Destination: Dijon, France

Place François Rude (March 2017).


Last weekend, I celebrated my 24th birthday with a weekend getaway to Dijon, a quaint city located in the Burgundy region of eastern France, halfway between Paris and Besançon. I went with my flatmates, six other assistantes who were also interested in checking out what the place had to offer- we’d booked over a month in advance, so we were absolutely excited once the day arrived to take off!

We left on Friday in the late afternoon, taking the train over to Paris where we had to make a transfer at gare de Lyon, where we would take our second train to Dijon. Our train to Dijon was supposed to leave at 19h20, but it was delayed by 30 minutes due to “technical difficulties” (oh, the inconveniences!). We were already in our respective train cars (we were separated based on our different bookings), and what was even stranger was that one of my flatmates had to evacuate her car, because that particular one was having the “technical difficulties.” Considering that we couldn’t see what was happening inside the train, things got really confusing and somehow, our train took off 30 minutes later…without our flatmate on-board!

Upon arriving in Dijon-Ville about 90 minutes later, we received a message from our flatmate who’d been stranded on the platform in Paris that she managed to get on another train bound for Dijon and that she would arrive in about an hour’s time. It was such a relief, because it could’ve been worse in that there was no other train and she wouldn’t have been able to travel with us! Thankfully, everything worked out as her train pulled in close to 22h00 and we were reunited once more.

Our hotel was situated just a 5-10 minute walk from the city center; we checked in and were given the keys to our rooms. There were two rooms, one which could house five people, and the other which could house two. Being the “birthday girl,” I got the latter, sharing it with another flatmate for the two nights we were in Dijon. Most of our hangouts, though, were in the five-person room, which was a mezzanine! Our hotel turned out to be a good one, with a charming, antique flair and hospitable service- seriously, reception was so kind; the people of Dijon were kind, in general! After a bit of hanging out in the five-person room, we turned in for the night; we would start exploring the next morning when we were well-rested.

The next morning was my birthday: my flatmates surprised me with birthday gifts before we headed out for the day. I was touched, and I greatly appreciated the birthday card, the mug, and the recipe book on crêpes and galettes (which I hope to make some day!). After dropping them off in the room, I set out with the others to visit Dijon.

First things first, we got some breakfast at la Mie Caline (pastries and tea/coffee) before deciding to take what’s known as the parcours de la Chouette (“Owl’s Route”), a touristic route which takes you around the important buildings and monuments of the city. As for the reason why it’s referred to as a “chouette,” it’s because the city is known for its small owl statue, perched on the corner of the main cathedral. Because of that, the whole city is dedicated to all things owls, which I found very cute!

Any case, we started off passing by the Theâtre Dijon Bourgogne (which looked more like a cathedral than an entertainment space) before passing by Place François Rude, a charming plaza with bright, half-timbered houses and a lively atmosphere filled with restaurants, shops, and plenty of activities to do. Definitely was one of the iconic stops in Dijon!

We then wrapped around the plaza to see the cathédrale St-Benigne. I was pleasantly surprised to see the cathedral’s roofs decorated with polychrome tiles, colorfully-patterned and nothing like I’d ever seen before in French architecture. It was as if the fresco of a church or cathedral were flipped inside-out and especially gleaming in the bright sun, it looked absolutely stunning.

Example of polychrome tiles.

Next on the route was Porte Guillaume, which greatly resembled the Arc of Triumph in Paris. After a few selfie-stick group shots in front of it, we passed under it to visit the Jardin Darcy, a public park with a large, multi-leveled fountain with water so pristine and blue that it looked almost surreal. Considering that the weather was so nice that weekend (19°C and sunny), it might things all the more beautiful!

Porte Guillaume.
Jardin Darcy.

Again, we had a few more photo-shoot sessions inside of the park before making our way out and towards les Halles, a grand indoor marketplace that sells all sorts of local products from charcuterie to cheese to everything in between. Although they exist in almost every big city all over France, it’s always a pleasure to visit each one and experience the local atmosphere.

Inside les Halles.
Springtime outside of les Halles.

After the brief tour of les Halles, we made our way over to the palais des Ducs (“Dukes’ Palace”), which once housed the dukes of Burgundy and today is the city’s town hall and Beaux-Arts museum. We popped in briefly and stumbled upon a lovely ballroom where some sort of reception was being held. It was surprisingly attractive, with the chandeliers lined up in a row along the ceiling and everything looking so elegant and bourgeois.

Palais des Ducs.
Chandeliers inside of the palace.

We were starting to get hungry around that time, so we decided to get lunch to-go from a boulangerie and eat it in front of the palace. After doing so, we had our sandwiches outside on the bench at the Place de la Liberation, enjoying the food and the warm weather.

After lunch, we continued with our route, passing by the palais de Justice before coming across the couvent des Bernardines, a former convent which now houses the Museum of Burgundy Life. Passing by that, we ended up making our way back to our hotel. We took a quick break inside before heading out again for another round of the parcours de la Chouette, at least the places which we hadn’t visited yet.

We checked out the cathédrale Notre Dame, which is famous for its 52 gargoyle statues perched on the tiers outside of the building, along with “la chouette” statue just right outside and around the corner. The latter itself is pretty small, and while some might call it underwhelming, it was still a notable piece of the city which greatly interested me. Considered good luck to rub the statue with your left hand, you can bet we did so!

Cathédrale Notre Dame.
La chouette.

Afterwards, we headed over to the Tour Philippe le Bon, which was located adjacent to the palais des Ducs. By climbing the tower, one can get spectacular views of the city. As you might know, I love a good city view, so I was really keen on climbing it. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the tower was all booked for the day. We didn’t know that it was necessary to make a reservation and when we went to the tourism office to inquire about reserving for the following morning, it was also booked, too. A bit disappointing, but at least we tried…alas, another time!

Instead, we headed back to the couvent des Bernardines where we visited the Museum of Burgundy Life- it was free admission, so why not? It turned out to be a very-detailed museum, filled with exhibitions of local life back in the 19th and 20th centuries. From what men and women wore to the tools they used to cook and clean to the shops they visited, it was all quite fascinating and somehow it reminded me of the musée Alsacien in Strasbourg, with the model statues depicting home life and artifacts from back in the day. Not bad!

Couvent des Bernardines.
The cloister inside.

Our final destination was the Jardin de l’Arquebuse, located west of the city center near the gare. It’s a botanical garden which houses flowers and plants from the region, along with a small lake where we observed the ducks and pigeons while relaxing on the benches and letting the last of the afternoon go by.

Jardin de l’Arquebuse.

Around 18h00, we decided to head back to our hotel to rest up, before heading out once more that night for dinner. Besides being famous for its *strong* mustard, Dijon is also known for having one of the best regional cuisines out there, next to that in Lyon and Paris. Some of the well-known dishes include escargots, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and its Pinot Noir wine. Truly, the food is “very French,” to say the least!

Considering that Dijon is a touristy city, especially during the weekends, we were concerned that many of the restaurants would be booked up, particularly the ones which served “traditional Burgundy food.” Luckily, we found a restaurant not too far from our hotel which wasn’t packed, let alone requiring a reservation, so we went in. Dinner turned out to be one of the best that I’ve had in a while, as I ordered and shared a plate of escargots with some of my flatmates, along with boeuf bourguignon and a glass of Pinot Noir. The boeuf bourguignon turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had, at least, next to the buffet version that I had in Marseille just a month ago. This one was a proper one, for it was so tender and rich with red wine that I was in absolute heaven. Paired with the cheesy gnocchi, my stomach was full and happy afterwards.

Boeuf bourguignon and Pinot Noir for dinner.

Once we finished and paid, we headed out and popped into a grocery store for some wine to celebrate that night back in our hotel room- turned out that my flatmates also got me a birthday cake, which I didn’t expect at all! Again, super touched, and after eating it together, we relaxed in the five-person room, drinking wine and hanging out after a long day of walking all over Dijon. We headed to bed around midnight, tired, but satisfied with the day.

The next day was our last in Dijon; after checking out of our hotel close to 11h00, we hung out at Starbucks until it was time to head to the gare where five of use would be taking the bus back to Paris and the other two the train. I took the bus, which left the city around 13h00 and arrived in Paris around 17h30. From there, we caught the train back to Normandy, arriving back around 19h00.

My weekend getaway to Dijon turned out to be a pleasant one: although I knew little of what to see there, nevertheless I still enjoyed myself wandering around the historic city center, taking in what seemed like an easygoing atmosphere, with a slight country flair to it despite being an urban environment (I assume so, because it’s in the middle of a country part of France). Celebrating my birthday there was a plus, too, even more so with good company! Really appreciated all that my flatmates did to make it a good one. I’ll have to revisit Dijon one day, to climb that tower and to explore the rest of what the Burgundy region has to offer.

Thanks for reading- more adventures to come!


— Rebecca


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