Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in Burgundy is a picturesque medieval village surrounded by bucolic countryside, vineyards and lush green hillsides. And it’s a place where the streets are filled with the scent of anise – Chantille de Lindcourt finds out why…
Flavigny in the heart of Auxois, Cote d’Or is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France (Plus Beaux Villages de France). It has a long history linked to gastronomy, because it’s here, in this small, perched village of 300 inhabitants, that the famous “Anis de Flavigny” sweets have been made for several centuries.
How it all began
In 52 BC, Alesia in Burgundy was the seat of a great battle between the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar and the leaders of the Gauls, Vercingetorix. A certain Flavinius was then head of the Roman camp which was established close by. And after the battle, given the land in gratitude for his bravery, he gave it the name Flaviniacum. Later it became Flavigny-sur-Ozerain.
Legend has it that the Roman conquerors used anise seeds for stomach problems and the practice spread.
In the 9th century, the monks at Flavigny Benedictine Abbey began making small anise dragees – a form of sugar-coated confectionary after, Charlemagne, King of the Franks ordered all monasteries to grow anis for medicinal purposes in 812. Why the monks in Flavigny coated the anis pastilles in sugar, no one knows.
Anise sweets are still made in the town using green anise seeds, coated in flavoured sugar. Anise de Flavigny use a recipe, which after being refined over the centuries, has remained unchanged since 1591 which gaining the company a “Living Heritage Company” award. And when you visit the town, a tour of the manufacturing workshop to discover its secrets plus a stop at their sweetshop, full of colourful pretty boxes of anis sweets, is an absolute must.
But this little Burgundy gem has plenty more to tempt you to visit.
During the French Revolution, the monks deserted the abbey, which was then sold as a public property and for the most part, destroyed. The Carolingian (750-887) crypt is though well-preserved, and you can visit it for free. Since 1591, the abbey has been occupied by the Anis de Flavigny factory. Long popular in France, they were even enjoyed by King Louis XIV who kept some in his pocket.
What to see in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain?
Take a stroll through the village and admire the architecture and ancient buildings. Half-timbered houses give an air of timelessness and fans of the film Chocolat, with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, will recognise the pretty cobbled streets – as it’s here that the filming took place.
Don’t miss a visit to the 13th century Gothic church of Saint Genest with its intricately carved 16th century stalls. The building has housed the relics of Saint Regina since 1793 when they were removed from the abbey where they had been kept for more than 1000 years.
Between the 12th and 14th centuries, the town was fortified with a great wall. The gates are still in place: Porte du Val, the Porte du Bourg, the Porte de Barme, the Poterne and the Tour du Guet are worth seeking out.
Flavigny-sur-Ozerain was also known renowned for its wool production, weaving, hemp, tin, glass and pottery production. The brown wool of the Burel sheep was used to make the monks’ brown robes. In the village today, you can still see the ancient houses of drapers, millers, tanners and winegrowers.
What to see and do near Flavigny
For hiking enthusiasts, an easy walking trail “from Anis to the Vineyard” takes you on a loop of about 8km around the village with great views (2h30).
About 10km away, Muséoparc Alesia presents the famous battle between Vercingetorix and Caesar.
And a little further on, the Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin is a magnificent Renaissance castle with large French gardens.
Chantille de Lincourt is a writer and photographer who specialises in small villages and French heritage. Find out more on her blog www.villagesetpatrimoine.fr