Beautiful Burgundy – home to some of the world’s finest vineyards (and tours a plenty), where you’ll find more chateaux than any other region in France, countryside that is made for enjoyment, dotted with delightful towns and cities….and then, there’s history.
Via Vercingetorix – all roads lead to Alesia – Amid the rolling hillsides around Alise-Sainte-Reine stands an imposing 46ft high copper statue, its scale a fitting tribute to the subject.
Here stands Vercingetorix, king and chieftain of the Averni tribe, who united Gaul to defy the territorial ambitions of Julius Caesar and his Roman legions. He succeeded in pushing them to the limit as a gruelling seven-year campaign came to a conclusion.
For the past 150 years Vercingetorix has been gazing stoically and silently across the surrounding countryside, but the echoes of ancient warfare continue to reverberate in this corner of Burgundy, one that has become a beacon of how best to celebrate history.
Now, as they did then, all roads ultimately lead to Alesia.
The remains that have been uncovered by archaeologists at the Gallo-Roman settlement of Alesia are now twinned with the MuseoParc Alesia, a modern museum and interpretation centre that is a superb visitor experience.
The creation of architect Bernard Tschumi (he lists the Acropolis Museum, Athens and the BLUE residential tower in New York among his other achievements), the MuseoParc Alesia brings history to life, charting the dramatic final stages of the conquest of Gaul that were played out over the summer months of 52BC.
The story of that summer, when Vercingetorix and an army of 80,000 Gauls were besieged at Alesia by Caesar, commanding some 50,000 Roman troops, unwinds through dramatic displays, evidence recovered from the battle site, reconstructed siege engines and interactive presentations.
A visit to MuseoParc Alesia is pure adventure for young and old alike, where you can rub shoulders with larger than life models of soldiers from both sides and be catapulted back into momentous events that were to change the course of history.
The circular route through the building eventually takes visitors to a rooftop, planted with trees and plants, that looks out across the actual battleground. Nearby there’s a reconstruction of a section of the defences built by the Romans. Caesar ordered two fortified lines to be built; one 15 kilometres long to contain Vercingetorix and the other stretching 21 kilometres around Alesia’s hillsides to stop anyone trying to lift the siege.
Victory, when it came, secured Gaul as a prized Roman province, made Caesar a best selling author with his account of the Gallic War and confirmed him as the most powerful figure in Rome’s political arena. Vercingertoix was taken to Rome where he was executed five years later.
And there’s a lot more to see and discover. The region’s other A-list attractions not to be missed include:-
- Bibracte and Autun
- The Vix treasure at Chatillon-sur-Seine
Perfect holiday reading – Caesar by Colleen McCullough
Built on a pink granite bluff, the old town looks down on the River Armancon that gently encircles the community and provides stunning views across the Burgundy countryside.
Its guardians then, no doubt, had strategic and defensive motives in mind – little thinking that they were creating a tourist trap of the future.
Cobbled streets, half timbered houses and ancient ramparts that offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside make Semur special. Its quality hotels, bars and restaurants compliment its historic ambience.
Semur is handily located as a stop-off for Alesia, a few minutes drive away, but is well worth a visit in its own right and a great base for touring the surrounding region.
Appropriately, at the heart of Semur’s medieval conservation area, stands the town’s oldest hotel.
A former coaching inn dating back over 200 years, the Hotel Relais la Cote d’Or also once served as a busy hub for the area’s postal industry. Today, the emphasis is still very much on the delivery of first class services, now for the hotel’s guests.
After rescuing a building in decline, hotel owner and manageress Veronique Jobic has spent the past 12 years transforming the hotel from top to bottom. What started as a blank canvas for her business and artistic skills has developed into an asset of the highest order for Semur’s accommodation sector.
Hotel Relais la Cote d’Or currently offers 17 en-suite rooms (more to follow as Veronique invests in further development of the original building), that are individually designed to the highest standards.
The hotel has a lunchtime tapas bar that becomes a tea room in the afternoon and a wine bar at night.
Comfort and convenience are the mainstays of this lovely hotel. Car parking space is available and a lift from the reception area up to the top floor makes the vast majority of rooms accessible for the disabled.
There’s a twinkle in the eye of Charles Gassot as I quiz him about his restaurant and B&B in historic Semur-en-Auxois.
He had made a cordial introduction during our meal at La Fontaignotte and I made a mental note that he had formerly worked in the film industry and a mention, en passant, of script writing – a storyline to follow up in due course.
It’s not until later that I realise I must be the only person in France who is unaware of Charles Gassot’s achievements and his prominence over several decades of making films – a gaffe I am sure he won’t hold against me.
And I would certainly make a point of booking a return visit to La Fontaignotte when next in picturesque Semur. It ticks all the boxes.
On arrival it’s impossible not to want to take in the breathtaking views from the private terraces (you can see La Fontaignotte on our photograph of the town above – just make a straight line up from the bridge).
The food is every bit as outstanding and the menu is crammed with local specialities and fine Burgundy wines.
It was during a visit to Semur to promote a film, The Octopus, that Charles was captivated by the place and then fell for La Fontaignotte, a building dating back to the 1600s and which had seen better days.
Here was a new challenge and a script with a difference to write, and, with Charles Gassot directing things it’s hardly surprising that La Fontaignotte was a success story in the making.
He’s now the proud owner of a chic B&B and top class restaurant. The guest house is a charming mix of the classic and the contemporary with five en-suite rooms. Both are warmly recommended to those planning a visit to this beautiful region.
4 Place Notre-Dame, 21140 Semur-en-Auxois
+ 00 33 (0)3 80 89 86 26
* Exploring More would like to thank Bourgogne-Franche-Comte Tourisme for its assistance with this travel feature.