gateway to the route des grands crus
There is a charming description of Dijon by Gregoire de Tours* at the end of the 6c: "It is a fort built with very solid walls, in the middle of a fertile plain. In the middle flows the River Ouche - full of fish. From the North descends another small river, which surrounds the ramparts, on its way supplying the water for several mills. The fort has 33 towers. The walls, some 5 metres thick. Up to a height of 6 metres are large stones, and a further 3 metres (total 9 metres in height) of smaller stones. To the west of the fort, there are slopes covered in vines, which produce a wine of such quality, that the inhabitants scorn the wines of Chalon sur Marne."
As the gateway to the Route des Grands Crus in Burgundy, the quality of the wine still attracts visitors from the world over. And the river Ouche still flows through Dijon - perhaps not quite so full of fish! As the river heads out to the west, it passes the hill up to the medieval bourg of Talant, which provides a panoramic vista over Dijon - even on a cloudy day!
From the 12c to the early 15c Dijon was at the epicentre of cultural and artistic development in the eastern part of the country that is now France. Burgundy was ruled by a series of Dukes, whose immense wealth enabled them to pursue their interest in the arts, and to build properties in which to showcase their achievements. Many of the relics of this golden age of Burgundy are still in tact, and can be seen in the old quarter of Dijon. Others have long since disappeared. A beautiful fairytale chateau crowned the hill of Talant, with cellars to keep the wine produced by the vineyards below. Alongside was a church for the nobility and the local population. The cellars and the church (with its magnificent medieval sculptures) still exist, however following the religous wars of the 16c the chateau was dismantled, along with others in the region, upon the orders of the King of France. The aim was the destruction of the power base of the nobility in Burgundy, and sadly many medieval architectural masterpieces went with it.
The city is now seeking to re-establish its wine credentials and importance as the capital of Burgundy. Vineyards around Dijon described by Gregoire have been replanted by the City and are being farmed organically - bravo! An ambitious project associated with wine and gastronomy is underway on the city’s southern boundary, transforming an historical site into a centre for wine and cooking schools and a 5* hotel - Dijon - Cité de la Gastronomie
The car park on Rue Condorcet is 200m from the cathedral St Benigne and the adjoining Archeological museum. From the cathedral, you can pick up the Owl’s trail, a clearly marked walkway, that takes you around all the interesting parts of historical Dijon.
The city has a number of advantages over its friendly rival Beaune - the TGV arrives in Dijon, and the trip from Gare de Lyon Paris is only 1.5 hours. It is the capital city, and has a magnificent market and some interesting shopping.
*(Edward Steeves - Cluny, Le Vignoble Invisible - Histoire des Francs III)