Dijon is renowned as a destination gastronomique and vignoble (food and wine). For a taste of the most scrumptious local goodies, go no further than the exquisite Les Halles indoor market. This magnificent building was built to plans said to have been inspired by son of Dijon, Gustave Eiffel. Here you’ll find Le Gourmet-Traiteur shop where everything is homemade by three brilliant local chefs. It is an absolute feast of flavour. Indulge in terrines of fish, meat and even snail (yes I did try it), to pies, flans and tarts and the most delicious cakes including Dijon favourite – gingerbread, and nonnettes (which means “little nuns”), sweet sponge cakes with a spicy orange marmalade filling.
Of course I was keen to try another local favourite – mustard. At La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot, you’ll find a whole shop devoted to it. They have a tempting taste bar to titillate your taste buds. You can choose your favourite flavours from a whole raft of mind boggling combinations such as mustard with Cassis (a black currant liqueur that’s made in Burgundy) tarragon, basil and even Pinot Noir. They’ve been making mustard here since 1840 and I discovered that only mustard made with grain and wine from Burgundy can be called Moutarde de Bourgogne. Look for the distinctive AOC label.
When it comes to Gingerbread, Dijon has superstar status. And, if you want to discover how it all started, head to the fascinating Mulot & Petitjean factory, the oldest in the city, where you’ll find a fascinating Museum. There’s nothing Hansel and Gretel about it, innovative museography in which portraits of the founders of this family run business come to life to tell their tale, and clever videos take you behind the scenes to discover the history of pain d’epices. Mulot & Petitjean have made gingerbread since 1796 and it comes in a massive range of mouth-watering flavours such as salted butter and caramel, apple and cinnamon and of course – mustard. In Dijon they eat it for breakfast with cheese, as a snack with butter in the afternoon, with aperitifs and coffee. All the time really!
At restaurant Pré aux Clercs - Les Brasseries par Georges Blanc, dine inside to admire the elegant and stylish décor but on a sunny day head for the terrace. Overlooking the stunning Place de la Liberation it’s a treat for the senses. A classic menu made with seasonal local products is so tempting that it’s hard to know what to choose. But, I highly recommend traditional Burgundy specialities jambon persillé (ham marbled with jelly) and oeufs en meurette (eggs poached in red wine and beef braised in Pinot noir) and of course, boeuf bourguignon. A wall of wine and the experienced sommelier make for a fabulous wine experience and a memorable taste of Burgundy in this relaxed and delectable restaurant.
A short walk from the city centre and you’ll find L’Essentiel, the bistronomic restaurant of chef Richard Bernigaud. Take your pick from a menu of fresh, seasonal, Burgundy inspired dishes combined with a world cuisine flavour with a hint of European or Japanese influences that are packed with flavour. My fish dish was perfectly cooked with a hint of anise - utterly scrumptious. It’s always packed with locals, and If I lived here, this is where I would eat out, authentic and delicious with a friendly service.
City culture in historic Dijon
This is a town where you’ll want to wander and soak up the sights. There are cobbled streets lined with half-timbered houses. There are marvellous mansions with jewel coloured tiled roofs, a regional feature, which glint in the sunlight. Don’t forget to visit Rue de la Chouette where, on the wall of the 13th century Church of Notre Dame de Dijon, the oldest in the city, is a magic owl. I watched as locals who passed by couldn’t resist touching this centuries old tiny stone owl with their left hand and making a wish. Of course I did too! Opposite is the historic restaurant Maison Millière, which you might recognise from the film Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu. You’ll stop in your tracks when you pass the ornate façade and carved wooden door of the Palais de Justice, the former Parliament of Burgundy.
The fabulously wealthy and immensely powerful Dukes of Burgundy left an astonishing well-preserved architectural legacy of splendour in the form of the Ducal Palace. Now home to the Musée de Beaux Arts, the priceless collection includes pieces from antiquity, incredible religious artworks, paintings by the greats from Monet to Manet and contemporary art. More than 50 rooms of treasures, 130,000 pieces in total – this has to be one of the most incredible museums in France. It’s also where you’ll see the ornate tombs of former Dukes Philippe the Bold and John the Fearless. At the base of these ornate tombs, incredibly detailed sculptures of Mourners are fascinating. There’s also a great restaurant, the Brasserie des Beaux Arts (lunch only) in a spectacular setting.
Indulge your passion for theatre at the exquisite Théâtre Dijon Bourgogne which is housed in the 15th century former Church of Saint Jean. This Gothic masterpiece was deconsecrated and used as a market and then as a stable for horses after the French Revolution and became a theatre in 1974. It’s also a great place to go for an aperitif and snack. Book loving groups can visit the extraordinary Bibliothèque Patrimoniale, one of eight libraries in Dijon. Housed in a former Jesuit college it’s been a library since the 17th century and holds more than 500,000 books with specialists sections for food themed books. The reading room looks like something out of Hogwarts and there is an awesome 18th century globe, one of the biggest in France.
Contemporary culture at the Consortium Centre
The Consortium is a contemporary art venue that’s renowned for its dynamic and international approach to emerging talent. With more than 4000 m² of space in a former Cassis factory, there is a fascinating and ever growing permanent collection of more than 400 pieces from the 1950s to present day as well as regular temporary exhibitions. The Consortium also makes films and publishes around 50 books a year on the arts. Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful bookstore with its designer bookshelves which are inspirational. They also make films, in fact they won a Cannes Golden Palm in 2010 and have an onsite cinema, bar and are planning a restaurant. Contemporary art lovers will adore the inventiveness and innovation of this wonderful art space.
Comfy Culture | Where to stay in Dijon
The Residence Le Pré aux Clercs is in a quiet side road off the Place de la Liberation right in the heart of the city. A boutique B&B with just five rooms, I stayed in the suite on the top floor which had so many beautiful details from the romantic claw foot bath in the bedroom to the fabulously large walk in shower in the bathroom where you have a wonderful view over Dijon’s rooftops while you clean your teeth. I loved feeling like a local staying here and being so close to the centre of the city.