Southern Burgundy's Mâconnais region: Romanesque at its core
While the Saône-&-Loire is renowned as a bona fide Romanesque garden, the epicentre of this style most assuredly lies in Southern Burgundy's Mâconnais. Along Burgundy's southern gates, against the Beaujolais slopes where Mediterranean fragrances already permeate, you're entering a region where history and nature have shaped a landscape dotted with wine villages showing off their tell-tale building galleries and multiple steeples.
At the heart of this territory, where Lamartine's spirit lingers well beyond the poet's sites of Milly and Saint-Point, a number of places draw visitors' attention: Cluny, the heralded scene of Middle Age Christianity and premier reference in Romanesque art; Tournus, famous for its abbey church and gastronomy; and Solutré, a major prehistory site and French landmark. Let's not overlook some of the memorable castles along the way (Cormatin, Berzé-le-Châtel, Pierreclos).
The area is replete with spots dedicated to living the good life, from Mâcon's beautiful conversion of the Saône riverbank into a long stretch of patios to nearby drives along the wine road leading to a string of welcoming villages and their delectable cellars (did you know that Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Loché, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Saint-Véran and Viré-Clessé were all Mâconnais appellations).
The Cluny Abbey and Tournus' Abbatial Church, unspoilt jewels of Romanesque art
When discussing the Cluny Abbey, only superlatives come to mind, like masterful, divine, mesmerizing. Since no qualifier can aspire to describing this pristine architectural masterpiece of Romanesque art, once the largest church in all of Christendom (until construction of Saint-Pierre in Rome), the simplest means of appreciation is to marvel its mind-boggling nave (a floor-to-vault height of 30 m) and amble through the monument with a digital technology guide (relying on augmented reality), adding to the grandiosity of the immersion experience.
The Saint-Philibert abbey church in Tournus, the city's Romanesque gem, creates a unique colourful effect during the daylight: its pink and ochre-hued stone facade transforms into an absolutely remarkable colour palette.
Yet this edifice offers a myriad of other treasures awaiting discovery by Romanesque architectural purists and anyone seeking out the truly authentic: its cloister, refectory, cellar and chapter house, all of which superbly maintained. This single monument comprises so many exceptional spaces for contemplation and inspiration.
Beyond these two emblematic monuments lie many more Romanesque churches to happen on during meanderings in Southern Burgundy's Mâconnais: the Monks' Chapel in Berzé-la-Ville, Chapaize, the Saint-Martin Church in Blanot, and then there's Brancion's Romanesque castle and church. The list goes on and on…
Mâcon, through the footsteps of Lamartine, shows pride in its native son
If the city of Mâcon were to be wed to a single figure, Lamartine would surely be the choice. Poet, writer, statesman, this native son left an indelible mark here through a body of work and personality that can only be described as "Romanesque". The extent of his influence earned Mâcon the moniker "Lamartine's City".
Several organised tours of celebrated sites depart from Mâcon along Lamartine's footsteps, including the Saint-Point Castle, residence during his most prolific period of writing, and childhood home in Milly-Lamartine. While the cafés and restaurants of Lamartine's time were obviously not as abundant, still the enjoyment felt when strolling the Saône waterfront (along the Esplanade, named what else but Lamartine) is undoubtedly similar to what the poet himself experienced in these very same places.
For those (especially young people) interested in discovering the entertaining and digital side of Mâcon, by all means download the mobile (and free) app "Le tracé de la plume", a guide for exploring local themes that provide insight into this city's riches.
Touring the Southern Burgundy vineyards
With an abundance of exceptional wine appellations, the Mâconnais vineyard extends 35 km long by 10 km wide, stretching between the Grosne and Saône River Valleys. Tour the wine villages and knock on the doors of winegrowers pleased to make your acquaintance and introduce you to the area's outstanding whites, spearheaded by Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran.
Another destination winegrowing lovers won't want to miss: the Hameau Dubœuf, Beaujolais wine park, a one-of-a-kind exhibition centre dedicated to winegrowing and winemaking. Entertaining, educational and digitally oriented, this park unveils the secrets to Beaujolais and Mâconnais wines through displays featuring cutting-edge technologies, not to mention the highly instructive on-site tastings.