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Dijon, France – Charming City in the Heart of Burgundy

What to do, where to eat and drink in Burgundy’s historic capital city

DIJON, FRANCE – The name of this small, French city in the northern part of Burgundy often means one thing to many people—mustard. And while it is true you can find many mouthwatering mustards made in Dijon, there are many other reasons to visit this charming city that serves as the capital of Burgundy, one of the world’s greatest wine-growing regions.

From its charming, winding cobblestone streets to its historic architecture, hearty Burgundian meals, and outstanding covered food market, Dijon stands out for many reasons. It’s easy to see why the city’s historic center was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. And due to its location, Dijon can also serve as an ideal base for exploring the world-class vineyards located just south of the city.

Brief History

Dijon has a long, rich history dating back to the Neolithic period more than 12,000 years ago. Later, Romans settled in this area. But the era Dijon’s best known for began in the 11th century, when the Dukes of Burgundy ruled their fiefdom from Dijon, which served as the capital of the Duchy of Burgundy until the 15th century.

Soon after, Switzerland’s Imperial Army invaded Dijon. (There’s something you don’t read much about anymore—invading Swiss armies.) Dijon repelled the Swiss invaders but it wouldn’t be the last time different countries tried to occupy Dijon over the centuries. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine such a violent past in such a tranquil, charming city.

When to Go

Like all of Burgundy, there’s no bad time of year to go to Dijon. Certain times of year simply offer different attractions. Summer’s probably the most popular time to visit when tourists descend upon this charming city and stroll through its narrow, winding streets. Temperatures rarely climb above the mid-70s (20° C) in July and August and rarely dip below the mid-50s (10° C) at night. However, there can be some days when the weather can get quite muggy.

For many people, the best time to visit Dijon is the fall, when the days become slightly cooler and the night’s crisper. This time of year also attracts many wine lovers since it’s harvest time in the nearby fields south of the city.

But don’t dismiss visiting Burgundy in the spring or winter. Both times of year can be rainy, and particularly cold in December and January. High temperatures then often only reach the low 40s (5° C). But like its bigger sibling, Paris, there’s something magical about walking in the rain through Dijon’s historic city center.

How to Get Here

Several major highways lead to Dijon, including the A6 from Paris. But why drive when you can take the train? From Paris’ Gare De Lyon station, high-speed trains can reach Dijon in roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes. There’s also high-speed train service to Dijon from Lausanne, Switzerland (2 hours), Geneva, Switzerland (2 hours, 40 minutes), and many other cities.

And if you ever dreamed of taking the overnight train from Paris to Venice (which used to be part of the famed Orient Express route), a daily overnight train stops in Dijon en route. (Unfortunately, the luxury version of the Orient Express, known as the Venice Simplon-Orient Express, doesn’t stop in Dijon.)

There’s also regular regional train service in Dijon to many locations throughout Burgundy, including several trains daily to Beaune and many other smaller villages in Burgundy. You can also easily rent a car in Dijon at the train station if you want to explore some of the smaller villages near the city.

One of the most popular—and charming—roads people take in Burgundy starts in Dijon. Known as the Route des Grands Crus, this winding, two-lane road will take you through some of the most iconic wine villages in Côte de Nuits, the northern half of the Côte d’Or. Such villages include Chambolle-Musigny, Clos de Vougeot, and Romanée-Conti. Less than an hour later (depending on how many stops you make), you’ll reach Beaune, another charming, small city in Burgundy. To the south of Beaune, you can take the Route des Grands Crus and visit many of villages in Côte de Beaune, the southern half of the Côte d’Or. Famous wine villages in Côte de Beaune include Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet.

What to Do

The star attraction of Dijon is the city itself. Simply wandering through its narrow, winding streets—many of which have been converted into pedestrian-only walkways—and admiring its older buildings can provide hours of enjoyment. Keep an eye out for many of Dijon’s well-preserved medieval buildings, including the 15th-century timbered house known as Maison Des Trois Visage, the House With Three Faces. (54, 56 Rue de la Liberté).

Another must-see attraction in Dijon is the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy (1 Place de la Libération). Dating back to the 14th century, the former medieval palace now houses Dijon’s City Hall and Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, an outstanding museum featuring an impressive array of paintings, tapestries, and other artworks from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Also, make sure to see Dijon’s Church of Notre Dame (2 Place Notre Dame). A masterpiece of Gothic architecture built in the 13th century, this stunning church near the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy remains in remarkable shape more than 800 years later.

Where to Stay

The best place to stay and fully appreciate the old-world charm of Dijon is Grand Hotel La Cloche Dijon (14 Place Darcy). Located in the historic city center near the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, this Sofitel-owned hotel features 83 luxurious rooms and 5 suites.

If you’re searching a hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, look no further than Hostellerie Du Chapeau Rouge (5 Rue Michelet). Once a private house, this intimate 28-room, and 2-suite hotel has modern yet comfortable furnishings, plus a spa, sauna, and hammam to unwind in after a meal in the hotel’s 2-Michelin-starred restaurant.

Where to Shop

You’ll find a wide array of stores soon after you walk out of the city’s train station, particularly along Place Darcy and various pedestrian side streets in Dijon’s historic city center. In particular, you can find several stores devoted to Dijon’s most famous product—mustard. Two of the best places to buy mustard in Dijon are La Boutique Maille (32 Rue de la Liberté) and La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot (16 Rue de la Chouette).

Looking for somewhere to buy wine? Not surprisingly, there are many stores to choose from in the capital of Burgundy. Along with the always-popular Nicolas stores found throughout France, Dijon’s home to many great independent wine stores, including Dr Wine Shop (5 Place Notre Dame), Bacchus (16 Rue Bannelier), and La Route Des Vins (1 Rue Musette), where you can also taste wines for sale.

But hands down the most memorable shopping experience in Dijon can be found at Les Halles Market (Rue Claude Ramey). Designed by Dijon native Gustave Eiffel, who famously designed Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Les Halles Market’s soaring metal and glass structure is an attraction itself. You don’t even need to buy anything to appreciate its beauty. But if you are in search of outstanding meats, cheeses, vegetables, oysters, and other delicious items, you’ll be in heaven in this indoor market open year round. There’s also a wine bar in the market in case you get thirsty after wandering through all the food stalls. Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Where to Eat

You’ll have no trouble finding great restaurants in this region famous for escargot, Boeuf Bourguignon, and other hearty Burgundian specialties. Some of Dijon’s best restaurants include:

William Frachot (5 Rue Michelet) – Hostellerie Du Chapeau Rouge’s 2-Michelin-star restaurant has a contemporary look and feel that perfectly complements their modern twists on classic French foods. Make sure to try one of their “Emotion” tasting menus.

Chez Leon (20 Rue des Godrans) – A cozy, intimate restaurant, Chez Leon perfectly prepares outstanding, hearty French classics, including escargot and Boeuf Bourguignon.

Loiseau des Ducs (3 Rue Vauban) – Located inside a 16th-century stone building, this Michelin-starred restaurant serves a creative blend of classic French foods, including expertly prepared duck.

Where to Drink

As you would expect in Burgundy, there are many outstanding places to drink in Dijon. Many restaurants like the ones listed above have excellent wine lists. You can also find a wide selection of wines and great cocktails at Dr Wine (5 Rue Musette), L’Assommoir Tome II (48 Rue Monge), and Bruno (80 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau).

So discover why the Dukes of Burgundy decided to settle in Dijon and spend a few days in one of the most charming French cities sure to satisfy all your appetites.

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Written by Ken Ross

A professional journalist since 1993, Ken Ross writes about cocktails, wine, classical music, dance, art, skiing and anything else that pays the bills. You can read his weekly wine column, Wine Press, at Masslive.com every Monday. Follow Ken Ross on Twitter. He lives in Massachusetts.

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