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Autun is a low-key town, but almost two millennia ago (when it was known as Augustodunum) it was one of the most important cities in Roman Gaul, boasting 6km of ramparts, four monumental gates, two theatres, an amphitheatre and a system of aqueducts. Beginning in AD 269, the city was repeatedly sacked by barbarian tribes and its fortunes declined, but things improved considerably in the Middle Ages, making it possible to construct an impressive cathedral. 

It’s beautiful country, with a lot to explore. The town is a bit run down, but per the above it has great bones.

Food & Lodging:

  • **Moulin Renaudiots: a lovely place, more of a B&B than a hotel, run by a youngish couple. It’s very elegant in a modern, well-designed way. The location is pretty isolated – I would definitely recommend it if you’re visiting Autun, but it’s a bit out of the way for touring the Cote d’Or towns. They serve meals a few nights a week – it’s a pleasant alternative to driving into town (food is higher-end home cooking). Note that the hotel is in a valley, making it consistently a bit colder than the surrounding area. It is lovely and dark at night – one of the few places I’ve seen the milky way in Europe.
  • **Le Cathedral: very local, affordable with well-prepared regional classics.
  • We had a very mediocre lunch at *Le Commerce

Activities:

  • **Cathedrale St-Lazare: Originally Romanesque, this cathedral was built in the 12th century to house the sacred relics of St Lazarus. Over the main doorway, the famous Romanesque tympanum shows the Last Judgment surrounded by zodiac signs, carved in the 1130s by Gislebertus, whose name is inscribed below Jesus’ right foot. It’s immaculately renovated on the interior.
  • ***Bibracte is really awesome – it’s a 30 minute drive from Autun. Long before Julius Caesar marched over the Alps, Celtic Gaul was one of the most highly developed parts of Europe. The tribal capitals were comfortable, friendly and had a good range of shops. The first writer known to have taken a second home in Gaul is Julius Caesar. After his final campaign, which left 2 million Gauls dead or enslaved, he decided not to return to Italy for the winter. Instead, he stayed in Gaul and wrote up his account of the war in ‘a very large and well-supplied’ oppidum in Burgundy. The name of the oppidum was Bibracte. It stood on the summit of Mont Beuvray near modern Autun in Burgundy, and now has a superb, highly produced museum. Walking the area is pleasant – the digs continue, largely with student groups – and the views of the surrounding countryside are stunning. 
  • The road to Bibracte through La Grande-Verrière is especially pretty – it would be a great place to camp, or for bikers/long-distance hikers.
  •  The ***Rolin Museum which houses collections of archaeological objects, sculptures and paintings. It’s a remarkable collection, with some of the finest sculptures I’ve seen. Make a point of visiting. 
  • Surrounding the city are a range of ancient remains, such as the Roman theater (more impressive in concept than reality, not a lot left to see), the biggest theatre of the Gallic Empire; the Saint-André gateway; the Arroux gateway; the Janus temple. It takes about 15 minutes to drive around and see all of them.
  • We enjoyed the **Pyramide de Couhard – the large remnants of a 1st century necropolis. It’s a good spot for a view over the city. Or drive a little higher to the **Croix de la libération, which overlooks the entire valley.
  • For modern furniture fans, Tolix Steel Design is based in Autun.

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Chagny

Chagny is a well situated small town near Beaune and Chalon-sur-Saône, on a busy canal route and near many notable wineries. For a small town (6,000 people) there are a surprising amount of restaurants and it has the appearance of a foodie destination (including a 3 Michelin star option). It’s not quite charming enough to warrant a recommendation for an overnight stay, but if you’re in the area make a stop. It’s also the start of a great road, D981, which heading south will take you to some of the best castles of Burgundy.

We visited **Église Saint-Martin de Chagny, built during the 12th and 13th centuries. It’s not my favorite Romanesque experience (doesn’t top the church in Arbois), but there’s a certain heavy solidity that’s appealing. 

Our lunch in Chagny was a standout – **Le Grenier à Sel. It’s a bit hidden away from the center of town, with a charming interior and some outdoor seating. The food was excellent, mostly grilled meats, for a surprisingly affordable price.


Le Creusot

Le Creusot is a pretty nondescript place – a mid-sized town with very uninspired architecture. We stopped to see **Château de la Verrerie (www.ecomusee-creusot-montceau.fr) – it’s a single star regional museum focused on a local family and glass making (“former Royal Crystal Factory of Queen Marie-Antoinette”). We gave it a second star for the amazing animatronic model in the basement of the iron works – it’s huge and elaborate, and for a coin you can turn it on. 

The description – Marvel at the famous miniature factory exhibited on the first floor, a true handmade masterpiece by Joseph Beuchot. This former mechanic of the Forges of Fraisans in Franche-Comté began the construction of this model in the 1890s and continued building it for twenty years. The miniature factory expands 5.40 meters long and 2 meters wide to provide a fully immersive experience inside a working factory. Check out the lively and animated miniature forge, the massive steam hammer and rolling mills, the hand forge and the carpentry workshop featuring 38 workers in action.


Chalon-sur-Saône

While not a particularly remarkable town (industrial, run-down), Chalon-sur-Saône is the birthplace of photography. There are two museums on the subject – 

  • **Maison de Nicéphore Niépce – the actual location. It’s a one-hour guided tour, and really interesting. Not a huge space, but the guides are passionate and make it come to life.
  • *Musée Nicéphore Niépce is a more general collection, I’d skip it.

Sully

The *Château de Sully, situated between Autun and Beaune, is the largest of the Renaissance châteaux of southern Burgundy. The historic chateau of the MacMahon family, from the marriage of the heiress Charlotte de Morey, with Jean-Baptiste de MacMahon, Sully was the birthplace of the monarchist Field Marshal, Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta, who was President of the French Third Republic from 1873 to 1879. The Château de Sully remains the home of the present duchesse de Magenta and her family.

It’s not a bad visit – we enjoyed it – but it’s a fairly minor one. The house isn’t in the best repair, and the tour, while enthusiastic, is limited given most of the estate is still used by the family. 

Nearby, Gamay and Saint Aubin are especially picturesque.

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