In the midst of beautiful vineyards, the Hospices de Beaune are a gothic gem nestled in the historic center of Beaune in Burgundy!
Brief history of the Hospices de Beaune
The Hospices de were created in 1443, at the end of the Hundred Years War. The people of Beaune had been severely affected by this long and bloody conflict between France and the United Kingdom, and as a result lived in poverty and destitution.
Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy Philippe le Bon, and his wife, Guigonne de Salins, decided to found a Hôtel-Dieu: a hospital administered by the Church and intended to tend to the poor. Why this charitable and philanthropic gesture? The couple thus thought to buy their salvation.
Care at the Hospices de Beaune were free. How was that possible, you may ask? Nicolas Rolin donateed farmlands, vineyards and woodlands to his new Hôtel-Dieu. To administer these lands and take care of the sick, he established the order of the “Sœurs hospitalières de Beaune”.
Nicolas Rolin’s project was perpetuated in the centuries that followed. The donations of many nobles and wealthy citizens make it possible not only to maintain, but even to enlarge the Hôtel-Dieu. The Hospices de Beaune remained in operation until 1984, when operations were transfered to a brand new hospital.
Listed as a Historic Monument, the Hospices de Beaune are now home to a museum: a must-see for any visitor exploring Burgundy.
La Grande Vadrouille and the Hospices of Beaune
Set in the Hospices de Beaune, “La Grande Vadrouille” (“the Great Stroll”) is a classic of French cinema.
The movie was shot in Côte d’Or, among the vineyards of Burgundy. Set during the Second World War, “La Grande Vadrouille” recounts the adventures of two Frenchmen who help a group of English soldiers make their way through German-occupied France to safe territory.
Visiting the Hospices de Beaune
The architecture of the Hospices de Beaune
The Hospices de Beaunes are particularly famous for unique glazed-tile roofs, which are a trademark of the architecture of Burgundy. The colored tiles (red, brown, green and yellow) form intertwining geometric patterns.
Harmonious and perfectly preserved, the Hospices de Beaune are also a marvelous example of Gothic architecture, inspired by the architecture of Flanders (a region located in modern-day Belgium which was long under the domination of the Dukes of Burgundy). The finials, gilded with gold leaf, are also quite striking.
The Room of the Poor (Salle des Pôvres)
The Room of the Poor is undoubtedly the most impressive room in the Hospices de Beaune. With its colossal dimensions (50 meters long, 40 meters wide and 16 meters high) and its painted frame in the shape of an upside-down boat-skiff, the Room of the Poor looks just like a cathedral.
On either side of the room, two rows of beds accommodated the sick who were cared for in the hospices. On the floor, the tiles feature Nicolas Rolin’s monogram, as well as his motto, “Seulle ⭐”, meaning that his wife, Guigonne de Salins, is the only star in his eyes. How not to be moved by this beautiful declaration of love?
The same motto can be found on the walls of the Chapel, at the end of the Room of the Poor. Be sure to have a look at the sumptuous stained glass windows.
Salle St Hugues et Salle Saint Nicolas (St Hughes & St Nicholas Rooms)
The Salle Saint-Hugues and the Salle Saint-Nicolas, which were both designed in the 17th century, also accommodated the patients.
Both were built thanks to donations from generous benefactors: Maître Hugues Bétault and none other than Louis XIV. The King had indeed been shocked to discover that men and women were hitherto cared for together. He therefore established an annuity in order to make the adjustments necessary for their separation.
Don’t miss the impressive wall paintings in the Salle Saint-Hugues, designed by the Parisian painter Isaac Moillon.
In operation until 1985, the kitchens have now resumed their appearance from the beginning of the 20th century. Don’t miss the Gothic double hearth fireplace, as well as the brushed steel rotisserie dating from 1698. The little automaton even has a name: “Messire Bertrand”!
You’ll find Nicolas Rolin’s motto, “Seulle ⭐”, in the hearth of the fireplace.
The pharmacy is one of Captain Ulysse’s favorite rooms at the Hospices de Beaune. Many mysterious decoctions and plants with medicinal properties are stored in magnificent earthenware pots in the large wooden shelves.
The apothecary sisters prepared remedies for the sick in the hospices in this pharmacy.
The Polyptych Altarpiece
Painted in the 15th century, the famous Polyptych Altarpiece is the work of Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden. The interior of the altarpiece is made up of 9 vertical and mobile panels, representing the Last Judgment. The exterior features 6 painted panels: Nicolas Rolin and Guigonne de Salins are represented in prayer, while the Annunciation, Saint Sebastian and Saint Antoine appear in trompe-l’œil.
The polyptych altarpiece is exhibited in a dedicated room, with a selection of works of art (tapestries, etc), but it was originally hung above the altar in the Chapel. The polyptych altarpiece remained closed most of the time, but the sick could admire the interior panels on Sundays and feast days.
The collections of the Hospices de Beaune
Gothic chests, tapestries, stained glass windows and statues are exhibited throughout the Hospices de Beaune. These diverse and varied artworks bear witness to the rich Burgundian cultural heritage, but also to the importance of the Hôtel-Dieu over the centuries. Many nobles and bourgeois donated part of their fortune to the Hospices in the hope of buying their salvation, like Nicolas Rolin and Guigonne de Salins.
What about the vineyards?
The vineyards are at the heart of Burgundian culture and have played a key role in the history of the Hospices de Beaune. In the 15th century, Nicolas Rolin donated extensive vinyards to the Hôtel-Dieu. Today, the wine estate of the Hospices de Beaune is spread over approximately 60 hectares, with 85% of Premiers Crus and Grands Crus, mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
22 winegrowers maintain this prestigious wine estate. The wine production of the Hospices de Beaune is auctioned each year on the third Sunday of November. The cellars are then open to the public on Saturday all day and on Sunday morning for tastings. The profits are entirely devoted to the maintenance of the premises and the improvement of the equipment of the hospital of Beaune.
Planning on visiting the Hospices de Beaune? You can either:
👉 Visit of the Hospices de Beaune on your own: an audio guide, available in 10 languages (including French, English, German and Spanish) is included. Admission is €8.50 per person full price, €6 for students, €4 for visitors aged 10 to 18. The visit is free for children under 10. If you’re visiting the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune with a group of over 10 people, admission fees will only be €7 per person.
👉 Opt for a guided tour of the Hospices de Beaune: you can book a one-hour guided tour directly with the Hospices Beaune. The visit is also available in several languages. The price is €72 for a guided tour during opening hours, €105 for a guided tour outside opening hours (50 participants maximum). To book your guided tour: +33 (0)3 80 24 45 00 / firstname.lastname@example.org
👉 You can also combine your visit to the Hospices de Beaune with a discovery of the surrounding vineyards: find out more
Getting to the Hospices de Beaune
The Hospices de Beaune are located in the historic center of the city. To get to Beaune, several possibilities:
👉 By car: Beaune is easily accessible from the A6, A31 and A38 motorways. From Paris, the drive will take you 3 to 3,5 hour. From Dijon, the drive takes 30 to 40 minutes. If you’re planning on booking a car to explore Burgundy, Captain Ulysse recommends Rentalcars.
👉 By train: Beaune station is served by regular trains from Dijon. From Paris, you can take a TGV to Dijon (about 1hr40) then take the regional train running from Dijon to Beaune.
Exploring the surroundings of the Hospices de Beaune
You’ll find plenty to do around Beaune!
Captain Ulysse recommends exploring the Burgundy vineyards (Nuits-Saint-George, Meursault, Aloxe-Corton…) to discover the excellent wines of Burgundy and recommends these 3 visits in particular:
- From Beaune: Burgundy 10 Wines Grand Cru Tasting Day Trip
- From Beaune: Full-Day Bicycle and Wine Tour in Burgundy
Find the perfect place to stay in Beaune!
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all the Captain’s suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: to book your accommodation in Beaune, Captain Ulysse recommends Booking. If you’re looking for an affordable option, the Captain recommends the Ibis Budget Beaune the infrastructure is minimal, but this hotel has the merit of being very inexpensive. If you’re looking for a mid-range accommodation, the Captain suggests theLe petit Spuller centre historique, the Studio Clémenceau or the Hostellerie De Bretonnière. If you’re looking for something a little more fancy, then the Captain recommends Le Hameau de Barboron or the Hôtel Le Clos. And if you want to stay in a resolutely luxurious boutique hotel, you should definitely consider L’Hostellerie de Levernois: an architectural gem in an idyllic setting.
🎟️ Activities: guided tours, food tours… you’ll find plenty of things to do in the region. If you’re traveling during high season in particular, better to book your activities in advance. Captain Ulysses recommends the website GetYourGuide, specialised in tourist activities worldwide.
🚘 Car rental : Renting a car is ideal to explore Beaune and its surroundings. You’ll find great deals on Rentalcars, which compares the offers of countless rental companies (Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Budget, etc.).
🚆 Trains & buses: Beaune is easily accessible by train and bus. To book your train tickets, Captain Ulysses recommends Omio. The nearest airport is Dôle-Tavaux. To book your flights, the Captain highly recommends Skyscanner.