For centuries, Burgundy has been known as one of France’s most enticing wine regions. With a distinctively deep flavor, its red and white wines are enjoyed globally. And many visitors come to Burgundy just because of the wine. But wine is not the only thing that you can find in this fertile soil of eastern France. This region also offers a wide variety of cultural experiences, ranging from history, architecture to culinary art.
Stretching as far north as Holland and as far eastwards as Luxembourg, Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) was once a formidable duchy. At its height, its power even surpassed the French crown. Even the court in Dijon outshone the French court in terms of economy and culture. The Dukes of Burgundy spent a large fortune to adorn their capital, making it one of the region’s most captivating sights.
As home to the Dukes of Burgundy – great patrons of the arts, Dijon inherits a glorious cultural and architectural heritage dating back to the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. The city is characterized by half-timbered houses lining narrow streets, churches in Gothic style, as well as Neo-Renaissance mansions decorated with intricate stuccos. All of these provide a glimpse of the region’s historical importance and one-time wealth and power.
Despite being the capital of a formidable kingdom, Dijon’s symbol is peculiarly tiny. In fact, it was so small that you might pass by without noticing it. Sculpted on the side of the Notre-Dame church, perhaps as early as the 16th century, but only mentioned for the first time in the 18th century, La Chouette (The Owl) is the icon of Dijon. According to local lore, this owl can grant a wish when touching with the left hand. However, this works only when visitors come from the left. Reversely, the wish will be “eaten” by a frightened dragon.
1.1 Dijon Mustard
Another specialty of Dijon is its traditional mustard. Firstly used in 1336 for the table of King Philip VI of France and became popular in the 19th century, this condiment was mainly made of brown mustard seeds and white wine. Though it can be consumed directly, many chefs mix the mustard with other ingredients to create a special sauce. These days, the condiment is no longer manufactured locally. But a jar of Dijon mustard with its unique flavor is certainly a perfect souvenir.
Surrounded by the reputable vineyards of Côte d’Or, approximately 44 km south of Dijon, Beaune is considered the de facto capital of Burgundy wine. It has been the hub of wine production and wine-related businesses since Roman times. However, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Beaune besides wine.
2.1 Hospices de Beaune
This ancient town features a wide range of architectural heritage, from the pre-Roman and Roman eras, through the medieval to Renaissance periods. Yet most prominent is probably the Hospices de Beaune. Established in 1442 by Nicholas Rodin – a chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy, this former charitable hospital is a fine example of flamboyant 15th-century Gothic Burgundy architecture.
The building boasts an extraordinary appearance, with a colorful, geometric-patterned tile roof. It had offered services for those in need for more than 200 years. This hospital also houses the extraordinary “Last Judgement” altarpiece by the Belgian painter, Rogier van der Weyden. And each autumn, Hospices de Beaune becomes the venue for the renowned Burgundy’s wine auction.
3. Burgundian Table
One thing is sure, the Burgundians are passionate about foods as much as wines. The excellence of the cuisine goes back through history and remains at the forefront of the locals’ life. Today, a “Burgundian lifestyle” still means “enjoyment of life, good food, and extravagant spectacle”. With a wide variety of fresh ingredients available and the frequent use of red wine, some of the world’s finest food first appeared on the Burgundian table.
In fact, many signature French dishes such as Escargot à la Bourgogne (snails in garlic-herb butter), Boeuf Bourguignon (tender beef braised in red wine and beef broth), and Coq au Vin ( chicken braised in red wine, lardons, and mushrooms) actually originate from this region. In Burgundy, you can enjoy a hearty meal for a fair price and wash them down with a glass of local wine.
Tips for visiting Burgundy
- Dijon is well-connected to Paris by TGV trains. The trip takes approximately 90 minutes from Paris’ Gare de Bercy.
- Dijon Old Town is best explored on foot. You can either explore on your own or follow the guided tour of Office de Tourisme Dijon.
- Trains run frequently between Dijon and Beaune. It takes around 30 to 40 minutes.
27 thoughts on “Burgundy: More Than Just Wine”
I didn’t realize that a lot of iconic French dishes come from Burgundy until you mentioned them in this post. I love the roof tile pattern of Hospice de Beaune which together with the impressive architecture of Dijon make a trip to this part of France seems like a must. But I do wonder why I don’t stumble upon that many blog posts about Burgundy out there. Perhaps it is overlooked by Paris, Les Chateaux de la Loire, and the southern regions? I always enjoy taking a visual tour of Europe with you, Len!
Thank you, Bama! 🙂 I think Burgundy is often overlooked because it does not have any huge monument like a tower, a cathedral or a museum. It does not have beautiful beaches as well, so it is “un-instagramable”. Furthermore, Burgundy is relatively close to Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg which are highly popular among tourists. So there is a high chance that tourists might skip this region to go to other cities.
Thank you once again Ken, for transporting me to somewhere I would love to visit given the opportunity!
You welcome! 🙂
Thank you so much!
Great reportage, Len!! Never been to Beaune, but heard very positive comments about it! And your pictures make me curious 😉 Thanks for sharing!
You welcome! Maybe you will have better weather in Beaune than I did 😉
Hey so apart from the facts that the photos are stunning (no surprises there), I am enchanted by the trivia. Like Dijon and how it is after my heart because I have a weakness for owls. A place which makes an owl its icon has to be special. Meanwhile, the architecture of Beaune is exquisite. Thank you for putting it on my list.
My pleasure! Unfortunately, I did not make a photo of the owl. After a few hundred years, it lost most of its features because of the weather and the human touches (including myself). I don’t know whether the legend is real or not, but it’s fun to trace this tiny icon. I ran two times around the church just to find it 🙂
Well that is a lot of work to trace the owl so I am sure the night prowler would say hoot hoot hoot with pleasure.
Wow I can never get enough of France. I notice that the roof patterns in Beaune look very similar to the ones in Budapest. 🙂 At first I thought the roofs were unique in Budapest. I did not know that they are present in Burgundy too. I always learn something new from your blog. 🙂
You are right! The roof looks a lot like the Mathias Church in Budapest, especially the colour. But the pattern makes the difference 🙂 I think they borrow from each other.
Good population in burgundy
So… did the owl manage to bring you some good luck?! Is it just me, or does Dijon actually look extremely brown and mustardy as a city…
And how do the snails taste? You are Vietnamese so you’ve probably had much worse? I hear the street foods in Vietnam are pretty outlandish. 😆
Totally opposite! I received more bad luck than usual. Probably, I used the wrong hand to touch it. Bad Owl 🙁 And you are right, most of Dijon’s buildings are in Old French Style, so they have the yellowish mustard colour.
About the snails: well it was not so bad. It was crunchy and sweet. I thought it would be slimy 🙂 Snails are also used in Vietnamese cuisine, but we cook it differently. But I am not a fan of those dishes.
VN street foods are really diverse, some might be really good, some tastes terrible. It also depends on where you eat. But in term of bizarreness, VN street foods still look more familiar than the food in our neighbouring Cambodia 🙂
Lol about the owl. I used to have a soft toy kangaroo that I bought as a souvenir for someone else in China and they said it kept giving them bad luck that they threw it away!
Yea, I’d like to visit Vietnam one day. My friend said the street Pho’s there are awesome…
That place smells funny
Funny and delicious 😉
Lovely post. Some stunning colourful images here. The only one I’ve been to is Beaune and I thought it was gorgeous tranquil little town.
Thanks! It was indeed very tranquil town, especially at noon on a weekday. I had a difficult time to find a wine cellar that opened for visiting 🙂
Len, you’ve been to so many wonderful places around Europe, I am jealous 🙂 xx
Many thanks for your very kind words, Nano! 🙂 But when it comes to food and Japan, I am envious of you. You have been in so many cool places, and I really like the way you review the restaurants (or I would rather say “artistically present” them) 😉
Haha thanks Len, you are too kind! 😘
Beautiful photos, Len! This area reminds me a lot to the Alsace… I wonder if they also decorate everything so beautifully during Christmas as they do in the neighboring region, hehehe. In any case, looks like it is well worth a visit! I might include it in my list of trips for this year 🙂 (thanks for the inspiration!)
Though the towns have different archiectural style, I think Burgundy will also look great during Christmas. You should consider adding Champagne to the list. It’s also located on the same direction with Burgundy and Alsace. Even if you are not a fan of sparkling wine, the Cathedral de Reims alone is worth visiting 🙂
Thank you for the heads up on the owl! I will remember that when visiting Dijon.Gorgeous photos as usual. I’m really drawn to the Hospices de Beaune…flamboyant indeed. Sad to hear that the mustard is no longer made in Dijon. It is a staple in my home.