Dijon: more than just mustard

by Paul.Sullivan

With its wealth of golden architecture, fantastic restaurants and proximity to some of Europe’s most coveted vineyards, Dijon is every Francophile’s and every gastronome’s dream

Pootling around Dijon’s petit medieval centre, it’s easy to imagine its former glory. The 13th-century Notre Dame church, the imposing Palais des Ducs (which hosts the Musée des Beaux Arts) and a multitude of beautiful limestone abbeys, hotels particuliers and other preserved buildings from the 14th to 18th centuries pay tribute to the city’s former prosperity.
 
Though at its most potent from the 11th to 14th centuries, thanks to the dynamic Dukes of Burgundy, even after integration into France in the late 15th century, Dijon remained an important – not to mention wealthy - hub. Today, the capital of Burgundy is high on many a traveller’s itinerary - and not just for its ubiquitous mustard.
 
The famed condiment, in fact, represents a small part of a town overrun with glorious foodstuffs. Burgundian gastronomy is, of course, renowned throughout the world, and is well represented in Dijon via an impressive range of local delicacies. There’s snails in parsley butter, oeufs en meurette (eggs cooked in wine), coq au vin and bœuf bourguignon… all of which can be discovered alongside sweeter delights like the famed crème de cassis (the blackcurrant liqueur used in kir), pain d'épices (gingerbread) and – yes – mustard.
 
It’s testament to Burgundy’s love of food that Dijon boasts no fewer than three Michelin-starred restaurants, and there are a couple more a short drive away. Those with a penchant for formality might enjoy one of the oldest restaurants in town, Le Pré aux Clercs. Located in an 18th-century building just behind the 15th-century Palais des Ducs, this restaurant has been serving food since 1833. For the last 35 years it’s been under the supervision of Jean-Pierre Billoux and his wife, Marie Françoise, who together offer exquisite service and impeccable creations like pigeon terrine and meurette d’escargots in an dining room that’s half antiquated, half Asian chic.
 
Slightly more convivial, but just as sophisticated in the kitchen, is the lovely Stephane Derbord on Place de Wilson. Watched over by chef Stephane's welcoming wife Isabelle, this well-established eaterie offers a range of meat, game and seafood dishes (think catfish caught in the Saône, duck foie gras medallions, and a wealth of local cheeses) that balance tradition with playful subversion - pike dumplings anyone?
 
Modernists will thrill to the Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge, the third Michelin-starred spot in town. Set inside a freshly renovated boutique hotel (owned by Best Western), the restaurant’s sleek Phillipe Starck furnishings and minimalist design tell you what to need to know about the cuisine. There aren’t many heavy classics here, just light, innovative international fare starring such non-French ingredients as chorizo and bok choi.
 
There are also, of course, more affordable and less dynamic dining options. Romantics will adore Dame d'Aquitaine, a restaurant set in a medieval crypt. It’s hard not to feel humbled by the elegant vaulted ceiling as you try out wonderful dishes like duck cooked in cassis and other dishes from Burgundy and south-west France. For the quality of food, the prices here are particularly reasonable.
 
Another couple of well-priced choices can be found along the bustling rue Monge. Le Chabrot is the most vibrant, with its red, yellow and green walls, wavy mirrors and designer lamps. Chef Jean- François Vachez creates similarly funky dishes (like coq au vin served on tagliatelle) for a suitably youthful crowd. With over 200 wines to choose from and a small bar area with high tables, this is also a great stop for a tipple.
 
A few doors along, located inside a medieval courtyard, you’ll find Hostellerie  Du Sauvage, an adjunct of the charming two-star Hotel Sauvage. This is a carnivore’s paradise, a place where steaks, pork cutlets, duck and sides of lamb are grilled to perfection by chefs in white hats on a large open hearth. It’s a friendly, upbeat place, and especially popular with families at weekends, so be sure to book ahead.
 
It goes without saying, of course, that all of this fantastic food can be washed down with some of the best wines in France – even the world. The famed Cote d’Or region is literally on Dijon’s doorstep and one of the hallmarks of the Burgundy area in general is its diversity. You’ll find just as many robust reds (predominantly pinot noir) as crisp whites (predominantly chardonnay), and most restaurants will be only too pleased to guide you through the giddying array of local varieties.
 
If you’re feeling particularly flush you can try and find a rare bottle of Romanée-Conti, one of the world’s most expensive wines (be prepared to spend up to €2000 – if you can find one) and grown just a few kilometres outside Dijon. No doubt it goes great with a jar of mustard.
 

Paul.Sullivan

I've been covering travel, music and culture as a freelance writer & photographer for a decade.

My articles and images have appeared in various international publications including The Guardian, The Independent, Sunday Times, Easyjet Magazine, Financial Times, Intelligent Life, Matador, and I've written, photographed and contributed to several high profile travel guides for publishers like Time Out, Cool Camping, A Hedonist's Guide To, Rough Guide...and more.

I first came to Berlin in 1999 to write about the city's incredible music scene. I fell immediately in love with its rawness, its history and its expansive, overwhelming sense of possibility. I returned over the years and finally got commissioned to write a guidebook (HG2 Berlin) in 2007, which was published in 2008. A year later I was living here, in leafy, laid-back Prenzlauer Berg.

I adore many European cities - Madrid, Paris and Amsterdam are among my favourites - but Berlin is the only place I've felt compelled to live. If anything, since I've been here my passion and respect for the city have grown exponentially.

My Berlin

Where I always grab a decent coffee: There are literally zillions of places to get decent coffee in Berlin. But for a truly outstanding cup I head to The Barn in Mitte, Bonanza Coffee Heroes in Prenzlauer Berg or No Fire No Glory in Friedrichshain.

My favourite stroll: In summer I really enjoy a walk along the section of the Spree where you can see the Reichstag and the Hauptbahnhof, and relax at one of the cafes on the embankment. In winter I like the atmosphere and relative emptiness of broad boulevards like Karl Marx Allee or Unter den Linden.

Where to be seen: Oh my, there are so many places to be seen in Berin. My favourite see-and-be-seen restaurant is Grill Royal, as it backs up the hyperbole with good views (if you can get a terrace seat) and excellent steaks and seafood dishes. Clubs like Tausend are good for showing out, but I prefer the more underground feel of Berghain and the Panorama Bar.

The most breathtaking view: Berlin has some great view points. You can take a lift up the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), ride to the top of the Kollhoff Tower on Potsdamer Platz or climb up to the memorial in Kreuzberg's Viktoriapark - Berlin's highest natural viewpoint.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Berlin has many leafy parks in which you can easily get away from it all. My favourite is Volkspark Friedrichshain, which is vast and dotted with interesting historical monuments (as well as the gorgeous Märchenbrunnen fountain).

Shopaholics beware!: Both downtown Mitte and the side streets of Charlottenburg (between Kantstr. and Ku'damm) are full of amazing boutiques selling everything from underwear and jewellery to designer clothing and accessories. You'll need a lot of resolve to resist.

Don’t leave without...visiting the atmospheric Mauerpark flea market on a Sunday. In summer you'll also find the famous Bearpit Karaoke underway.