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Dijon, FranceMarch 29, 2010 By: Mary Winston Nicklin Travel Agent
Dijon has tapped into its culinary legacy and the famed vineyards nearby to fashion an exciting destination
Dijon Tourism Office has created a walking trail along the city’s major attractions
Situated on the old Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée railway line, Dijon used to be a pit stop, in the 19th century, for Parisians heading south to Marseille on vacation. Disembarking the train, passengers would indulge in the city’s prized cuisine, washed down with wine from the adjacent Burgundy vineyards. Dijon’s awesome culinary reputation remains to this day, but the city offers a lot more than its namesake, mustard. Last autumn, Travel Agent joined Atout France to uncover the secrets of this medieval jewel. The verdict’s out: Dijon is a magical destination in its own right, just 90 minutes from Paris.
The impetus behind the trip? As an important exhibition of medieval sculptures from the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon travels to the U.S. for the first time, we had a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum, considered one of the finest in France. Les Pleurants (“the mourners”) comprises dozens of sculptures from the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, the first and second dukes of Burgundy who reigned during Dijon’s golden age in the 14th and 15th centuries. While Dijon’s Fine Arts Museum undergoes a renovation, one set of sculptures—those from the tomb of John the Fearless—will travel, while the other set remains on display at the museum, housed in the magnificent Palais des Ducs. Starting at The Met in New York this month, the exhibition will go on a Grand Tour of seven museums in the U.S. until early 2012. A real perk: After your clients return from Dijon, they can reminisce about the trip by checking out the exhibition in New York, St. Louis, Dallas, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Richmond, VA.
What to See and Do
The Dijon Tourism Office has created a walking trail through the cobblestoned streets with bronze owl plaques marking significant sights. The owl is the city’s own symbol of good luck.
Among the half-timbered medieval houses, regal squares and aristocrat’s mansions, shopping opportunities abound. Recommend stops at the Maille mustard boutique to sample the potent wine-based delicacy for which the city is famous, Chocolatier Fabrice Gillote for some of the best confections in the country, and La Rose de Vergy for artisanal pain d’épice (gingerbread), said to be a legacy of the age of the Duchy, when Margaret of Flanders brought it in her suitcase to the Burgundy capital (along with a substantial territorial dowry).
Food & Drink
For a small city, Dijon has a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Le Pré aux Clercs, facing the Palais des Ducs, is an absolute must. Chef Jean-Pierre Billoux serves up inventive Burgundian recipes. Our menu was flavored with seasonal Burgundy truffles: a delicate cèpe mushroom tart, a traditional oeuf en cocotte and a stunning main course of hare cooked in red wine for four hours, its sauce finished with foie gras.
Another excellent Michelin-starred eatery is Chapeau Rouge, in the Best Western hotel. Contemporary dishes are imbued with creative, international accents from the chef’s world travels; we loved the tempura-style soft shell crab served with ginger Béarnaise sauce.
For your clients who are gourmands, suggest a cooking class. L’atelier des Chefs has fun and informative classes for amateurs and professionals alike. Courses range from 30-minute lunches to themed three-course dinners, with all prepared dishes devoured on the spot. Contact Valerie Grandet (011-33-616-570-688, [email protected]) for more information.
As the gateway to Burgundy, Dijon is the ideal jumping-off point for touring the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. At Wine and Voyages, Carolyn and Laurent Delelee (011-33-380-611-515, [email protected]) offer insider wine tours and tastings.
Not to be missed: a course with the Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne to learn about the variety of Burgundy wines and their different appellations. Contact Jean-Pierre Renard (011-33-380-263-510, [email protected]).
Where to Stay
The most storied hotel is Sofitel Dijon La Cloche. A city monument for centuries, the hotel has seen a parade of famous guests pass through its doors, including Grace Kelly, Maurice Chevalier and Napoleon III. Managed by Antoine Muñoz (011-33-380-301-232, [email protected]), the hotel has 68 rooms, ample meeting facilities and a sophisticated restaurant, Les Jardins de la Cloche.
Even the smallest room category has the signature Sofitel MyBed, a feather bed wrapped in a sumptuous duvet with plump pillows. The best rooms are the four newly renovated suites on the top floor. All suites are outfitted with Hèrmes bath amenities, a hammam and Nespresso coffee machines. Note: The fitness room is too small to handle workouts but it boasts a sauna.
Another luxury four-star option is the stylish Best Western Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge with 30 guest rooms all of which have Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and sparkling baths. Of the two suites, we visited Room #119, which has a Jacuzzi.
The hotel’s contemporary design is best showcased in the beautiful restaurant, where a nature theme is reflected in cloud-like light fixtures and artful tree branches behind a wall of glass. Contact Sales Manager Cordélia Goguey (011-33-380-508-842, [email protected]) with queries.
Hotel Philippe le Bon is a charming three-star hotel in the heart of the old city with a gastronomic restaurant, to boot. Of the 32 guest rooms, we fell in love with the five suites in the historic building across the street from reception. Our two-bedroom suite (#A2), ideal for families, had ancient timbered beams, even in the spacious bathroom. Contact Reception Manager Audrey Clusel ([email protected]; 011-33-380-307-352) for bookings.
Other three-star hotels include Hotel Wilson, formerly a 17th-century coach-stop with 27 cozy rooms (prices start from $107), and Oceania Hotels Group’s Hotel Le Jura. Next to the train station, Hotel Le Jura has 76 rooms priced from $102 on weekends with free Wi-Fi and breakfast included. Not all rooms have air conditioning.
For assistance in booking hotels, contact Valérie Olivier (011-33-380-441-145, [email protected]) at the Dijon Tourism Office.