DIJON, FRANCE: Yep it is that Dijon which you keep in your refrigerator for flavoring your sandwiches or other dips and sauces. And that was the sole reason for me to visit this town. I wanted to know where my Dijon mustard originally came from which I generously use on my turkey sandwich every time. But Dijon is more than just mustard or dipping sauces.
Dijon is the capital of Burgundy, a region in eastern France. It was a booming major center for Gothic and Renaissance culture and art around 14th and 15th centuries. And since the city wasn’t heavily damaged during the WWII, some of its historic buildings and icons from that era can still be seen around the old town of Dijon.
If you have spare time in Dijon, make sure to visit nearby towns and cities, like Annecy, Chamonix, or Nancy. Within couple hours from Dijon, Mont-Blanc stands majestically looking over whole Europe.
TIME of TRAVEL: We made a road trip in July of 2014 to the French Alps, visiting Mont Blanc…the highest peak of Alps. After visiting Annecy, Chamonix, and Mont-Blanc, our next stop was Dijon. It’s usually nice in July, but we got some wind and rain the day we were there. Being the last road-trip before leaving Europe, this whole journey was a memorable one for all of us.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Holiday Inn Dijon, a bit outside the main city center. We had free Wi-Fi and parking but breakfast wasn’t included. Hotel was of course great with cleanliness, staff, and everything else…it’s Holiday Inn after all, good reputation and good service.
EATING and SHOPPING: Rue de la Liberte is one of the best places for meals or shopping. Other old parts also have hidden cafes and restaurants. We did our mustard shopping from “Maille” on Rue de la Liberte. This is a mustard store from 1747 that has more than 30 different types of mustard in their collections. “Edmond Fallot” is another store we went inside where you can find tons of different kinds of mustard and the store dates back to 1840. These stores offer free samples before buying…make sure you know what you are buying.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Walking is the best way to explore the city center of Dijon. And an easy way to do it in Dijon is following numbered “owl” metal plates on the ground. There are total of 22 stops and this self-guided tour takes you to most of the interesting places in walkable distances. Owl is the icon of this city and you will see lots of it at every corner here.
1) LA PORTE GUILLAUME and RUE de la LIBERTE: We parked our car right below this square or pedestrian zone. Rue de la Liberte is a long stretch of pedestrian only path packed with countless shops and eateries. La Porte Guillaume is an old gate, similar to Arc de Triumph in Paris, at one end of Rue de la Liberte.
2) CATHEDRALE SAINTE-BENIGNE: Walking from Rue d la Liberte, you can’t miss the Gothic spires and steeples of this cathedral. Built in the 14th century, this is a national monument of France. Inside is as gorgeous as its exterior. We spent some time going around and enjoying cathedral’s huge organ, big paintings, sculptures, and vibrant stained-glass windows.
The cathedral is open from 8:30am to 7pm and free for any tourists.
3) EGLISE SAINT-PHILIBERT: Built in the 12th century on the site of an old basilica, this church is a remarkable example of Romanesque edifice. A flamboyant Gothic steeple was added in the 16th It was across the street from Cathedral Saint-Benigne. We walked past it without going inside the church because its current precarious state forbids visits.
4) THEATRE DIJON-BOURGOGNE: After the above church, we continued following the “Owl” of Dijon and in couple minutes the “Owl” brought us to this old theatre which looked more like a medieval church. This was closed to tourists as well.
5) DUCAL PALACE: Although we didn’t go inside the Ducal Palace, it is a beautiful building in Place de la Liberation with an open space/square in front of it. It now houses a museum, known as Museum of Beaux Arts, which is considered as one of the best in this region. Other than that it has decent collection of medieval arts, paintings by local and Flemish artists, and some recent art collection which includes Picasso and Monet as well.
Place de la Liberation has many small shops, restaurants, and cafes. My girls loved the water fountain in the middle of the square, even though it was wet and cold.
6) NOTRE DAME CHURCH: Just 5 minutes of walk from Ducal Palace is Notre Dame Church. This 13th century church is small but very elegant inside. Old walls, stained-glass windows, and bold stone pillars put middle age touches everywhere.
Once you are done with visiting inside the church, go around and look for the “Owl” icon sculpted at one side of the church. This is known to be one of the earliest image of the owl in Dijon, from the 16th century. Tradition is to touch it with your left hand from left to right to bring good luck.
7) MICHEL CHURCH: It started drizzling when we came close to this church. We walked about few minutes from Notre Dame to get here. The present look of this church dates back to the very end of 15th century. The remarkable choir is from 1763. This is a big church, similar to Cathedral Saint-Benigne. It’s free to go in, don’t miss the grand stained-glass over the main altar.