As you may or may not know, I spent last weekend celebrating my birthday in the lovely city of Dijon, situated about an hour and a half east of Paris in the Burgundy region of France.
Perhaps you might have heard of the city because of the mustard, and with that you are correct! Dijon mustard is the biggest culinary thing to have come out of the city and make its way into the grocery shelves all over the world. But there’s so much more to the city itself, and it was a good one to visit for my birthday weekend.
I went with six of my flatmates, leaving our town in Normandy early Friday evening to catch the train to Paris, then transferring stations within the city to catch our second train to Dijon. Our train to Dijon was supposed to have left around 19h20, but due to some *inconvenient* technical difficulties, it was delayed by about 25 to 30 minutes (oh, France…). What was even more unfortunate was that one of the flatmates had to get out of the train car she was in (we were all separated in different cars, under different reservations), because that car was having technical difficulties. While she was out on the platform, confused as heck, the rest of us were inside our respective cars, confused as heck as well. Amidst this confusion, the train took off, and somehow, our flatmate was left behind! Lovely way to start the weekend getaway, I know…
Fortunately, when we arrived in Dijon around 21h30, we received a text from our flatmate that there was another train that she was taking to get to Dijon, which would arrive the hour after. That was a relief, for it could’ve been worse in that she couldn’t get to Dijon at all! Any case, we waited for her train to come in as we also headed over to our hotel to check in.
We checked into our hotel and were given the keys to our rooms. The hotel was very quaint in the antique sense, located in a small, cul-de-sac-like residence area. We were given two rooms, one that served five people and one for two people. Being the “birthday girl,” I got the latter room, sharing it with one of the flatmates. We dropped off our belongings, got settled in, and just hung out in the five-person room (which had a mezzanine), talking for a while before turning in for the night.
The following morning was my birthday: before we headed out in the morning to explore the city, my flatmates gave me gifts, which was very sweet of them. I received a card, a mug, and a recipe book for crepes and galettes, which were touching. After dropping off the presents in my room, we headed out to explore Dijon for the day.
First, we stopped by a boulangerie for a quick, cheap breakfast of pastries and coffee (tea for me). Afterwards, we took what’s known as the parcours de la Chouette (“Owl Route”), which is particular to the city: essentially, it’s a touristic route that takes you through the main sites and monuments, named so by the owl (“chouette”) statue at the city’s cathedral. Very cute, actually!
Following the route, we passed by the Dijon theatre, which looked more like a cathedral than an arts/entertainment hub. We then arrived at the Place François Rude, a plaza that’s one of the iconic ones in the city, known for its bright, charming half-timbered buildings, lively bars and restaurants, and shops. Although it was only constructed back in the early 20th century (in fact, most of the history in Dijon is from the 19th and 20th centuries), nevertheless the plaza’s atmosphere was very pleasant and a joy to admire.
Next, we wrapped around the plaza, heading east towards the cathédrale St.-Benigne where we came across its multicolored and multi-patterned rooftops. Distinctive for it polychrome tiles, Dijon’s architecture is nothing like I’ve seen before, and it greatly impressed me! We popped into the cathedral for a quick bit before continuing with our route to the Porte Guillaume, an arch which greatly resembles the Arc of Triumph in Paris. Had a brief photo opportunity there before going underneath the arch and coming across the Jardin Darcy, a garden with a large multi-leveled fountain with water so clear and pristine-blue that it seemed so surreal. It happened to be a sunny and warm weekend then, which worked to our advantage! Of course, more photo opportunities followed…
Afterwards, we headed towards les Halles, a massive indoor market that sells tons of fresh food products, from breads to cheeses to meats and seafood, and so forth. Granted, they exist in just about any big city in France, but it’s nice to check out the local flavors each time.
Our next destination was the Palais des Ducs (“Dukes’ Palace”), which was at the heart of the city center. We even popped in to check out the interior, stumbling upon a lovely ballroom with chandeliers lined down the ceiling row and some sort of community reception going on in there. It was surprisingly impressive, to say the least!
Feeling rather hungry, we decided to get lunch; we just got a quick, to-go meal at the boulangerie (sandwich, pastry, drink) and sat outside in front of the palace, enjoying our lunch and soaking up the sun’s rays.
Finishing lunch, we headed south of the city on the Owl Route to the couvent des Bernardines, a former convent that’s now the museum of Burgundy Life. We passed by it, eventually returning to our hotel. We took a quick break back in our rooms before heading out again to see the rest of the city.
We checked out the cathédrale Notre Dame, the main cathedral of the city that’s famous for its 51 gargoyle statues lined up in rows on the exterior of the building, along with the iconic owl (“chouette”) statue hanging out outside around the cathedral’s corner; by touching the owl statue, it’s said that it’ll give you good luck, so of course, we had to do it!
We also wanted to climb the Tour Philippe le Bon, a tower adjacent to the palais des Ducs which offers views of Dijon from above. I love a good city view and usually make it my goal to do so in each city I visit. Unfortunately, it was totally booked for that day, as well as the following day when we inquired at the tourist office; we didn’t know that it was so popular and that it was necessary to book in advance. A bit disappointing, but it wasn’t a huge deal.
Instead, we headed back to the couvent des Bernardines to visit the museum of Burgundy life. Museum was free, and we spent about 90 minutes visiting the different floors of the museum, going from exhibit to exhibit with statue replications of the way of life in Dijon back in the 19th and 20th centuries. From the clothing to the tools to the relics, it was quite interesting to get a bit more insight into a region that’s known to be the most “traditional” when it comes to French culture.
After the museum, our final stop was at the jardin de l’Arquebuse, a botanical garden which had plenty of flowers and plants native to the Burgundy region, as well as a peaceful lake with ducks and pigeons. We sat on the benches, enjoying the scenery and letting time pass idly by.
Around 18h00, we decided to head back to our hotel. We rested for a bit in our rooms before heading out once more for dinner that night; I wanted to try “traditional” Burgundy cuisine and was concerned that restaurants would be booked up, since it was the weekend and everything. Fortunately, we found a restaurant not too far from our hotel that wasn’t crowded, let alone all booked up.
Burgundy cuisine is, along with Parisian and Lyonnais cuisine, one of the most famous in all of France. If you know of escargots, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, or Pinot Noir wine, then they’re all from the region! I ordered escargots, boeuf bourguignon, and a glass of Pinot Noir, and they all exceeded my expectations! The boeuf bouguignon, especially…super tender and rich in red wine, I was in complete heaven. Next to the buffet boeuf bourguignon I had back in Marseille in February, this one was one of the best I’ve had out there! So damn good… 😛
Our stomachs full, we paid and made our way out of the restaurant. We stopped by a grocery store to pick up some wine to celebrate my birthday with back in the hotel. We returned to the hotel where my flatmates once more surprised me with a birthday cake (honestly, they’re great) and we had it with wine, chilling out until midnight before deciding to turn in for bed.
The following morning was our last in Dijon. After checking out of the hotel near 11h00, we got Starbucks before heading to the train station where two of us would be taking the train back and the rest of us would do so by bus (I did the latter). Our bus left at 13h00 and we arrived in Paris around 17h30, then taking the 18h20 train back to Normandy and arriving at our flat close to 19h00.
…and that was my weekend getaway to Dijon! I was glad to have visited it, even though I hadn’t known much about it before going- it turned out to be a pleasant surprise at how cute and charming the place was. Definitely has a laid-back atmosphere to it, and I felt as if I was really in a “traditionally French” region of the country. Celebrating my birthday there with good company made it all the more special, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.
More adventures to come soon! Take care. 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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