This is France’s only department whose name is not strictly based on geographical features. Drawing inspiration from the vineyards’ colour in autumn, a lawyer at the parliament of the Dukes of Burgundy, who became a deputy in 1790, proposed the name, which means “golden hillside”.
Côte d’Or borders on the Nièvre, Jura, Aube and Haute Marne. It is the only department with tributaries of the Seine, Rhône and Loire flowing through it.
The department, which ranked 50th out of 100 in 2001, has four parts: Morvan, the Langres plateau, Auxois and Chatillonais. The highest point is Mount de Gien (723 m). The department has 513,000 inhabitants, who are sometimes, but very seldom, called côte d’orians or costalorians.
It’s only natural that Côte d’Or should play a special part in the history of the jersey of the same colour.
Dijon, Burgundy’s capital, has often witnessed exciting Tour de France milestones since 1906, when Pottier won in the town after a 416-km ride from Nancy.
Over half a century later, in 1958, Charly Gaul confirmed his superiority by winning the Besançon-Dijon (74 km) race-against-the-clock, defeating Nencini, who won the 1960 Tour. On 17 July 1959, Roger Rivière went down in history, beating Jacques Anquetil in the race-against-the-clock, while Fédérico Bahamontès, who went on to win his only Tour de France, lost over eight minutes during the stage.
The day before crossing the finish line in Dijon, Jean Robic, winner of the first postwar Tour in 1947, was eliminated in general indifference after a 150-km solitary raid in the back of the race. That was the last time anybody saw “Biquet” in the Tour de France.
More recently, in 1977 Bernard Thévenet won the race-against-the-clock in Dijon in front of Dietrich Thurau and Kuiper at 28 seconds. The Burgundian was to win his second Tour de France edging out Kuiper by 48 seconds.
In 1997, fans in Dijon witnessed Dutchman Bart Voskamp’s stunning victory in front of Germany’s Jens Heppener, who had taken an 18-minute lead over the pack, but they were downgraded for unsportsmanlike behaviour during their sprint and Italy’s Traversoni was declared the winner. That did not keep another German, 23-year-old Jan Ullrich, from winning his only Tour de France.
Legend has it the city was founded by Hercules on his way back from Spain. The oldest written mention of Semur dates back to 606, “Sene muro”, meaning “old wall”.
Though the town was awarded its charter in 1276 by Robert II, Duke of Burgundy, it was only in the mid-14th century that it truly began to take off, during the Hundred Years’ War.
The last sieges took place in 1589 and 1602, and the city became the capital of Auxois bailiwick after Henry IV had the fortifications taken down.
The Poets’ Springtime in Semur-en-Auxois has been a big event ever since it was created. Everybody in the town feels involved, handing poems to one another, reading them, talking about them and posting them on walls.
This year’s theme is love poems and features verse by Baudelaire, Verlaine, Brassens, Brel, René Depestre and Taha Bekir. The poems are on display in building lobbies and the town hall, and poetry intervention brigades, who might introduce themselves like “Léo Ferré’s cop: poet, your papers!” encourage citizens to write their own.
A fortified town, Givry was ransacked in 1360 by the Tard-Venus. Givry wine was King Henry IV’s favourite.
Its 12th-century castle, renovated in the 15th century, is a fine example of military architecture, with hoarded tower (one of only three left in France). Superb machicolated keep.
Cormatin is the birthplace of the writer Jacques Lacretelle (1888–1985), son of a consul to Alexandria, grandson of a poet, friend of Lamartine’s.
The 170 bicycles on exhibit at the cycling museum are well worth the trip, most notably Baron von Drai’s walking machine of 1818, Panel’s competition bicycle (one of the first with gear shift, on which he ran the 1919 Tour de France, though such machines were prohibited by the race rules until 1937), and a fully folding steel bicycle like those of Allied soldiers parachuted in France on D-Day.
Its 13th-century castle served as headquarters for maquis forces during WWII. The surrounding alleys are still lined with ancient lime trees. A pilgrimage used to take place from Cruzille to Lugny.
According to one local legend, in the 16th century the Count of Tavanes (1509-1592) had his horse jump over a hillock in the vicinity of the castle, to flee from Huguenots. He managed this after invoking St Geneviève. In another version, the count’s horse bolted while chasing a boar and, afraid of jumping over a ditch, dug in his hooves so fiercely that the horseshoe marks can still be seen in the stone.
This department, which has 515,270 inhabitants living in four districts grouping together 419 towns, was created on 4 March 1790 from four provinces: Bresse, Dombes, Bugey and Pays de Gex, as well as a tiny part of Franc Lyonnais.
Bresse, Bugey and Pays de Gex were administered according to the customs of Burgundy until the Dukes of Savoy handed them over to France in 1601.
The department’s inhabitants do not have a name, although sometimes, but very seldom, they are called Aineu or Aindien. Usually they are named after their province of origin, as Bugistes, Dombistes, Bressans and Gessiens.
Attignat was called Attigna or Attignaz before receiving its definitive name on 9 March 1790. In 1601, Henry IV crossed the hamlet after spending a night in the neighbouring village, Jayat, where his carriage had become bogged down in mud.
In February 1804 the town council decided that a local policeman armed with a pike would be stationed in and around the church to maintain public order there (religious matters were a bone of contention at the time). Offenders faced a stiff penalty – three days of work on behalf of the town – 180 years before Justice Minister Robert Badinter introduced community service as an alternative to jail time.
Bourg en Bresse became a free town in 1250 and its destiny was closely linked to that of the House of Savoy. In the 15th century, the Duke of Savoy chose it as capital of Bresse.
In 1535, Duke Philibert Emmanuel captured and fortified Bourg, which was ceded to France with Bresse in 1601.
During the Revolution it was called the pretty name of Épi d’or (“golden ear”).
Visitors will be sure not to miss the Notre-Dame cathedral (1505-1695), partly Gothic, with rooms dating back to 1530, Renaissance facades, a great gate from 1545 and stained glass windows ranging from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
The widow of Philibert II of Savoy, called Philibert the Handsome, built the royal church and monastery of Brou and the work lasted 31 years. The complex houses the admirable mausoleums of Marguerite de Bourbon and Philip the Handsome.
Bourg en Bresse became an industrial centre in the mid-20th century, when the truck manufacturer Berliet set up a plant there. Renault Trucks has kept up this sector, while multinational groups such as Mittal Steel and Nexans have established subsidiaries in the area.
The Institut Saint-Louis Saint-Pierre offers advanced English classes to its students, who can graduate with a European baccalaureate and even prepare for enrolment in Cambridge University.
Lycée Lalande is named after the astronomer Joseph-Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, who was born in Bourg-en-Bresse on 11 July 1732 and died 200 years ago. He went to Paris to study law but became more interested in astronomy. Sent to Berlin, he was admitted to the Academy of Sciences. Lalande observed the stars, wrote a treatise on the lunar parallax and commissioned a corrected edition of Halley’s study on the comet named after him. An astronomy prize, which still exists, was named after him in 1802.
Lycée Lalande is the only school in France to have been awarded the Resistance Medal, with the Lycée Militaire in Autun. On 5 June 1944, the day before the Allies landed in Normandy, the militia burst into the school on the day of final exams and roughly arrested approximately 20 boys suspected of having attacked the public revenue office and writing and printing articles for the underground press. They took the boys to Coligny prison but, fortunately, sensed that the end was near and freed most of them the next day. Since the Liberation, Lycée Lalande has borne a plaque and a Lorraine cross, the distinguishing features of the Resistance Medal.
Bourg-en-Bresse is the birthplace of several famous people, including Jean de Gaulle, the general’s nephew; Edgar Quinet, historian; Georges Blanc, restaurateur with three stars in the Michelin guide; and Laurent Gerra, songwriter.
Bourg-en-Bresse has many sports clubs and teams, including a pro basketball team and a rugby team that was part of the country’s elite 30 years ago and still hopes to be up there again.
In the past few years the F.C Bourg Péronas football club made it to the French Cup quarterfinals. Famous athletes from Bourg–en–Bresse include: