Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Our destination was the Benelux countries, but a convenient halfway point was Dijon. A city I would never have thought of visiting had it not been on our route, it turned out to be destination-worthy. Roberts and I agreed that we could spend a weekend in the capital of Burgundy, with its museums, architecture and dining options.

My favorite place in Dijon - a little cafe just off the the Place de la Libération

However, we didn’t have a weekend, as I had planned the stop to be a rest from the drive north instead of a tourist destination. When I discovered the Michelin guide to the Burgundy/Jura areas had awarded it three stars my mind was quickly changed, and I started looking into which sights to see the morning after our arrival. The historic centre seemed to be a good choice as there were supposedly quite a few old stone mansions and half-timbered houses on the pedestrian-only streets. We headed towards town on rue de la Liberté and our first impression that was only reinforced throughout the morning, was that Dijon was a city under construction! Hoping to modernize the city, boost tourism, decrease traffic and increase efficiency, the city is installing a tram system, and it seemed that all the major boulevards were torn up. Luckily this didn’t extend to Place de la Libération and the old city. The magnificent square proved to be our first taste of a beautiful town center, with the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy on the north side and streets radiating out like spokes from the semi-circular plaza that dates to the 17th century.

Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy visible behind the plaza with its waterworks

To the northwest is the charming Place François-Rude with an old half-timbered house looking over a statue and fountain (the Bareuzai) that seemed to be our prelude to the Mannekin Pis we would eventually see in Brussels as the grape-stomping wine grower is wearing only verdigris… The streets that morning were filled with vendors, we purchased the obligatory mustard as well as a little bouquet of muguets to celebrate the coming of spring and for the enjoyment of their pleasant aroma in the car.

To the east of the Palace is Place du Théâtre and a little farther the 1529 St-Michel church. A Gothic interior contrasts with the Renaissance façade, and I was impressed by the detailed stonework above the three doorways.

To the north of the Palace are dozens of little streets with centuries-old homes that I could have explored for many hours, but we circled to the Église Notre-Dame, a 13th century construction that still has its original façade (although it is currently being restored in portions) and the Jacquemart clock brought from Courtrai by Philip the Bold in 1382 after his victory over the Flemish. On one of the buttresses there is a statue of an owl, and legend has it that the bird will grant the wishes of visitors who stroke it with their left hand. Just next to the church is the Hôtel de Vogüé which dates back to the early 17th century with a gorgeous tiled roof.

Finally, to the south is the Palais de Justice, formerly the Burgundy Parliament. We took a different route back to the hotel in order to pass by Cathédrale St-Bénigne and St-Philibert, two more beautiful churches.

A lovely stone house behind Notre Dame
When I was later reading more about Dijon I discovered that the Order of the Golden Fleece was based in the chapel of the ducal palace in Dijon. In 1404 Philip the Bold had created the Order of the Golden Tree. Philip the Good was married to Isabella of Portugal in Bruges in 1429, and for the first time wore the insignia of the Golden Fleece: a chain with a sheepskin hanging from it. He created the order to strengthen ties of Burgundy to the Church as well as to strengthen the duchy’s position. The Order still carries great prestige and implies a commitment to a disciplined life, and the official insignia must be returned by the heirs upon a knight’s death (so it can not be inherited). Did you know Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France, was inducted into the order in 2011?

Half-timbered houses
Another little tidbit, about the Jacquemart clock I mentioned; the name describes the figure of the man who strikes the bell of the clock with a hammer. The people of Dijon decided in 1610 that he must be lonely and added the woman, and in 1714 a son was born. Jacquelinet’s hammer strikes the little bell for the half-hours. And of course they need a daughter also, so in 1881 Jacquelinette was added; she strikes the quarter-hours.

This one is for you, mom!
We really enjoyed our time in Dijon, and possibly might return for another look at this city rich with history and lore. However this particular Saturday it was off to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg


  1. How beautiful! And thanks for the facts about the Golden Fleece. Another place added to the must visit list :)

  2. We did this region last summer and LOVED it. Great pictures.


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