Dijon, once capital of the Dukes of Burgundy, now is a capital of gastronomy and art de vivre – Meanderings through France n° 147
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
With a rich history, an amazing architectural heritage and a unique gastronomy, Dijon has a lot to offer for a busy city break or a relaxing stop on your way to the French Riviera or to the Alps’ ski resorts. The town’s historical heart is like an open-air museum where besides the 3000 listed monuments, you will find hundreds of restaurants and shops where iconic products made in Burgundy are waiting for you. Mustards, Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), gingerbreads, truffles, parsley ham, snails and of course wines are an absolute must-try when in Dijon.
Most of the city centre’s streets are now pedestrian and you will be able to quietly visit the historical district. Since the Middle-Ages, Dijon has been a prosperous town where wealthy people built beautiful houses. Medieval half-timbered houses and gothic manors, elegant Renaissance and Classical residences and even Art Deco buildings literally fill the streets surrounding the impressive Place de la Liberation that once was the Royal Square. Guided tours are organised by French and English speaking qualified guides and they will take you to the most beautiful houses and to the Ducal Palace where you will see a beautiful 18th century staircase and the huge Salle des Etats, one of the most beautiful rooms of the palace.
Next to the Ducal Palace the Philippe Le Bon Tower named after one of the most famous Dukes of Burgundy who ruled the area at the beginning of the 15th century. If you climb up its 316 steps you will get to its upper platform from where you will have a 360° view over the city and its typical Burgundy style roofs made with colourful glazed tiles. All summer long (until 29 September), every Saturday evening you can have a drink and local nibbles on this unique rooftop enjoying sunset over Dijon and the surrounding countryside.
At walking distance from the Ducal Palace, a beautiful glass and iron building was built 150 years ago to house the weekly markets. Nowadays it still is the place to discover local producers and their fresh produce. Every Sunday from 11 am till 3 pm (until 23 September 2018), the market place is turned into a restaurant where local people and of course tourists can have brunch. Each Sunday a chef working in a restaurant in Dijon concocts his recipes for several hundreds guests. Each Sunday about 500 people seated at long tables covered with checked tablecloths share a delicious meal in a friendly atmosphere. Over the years this Sunday brunch has become a ritual for many families living in Dijon and its outskirts. Booking is highly recommended at www.bhd.otdijon.com
If you stay long enough in Dijon you should also get out of town and discover the vineyards that surround the city. Dijon is on the Burgundy Wine Road and you will have a good opportunity to discover the “Climats de Bourgogne” that have recently been listed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. A “climat” is a small vine plot with specific soil and weather conditions. Through the centuries wine makers were able to identify hundreds of them. There are exactly 1,247 different “climats” and although there are only two grape varieties grown in Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this vast number of plots allows wine makers to elaborate many different wines.
To make it different you can go along the Wine Road using unusual means of locomotion. You can thus ride a “Solex”, this typical French moped that was very popular in the 50’s and 60’s. Solex haven’t been manufactured anymore for years now, but there still are Solex lovers that carefully take care of the remaining ones. Stephanie and Philippe are two of them and are happy to share their passion. Don’t expect to go fast with a Solex, a trained cyclist will easily overtake you, but they are easy and fun to drive. To book a Solex ride or an e-bike tour or even a flight in a hot air balloon in Burgundy visit www.happybourgogne.com/en/
You can also visit the vineyards driving an old “beetle”. French people call them “coccinelle”, meaning ladybird. Weather beetle or ladybird, one of these funny little cars will take you on a vintage tour from Pommard to Meursault or Côte de Nuit vineyards. Driving a convertible beetle, wind in your air, careful not to flood the engine, you will have a great moment. More information at www.lescoccinellesenbourgogne.fr
There are many good restaurants in Dijon able to satisfy all tastes and budgets. Early this month we were able to go to “L’Aspérule”, a new restaurant in Dijon that opened last May. It’s been created by star-chef Keigo Kimura who worked with renowned chefs such as Joel Robucho, Marc Veyrat or Christopher Coutanceau before opening his own restaurant in Auxerre in Northern Burgundy in 2014 where he earned his first Michelin-star. Keigo Kimura makes an inventive cuisine mixing classical French recipes and a subtle Japanese touch.
We were able to taste some of his wonderful creations such as poached quail eggs in red wine sauce with wild mushrooms, lightly cooked white asparagus coated with mussel sauce, foie gras with pureed black olives and slices of truffle, lobster in its shell with a thin biscuit made with seafood, black Bigorre pork marinated with lime and a nori seaweed and ended with a chocolate cake with a soft caramel core and a scoop of almond milk ice cream. Each dish was expertly presented and served with a perfectly matching vintage Burgundy wine. At “L’Apérule” quality products meet a great know-how for a memorable dinner.
“L’Aspérule”, 43 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dijon +33 3 80 19 12 84
The first “Hotel de la Cloche” (the Bell Hotel), opened in Dijon in 1414 and for over 6OO years it never stopped welcoming guests. Of course through the centuries its building has been rebuilt and renovated many times and it is now the only 5-star hotel in Dijon. You will easily spot it on Darcy Square with its classical façade that has been classified as Historical Monument. Now called “Le Grand Hotel de la Cloche M Gallery” by Sofitel, it offers modern comfort and elegance after 3 years of extensive works of renovation and is proud to be the best hotel in Dijon. Ideally located at walking distance from the Ducal Palace and the “Place de la Liberté” you will appreciate its vast garden, its spa and its warm rooms.
The hotel’s bar now is the meeting point for Dijon trendy people who enjoy there a glass of Burgundy iconic sparkling wine called Crémant or one of the many cocktails concocted by Julien Philibert. Nicely decorated with modern art objects, it’s the perfect place to relax with friends.
The hotel’s restaurant, “Les Jardins by La Cloche”, is one of the best in town ruled by a talented young chef, Aurelien Mauny. He makes a simple cuisine without any fuss but nevertheless full of creativity. It is set in an elegant veranda and you will enjoy your meal looking at the peaceful garden.
Choosing dishes from the menu obviously is the most difficult thing to do while having dinner here. Will it be foie gras and sweet potato crème brulée, Burgundy style snails, a Charolais beef fillet, the restaurant signature dish, sea bream fillet with saffron sauce and volcano like chocolate cake? Make your choice and enjoy! http://www.hotel-lacloche.fr/
Dijon is only a 2-hour trip from Paris by train and well deserves your visit. Next year the huge “Musée des Beaux Arts” (the Fine Arts Museum), will open again after huge works of renovation. This will be one more good reason to visit Dijon and enjoy all Burgundy’s charms.
More information at: www.justdijon.com and www.destinationdijon.com
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes
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