Le splendide voyage

Reflections on exploration & travel


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Merry Christmas and Goodbye ma belle Dijon!

Today, Dijon is adorned with lights and bright decorations. The Christmas market continues to bring excitement in the air. As I walk through the streets a giant Ferris wheel at the place de la Republic, the ice-skating rink at the place de la Liberation, and manger scenes around town welcoming the birth of Christ added to my enthusiasm for the season. Walking around with friends, I have enjoyed warm wine concoctions, churros and other Christmas delights. Yet, this time of celebration is also a time of nostalgic and heartfelt goodbyes. I am leaving Dijon today at the height of the Christmas season. This gives me a chance to pause and reminisce the past few years.
As a citizen of a country where everything moves at the speed of light…my experience in France was a prismatic adjustment. Business endeavors could be at times exasperating and yet, I fell in love with Dijon, glorious Burgundy and France. In my two hours lunch, I learned not to talk about business but instead make lasting friendships while learning to recognize the beauty of the local gastronomy and wine culture. I have learned to smell the roses while walking through a park on my way to work and truly appreciate all the seasons. The French are also worth getting to know. Their wit, remarkable style, friendship and humor have made my experience memorable. In addition, the country from north to south, east to west is simply delightful and is splendidly paired with a fascinating history and literature. Truly, this is one of the most beautiful countries I have had the pleasure to live.
I chose to share in this blog a superb video done by Elimitage (it can also be seen at Vimeo). I believe it was done to promote Dijon and the development of “Cite de la Gastronomie”, which will be a whole complex dedicated to Burgundy’s gastronomy and its finest wines. I cannot wait until this project becomes a reality because it will be an incredible place. The video moves me because it shows all of the atmosphere and sights that made me fall in love with this city and region, including the song at the end, “Dijon,” interpreted by Yves Jamait. Dijon, Burgundy and France are now permanently set in my heart and in my opinion that is a most perfect Christmas gift!

Joyeux Noël et meilleurs vœux à vous et à vos proches ! Aller de l’avant et faites de 2015 une année encore meilleure!

Merry Christmas and a Joyous 2015!

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For the love of French cheese and the Jura Mountains!

In France, the celebrated French love affair with cheese will in due course infuse the atmosphere of an expatriate’s everyday life.  As a matter of fact, a French cheese tray is a permanent fixture in home meal gatherings and restaurants. It is usually served after the main course and before dessert.

The author John Baxter, reveals a well-known narrative in his book “The Perfect Meal:” once, the legendary French general, Charles de Gaulle, while rejecting the idea of France being ruled solely by the communist party, made the following statement: “How can any one party govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheeses?” In reality, food and nutrition data chronicle that the variety of French cheeses seem to run between 350 and 400.  Still, some of my dear French friends love to say that: “There are 365 type cheeses in France: one for each day of the year!”

Whenever I visit a new region in France, I make a point to try one of their local cheeses. Apparently the commanding general and emperor of France, Napoléon Bonaparte, followed the same practice. In Burgundy, after learning to bypass the robust whiff of local cheeses, I fell in love with Époisses a cheese referred as the “king of all cheeses” and one of Napoléon’s favorites.  Historically, these cheeses were often produced in monasteries. Hence, it was our “friends,” the Cistercian monks of Citeaux who started the Époisses’ production in the 16th century and later handed the recipe to local families. Thenceforth, between Dijon and Auxerre at the village of Époise, this recipe has been followed whilst creating a most delightful orange/yellow rind cheese washed in marc de Bourgogne and that has a delicious ivory creamy center with rich and uniform taste. It sells inside a charming wooden box and it goes well with Burgundy’s red wines.

In the Loire valley, I tasted an exquisite goat cheese called Valençay.  By tradition, the cheeses of the Loire Valley use ash as a coating. The bluish-gray rind on the Valençay is no exception.  This cheese used to be molded in a perfectly shaped pyramid. However, a local anecdote describes that when Napoléon returned from his unsuccessful campaigns in Egypt, he stopped at the chateaux of Valençay.  When he was served this cheese, he was overcome with indignation by its pyramid silhouette, and so, he chopped off the tip of the pyramid. As result, the cheese has kept this cut-off-tip shape ever since.  Still, Napoléon continued to love this cheese as I do because its taste is slightly citric and it pairs superbly with Valençay Blanc (white) wine also from the Loire region. Another favorite cheese endorsed by Napoléon and Charles de Gaulle is the Mimolette from Lille area, Nord-Pas-de-Calais.  This is a very interesting looking cheese. It has the form of a ripe cantaloupe with a wrinkly crust on the outside and a bright ripe orange color in the inside. Its distinct taste is similar to the Dutch Edam.  A familiar historical account conveys that in the 17th century, Louis XIV, the Sun King, loved the taste of Edam yet he could not tolerate that it was produced in the Netherlands. Thus, he banned Edam from France and besieged his loyal cheese artisans to create the Mimolette. Since then, this new creation has a distinctively stouter appetizing taste plus it looks dashing on a cheese tray while pairing remarkably well with a Bordeaux red.

One of my favorite’s weekend retreats year-round is the region of Franche-Comté. On the ancient salt-trade route, I have routinely visited the quaint Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne village in the department of Doubs. This rural community clings to the widely forested woodlands in the Jura Mountains, a mountain range spreading predominantly from France to Switzerland whilst infiltrating Germany at a lower altitude. The village is idyllic and reserved for countryside lovers while generously offering health-boosting attributes like fresh air, tranquility and beauty just as the visitor’s senses are stimulated to a renewed vitality. Reasonably priced, private and comfortable loft style apartments can be found at “La Maison Rose” at 11 rue du Château.  These facilities present panoramic views of the hillside and cliffs. Another charming place in town is the “Residence de Vaux,” at 29 Grande Rue, an elegant bed & breakfast with period’s rooms and fresh baked breakfast.  Both are excellent based locations to explore the region’s attractions such as: the source of the River Lison (about 20 minutes from the city center) where you will find the cavern of its emerging birth even as the river cascades through a deep wooded gorge.  Well-marked hiking routes provide for a spectacular experience. On the other side of the village, up in the cliffs lies another equally beautiful source of water: the River Verneau with its own waterfalls and nature trails.  Also along the cliffs is a fixed climbing route, the Via Ferrata, a rather popular route with climbers. At Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne there is also opportunity during spring, summer and autumn for: horseback riding, canoeing, cycling, climbing, fishing, hiking, hang and para-gliding.  In the winter not very far from the city center, one can cross-country ski and for downhill skiing leisure pursuits, the ski trails of Métabief are less than one hour away. Other cultural centers nearby is the vilage of Arbois home of renown scientist Louis Pasteur.  You can visit his home and museum where the early experiments of pasteurization were performed on the wines of his own vineyard. Another interesting town is Ornans, where the river Loue runs through it and it is also the home of the French realist painter Gustave Courbet.  His riverside home in Ornans is a delightful place to visit.  Also, Nans (for short) is within a few hours from Geneva, Lausanne, Strasburg and even the Black Forest in Germany.

Once my friends invited me to a Franche-Comté fondue party in Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne. Subsequently, my visit to the Jura Mountains became a deliberate commission bolstering my quest to learn about French cheeses. For many centuries the Jura Massif’s cheese dairies known as fromageries or fruitières have produced one of the most popular cheeses in France: Comté.  You can easily plan a visit to these fromageries and fruitières in the region.  In Nans’ city center, there is such a facility where you can view the production of Comté (usually early in the morning). The cheese is produced exclusively from the milk of Montbéliarde and French Simmental breeds of cattle, grazing at no less than 400 meters of altitude. The Comté is a related to the Swiss Gruyère and is predictably aromatic with an array of subtle tastes such as the “fruitè” Comté which is more elastic to “salé” Comté more brittle.  After production, these cheeses are taken to climate-controlled maturing cellars to age for at least 4 to 18 months.  Certainly, this intricate process create a delicious cheese loved by chefs and gourmands all over the world. Comté also pairs perfectly with a vine from the Massif du Jura:  the regional Vin Jaune (yellow wine). This wine made from Savagnin grapes has a distinct nutty bouquet, with hints of almonds, citrus, salt and even anise and like the Comté cheese it is also aged in cellars in the Jura region.

Another superb unpasteurized cheese from the Haute-Doubs, Franche-Comté region is: Mont d’Or. This cheese was created in the 18th century to make use of the Autumn-Winter milk.  As such, Mont d’Or cheeses are usually produced from the 15th of August to 15th of March and sold during September 10th to May 10th.  This type of cheese is also exclusively obtained from grass and hay-fed Montbéliarde cows grazing at no less than 700 meters above sea level. Hence, when spending time in the region, a visitor will be able to observe these marvelous animals going through town and making their ascent into the hills… and it is beautiful!  Mont d’Or, quickly climbed to my list of beloved cheeses due to its creamy texture, Epicea pine tree scent and its yellow undulated rind, sold in a round wood resinous box.  It can be baked with cloves of garlic thus creating a superb first course. Once again, I recommend pairing this fine cheese with the Vin Jaune of Jura and equally established products of the region.

Traveling throughout distinctive provinces in France and learning about local cheeses can be a pleasurable task. Since an impeccable French meal with all of its many courses cannot be complete without the cheese platter, it is a worthwhile activity to discover how a traditional cheese tray should be displayed.  The tray should present and assortment of types of cheeses, consistencies, color, aroma, milk origin (cow, goat, ewe), and firmness.  Depending on the season it should also include side options such as:  dried fruits, fresh fruits like figs and grapes, nuts, sliced baguette, honey, dried meats, smoked sausages, Dijon mustard and local sauces.  Last but not least, pairing your handiwork with favorite regional wines…  voilà… a splendid cheese presentation will take center stage and delight your guests!


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Côte d’Or, Burgundy: golden vineyards, wine tasting & relaxation

Côte d’Or , Burgundy, wine route

Côte d’Or , Burgundy, wine route

One of the nicest short trips from Dijon is to follow Burgundy’s Côte d’Or region prized wine route.  From north to south, this impeccable trail unveils the splendor of perfectly flanked vineyards: the Châtillonnais vineyards (about 20 villages producing red and white appellation wines); the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits (about 8 villages producing famous and robust burgundy red wines); situated on the slopes are the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits; the Côte de Beaune vineyards producing exquisite reds but also elegant white wines and further back the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune vineyards.  Most of the vineyards of Côte d’Or face east or southeast and in autumn their leaves stir in the wind while glistening in fields of gold (continue below)

The cultivation of wine can be traced back to antiquity.  In particular, the skilled efforts of the Romans greatly influenced the viticulture development along their occupied territories including France. In Burgundy, it was the monks of Citeaux (called Cistercian; Cistercium the Latin name for the village of Cîteaux) who were responsible for elevating the Roman process of cultivating vines into an art form.  These monks strictly followed the Rule of St Benedict (St Benedict of Nursia: c. 480 – 547) a book of precepts regarding the monastic life which also included the encouragement of manual labor and self-sufficiency.  Thus the abbeys founded in Burgundy supported themselves through a variety of activities including viticulture.   Gradually, the monks advanced their knowledge base by dedicating themselves to academic pursuits not only in agriculture but in research, science and medicine.

A celebrated and frequently visited vineyard along the wine route is the Clos de Vougeot (clos = walled-enclosed vineyard). Located in a beautiful setting its vines are a lasting example of the Cistercians’ work.  Traditionally, the Benedictine monks of Cluny had already introduced to the region the subsequent grape varieties: Pinot Noir (for reds) and Chardonnay (for whites).  However, these industrious viticulture experts discovered that there was a pronounced difference on the quality and tastes of the wine depending where the plant was sown, sometimes 200 meters could make a real difference.  As such, they parceled the Clos de Vougeot vineyards accordingly. Of course, the geological variation of the soil is important. However, the orientation/exposure to the sun, rains, local climate alterations, slope, drainage, etc., are equally significant to the outcome of wine vintages.  Hence, the concept of Terroir/soils in Burgundy is the main factor of designating a wine’s originality.  Today, Clos de Vougeot is owned by an array of independent wine growers and the chateau is owned by the Société civile des Amis du Château du Clos de Vougeot (“Friends of the Château du Clos de Vougeot”), which leases its facilities to the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.  The Grand Cru appellation is bestowed upon this elegant wine which was honored by Isak Dinesen in her literary work “Babette’s Feast” due to its remarkably intense bouquet.

The wine road and villages between Dijon – Beaune may be visited by car, rental bicycles tours or by promenading its gentle hills. Each road sign along the way is a recollection of a fine wine list waiting to be revealed and tasted.  For this reason, visitors are welcome to stop along the string of villages for wine tasting and purchases.  Arriving in Beaune, which is considered the capital of burgundy’s wine, there are further opportunities for wine tastings in restaurants, commercial venues as well as wine-related institutes offering formal (certification) and informal classes. A historical landmark worth visiting in Beaune is the Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune. The Hospices were founded as a charitable hospital in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of Burgundy, and his wife. Its architecture represents the 15th century style well. Of particular significance, since 1851 every year around November, the Hospices hold a classical and influential charitable wine-auction devoted to the food and wines of Burgundy.  It is a worthwhile social and cultural experience!

After an eventful exploration of the region, I highly recommend visiting the picturesque village of Meursault. Located on the Côte of Beaune, these fine white wines vineyards are exclusively cultivated from Chardonnay grapes.  While exploring the village, stop by the office of tourism and they will help you rent bikes and even secure a place on a hot air balloon ride of the region. This is a beautiful area and I highly recommend staying at La Cueillette Hotel & Spa.  This lovely 19th  century château was built on the foundations of a 12th century Cistercian residence within walled vineyard parcels allowing for pleasant promenades through nature. At the Spa you can reward yourself by plunging into the whirlpool and swimming pool.  For a total body relaxation, I recommend their sauna followed by their “Frutithérapie” exfoliating massage with red berries pulp, honey and grape seed oil. Certainly, all of their well-being beauty products make great souvenirs to take home.  The Château de Cîteaux also provides fine dining with an exquisite ambiance.  If you cannot stay long at La Cueillette, I recommend at least paying a visit to their Sunday brunch which is a memorable banquet that you can share with friends and family during the warm summer months.  Their ample veranda is a most favorable place for such fetching celebration and for building lasting memories.


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Dijon: Coffee shops, Tea rooms and Shopping

Quotidian life in Dijon takes a visitor or an unfamiliar expatriate resident into a journey where there is a visible transformation of expectations and priorities.  Certain habits like a hurried lifestyle perhaps compulsory in greater metropolises are not fitting here.   Usually, each working day dedicates two hours for lunch to discuss varied topics with friends or colleagues at a favorite restaurant.  For the disciplined souls, this time may be used to read a favorite book or even write an animated short story.  Ultimately for the romantics: sitting at a local “café” or “salon de thé” is a time for practicing the sacred art of reflection as life unfolds before you.

Certainly “running errands” during lunch is not a worthwhile pursuit since the post office, the bank or any other significant places will also be closed as their employees  “in solidarity” will go to lunch at the same time everyday usually from 12h to 14h.  However, one can easily get accustomed to this new life style especially since some may even leave work early especially on Wednesday to enjoy the varied coffee shops in the city.

Dijon has an enjoyable collection of coffee shops and tearooms.  Even the newly remodeled Art Museum has a good coffee shop waiting to warm any patron after a gratifying tour of its elaborate halls. Native dijonnais usually become attached to particular venues because these places transform themselves into a “parlor” where individuals come together with the most valuable persons in their lives.  Nonetheless, I have embraced the habit of trying different places because it pleases me to discover new settings.

Some of my favorites ones are:  the “Comptoir (trading post) de Colonies” at 12 place Francois Rude.  This is a very popular venue with the native residents. The Comptoir has a flavorful collection of teas and coffees from about 15 different places around the world. My favorite flavors are: the Brazil/Santos a full body, aroma rich and yet less acidic type of coffee and the bold flavor of the Colombian Supreme coffee. The hot chocolates with cream on top are also a fare to behold and taste.  Almost in front of the Comptoir is the celebrated statue and fountain “Bareuzai,” representing the personage of a wine grower treading on local grapes. Also, next to the fountain is the iconic merry-go-round/carrousel that since the 1900s to this day delights young children’s disposition.

Following the streets of Dijon toward place Grangier and the main Post Office is the expresso-T” a coffee shop at 21 rue de la Poste.  Within their cozy ambiance, they make a delicious cappuccino plus they also offer other complementary treats like bagels, muffins, salads, crepes etc.  Yet, for a true “Salon de Thé” experience, “La Rose de Vergy” at 1 rue de la Chouette behind Notre Dame cathedral is one of my favorite places. Their convivial setting has a marvelous and varied assortment of teas, biscuits, and other gourmet treats.  I love going there at the end of a very busy day and drinking their Assam tea while looking outside to some of the oldest streets in Dijon, rue de la Chouette and rue Verrerie. 

There are other interesting places along rue Musette. A well-favored place in this street is the fine Italian market “La Dolce Vita.”  Here, all sorts of fantastic gourmet goods from Italy are available for purchase.  In addition, they have a wonderful restaurant above the market where the recipes are true Italian creations.   In the afternoon, La Dolce Vita becomes an ideal place for a coffee break because not only do they have fragrant Italian coffee that goes rather well with a hot slice of “Panettone (A traditional sweet bread loaf with dried fruits originally from Milan.  An Italian delicacy especially during Christmas and New Year)” but also an incredibly tasting Italian hot chocolate which is a ray of sunshine especially during the severe winter months. Another possible stop on this street is “Tartin’Art.”  Inside, an imaginative consumer can choose multiple toppings to decorate a toast/tartine: from salmon to fresh mozzarella on a bed of tomatoes or lettuce or avocados. Of course, such treat should always be accompanied by a hot cup of java.

After teatime, a visitor may choose to ride a bike through the streets of Dijon.  Bikes are easily accessible for rental throughout the city and bike lanes are available along the Tram trajectory such as riding and resting by the beautiful fountain at place de la Republic. Later, it is also a treat to stop and catch one of the latest movies at the theater at place Darcy. All movies are dubbed in French like most places in France and it is a good way to practice French comprehension skills. Another theater close to the University, the Eldorado, may show from time to time movies in their original language. 

One may decide instead to explore the city by strolling leisurely through its center. From place Darcy you can walk through the portal/door “La Porte Guillaume” an official monument edified in 1786 honoring the prince of Condé. It signals the entrance into the center of the city and the rue/street de la Liberté. The famous Galeries Lafayette always displaying the latest fashions and home furnishings. There are also elegant shops toward the end of rue Piron and inside the Passage Darcy. In addition, trendy shops can be found around place Grangier such as the Italian shoe store Brunate, Hugo Boss and a variety of kitchenware stores. Many hair salons grace this area yet, my favorite is “Carlo Bay” on 6 place Bousset.  The staff and owner are professionals who provide an array of excellent services leaving you completely gratified after each visit.

Should you need a new computer, a TV, but also books or any other electronic gadget FNAC on rue de Bourg is a wonderland offering great seasonal sales. Fine chocolates, one of the French most beloved traditions, can be found in elegant settings such as Fabrice Gillotte, “créateur chocolatier,” on rue de Bourg in front of FNAC. Another well-known chocolatier is Carbilet close to Place François Rude. As always, while walking on the streets of Dijon you will often hear different styles of music and street performances, so be ready to leave a few coins behind in gratitude.

A couple of years ago I visited the shopping center “La Toison d’Or,” located in the northern region of Dijon: I was not impress.  Now, my opinion has changed.  Recently, the place has been completely remodeled and new additions were incorporated. The grand opening was at the end of October of 2013 with great attendance and a fine piano player to inspire shoppers.  The transformation was comprehensive and astonishing.  The new mall or “centre commercial” is modern with stylish shops from the Apple Store to Desigual and a thriving food court and restaurants.  It is a straightforward drive from the city center or one can simply board Tram #2 and exit at the Toison d’Or exit.

 

 


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The epicurean mirth: my favorite restaurants in Dijon

Dijon has a marvelous collection of restaurants within its domain.  If you ever long for a splendid table and fine tablecloths then, you must stroll to La place de la Libération, right in front of the Ducal Palace.  There you will find one of the finest restaurants in Dijon: “Le Prè aux Clercs,” Jean Pierre Billoux chef.  His creations are always classic, with flavorful ingredients and seasonings.  I recommend the full degustation menu as the staff offers an exemplary service as well as a full description of each item served.  Furthermore, Mr. Gillard, the poised sommelier has an extensive and refined wine list.  From experience, all of his recommendations are a perfect match to the visitor’s chosen fare. One of the courses before dessert are the cheeses. These represent a true French experience while the desserts are a marvel accompanied by other morsels and petit fours.  In the summer time, you can eat outside while enjoying the blissful setting of La place de la Libération (square). In the winter time, you can enjoy the elegant indoor ambiance of the restaurant. The restaurant also has beautiful entertainment rooms on the second floor for special gatherings.  I have never been disappointed with my experiences at the Prè aux Clercs since they have presented and delivered on every occasion an exquisite epicurean experience.

Dijon has other restaurants that make up its varied gastronomy.  “Les Oenophilis” is a restaurant who has a romantic and elegant atmosphere. It is located on 18 rue Sainte Anne by the hotel Philippe Le Bon.  This serene and inviting location, has a menu consisting of traditional and regional specialties such as “les escargots” and the Charolais steaks.  Every course is delivered with precision and grace. They also have a varied and extensive wine list.  Another favorite restaurant on my list is: Pourquoi pas?” located on 13 rue Monge and not very far from the Emile Zola square.  This place has an intimate and cozy atmosphere. The daily menu is always presented with creativity and taste which always highlight the experience.  However, reservations must be made at least 2 weeks in advance to assure an opportunity to experience its fine cuisine.

A truly unique and historical restaurant is the “Maison Millière” located 10, 12, 14, rue de la chouette, behind Notre Dame Cathedral.   The house was built around 1483 by merchant Guillaume Millière and has kept its medieval appearance and façade till this day.  Period films such as “Cyrano de Bergerac” starring Gerard Depardieu have used its historical decor.  Traditional foods like Filet de Boeuf sauce Morilles and Cassolette d’escargots forestière lutée are a few of its delicious specialties.  In the summer, you can sit in the garden and during the colder months you will enjoy its charming interior rooms.  At Maison Millière you will also observe on the rooftop the famous Owl & Cat effigies placed there in the beginning of the 20th century.

Similarly, the Emily Zola (previously the area was called Place du Morimont) square has a place in history since during the French Revolution heads were guillotined here.  Now, it has a much happier atmosphere as it offers an interesting gamut of flavorful restaurants.  Located in this square is the restaurant “Le Germinal” which offers the best frog legs in town.  The house specialty is the “Grenouille Germinal,” but I also love the “Grenouille Provençal.” A permanent fixture in this square is the restaurant L’Epicerie & Cie offering regional food such as baked Camembert, boeuf bourguignon, fine wine and desserts.  If you are craving Asian food then the Sushi King is a good choice and it is located just opposite from L’Epicerie.

Of course, there are other mainstream places in town that are excellent for a nice lunch in the middle of a busy work week. One such places is the “Petit Marché” an organic restaurant just above the bio/health food market La Vie Saine on 27-29 rue Musette. The restaurant is opened Monday through Friday 11:45 – 14:30, and Saturday 12:00 – 14:30.  When I eat there, I always feel that I have made a healthy choice.  From its many windows, there is a beautiful view of Grangier square, the historical and stately main post office and the bustling street below.  The food is simple, healthy and delicious.   Often, I like to order the “salade verte des Cévennes avec son filet doré, tomates, fromage de chèvre chaud, pan et noix, or the “saumon bio avec de crudités.”  In addition, the health food market below offers excellent bio and organic products.  On the adjacent street, 54 rue des Godrans, there is a little restaurant perfect for a lunch break: Bol & Tasse.  They serve an excellent variety of soups, salads, tartes, crepes, smoothies, teas and coffee.  The owners, Mimi and Vivie are super friendly and welcoming.

These are just few examples of the range of restaurants available in Dijon.  Certainly, there are many others to discover. For example, L’édito restaurant at place Darcy is rather convenient because it is open for business all the time.  Yet, there are numerous pleasant and smaller restaurants surrounding the market or on the petites rues around town such as the popular “Le petit roi de la lune” on 28 rue Amiral Roussin as well as a genuine pub and sports’ bar “Flannery’s Irish Pub” in front of St. Benigne’s Cathedral.


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La gastronomie: Les Halles, Dijon

“The gentle art of gastronomy is a friendly one. It hurdles the language barrier, makes friends among civilized people, and warms the heart.”
Samuel Chamberlain

France has elevated gastronomy into an art form.  Effortlessly, the relationships between the culinary canvas, traditions and culture are ever so present in Dijon and Burgundy.  Every autumn, Dijon organizes and presents its International Gastronomy Fair.  This year the fair started on October 31st and will proceed until the 11th of November.  Each year, they invite a country as a valued guest and this year the honor went to South Africa.  In particularly, the wines from the West Cape region displayed proudly in a section of the Vinidivio salon.  Educational talks and discussions on the 3 centuries of viniculture and oenology history of South African wines from the West Cape region were also in the agenda.

The outdoor and indoor markets in the center of the city of Dijon also represent well the gastronomic possibilities of the region.  The location is not far from Notre Dame Cathedral where its gargoyles stare ferociously at Dijon’s luscious market. Also close by is the Place François Rude (or du Barezai).  Historically, the town council decided to build in 1868 a “modern” covered market.  A contest ensued and the design that the dijonnais Gustave Eiffel’s (famous & innovative engineer/Eiffel Tower Paris & Statue of Liberty, US) firm had proposed was found to be the most interesting.  Nonetheless, Eiffel was called to the Franco-Prussian war (or the war of 1870). Therefore, the final blueprints and designs for the structure were drawn by architect Louis-Clément Weinberger in 1869. He used a classic architecture style and modelled the Dijon indoor market after the Parisian “Les Halles.” The market was completed around 1875.  A renovation to bring the market into current health, safety and comfort standards proceeded in 1994. Yet, Eiffel’s signature iron columns and the classic architecture of Weinberger continue to sustain this marvelous structure. The Dijon market is open: Tuesday (7h – 13h30); Thursday (7h30 – 13h/not all stalls are open on Th); Friday and Saturday (6h30 – 13h30).

Still, the Dijon market is so much more than a beautiful edifice! The composition of colors, smells, tastes and the vivaciousness of the proprietors create a scenic quotidian watercolor painting that is both alluring and blissful.  There are fresh meats, fish, mollusc, crustaceans, multiple types of olives, oils, dried sausages, cheeses, honey, fruits, vegetables, legumes, breads, and as of this date, I am still discovering new products. On market days, the indoor market is encircled by a lively outdoor market, with independent stalls.  Little specialty shops flourish along bordering streets with all kinds of commodities from food to clothing, antiques, marvelous used books and ancient post cards.  Fittingly, I loose myself into fairyland at least for a couple of hours on market days.

What I have also discovered is that the proprietors in general welcome new customers with fine etiquette and “politesse.”  Still, the most reassuring feeling is when you start buying from the same vendor every week. Then they masterfully win your heart with: “…I thought of you Madame, and I think you would love to try our new…etc…”  Yes, they learn your tastes and really think of you!  Furthermore, it is so refreshing to me that they are experts when it comes to their products.  They will take time to explain to you the best way to eat or cook a particular item; they will also ask when do you intend to cook or eat the product, then they will pick for example the most appropriate product for your evening gathering. And it works well every time!

My love for the market in Dijon also fostered a love for learning the culinary artistry of the region.  There are different venues in Dijon to learn how to master the “art of French cooking.”  One such place is “La Cuisine de Madeleine,” 18 rue Chaudronnerie, behind Notre Dame Cathedral.  Under the careful tutelage of a chef, it is a fun place to learn because you can join a group or sign-up with a group of friends.  You choose the menu and learn to prepare it. Then at the end, you can taste your creations in a cozy and welcoming environment.  Wine tasting is also part of your education! Accordingly, this culinary experience can be a source of delicious memories.


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Ma belle Dijon

My new city was a delight from the beginning.  When choosing a place to live, I decided that the center of town was full of charm and history. Thus, it was only natural that my final choice for a Dijonnais domicile was a 1636 AD house on a quiet ”petite rue” in the heart of the city. The gated entrance hid a fastidious story to be written while passing through the courtyard and a 15th century solemn staircase leading to the third floor with a good view of the toits bourguignons (Burgundy’s traditional polychrome roofs) and their geometrical patterns.  Yes, very quickly Dijon had my heart. 

The city center is lively with a brand new TRAM system, excellent shopping and restaurants spread throughout its radius.  Yet in Dijon, there is always something new to be discover.  There are days dedicated to music and so you can hear great sounds in the streets or view an opera performance at the superb Auditorium of Dijon. You can take different “discovery” walks by following the owl triangles around the city and maps can be found in the tourist centers.  The owl is the bird symbolizing Dijon. 

The traditional story of the ‘little owl” in Dijon dates back to 14 century.   It was the time when the Notre Dame cathedral was being built.  One of the traditional tales conveys the story of the architect of the cathedral who found a sickly owl nearby.  He cared for the tiny creature and became quite attached to the little bird. Hence, since it brought him much joy, he carved the owl on the stone pillar in north side of the cathedral. Historically, it seems that the little owl appeared in the end of the XV or beginning of the XVI centuries.  Whatever the case may be, visitors continue throughout the ages to touch the little carved owl, “la petite chouette,” with the left hand while making a wish and it should come true!  At Notre Dame, you will also hear the “Jacquemart” ring and announce the hours with precision. The “Jacquemart & Clock” was a war prize that Phillip the Bold brought from Belgium.  Soon the inhabitants of Dijon became devoted to the protector of the hours.  Accordingly, from 1651 to 1884 the people in Dijon did not wanted him to feel lonely and they added a wife Jacqueline who helps him ring the hours, a son and Jacquelinet responsible for sounding the half hours and lastly a daughter Jacquelinette responsible for ringing every quarter hour.  Also, behind Notre Dame are some of the oldest streets in town known for their fine antique stores. The main cathedral in Dijon is Saint-Bénigne. It is perhaps the oldest in Dijon considering that it has a remarkable crypt which was completed in 535 AD.  The grand cathedral part however, was dedicated in 1393 AD.  This is one of the sites that should be visited since marvelous pipe organ concerts are frequently offered and the acoustics always make the experience sublime.

Following the little owls triangles, visitors can easily make their way to the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy.  The ducal palace houses the mayor and some of the city’s offices, a tourist information center, the soaring Philip le Bon tower in the middle and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. After climbing the 315 steps or so in the Philip Le Bon tower, your reward will be an amazing 360° view of the city.  Then, after this marvelous work-out the Musée des Beaux-Arts should be the next-door charm.  In the past 2 years, this museum underwent a detailed renovation and now it is even more appealing.  Worth viewing are the intricate tombs of Philip le Bon, John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria and the “pleurants” or mourners.  Not far from this museum is one of my favorite museums in Dijon, the Museum Magnin with collections from the North, French and Italian Schools. Proximate to Magnin, the extraordinary sculptures of F. Rude can be seen at Saint-Étienne’s Church.

An international recognition for the city of Dijon is its: MUSTARD.  This delicious creation dates back to 1856 AD when Jean Naigeon added acidic juice of grapes that were not ripped to the mustard recipe.  This flavorful mustard is used in salads, sandwiches and on any dish that calls for mustard.  Nowadays, they add white wine to the recipe with a sharp taste that revives any bland fare.  Dijon also offers delightful places and parks for strolling such as the Jardin Botanique de l’Arquebuse and the Parc de la Columbière. Above all, children love Columbière Park because it has a petting zoo.