In Dijon I saw everything except… the vineyards around

Isn't the best part of a trip in the delightful detours? In France, it’s just as well to experience the pleasures of the unexpected. She's from Antwerp. He’s from Brussels. They met up in Paris and decided on a week-end in Dijon. They fully intended to enjoy the vineyards and wineries around this ancient city and the celebrated Burgundy wines. But instead they explored its art spaces, its owl trail and its hearty cooking (notably beef bourguignon and cheese from Charolais cows)…

Day 1:

As soon as we arrived, we figured we’d get our bearings by hitting the ‘Owl Trail. We picked up a pamphlet from the Tourist Office on Rue des Forges, near Tour Philippe le Bon) and set off on the self-guided walk with its 22 stages. It took us to the major historic monuments—the majestic eighteenth-century Porte Guillaume archway, the Maison Millière medieval housing—with suggestions for three further loops around the city. It’s considered good luck to rub the owl on Rue de la Chouette with your left hand and make a wish, so of course we each did!

We visited to the Cathedral of Saint Benignus; a showcase of flamboyant Gothic and Romanesque architecture in limestone. The Roman-Catholic institution’s 11th-century crypt contains the remains of a second-century sarcophagus, thought to be that of the namesake Benignus, the first local martyr. Creeeeeepy!

For something less morbid, we headed to the colourful mosaic-tiled roof of the Hotel Vogüé: a private mansion dating from the 17th century. The aesthetic is based on Italian Renaissance references, although today it has the less-glamorous purpose of housing city officials.

Then we went mustard-tasting at the historic Moutarde Maille boutique on rue de la Liberté. I had fun pumping my own selection of mustard into a ceramic pot—a wonderful local keepsake. The flavours were incredible—Apricot! Black truffle! Blue cheese! French people will clearly put anything in there. But it’s so good! We also headed to the Fallot Mustard Mill, in operation since 1840, for the FULL mustard experience.

We learned that Dijon in fact once had 14 gingerbread factories. The only one remaining is Mulot & Petitjean, founded in 1796. The company launched a new museum space in 2017 for a behind-the-scenes peek at this local signature made from wheat flour. We bought treats!

Afterwards, we headed to the stately old Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, which opened in 1787. It’s found in the Palais des Ducs, a UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Site. We marvelled at endless masterpieces stretching as far back as the 17th century, with a remarkable collection of art from the Middle Ages and incredible altarpieces. The Tombeaux des Ducs section, filled with elaborate black and white marble funerary monuments, was especially memorable. People from the Middle Ages didn't live very long but they went out with a bang, that’s for sure.

Day 2:

Hungry and curious, we headed to the Les Halles covered market. The intricate ironwork of reminded us of the Eiffel Tower in Paris… Although Gustave Eiffel was, in fact, a native son of Dijon, the 19th century market design was not his. But that didn’t matter: we enjoyed the hearty grub at Le Brunch des Halles and its festive, communal vibe. The regional specialities like Boeuf Bourgignon, and Charolais cheese blew our minds!

In the afternoon we headed south to Le Consortium, a contemporary gallery in a repurposed factory. It opened in 1991 but got an architectural facelift in 2011; its 4000 m² of exhibition space was overhauled by Japanese Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban and his French associate Jean de Gastines. It was a fascinating space to while away the day.

And so… we never got to the vineyards and wineries! That’s ok, next time we’ll come back for the scenery and tasting. But for now, discovering the city of Dijon was an incredible surprise. And we got gingerbread!