Though I was raised on French’s Yellow Mustard (a Pittsburgh staple besides Heinz Ketchup), my wife Diane was raised on Dijon Mustard. This gave us the impetus to talk about going to visit Dijon which is also widely known for its festivals, art, architecture, cuisine and wine. What more is needed to beckon us there? As a big fan of escargot, I was ready to go.
For our stay, we booked a room on the bottom floor suite of the tower in the nearby 16th century Château Sainte Sabine, between Dijon (30 minute drive) and Beaune (20 minute drive), on the banks of the Burgundy Canal. The chateau has a limited number of 22 exquisite rooms with a bar, pool, restaurant, and a garden park where you can feed goats, swans and deer. We lived in Europe for 18 years and the restaurant at Château Sainte Sabine was absolutely the most delicious meal without question every night. Our room came with breakfast and dinner included. One night was wild game night which we were not fond of, so the noted chef came out to our table and asked what we wanted for each course and he obliged. It was just a delight. The local village is within easy strolling distance had some beautiful gardens and flowered rustic doorways. When staying in Europe, I like to book rooms in castles, villas, palaces and other historical repurposed buildings if they are convenient to our destination.
Our trip to Dijon also came with surprises. One of the days was the annual Festival de Musiques et Danses Populaires. This event featured performances of musicians and music bands from different countries of the world, interesting national parades prepared by participants, and unforgettable dancing shows. Diane wanted a photo of some of the street musician revelers and got a little bit of extra attention. (More photos of the parade at the bottom of this post)
Dijon is known as the capital of Burgundy (Burgundians were a Germanic people who once inhabited the area) and the birthplace of Gustave Eiffel. Did you know Gustave’s real last name was Bonickhausen? His family emigrated from the Eifel mountain region of Germany and later the family adopted that as their name. And of course, a visit to the founding location of the famous mustard which became popular using brown mustard seeds, white wine and verjuice ( highly acidic juice from unripe grapes) instead of vinegar.
Dijon is informally known as “the city of a hundred bell towers” and also widely known for its gastronomy. The annual Fête de la Vigne is a famous popular festival that takes place at the end of August. Sampling wine and appetizers is the activity for the day while being entertained with colorful performances and parties to keep you entertained. The Foire Internationale et Gastronomique event starts at the end of October and lasts until mid-November in Parc Des Expositions Et Congrès. At the fair, attendees can not only try local dishes but also learn how to choose the best wine and food. Approximately 200,000 visitors attend the annual event. When visiting the area some of the local specialties worth trying is my favorite, Escargots de Bourgogne (Burgundy snails with garlic oil) or tender and delicious Bœuf Bourguignon (Burgundy beef with red wine), or maybe the one I did not try which is the Coq au Vin (peacock or chicken stewed in wine).
The famous Burgundian crusader and Knight of the Golden Fleece, Philippe Pot (1428–1493) was educated in Dijon and became the chief advisor to the Dukes of Burgundy (The Burgundy Dutchy was formed in the 9th century). His tomb was relocated from Dijon to the Louvre in 1899. I captured a photo of a replica of the tomb in the Chateau of Chateauneuf-en-Auxois, France which is about 10 minutes north of Sainte Sabine.
Dijon’s Guillaume Gate (arch) sits in Place Darcy in the center of Dijon and separates the old city from the new. The gate was built on the site of the former fortifications of 12th century defensive walls. This 18th century triumphal arch, was named after Guillaume de Volpiano, the 11th century reformer of the Saint-Bénigne Benedictine abbey. Guillaume Gate was originally part of the fortification wall, which at the end of the 19th century was demolished. The place/square was named after Henri Darcy, who went down in the history of the city for inventing a method for saving the French from the unpleasant smells of urban filth. He is the author of the invention of sewage treatment plants with the use of filter fillings. The invention had been so useful in changing the lives of for the better, that the next day after the death of the engineer they renamed one of the main squares of the city in his honor. The system of treatment of Dijon became the first in Europe during the first half of the nineteenth century.
A photo looking down Rue Rameau and Rue Vaillant shows the façade of Saint Michael’s church with the small domes and large bell towers. The columnar building in the foreground left is the massive and one of France’s largest Museum of Fine Arts which opened in 1787 and is housed in a former 14th century Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy. There are a multitude of museums in Dijon and most of them have free admission.
The Cathedral of Saint Benignus of Dijon was constructed during the late 13th century and named after a martyr honored as the patron saint and first herald of Christianity of Dijon. According to Wikipedia, Benignus was known for performing many miracles and was arrested at Épagny and put on trial. Benignus refused to sacrifice to pagan deities so the authorities savagely tortured him, then clubbed him to death with a bar of iron and had his heart pierced.
Nearby cities to Dijon are the wine hotspots of Beaune (Burgundy wine capital) and Nuits-Saint-Georges where we loaded up on many local wines to transport back to our home in Germany. Most all of Burgundy’s towns and villages have stayed remarkable unchanged since the Middle Ages and are very photogenic.
Getting to Dijon is easily accomplished. There is a once a day high-speed train that takes 1hr 40min and many daily average speed trains from Charles de Gaulle airport take a little longer. Dijon is on a train hub, so access from most European cities can be made in little time. Buses and vehicle road access is also quite easy. The Dijon airport ceased operations a couple years ago, but Lyon and Geneva Switzerland airports are very close by.
We end with more photos of the parade in Dijon....