For centuries, Burgundy has been known as one of France’s most enticing wine regions. With a distinctively deep flavour, 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 characterised 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.
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 flavour 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.
This ancient town features a wide range architectural heritages, from 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 colourful, 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.
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.
Practical Information about 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.