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Explore the Hospices de Beaune on a French Canal Cruise

July 8th, 2014

Europe is full of buildings steeped in history, and France is no exception. The spectacular wine country of Burgundy is home to the world’s most famous charity wine sale, which takes place each November in the Hospices de Beaune. When you come along on one of our southern Burgundy French canal cruises such as Apres Tout, you have the opportunity to visit this famous site and savor the delicious wines of the region.

History of the Hospices

Also called the Hotel-Dieu, the oldest of this extraordinary collection of buildings dates back to 1443, when Duke Philip the Good built a hospital and refuge for the people of Beaune, who were suffering from famine and marauders in the wake of the Hundred Years War. For over five hundred years, this “charity almshouse” has welcomed and treated anyone who came through their doors. Today that first building, with its beautiful tile roof, is a spectacular museum, and modern patients are treated in newer facilities.

Hospices de Beaune, France

Hospices de Beaune, France (Photo courtesy of Hospice du Beaune)

The Hotel-Dieu museum provides an unusual window into healthcare in the 1400s. Patients were housed in a large room like a dormitory, and typically slept two to a bed. The chapel was located nearby, as spiritual care was considered just as important as the primitive medical care available at the time. In fact, visitors can see an amazing 15-panel oak polyptych of The Last Judgment that was commissioned for the chapel by a Flemish artist, Rogier van der Weyden.

Hospices de Beaune polyptych of The Last Judgment

Polyptych of The Last Judgment, Hospice de Beaune, France

The goal of this artwork was to both comfort the patients and warn them of the importance of getting their spiritual lives in order in case they didn’t survive the medical treatment. The museum also hosts treasures such as a medieval automatic rotisserie in the kitchen and a pharmacy stocked with the pewter and pottery vessels used for compounding prescriptions.

Wines of the Hospices

You might ask how the Hospices de Beaune can afford to give away all this free care. Well, over the centuries, Hospices de Beaune has received donations of everything from farms and woodlands to works of art from generous benefactors and grateful families. They have also received a number of vineyards, and it is the sale of the wine produced in those vineyards that has made the charity auction so famous. In addition to the wine auction itself, which is held on the third Sunday of November, there are a number of concerts, gala dinners, and wine tastings which take place during this time.

Hospices de Beaune wine cave

Wine cave of the Hospices de Beaune, France (Photo courtesy of Hospice de Beaune)

If you are intrigued by this type of history, or the chance to sample wines from the region, contact us today to reserve your stateroom on one of our Southern Burgundy barges.

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Whenever you’re ready to go barging, we’re ready to help. Happy travels!

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
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