundered France during the Hundred Years War.
Despite serious upheavals at the end of the Middle Ages, the Dukes managed to add considerably to their lands and to increase their influence thanks to strategic political alliances. Commerce with the Netherlands, sometimes called the Burgundian Netherlands, further strengthened the duchy’s economic control.
The Hospices de Beaune that became renowned worldwide, were built by Nicolas Rolin and his wife Guigone de Salins, in the 15th century. These hospices, conceived to help the most indigent sick – and which also helped pave the way to heaven for its rich donors – is one of the oldest in Europe. Handsome residences flank the Place de la Halle and the beautiful hospice buildings. Perhaps the original owners were nobles and church dignitaries – or merchants and manufacturers. It is difficult to tell as the quarter’s archival records have long since disappeared.
Every postcard shows the patterned varnished tiles of the interior courtyard, but to actually see it, is a feast for the eyes. © Peter
Over the centuries, these buildings constructed at the end of the Middle Ages, have been modernized many times, as can be seen at the Galerie Berger, which is a combination of two houses with aspects of the 17th century, but at the back of the house there are several traces of the Renaissance, going back to the 15th century. This assimilation of periods is most striking in the interior courtyard where there is an eclectic mix of half timbering, three wooden galleries, Gothic windows with ogee lintels, an old well with the head of a medieval lion, and a magnificent Italian staircase; while the doors open onto rooms that are adorned with finely carved panelling, and remarkable beamed ceilings.
Cross-shaped stone mullions are typical of 15th and 16th century French windows.
Take time to admire the building materials – the beige limestone supporting walls and paving, the polished pink-veined stone of the steps, the dark oak beams, the waxed terracotta floor tiles are all typical of Burgundian architecture, not to mention the small, rectangular roof tiles.
What is particularly attractive about the Galerie Berger is its proximity to the owners’ showrooms with their dazzling display of collectible works of art. The Berger family have been antique dealers for five generations and wherever you look testifies to their passion for the 18th century. Cabinets inlaid with brass and ivory, delicate porcelain, gold-plated candleholders and chandeliers and crystal decanters jostle for position with wonderful items of furniture. One particularly well-appointed floor of the house is reserved for distinguished guests and the family’s important clients.
While awaiting their new life, what memories do these precious items from the past hold? M. Berger and his associates will be delighted to let you in to some of their secrets …
Another charming feature about the Galerie Berger apartment is that its furnishings change from one season to another, as every item is for sale. These professionally restored treasures, are shown with pride at antique fairs, and travel from country to country in search of discerning collectors.
You will also like the layout of the place; it is very peaceful and yet in close proximity to all the restaurants, the artisanal shops, and the town’s other cultural attractions. The apartment is unique though, for its wonderful, unimpeded view of the hospices’ main façade that is bathed in the ever-changing light from the tricks of the sun or in nocturnal luminescence.
On Saturday mornings, the Place de la Halle is a hive of activity as the market gets under way. © Galerie Berger
Beaune is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in France and one can certainly understand why! This beautiful, well-preserved little town and its surroundings is a concentration of a remarkable heritage of historical monuments, wonderful discovery excursions, legendary vineyards and a number of refined gastronomic specialities that would be fit for the most demanding of noble tables.
It will be love at first sight for the hospices, which will stir your aesthetic senses, whet your appetite for historical knowledge and kindle your humanist instincts. Medicine and how it was practised then, charitable organizations and how they were funded, the social inequalities of the Middle Ages, and even the love of a powerful chancellor for his wife, will become palpable.
Every year in November, there is great auction of the wines produced from the hospices’ estate and aged in their legendary cellars. © Claude Valette
Wine buffs will be spoilt for choice from the list of wine-tasting cellars to visit in the area. It is a pity though that world demand has pushed the price of good wine to very high levels . . .
There are excursions of every sort; and as well as the signposted tours and walks, there are beautiful bike rides or you could treat yourself to a boat trip along the Burgundy canal.
The Beaune Tourist Board is one of the most dynamic in the area, but M. Berger will also be happy to direct you to less touristy spots when you have settled in.
A fascinating wine museum is housed in the Hôtel des Ducs de Bourgogne, a former residence of the Dukes of Burgundy. © Alh1
Le centre de Beaune et son extraordinaire ambiance de ville médiévale me fascinent depuis toujours. Quel bonheur de pouvoir y séjourner dans un cadre aussi authentiquement historique, entouré de tant de pièces de collections raffinées. La façade des Hospices, dans le soleil levant, est une vraie invitation à la découverte (l'appel des cloches matinales est irrésistible)
Monsieur Berger m'a renseigné nombre de bonnes adresses dans les environs, caves à vin exceptionnelles, châteaux, excursions à vélo, artisan fromager, boulanger à l'ancienne... Quelle qualité de vie en Bourgogne !
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Apartment in the Galerie Berger
10, Place de la Halle
Tel. +33 3 80 22 09 79
Fax +33 3 80 24 05 28
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