Arriving in the Gothic town of Dijon by train, we were happy to be away from the hustle and grandiosity of the City of Lights. We had about 48 hours to explore this city and its surrounding Burgundy region. We packed a lot in with little time and light wallets. Watch Dijon Videos by Big and Small Travel, and our other Travel Videos.
Most people will automatically think of mustard when they hear the name Dijon (including us). But there’s much more to the city than just an abundant amount of the delicious condiment. As the capital city of the revered Burgundy region, it’s the perfect pit-stop for wine lovers, as well as history and architecture buffs. The town dates back about 1,000 years, to around 1015, when Robert I decided to settle the capital of his duchy here. Since, it’s seen both tremendous times of power and wealth, and devastating moments under the siege of various armies.
THE OWL’S GUIDE
Today, Dijon feels like a hidden nugget in France, in the shadow of bigger cities like Paris and Lyon. You can see magnificent architecture and ornate cathedrals, and get hearty French cuisine for a fair price. To start, we recommend heading to the tourist office and buying “The Owl’s Guide,” which maps out various walking trails throughout the city. You’ll grow to love this little owl as it diligently guides you along through historical Dijon, via gold plaques embedded into the sidewalks.
So, why an owl?! We learned that its significance comes from an owl-shaped statue found on the original construction of Dijon’s Church of Notre-Dame Cathedral. It’s considered to be a good luck symbol, especially if you rub it. The actual owl looks a little disfigured (maybe from all of the rubbing!), but a sign claimed that it is now protected day and night after it had been vandalized in 2001.
The Owl’s Guide gives just enough information to give you get an idea of the medieval importance and little quirks of Dijon. Some of our favorite spots along the way included the expansive and panoramic Place de la Liberation and the decadent Saint-Benigne Cathedral. See a video of Handstand Steph at Place De La Liberation from our YouTube page.
There’s the main owl trail, as well as a few extra loops (we highly recommend doing those as well—it really gives you a good sense of the city). One of these loops ends at a plaza named after the author Emile Zola. We realized we had walked this very trail on the day of his death … kind of a cool coincidence! Though Place Zola was a little underwhelming, it did house some decent restaurants.
THE FOOD: FROM MUSTARD TO ESCARGOT
After walking with the owl, you’ll likely be quite famished. Fortunately, food in Dijon is reasonably priced for France. There are several places for more traditional French food, as well as plenty of boulangeries (good for cheap baguette sandwiches) and patisseries, along with cheap spots for wraps, kebabs, and crepes.
Don’t forget to stop at the many mustard-tasting shops, like the famous Maille, to sample the delights for free. Bread sticks are provided alongside a vast array of mustard flavors—our favorite was blackcurrant. There are several boutique shops and corner stores that sell mustard, too, where you can get compact jars of various flavors for just 1 Euro. Also, give escargot a shot. This French specialty actually comes from the Burgundy region, and you can find some good deals here, as cheap as under 5 Euros.
EXPLORING BURGUNDY: A DAY TRIP TO BEAUNE
A great and economical day trip from Dijon involves heading to the Burgundy wine town of Beaune, about 50 KM from the city center. We took the bus there for just 1.50 Euros per ticket, with total travel time at about one hour and 20 minutes. The ride is a beautiful one, as the bus snakes through small Burgundy towns and vineyards. Once we got to Beaune, we found some French fare and coffee and then headed to the tourist office, where we got tickets for 15 Euros each to the oldest and biggest wine cellar in Burgundy, called Patriarche, located right in the center of Beaune.
There, we sampled over 15 wines and got an informative, unique, and personalized walk through the cellar, which winds its way through tunnels and passageways underneath the streets of Beaune. Along the way you pass by (literally) millions of bottles of wine. Best of all, you could pour and sample as much wine as you like—which meant we definitely felt a bit tipsy by the end of the tour. (Pro tip: bring water!) There are “sommeliers” available, though we only came across one and she only knew limited English. Overall, though this was a wonderful and worthwhile wine experience.
A WORTHWHILE TRIP
In just 48 hours you can have great wine, lip-smacking mustard, and a wonderful historical walking experience with the help of an adorable owl. What more could you want?! We highly recommend making the trip to Burgundy and Dijon. Bon voyage!