Dijon cuts the mustard

IT'S perfectly natural to associate Dijon with mustard.

The two go together as easily as Roquefort and cheese, or Burgundy and fine pinot.

And while its excellent food and wine are reasons in themselves to make the 90-minute train trip from Paris, the city's history and culture add extra dimensions to the experience.

Here are 10 great reasons why Dijon more than cuts the mustard:

1. It was the centre of power for the dukes of Burgundy whose holdings stretched as far north as Belgium and the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the city's historical centre is compact and easy to navigate on foot: must-sees include the Palace of the Dukes, the church of Notre Dame and the richly decorated merchant townhouses.

2. Best place for mustard tasting is Les Boutiques Maille, at 32 rue de la Liberté. Visitors can taste a mind-blowing range of mustards: prune and armagnac; dill and lime; celeriac and truffle shavings through to mushroom and fromage frais; garlic and herbs; and the quintessentially French-sounding chanterelles, shallots and chervil.

3. Burgundy produces some of the world's finest pinot noir, thanks to a perfect terroir and centuries of accumulated winemaking skills. So it's unthinkable to come to Dijon without allowing time for a wine tour of nearby villages that make up the Cote de Nuits. Former winemaker Elohim Balest, who runs a tour business called Alter & Go, shares his local knowledge. See alterandgo.fr.

4. Visit the Dijon market at Les Halles every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday morning in the centre of town. It is itself a thing of beauty, designed by none other than the Dijon-born architect, Gustave Eiffel. Bring your shopping bag and stock up on seasonal fruits, artisanal bread and hand-made cheese.

5. Just a block or so away from the market is the magnificent gothic church of Notre Dame. Do not stand underneath the gargoyles. In the 13th century, one allegedly broke loose and fell on a banker as he entered the church for his wedding. Lenders beware.

6. On the northern exterior of Notre Dame, in the Rue de la Chouette, is the sculpted owl that is Dijon's unofficial mascot. Good luck comes to those who caress it with their left hand.

7. A day trip from Dijon to Beaune is minimal effort and maximum reward. The Hospice de Beaune is a perfectly preserved hospital built in the Middle Ages in the wake of the 100 Years' War to provide food and shelter for the region's sick and poor. It's a unique monument and a beautiful jewel of medieval architecture built around a large central courtyard. Frequent train services between Dijon and Beaune make this an easy excursion. The trip is no more than 40 minutes each way which allows plenty of time for sightseeing and lunch.

8. Looking for something French and fashionable? Try the department store Galeries Lafayette at 41 rue de la Liberté. It has several floors of temptation for all. Small boutiques are also plentiful, especially along rue Verrerie. It's like Paris without the crowds.

9. By now you've earned the privilege of a long and lazy lunch. La Maison Des Cariatides at 28 rue Chaudronnerie is one of the new breed of French restaurants that embody a style called bistronomique. The food is bistro-inspired, but a little more refined, just as the ambience is bistro-relaxed but with a little more class. I'd go back in a flash.

10. Hire a bike for the day. The Dijon Tourist Office can set you up with a bicycle and an itinerary suitable for a half-day, full-day or three-day adventure on wheels. Dedicated cycle paths and sign-posted trails are available to ensure the whole experience is safe and fun.

GOOD TO KNOW ABOUT DIJON

Getting there: Dijon is about 90 minutes by the TGV fast train from Paris.

Dijon Tourist Office: www.visitdijon.com/en/

Wine tours: www.alterandgo.fr

La Maison Des Cariatides: www.lamaisondescariatides.fr/

Topics:  dijon, travel, travelling




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