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  • Aine Dougherty

My Solo Weekend in Dijon



In October, I had a week off for the university's (much-needed) fall break. One thing about me – I hadn't been on a solo trip since October 2019, during my first vacation as an English teaching assistant in France. Three years ago!

I love to travel, and I love to share new experiences with the people I care about, like my family, my friends or my boyfriend, but this time around, I felt like venturing out on my own. There's something really refreshing about a solo trip, and I was in need of that freedom. Solitude, not loneliness, where I could get in touch with myself and my emotions, enjoy the silence, wander the city and make all of my own decisions – what restaurant to eat at, which side street to explore, which sights to visit, how late to sleep in... It's exhilarating, really.


Maybe I would even meet some people and have some good conversations with strangers! This has never been my strong suit (the words "party hostel" put me in a cold sweat), but in the spirit of a solo weekend, I wanted to push myself. More on that later...


How did I decide where to go? I had a few criteria. I wanted somewhere that wasn't too far, too expensive or too big. I knew Dijon was a little over an hour or so by train, and I'd been wanting to visit the mustard capital ever since I moved to Mulhouse three years ago (even though I don't even like mustard). The town stood out to me because M.F.K. Fisher, one of my favorite writers and subject of my Master's thesis, had lived there and written about her experience. So, I booked my ticket (50 euros round-trip) and a night in a beautiful apartment (I splurged for 100 euros), and headed off for the weekend.


Dijon is the capital of the Burgundy region of France, well-known for mustard, wine, the Dukes of Burgundy, crème de cassis, owls and tiled roofs. It is bigger than Mulhouse, and slightly more populated. It certainly felt that way when I visited, with the streets crawling with people! I decided to create a loose plan, noting down a few sights to see, but with the main goal of simply wandering the streets and letting my curiosity lead me around. It worked out very well.


Read on for my two-day itinerary!

 

Saturday


7:57 a.m.: I decided to take an earlier train from Mulhouse so that I could get to Dijon and have the whole day ahead of me. The journey was quick and painless, and the weather was perfect.


9:15 a.m.: When I arrived at the station in Dijon, I headed straight outside and immediately spotted a sign leading me towards the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie, which was one of the only musts that I had on my Dijon bucket list. It was fate! The path took me through the Jardin botanique de l'Arquebuse, an absolutely beautiful botanic garden with more than 4,000 plant species set in a larger, tranquil park. Something about the flowers and greenery in the October morning light had me sobbing underneath a tree. It was a moving start to the day.


9:45 a.m.: Eventually, I made it to the Cité de la Gastronomie, where I wandered wide-eyed through the open-air maze of experimental restaurants, wine caves and shops selling local Burgundian specialities and products. Then, I walked into my original destination, the Librairie gourmade. A bookstore featuring all things culinary? Right up my alley. I spent a good while browsing the hundreds of cookbooks and other tomes and ended up buying two food-themed novels and a book to keep track of my wine tasting notes. I left with a heavier backpack, a lighter wallet and a happier heart.



10:30 a.m.: My first impression as I strolled through the streets towards the town center was wonder – I couldn't stop snapping shots of the original and adorable storefronts (a hybrid tea and wine shop, a wine/burger restaurant...), as well as the majestic and colorful doors that lined the stone sidewalks. I then arrived at Morning Glory Coffeehouse for some breakfast. Despite the slow service, which usually doesn't bother me but would end up being a bit of a theme during the weekend, the spot's Australian-inspired ambiance and food (soft, creamy scrambled eggs with bacon) was good.


11:30 a.m.: My next stop (again gastronomic in nature) was at Les Halles, the enormous and beautiful covered market, set in a bustling and lively area of the centre ville. I took a look around at all of the vendors indoors, including an extremely aesthetically pleasing buvette (refreshment stand) which served glasses of wine, oysters and more at crowded high-top tables. Then, I ended up grabbing some empanadas to-go from the nearby Boludo.


12:00 p.m.: My expedition continued with a few minutes spent soaking up the sun and people-watching on a bench in the Place de la Liberté, with a great view of the Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne. I continued along the trail to the Chouette de Dijon (The Magic Dijon Owl!), an over 300-year old gold statue nestled in the wall of the Notre Dame de Dijon. The legend goes, if you touch it – with your left hand! – good luck will come your way, and your wish will come true. Let's hope so.



12:30 p.m.: I couldn't come to Dijon without doing something mustard-related, despite my not-so-adoring opinion about the condiment. I stopped in La Moutarderie Fallot by the Notre Dame and browsed for a bit before choosing several very interesting artisanal flavors – cassis, yuzu and gingerbread, for example... As I stepped outside, I stumbled upon a beautiful floral photography exhibit in the Hôtel de Vogüé, a private mansion dating from the 17th century, with a typical tiled roof.


1:00 p.m.: Back aching from carrying my heavy weekend bag, I decided to find a sunlit bench across from the fountain in the Jardin de Darcy, sit down, eat my empanadas and read my new novel (a murder mystery set in the Mère Brazier's restaurant!). Next was bubble tea from a spot called LICHI and more bench resting in the gardens behind the Palace.



4:30 p.m.: Finally – finally! – it was time to check into my booking for the night, called L'atelier de la Tour, in the center of town, near the Owl. The apartment was really spacious, on two floors, and felt very luxurious for just little old me. I set my stuff down, pondered whether I was 25 or 70 years old, and lay down for a while to relieve my back and charge my phone. I am a huge proponent of phone time on vacation.


6:30 p.m.: Eventually, I got up, got ready and took in the beautiful sunset on my walk to the evening's first destination, a tiny and hip wine bar called La cave qui se rébiffe. I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of juicy, vibrant red wine, a vin de France made up of 100% Grenache grapes from the south. As I mentioned previously, I'm usually not one to strike up a conversation and am perfectly fine sitting quietly and observing the world around me when dining or drinking alone. But this time, I ended up chatting with an Italian couple, a Dijonnais, and the co-owner of the wine bar, who was actually going to be the DJ at the upcoming Les Brutes natural wine salon in Mulhouse! Quelle coïncidence ! I was very proud of myself and happy to have broken out of my shell a little bit.



7:30 p.m.: I had scoped out a restaurant to try earlier in the day – Bouillon Notre Dame, right across from the impressive cathedral. The Bouillon chain has a few other restaurants, in Paris in particular, and I had been to Bouillon Pigalle a year earlier and loved it. It's known for being very aesthetic, super cheap, generous and with good (if simple) French dishes on the menu. I had a glass of sparkling crémant de Bourgogne, leeks with vinaigrette, a glass of red wine, beef bourguignon and rice pudding, all for less than 30 euros. The only problem was that it was BOILING inside, and I think the staff saw me struggling and red-cheeked, and offered to serve me my dessert on the outdoor terrasse. Thank god. Then, a digestive stroll through the brightly lit and colorful nighttime streets, and bedtime! All in all, a lovely and delicious end to a long and exciting first day in Dijon.




Sunday


10:30 a.m.: I woke up to another beautiful morning, packed up and headed to breakfast. I opted for a slice of extraordinary carrot cake and a flat white from Caffe Guffo, which I enjoyed despite the (again) abnormally long service, even by French standards.


12:00 p.m.: While continuing to meander through the streets, I came across a wine shop called La Source des Vins that offered tastings of Burgundy wine, so I sat myself down on a barstool outside in the cool October air. Hey, it was 5 o'clock somewhere. I tasted very heavy pours of three different wines – two whites and a red – plus a crème de cassis for 15 euros. It was a really lovely experience, and the shopkeeper was a delight.


2:00 p.m.: Lunchtime was a bit discouraging because the spot I wanted was closed, the second had no more room, etc. I know 2:00 is pushing it for the French schedule, but I eventually scored a seat at a crêperie in the Place François Rude called Mon Ami Suzette. Again, looking beyond the glacial pace, the meal was good. My kir royal (a local white Aligoté with crème de cassis) was followed by a stunning galette with chicken in a creamy mustard sauce and sautéed potatoes.



3:30 p.m.: I decided to spend my last few hours in Dijon at the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne, and this turned out to be a great decision, not least because the entry was free. The building and grounds were stunning (set in a monastery dating back to the 17th century). Although the first floor filled with traditional ethnographic artifacts – spoons, hats, you get the idea – was a bit boring, the second floor blew me away. It was set up to replicate a typical merchant street from the 19th and early 20th centuries, complete with a grocery store, a pharmacist, a cookie shop, a hairdresser (whose tools looked more like instruments of torture than beauty!) and more. The attention to detail was awesome, and it was so cool to explore. There were vintage mustard pots, centuries-old liqueur posters and more. It was a designer's dream. I then read my book in the monastery courtyard for a bit before heading to the train station and saying a bittersweet goodbye to Dijon.



 

Overall, my solo weekend in a new city was a roaring success. Despite a few moments where I felt uncomfortable, lonely or discouraged, it was so refreshing to hang out with myself for 36 hours.


Between the beautiful weather, the picturesque sights around every corner, the tasty food and wine, and the interesting history, Dijon definitely captured my heart.


I can see why it captured M.F.K. Fisher's, too!


Have you ever been to Dijon? Would you like to go?

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