When you live in Europe, you’re expected to take advantage of the many countries and cities near you to travel. When I tell French people I traveled to the city of Dijon, I always get the same confused smile and the response of “mais pourquoi/but why,” because apparently Dijon isn’t their idea of a wonderful weekend getaway. I disagree.
Here are three reasons why a weekend in Dijon should be on your list.
The old city of Dijon is home to six different cathedrals. For such a small town, this quantity is impressive. All are within very easy walking distance of each other and visiting them makes for a great day activity. Here are two of my favorites:
Notre Dame de Dijon: Located just behind the tourist office, this church is known for it’s carved owl (which is so worn down that it doesn’t resemble an owl much) on one the side walls. Rub it with your left hand (it’s closer to your heart) and make a wish! Built in the 13th century, it also holds a statue called Notre-Dame de Bon-Espoire (our lady of good hope) that is supposed to have brought about multiple miracles. The first occurred when prayers and a parade with the statue supposedly ended a siege in the middle ages, and a second occurred when a prayer vigil with the statue supposedly prevented a German invasion during World War Two. Strangely enough, the second event happened on the anniversary of the first.
Cathedral de St-Bénigne: Home to the tallest spire in Dijon, this cathedral also has a colorful tiled roof that is a perfect example of old Burgundian architecture. The old abbey is now home to an archeological crypt and also includes a pretty courtyard that reminds you that you are certainly not in Paris anymore.
Dijon is the center of the Burgundy wine region and the mustard capital of the world. Wine tours and vineyards are numerous, although you need a vehicle and a budget larger than the average student traveler’s to participate. Instead, install yourself at a nice looking cafe or restaurant (try the cafe called “Chouette” which is right in the shadow of the Notre Dame cathedral!) for some apératifs of the rich red wine and another local specialty called “kir.” A light white wine mixed with black current syrup, this drink is sweet and light. Be careful, it’s easy to drink. The creme de cassis (black current syrup) can be bought in town if you want to bring the beauty of kir to your home.
Mustard can be found at any of the multitudes of shops lining the small cobblestone roads, although the one my Burgundian car-share driver said was the best is called Fallot (here!) Small pots of dijon mustard can be purchased for as little as 1 euro, and although the majority of the mustard is produced in factories away from the city (following the specific recipe is the only requirement for the Dijon label), Fallot sells pots of mustard with ingredients grown only in Dijon. Whether it’s for you or for your friends back home, these little tastes of plain or flavored mustard make great souvenirs.
While technically a palace (I’m keeping with the “k” sound), Dijon is home to the Palais des Ducs which housed the Dukes of Burgundy from the 1000’s to the 1400’s. Four dukes lived in the palace as it is now — Philip the Bold, Jean the Fearless, Philip the Good, and Charles the Bold. The palace was turned into the Musée des Beaux Arts in 1799 and the grounds also house a café, the tourist office (with the chapelle des élues), the mayor’s office, the school of beaux-arts, municipal archives, and the tower of Philip the Good. Wouldn’t want to waste any space now would they.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts is remarkably well done, teaching the history of the Burgundy dukedom as well as sharing the medieval and Renaissance art that was done in the area. Digital signs and tactile descriptions make this an accessible museum for those who might not love wandering through “yet another” art museum. It is the perfect size — one can spend an hour and a half and not be bored, but also not be overwhelmed. Highlights of the museum include the decorative caskets of Philip the Bold and Jean the Fearless inside decorative ballroom, a display of suits of armor, and the fact that entry is free to all. More details can be found at the website.
The Tower of Philip the Good (or Tour de Philip le Bon in French) is a must do. Tickets for the required guided tour can be purchased at the tourist office for 3 euro (So 100% worth it) and the tours leave from just outside the office. 300 and some steps later (they’ll tell you to count during the tour), you’ll reach the top of the tower that is higher than everything except the tip of the steeple of one cathedral. Built primarily as a boast of power, the tower provides wonderful views of the city.
And one last highlight of Dijon: To discover virtually everything there is to discover in Dijon, one simply has to follow the brass owls inlaid into the streets and read along with either the guide purchasable at the tourist office or download the smartphone app. Super cute, and super easy.
Cathedrals, Kir, and Castle — what else could anyone need for a sweet weekend getaway? Thank you Dijon!