Ah, summer holidays… When it’s time to step away from work and the drudgery of daily life, why not just hop in the car and, I don’t know, drive to France?
As much as I love a flight, there’s a pleasant freedom that comes with travelling by car. Namely, the lack of airport security (and thus no restrictions on liquids—very important when traversing wine country), and an increased opportunity for spontaneous day trips. Neither of us had been anywhere in Provence before and we knew we wanted a mix of city energy and small town chill, so after much deliberation, Johan and I concocted a plan that would give us a glimpse into Burgundy, a nice introduction to Provence, and a happy return to the seat of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. We loosely arranged a 10-night sojourn through Dijon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Marseille, and Lyon, with a few little excursions along the way.
Five-and-a-half hours after leaving Nuremberg on 13 July, we arrived in Dijon, capital of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. I’d been wanting to visit Dijon for some time now and was especially keen on perusing the food market; though we’d only booked two nights in the city with a Saturday arrival, and Les Halles is closed on Sundays and Mondays. No worries, I’d thought, ye olde Google advises a 5 PM closing time, we’ll be fine. Turns out the market actually closes at 1 PM on Saturdays and we slid into town just before noon, discovering the misguided opening hours only when the nice lady at hotel reception mentioned that we’d have “about an hour” if we wanted to check it out.
We scurried over, made a quick wander through the aisles that were very much already being packed up, then took a seat for a plate of Burgundian snails, a wedge of 30-month Comté, and two glasses of Saint-Véran. Though I wasn’t a huge fan of the snails themselves (a bit…earthy? for my liking), the garlicky, buttery, herbaceous sauce in which they were nested was quite a delight.
Good enough arrival timing, all things considered.
And then, per usual, we wandered.
It didn’t take long to start noticing owls underfoot:
The triangular markers actually serve as a trail taking followers along a walking tour of Dijon, leading to 22 significant spots around town. One of the most popular sites is certainly the chouette carved into the side of L’église Notre-Dame à Dijon. The 13th-century church is a well-kept beauty, but the poor little owl himself (a later addition to the exterior, probably in the 16th century) has seen far better days. Legend has it that this “Magic Owl” will grant your wish so long as you stroke him with your left hand, and years of passersby dragging their greasy mitts across his face has left the poor chap looking awfully haggard.
(Almost as rough as my photos of Dijon’s Notre-Dame…)
Our visit coincided with French National Day on the 14th of July, which, in tandem with falling on a Sunday meant that the city was extra-quiet, and our hopes of visiting the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy (Palais des Ducs et des États de Bourgogne) were dashed.
Fortunately, we were able to see it from above as the Tower of Philippe the Good (Tour Philippe le Bon) was open, and it only costs five euros per person to ascend in a small group with a guide from the Dijon tourism office. The tower is 46 meters (150 feet) high and takes 316 steps to reach the top, and the views are extremely worth the climb.
I loved the mid-sized feel of Dijon. It’s a cozy little city with half-timbered houses, narrow alleyways, and the aesthetically pleasing cafes that come to mind when many of us think of France—the ones with tiny tables spilling across walkways, unbothered old men sitting with newspapers and espresso; and, in Dijon’s case, enough people sipping on glasses of kir that it becomes unclear if the crème de cassis + white wine cocktail is an honest favorite or an obliged sampling due to the locale.
Oh, and there’s mustard. We perused both La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot and Maille. The latter isn’t difficult to find elsewhere, no, but both boutiques have a dazzling array of mustard flavors—many of which you can sample—that aren’t going to be on the shelves at your local supermarket. Consider the shops a must-visit and do try some Dijon while you’re in Dijon.
Where to eat in Dijon:
I have two regrets about our stay in Dijon: 1) We couldn’t eat everywhere, and 2) I was shit at remembering to take photos of what we did eat. The food scene in Burgundy is wondrous, this is no secret; and while our road trip this time was with Provence in mind, I fully intend to return to France for a Burgundy-forward culinary adventure. For now, a brief note on restaurants we did visit:
Comptoir des Colonies, 12 Place François Rude. This is a coffee and tea house (as pictured above with the Maille shop) and while we only ate late-morning croissants while sipping espresso, the interior atmosphere is lovely and the tables outside are perfect for people-watching. They also had some very tempting cakes on display…
O’Bareuzai, 3 Place François Rude. Directly across from Comptoir des Colonies, we had a real sleeper of a burger at this unassuming cafe. We’d actually stopped here just for a drink as we had an hour to kill before our tower tour, but we kept noticing what looked like excellent burgers making their way to surrounding tables. Temptation got the better of us and we returned to O’Bareuzai for a post-tower lunch, and I’m still thinking about the perfectly cooked beef, melty Comté, and jammy onions tucked within a just-crispy-enough brioche bun. No photos, sadly, but swing by and see if they have a burger on the menu du jour because damn.
Au Jardin des Halles, Place du marché, 20 Rue Quentin. Yes, this is adjacent to the food hall and yes, you may assume it’s a touristy restaurant due to its location, but there was nothing mediocre and overpriced about our meal. It was here that I was introduced to Poulet à la Gaston Gérard, a local specialty dish involving chicken in a sauce of white wine, mustard, Comté, and crème fraîche; and this delight came after my starter of poached eggs in Epoisses sauce—both of which you can see in the sub-par photos below. Ooh la la.
O’Bannelier, 24 rue Bannelier. Mercifully open on the holiday Sunday, Johan and I were quickly charmed by the homey, welcoming interior and friendly service from Anaïs, who runs front-of-house while Oswald mans the kitchen. Their menu changes weekly and their ingredients are all locally sourced. While I had a very nice Bœuf Bourguignon, the star of the evening was Johan’s beef tartare, a dish I found so startlingly light and flavorful I declared it to be “refreshing,” which is not an adjective I ever thought I’d assign to raw beef.
Stay turned for Part 2 of Le Glorieux Roadtrip, where we’ll visit Châteauneuf-du-Pape!
Au revoir, Dijon.