During my time here in France, it is safe to say that I have been travelling around the country a fair bit… Well, a lot! My most recent trip was to the beautiful Dijon, famed as much for its speciality mustard as its beautiful UNESCO-protected buildings, which encapsulate unique pieces of history at every corner. Read all about it below…
When you think Dijon, you think Dijon mustard. At least that’s the first thing both my mother and boyfriend referenced when I announced that I would be visiting the city over Easter Weekend. In all honesty, that was all I myself knew about Dijon, although I had heard that it was also host to another Sciences Po Paris Campus (or, a home away from home, in my case). So, it was clearly time to explore!
The most striking thing about Dijon is its history, or rather its ability to have intricately treasured buildings dating from the Capetian, Gothic and Renaissance periods. It is not rare to feel as though you have been transported back in time, when roaming the cobbled streets of the city, where even the local pharmacies operate from within beautifully antiquated buildings. Only adding to this historical ambiance is the fact that all museums in the city may be explored free of charge.
Given that Dijon offers such a range of museums, it may be difficult to decide where exactly to begin your tour, but a sensible suggestion is the city’s Musée des beaux-arts. Quite literally, housed in a former ducal palace, the establishment offers some of the finest arts from antiquity to modern day. It also provides a fascinating, interactive history lesson on the Bourgogne Empire and its reign, something scarcely covered in textbooks (based on my personal experience, at least). Tempted to learn more about this period? Has Beaux-artsgiven you the bug? Fulfil your interest in the departmental hub’s history by paying a visit to the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne! Amongst some rather creepy waxwork figures replicating everyday life in a Dijon long-gone, you will find intricately crafted insights into how Bourguignonne life operated daily. From displays of mustard pot antiques, to a whole mock ‘shopping street’ modelled to permit your personal exploration as a Bourguignonne consumer (including everything from sweet stores to apothecaries) you really will come away feeling as though you have momentarily taken a huge leap back in time.
Not a history boffin? The Jardin des Sciences- Planétarium Hubert Curien offers an alternative, yet still enriching experience. With a range of stunning mineral rocks on offer and various interactive features allowing visitors to explore our universe (to some extent, at least), this is perhaps the most ‘fun’ museum to visit during your stay in Dijon. On top of this, the planetarium is located on the outskirts of Dijon’s botanical gardens, which really are magnificent and only a stone’s throw from the Dijon Ville train station. On a sunny day, this is the perfect place to relax, especially convenient when waiting for your train.
Where else can you unwind? Jardin Darcy is a must-see, especially if the weather is on your side. If you have time to spare (and perhaps a good book), waste away the day in front of its grand fountain and iconic ‘Pompon’ Polar Bear sculpture. Alternatively, a relaxed exploration of the city’s windy, cobbled streets, popping into its many chocolatiers and mustard shops along the way, is a great way to clear your head.
Speaking of mustard, I’m frankly surprised I haven’t covered that yet! As we know (and referenced in the introduction) Dijon is famed for its speciality mustard. This is, of course, available across the city, in a range of boutiques. However, perhaps the most authentic way to pick up your jar is at Les Halles, a vast indoor-outdoor local food market open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings. To be honest, some of the vendors are less than pleasant if you’re not prepared to buy from them then and there, without any kind of internal debate. One for example, despite my French fluency, decried my ‘funny accent’, without using proper French grammar himself. Nonetheless, the market is definitely worth a visit for its wide-ranging offers of local produce and the group of nice vendors who treat customers with respect.
Another speciality Dijon has to offer is its gingerbread, or rather gingerbread cake! This is widely available across the city and definitely worth a try before you leave; you won’t regret taking some home with you!
Fancy something a little more substantial after a long walk around the city? Gina is a centrally-located Italian-Corsican restaurant, serving up a range of delicious specialities with impeccable service. Alternatively, try Caffe Cosi for an impressive Bouef Bourguignone, but slightly higher prices. If neither of these recommendations suit your tastes, take a tour around Les Halles by night and explore the restaurants that circulate the old market building.
A trip to Dijon guarantees some fantastic local cuisine blended with a taste of history and some picturesque scenery, if you do it right. So, what are you waiting for?