Beaujeu, the heart of the Beaujolais region

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Beaujeu. This small village in the Beaujolais was once the capital of the Lords of Beaujeu, after whom the Beaujolais region is named.

The Beaujeu family history is still very much visible in the landscape thanks to the heritage sites dating from the period when they ruled over these lands. The Lords of Beaujeu played a major role in the development of winegrowing in the region notably through the creation of a trading port in Villefranche.

In memory of this history, Beaujeu has been chosen for the past 25 years as the place where the first cork is popped to launch the world celebration of the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveaux.

Beaujeu, fiefdom of the Lords of Beaujeu

The first Lord of Beaujeu was called Bérard. He was a major landowner and in the 10th century he had a castle built above Ardières overlooking Beaujeu and the surrounding area. Soon after, a church was built near the castle and the village of Beaujeu was born.

During the 10th and 11th centuries, the Lords of Beaujeu extended their territory, turning it into a buffer state between Maçon and Lyon. In the 14th century, the province of Beaujolais was vast. When Pierre of Bourbon, Lord of Beaujeu, wed Anne of France, also known as Anne of Beaujeu, the daughter of Louis XI, Beaujeu was replaced by Villefranche as the capital of the Beaujolais region in 1514.

 

The remains of a rich past

Unfortunately, there is very little remaining to show how important this former capital once was because Beaujeu Castle was dismantled in 1611. All that is left of it today is the fountain.  The only two buildings still standing from the period are Saint- Nicholas Church and Beaujeu hospital.

The first was built between the 11th and 12th centuries under the reign of Guichard III, following a tragic episode. Legend has it that the son of the king, returning from a hunting expedition, led his horse to the lake so that it could drink. But he fell from his steed and drowned. His mother, devastated by the news of her son’s sudden death, had a church built on the spot where the body surfaced and where Saint Nicholas Church still stands today.

Beaujeu hospital was built in the 13th century. It was a gift from the Lords of Beaujeu to the inhabitants of the region to provide succour to the sick, elderly and destitute. From the 17th century, with the arrival of the Sisters Hospitallers, it became a real hospital. In 2016, it is still being used as such. An ambitious restoration programme is underway aimed at opening the chapel to visitors. The apothecary was renovated in 2011 and is already open to the public.

 

Beaujeu, historic capital of the Beaujolais region

Although Beaujeu is no longer the actual capital of the Beaujolais region, it remains the historic capital and main town of the 38 municipalities in the Beaujolais-Villages AOC production area. It is also the administrative centre of a canton where 9 out of the 10 Beaujolais crus are produced.

It is in Beaujeu that the Beaujolais Nouveaux celebrations for the entire world are launched, during the Sarmentelles Festival on the evening of the 3rd Wednesday in November.

 

It's a village just waiting to be explored, both for its history and because it is the heart of the Beaujolais region!