The Creative Class of Dijon

I love French cities with an historic centre on a human scale, easy to visit and get to know in a few hours, and where you always end up going shopping, inevitably enticed by the delightful shop windows. This is what Dijon is like, a destination whose principal appeal to tourists lies in discovering the secrets of the exclusive wines of Burgundy, the surrounding vineyards that seem to embrace the city. Before turning to the wine, you may, if you wish, follow the Owl’s Trail, whose strange signs will take you around to the most important heritage sites of the historic centre, as well as introducing you to the enchanting design and craft shops.

The Owl’s Trail

The owl that lends its name to this cultural trail is a stone figure carved onto one side of the 13th-century facade of the Église Notre Dame. As tradition has it, stroking the stone bird with your left hand will bring you good luck, so that’s how I started my visit to Dijon. Then I went to the 22 sites on the circuit known as The Owl’s Trail, which takes you to the monuments and manor houses of the capital of Burgundy.

Gingerbread at Mulot & Petitjean

I arrived in Dijon to learn the fun fact that the city is known as the French gingerbread capital, and that its best exponent is Mulot & Petitjean, a family business founded in 1796 and an integral part of the city’s culinary heritage. At Mulot & Petitjean, in one of those half-timbered medieval houses so typical of central Europe, they told me the secrets of classic gingerbread, whose origins stretch back to ancient China. The most traditional gingerbread comes in a block of about six kilograms, containing no fat and with a rather dry texture, and it will keep for a long time. It is eaten with jam and can also be used as a base for foie gras. Other variations on gingerbread are iced bread, coated with sugar, or the delicious nonette, which is lighter and has jam inside.

Mulot & Petitjean (External link)
1 rue de la Chouette, Dijon

The Truffle Shop

Watching a dog search for truffles in the country has been one of the best travel experiences that I can remember, and in Dijon’s Truffle Shop you can find out so much more about the rarefied world of this much-prized fungus. This shop is located in a 14th-century half-timbered building, one of the oldest in the city, and was established fifty years ago with the aim of adapting Italian truffle production to Burgundy. In this little truffle temple, they not only sell them plain, but also make various gastronomic products using this much appreciated ingredient. The shop also has its own special truffle-hunting dogs that collect them and that are showcased in various activities for tourists, like the one I enjoyed so much.

The Truffle Shop (External link)
5 Rue Chaudronnerie, Dijon

Bruyas Hat Shop

One of the things I will never forget about my visit to Dijon is how, in the Bruyas Hat Shop, for the first time in my life, someone advised me on what type of hat would suit me best. This traditional shop, founded in 1880, is still selling the same hats it did when it opened. The last member of the family died not long ago, at the age of 95, leaving the establishment to the manageress he had worked with for years. They sell such a wide array of hats and caps that their advice is essential if you wish to make a purchase. Ever since that visit, I have known that what suits me best are big Irish caps.

Bruyas Hat Shop (External link)
65 rue des Godrans, Dijon

Bensimon, design shop for the home

If there is any type of establishment that we all like it is shops for the home, where you spend considerable time discovering the most original and varied objects in current design. I did this in the shop belonging to the Bensimon chain, located on Rue de la Liberté in Dijon’s city centre and which opened to the public just two years ago. This establishment also has the advantage of occupying the attractive premises of a former haberdasher founded in the 19th century and still has its old and prettily decorated wooden ceiling. Bensimon is the classic shop where you like everything you see, with top quality products and prices to match.

Bensimon (External link)
90, rue de la Liberté, Dijon

Pharmacie de la Croix Blanche (White Cross)

I have always liked traditional chemists’ shops, the ones where you step inside and time seems to have stopped for centuries. One morning during my visit to Dijon, I was wandering through the historic city centre and came across one such establishment that was utterly enchanting, and I later discovered it was a real institution in the city. This was the Pharmacie de la Croix Blanche, right in the heart of the old city centre and recognisable by its pretty wooden facade. Its interior reflects the charming ambience of traditional chemists’ shops: dark wood shelves filled with porcelain jars bearing botanical engravings and cupboards laden with individually prepared medicines made respecting formulas of old. They told me that they themselves blend many of the products they sell and that they offer public demonstrations that attract long queues of interested people.

Pharmacie de le Croix Blanche (External link)
24, rue Musette, Dijon

Maison Millière

If you are seeking a truly historic establishment in Dijon, you need look no further than the Maison Millière. Jean Francois, its friendly current owner, told me it was founded in 1483, before Christopher Columbus discovered America. The building retains its medieval construction style, with the ground floor devoted to the shop and the first floor to the living quarters of the craftsman who owned it. Jean Francois is very proud of his medieval house with its very pretty, half-timbered façade and glazed bricks. He greets me and proudly describes how scenes from the film Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Gérard Depardieu, were shot in his restaurant and tea room.

Maison Millière (External link)
14 rue de la Chouette, Dijon