DIJON vs BEAUNE
The Burgundy Wine Trail

When it comes to historical icons, in the Burgundy region of France Dijon and Beune are as distinguished as Pinot Noir. Connected by the Burgundy Wine Trail, many Americans have never heard of Beaune and just think of Dijon as a condiment. Grey Poupon on them, and us, too, as we were in the same barrel. To all French, these places are known not only for their connection to the world of wine and gastronomy but for their cultural significance as well. However, they have distinct characteristics and differences even a traveler will recognize. Yet, they are both as French as France gets. If there is one place you must visit, head for the hills of Burgundy… covered in vines of Grand Crus, Premier Crus, and Village Crus. You will soon forget all about Paris.

“Burgundy makes you think of silly things; Bordeaux makes you talk about them, and Champagne makes you do them.”

Jean Anthelm Brillat-Savarin

A Tough Call to be made over a Tall Glass

Beune for the wine win.
Dijon's Beaux Arts Gallery
Dijon's Beaux Arts Gallery is one of France's finest finds, and gratuit!
cat on windowsill
Couple of cool Dijon cats.
Beaune has a less ornate architecture with a small French village feel. The more you drink, the more you'll feel.

History of Beaune

Beaune, known as “Belena” during Roman times, was founded around the 1st century AD. It was an important settlement along the Roman road that connected Lyon to the northern regions of Gaul. The town thrived as a trading center and was known for its vineyards as far back as Bachus.

During the Middle Ages, Beaune became a significant religious and commercial center. The Benedictine Abbey of Sainte-Marguerite was founded in the 7th century, and the town grew around it. Beaune’s fortifications were expanded, and it became an important trading hub for wine, textiles, and other goods.

Beaune continued to prosper during the medieval period. It was granted a charter in the 13th century, which allowed it to govern itself and establish its own laws. The town’s wealth grew, and it became a hub for the wine trade. The Hospices de Beaune (Hôtel-Dieu), a famous hospital and charity founded in the 15th century, is a testament to the town’s prosperity during this time.

Prosperous into the 17th and 18th centuries, as it remained a major center for the wine trade. The architecture of the town reflects the wealth of this period, with many impressive buildings and mansions built during this time.

Like many parts of France, Beaune was affected by the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The Hospices de Beaune was secularized, and its assets were redistributed. This marked a significant change in the town’s history.

 

Beaune’s wine industry remained vital throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and it is renowned for its wine production today. Though primarily known for its Grand Crus surroundings, it is also recognized for well-preserved medieval architecture and charming pedestrian streets.

 

Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune
Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, once a working hospital for the plagued, is now a museum and working wine cellar for the weary.
beams of l'hopital Beune
Fond of the plafond... beams of l'hopital Beune
Apothecary bottles
Pick your poisson... not the fish poisson, the apothecary... or the wine.

History of Dijon

The half-timbered architecture is what most people equate Dijon with, but it has as many varieties as mustard.
dijon architecture
Dijon for the architectural delights.

Here is an overview of the history of Dijon:

Ancient and Roman Era: Dijon’s origins can be traced back to the Roman period when it was known as “Divio.” The Romans established a settlement here due to its strategic location at the intersection of several important trade routes. It served as a center for commerce and administration in Roman Gaul.

Middle Ages: During the early Middle Ages, Dijon became the seat of the Duchy of Burgundy, which played a pivotal role in the medieval history of the region. The city grew in importance as it became a center for trade, culture, and politics. The Burgundian court was renowned for its wealth and patronage of the arts during this period.

Renaissance: Dijon continued to flourish during the Renaissance, with the construction of numerous grand buildings, including the Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne (Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy), a symbol of the city’s historical importance. The city was also known for its mustard production, which eventually gave rise to the famous Dijon mustard.

17th-18th Centuries: The city saw a decline in its prominence as the Duchy of Burgundy was absorbed into the Kingdom of France in the late 15th century. However, Dijon remained an important regional center. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it experienced some architectural and cultural renewal.

French Revolution: Like much of France, Dijon was affected by the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The city underwent significant changes during this period, including the removal of noble privileges and the restructuring of local governance.

19th and 20th Centuries: Dijon continued to evolve in the 19th century with the development of industry and transportation networks. In the 20th century, it played a role in both World Wars, particularly during World War II when it was briefly occupied by German forces. One can now drink wine in Place de la Liberte and think of the sacrifices made for their sipping.

Contemporary Dijon: Today, Dijon is a vibrant cultural and academic center, home to the University of Burgundy and several museums and cultural institutions.

Dijon Architecture

Come for the wine, stay for the architecture. Dijon, a historic city in eastern France, is known for its rich architectural heritage. Some of the main architectural buildings of significance in Dijon include:

Dijon Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Bénigne de Dijon)**: This Romanesque and Gothic-style cathedral dates back to the 13th century. It is known for its stunning architecture, beautiful stained glass windows, and the tomb of Saint Benignus.

Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy (Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne): This medieval palace served as the residence of the Dukes of Burgundy and is now home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, which houses an impressive collection of art and historical artifacts.

 

Hôtel de Ville (City Hall): Dijon’s City Hall is a fine example of French Renaissance architecture. Its stunning facade and bell tower make it one of the city’s iconic landmarks.

Saint-Philibert Church (Église Saint-Philibert): This Romanesque church, dating back to the 11th century, is known for its unique cylindrical shape and octagonal bell tower.

Maison Millière: This half-timbered house is one of the oldest buildings in Dijon, dating back to the 15th century. It features a beautifully preserved medieval facade.

*Porte Guillaume**: This triumphal arch was built in the 18th century and is an iconic entrance to the city.

These are just a few of the many architectural treasures you can find in Dijon. The city’s historic center is filled with charming streets, squares, and buildings that showcase its rich history and architectural beauty.

Saint-Michel Church, Dijon
Eglise Saint Michel
*Porte Guillaume**: This triumphal arch was built in the 18th century and is an iconic entrance to the city.
Gargoyles of Notre Dame
Don't forget to Gargoyle. Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon (Église Notre-Dame): This Gothic church is famous for its intricate and detailed facade, which features numerous gargoyles and sculptures. The church's interior is equally impressive, with beautiful stained glass windows.

Une fascination pour les portes de Dijon (A Fascination with Dijon's Doors)

Burgundy Wine Trail

The Burgundy Wine Trail winds through more Grand Cru vineyards than any in France, and good that wind it does. No need to spell out the obvious. Hard to follow a straight one from Beaune to Dijon after a few stops to taste some of the finest if not the. A glass of Pinot to go, on to the next. A few Clos calls.

Burgundy wine trail
Damn the weather... it's wine we're after.
The Burgundy WIne Trail winds from Beaune to Dijon through not even arguably the richest wine region in the world.
Here we go again, another glazed tile winery with cellar of dreams. Ho hum

The Weather

The weather is here. I wish it was beautiful… in Burgundy, it is good, bad, and everchanging, which tends to serve well for vineyards. If it’s a bright sunny day, count your lucky stars, for a downpour is just around the corner. Such weather makes for interesting times. It is much cooler for much longer than most parts of France at moderate elevations, so if you were looking for a place to sit out by the pool and leather away, Burgundy is not your cup of tea. But who knows? As the Earth heats up, Burgundy and Brittany may be the best places to be.

Bicycles on the street of Dijon
It rains in Dijon
It rains, and then it doesn't. Sip and enjoy.
View of Eglise Saint-Michel from Place de la Liberation
The weather is clearing.

Beaune Folk

The people of Beaune are wine tourists, mostly. But the people in the shops and wineries are primarily French. Rude, you think? Not necessarily. But of French people we’ve frequented during our travels, they can be a bit like the weather.

People of Dijon

Dijon, as mentioned, is a city, so you will find more city folk wandering about. From businessmen and women to bums and everything in-between, it’s a place to keep your wits about you. Most tourists are seen in the big square, whereas you will find primarily young and educated discussing philosophy over tea near St. Michel. 

A Word about Safety

We did stumble upon some crazy fous. Toby’s master seems to be a crazy fou magnet. He sees it as an opportunity to practice his French. This lands him in trouble sometimes, and Toby’s assistant to the master has to drag him clear from the conversation, which is always good, especially when the topic comes around to tea bagging. 

The trick is, they look for something to strike up a conversation. A dog in a stroller or carrying an expensive camera is usually enough, but to wear a T-shirt with Charleston emblazoned on the front will suffice as well. Be advised to dress in muted colors.

If fou (crazy) enough (you) to engage, be on the lookout for someone picking your pocket, and don’t put things in your pocket to be picked. Common France traveling advice is not always well taken. A bump, an offer too good to believe. Don’t believe it. Everyone assumes you are drunk, and rightly so.

On the outskirts of Dijon’s historical center, a real city lurks. It’s been a few years since the Dijon Riots. Keep central to the wide pedestrian streets and you should be just fine. Unless you like talking to some crazy fou, life is full of choices and chances and moreso in France’s bigger cities. All that said, Dijon seemed very safe, and if cocooning oneself from all great cities, there are dangers of seclusion, depression, lack of culture, and mold growing on your soles and soul.

This was the beginning of a protest against change (pensions), which soon blossomed into hundreds of pot and pan bangers for Macron the Musical.
Wine tourist practicing selfie awareness
You know you're a Wine Tourist when...
Dijon city
Lots of people in Dijon. Not all crazy.
Dijon locals enjoying a cheap meal.
Instruments of change. This was one time we exercised the label of Tourists! Let us through!

Wine Tasting… Yes, Please

The quaint, upscale village of Nuits-Saint-Georges was where we landed for our first official wine-tasting extravaganza, located halfway between Dijon and Beaune. Previously, when staying in Beaune, we had visited many wine estates where with our poor French, shown to the cellar to pick a bottle. At over 1k per corking, we could taste all we wanted. Otherwise, they would pour us a glass of very young tourist wine and shove us on our way. 

This was not how we had imagined wine tasting in France to be at all, having lived many years close to Napa and Lodi and here being stonewalled. But then on our next trip to Dijon, we were able to try a glass of Premier Cru at some restaurants, our accountant wishing we had never not.

Caveau Moillard Nuits-Saint-Georges

We had always wanted to taste the holy grail of grape,  le Grand Crus, but until now had never cleared the  hurdle. Our sommelier, who smelled pleaseant enough, though Toby aluded to the tar and nicotine stained fingers and teeth as a dead giveaway to the bad habit, expertly and in fair English explained and espoused the varietal appelation grades of Burgundy. Some things you just have to accept as culture. Oh yes, where were we… 
 
wine bottles burgundy
DEGUSTATIONS: Wine tasting in Caveau Moillard Nuits-Saint-Georges
Vineyard Burgundy Grand Crus
This wall indicates that the estate is enclosed, e.i. Clos, a strong indicator you are in Grand Crus country.
sign for wine
Wherever you are in Burgundy, you will find a good workout for your senses.
Burgundy Vineyard
Burgundy vineyard for Village Crus.
 

Burgundy Wine Classifications 

Each of the classifications reflect a different level of specificity and quality, with Grand Cru wines being the most prestigious and often the most expensive. The classification system in Burgundy is designed to highlight the unique characteristics of each vineyard, allowing consumers to make informed choices based on the specific terroir of the wine.

  1. Regional AOCs (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée):
    • Bourgogne: This is the most basic level and encompasses wines produced throughout the entire Burgundy region.
  1. Sub-Regional AOCs:
    • Bourgogne sub-regions: These include more specific areas within Burgundy, such as Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise or Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits.
  1. Village AOCs:
    • Named Village AOCs: Wines from a specific village, such as Gevrey-Chambertin or Puligny-Montrachet, carry the name of that village as part of the AOC. These wines are considered to have more distinct characteristics than regional wines.
  1. Premier Cru AOCs:
    • Premier Cru (1er Cru): These wines come from specific vineyards within a village that are considered to be of higher quality. The name of the vineyard is appended to the village name, such as Meursault Premier Cru Les Perrières.
  1. Grand Cru AOCs:
    • Grand Cru: This is the highest level of Burgundy classification, and wines from these vineyards are considered to be the best. The name of the Grand Cru vineyard appears on the label, for example, Romanée-Conti or Corton-Charlemagne.. It is preceded by the word, Clos. Clos has a completely different meaning here. It means the Grands Crus estate is enclosed by a stone wall. Of course, each estate has its reputation which precedes it and the year of harvest as well dictates the price. Some estates have their harvest reserved years ahead of time, at a cost only the 1% can afford. Imagine, to acquire such a taste, only to fall from grace and be forced to drink Boone’s Farm.
    •  

 

Burgundy Wine Towns

Here are some other notable towns along the Burgundy wine trail and beyond:

Pommard: While just south of Beaune, Pommard is famous for its red wines, particularly its powerful Pinot Noirs. Many wineries in the area offer tastings.

Meursault: Known for its white wines made from Chardonnay grapes, Meursault is a picturesque village with beautiful vineyards.

Puligny-Montrachet: Another Chardonnay hotspot, Puligny-Montrachet produces some of the world’s finest white wines. You can visit wineries and enjoy tastings here.

Chablis: Although technically not part of the Côte d’Or like the other towns, Chablis is famous for its Chardonnay-based wines. It’s located further north in Burgundy and is known for its crisp and mineral-driven Chardonnays.

Vézelay: While not a wine town, Vézelay is famous for its historic Abbey of Vézelay and is often included in Burgundy wine tours.

Chalon-sur-Saône: This town is situated to the south of the Côte d’Or and is known for its white wines and the nearby Mercurey and Givry appellations.

Mâcon: Located in the southernmost part of Burgundy, Mâcon is known for its Chardonnay wines. The surrounding region includes the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation, which produces highly regarded white wines.

Back to Beaune: Beaune is often considered the wine capital of Burgundy. The Hospices de Beaune hosts the famous wine auction each November. What a way to go.

 

Burgundy Cuisine and the International Cite’ of Gastronomy

While Beaune certainly has some of the finer dining establishments (none of which we could afford) and some great breakfast options (look for the line out the door), Dijon is renowned for its unique culinary traditions and gastronomic delights. In fact, there is an entire Cite’ of Gastronomy with cooking school and all. Here are some of the highlights of Dijon’s cuisine:

Mustard: Dijon is perhaps most famous for its Dijon mustard, which is a key ingredient in French cuisine. The city’s mustard is characterized by its smooth texture and sharp, tangy flavor. You can find various types of Dijon mustard, from traditional to flavored varieties, in local markets and shops.

Coq au Vin: This classic French dish, which consists of chicken cooked in red wine with mushrooms, onions, and bacon, has its roots in Burgundy, where Dijon is located. It’s a rich and flavorful dish that showcases the region’s wine and culinary traditions.

Escargot: Snails are a delicacy in French cuisine, and you’ll find them prepared in various ways in Dijon. Typically, they are cooked with garlic, parsley, and butter, creating a savory and buttery dish.

Boeuf Bourguignon: Another iconic dish from the Burgundy region, Boeuf Bourguignon is a hearty beef stew made with red wine, mushrooms, onions, and aromatic herbs. It’s a comforting and flavorful dish that reflects the region’s wine and agricultural heritage.

Kir: Kir is a popular French cocktail made with white wine (often Aligoté, a local wine) and crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). It’s a refreshing aperitif that is commonly enjoyed in Dijon and throughout Burgundy.

Epoisses Cheese: Dijon and the surrounding Burgundy region are known for their exceptional cheeses, including Epoisses. This soft, pungent cheese is made from cow’s milk and has a strong aroma and a creamy, flavorful interior. It’s often enjoyed with bread and wine.

Pain d’épi: Dijon is home to some fantastic bakeries, and one of the local specialties is Pain d’épi, a type of baguette shaped like a stalk of wheat. It has a crispy crust and a soft interior, perfect for savoring with cheese or as an accompaniment to other dishes.

In addition to these specific dishes and products, Dijon also offers a wide range of traditional French cuisine, including various seafood dishes, charcuterie, and desserts. Dining in Dijon provides an opportunity to savor the flavors of Burgundy, which are deeply rooted in the region’s agricultural and winemaking traditions.

Shop selling Spice Bread H
Shops selling Spice Bread can be found throughout Burgundy.
Cite' of Gastronomy, Dijon cooking school photo. The use of Cassis is common.
Toby and Jonathan are eating Escargot in Dijon
Toby eyeing the tired and drunk Master's escargot in Dijon

Musée Des Beaux-Arts 

Other than a few art galleries, Beune doesn’t have as much to offer to art enthusiasts as Dijon. Of course, this is one cultural category where Paris shines… our favorite being Musee d’Orsay for the Impressionists (Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne), The Louvre (the plafond), and The Center Pompidou (for the hair styling and Picassos). Regional galleries most often called Beaux des Arts have been found to be underwhelming. Only The Chagall Museum has lived up to its name. But supris! The Beaux Arts in Dijon was incroyable, and as mentioned, free! Who doesn’t like a free art gallery? The building itself is worth the visit.

What happened to my body? Is it... down by the tennis courts?
How rude. Francois Rude sculpture
Show me the Monet!
Beauty in the details of a fine oil by unknown artist

Househunters France

The only househunting we managed to do in Burgundy was with the camera on a self-guided tour of Dijon’s “hotels”, hotel meaning maison, maison meaning home, in this case historical and remarkable. The reason we didn’t search for a home here for ourselves was due to Burgundy’s location far from sailable waters. This for Toby’s master, is at the top of his checklist. As well, the outlying city is not the most desirable. Otherwise, the prices for a reasonably sized home are better here than most of France, probably due to the weather.

AirBnb couches are notoriously drab and stinky, which for Toby makes them all the better.

Where We Stayed

In Beaune, we had a nice, well-equipped apartment we found on Booking.com. It was raining and cold upon our arrival, and we had not been contacted by the owner, who later claimed he had been leaving messages on our phone. It’s a good practice to align with the owner on Whatsapp ahead of time, as we don’t use our phones in France for calling. As well, the gate was locked, and we thought SOL. But Master went and asked some waiters in nearby restaurants, who by good small town fortune knew the owner and contacted him. He opened the gate, grabbed all of our luggage and zoomed up the stairs like Mighty Mouse. Voila! A grand apartment with not much of a view, but certainly well-equipped and out of the rain, central for our exploring.

Years later, driving into Dijon, we thought we had made a huge mistake, as bustling cities are not really our thing. Should we have returned to Beune? It was bit ugly at first, but grew in charm as we neared the center. We wondered how close to the center without being smack dab in it… often a big mistake when it comes to sleeping and noise… and were pleasantly surprised by the location… right in a courtyard. Parking, as in any city, was a bit far and difficult to find, but once settled in, it was a fantastic stay. Dijon, as you hopefully have scrolled, is an amazing French city, a must see.

elena enjoys pastry
Elena enjoying her patisserie finds in our Beaune flat.

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