Chapter Four: Dijon Cuts The Mustard
Day Four – Scrambling For Breakfast, The Elusive Dijon Parking Lot, Heart-Stopping Climb, The Tomb Room, Owl Be Damned, Aztec Wishes, Not So Grand Cru, Not My Cup Of Wine, Oh That Wasn’t Our Bottle, A Looney Tunes Dinner and Last Call
Up early (sorry Tracy). Although I enjoy bread, cheese, jam and calories as much as the next guy, on this morning I needed to hold back on my carb intake, and the lovely folks at Les Jardins de Loïs provided me with a hearty helping of scrambled eggs. Sadly, their croissants and jam are so good here, I ate those, too, so my non-carb diet stayed consistent. It did, however, give me the energy for the nearly one-hour leisurely drive to our appointed day trip destination…Dijon.
I set the GPS to the address of a parking lot allegedly located near the Palais des Ducs (Ducal Palace). Everything was going perfectly until we were only “0.2” kilometers from our appointed destination. Suddenly the GPS showed “2.7” kilometers. Retracing our driving route and following directions, the same thing happened…twice. About ready to scream at the GPS, but fearing I would scare Greg and Gloria (Tracy is used to my occasional rants by now), I fortunately saw the Hotel des Ducs. By product of deduction (and a little luck), I surmised a hotel with that name must be near the palace. Fortunately for me (and my marriage) I was correct, and we found a spot on the street (€4.20 for two hours…we set our watches…I mean phones).
Just around the corner was the Place de la Libération.
We found the tourist office and asked how we climb the Tour Philippe le Bon (I decided if I was going to have a heart attack, it might as well be early in the day). We were in luck; a tour guide would lead a small group up in five minutes (you must be accompanied by a guide). The climb cost €3 apiece. The tower dates from the 15th century and was the brainchild of Philippe Le Bon (Philip The Good), who served as the Duke of Burgundy from 1419 – 1467. His claim to fame was making Dijon a center of the arts and bringing prosperity to the Burgundy region (thus “good”). Our guide told us there were 316 steps and, after reviving me, our small group started up the circular staircase. Fortunately, our guide stopped periodically to relay the history of the tower and let some of the old fogies (aka me) catch their breath.
You are allotted about 15 minutes to enjoy the view…
…and then it was back down the stairs to the TI, where we picked up (for €3.50) a map for le parcours de la chouette (The Owl Trail). Dijon, like many other towns, has figured out a gimmick to let people enjoy their city. In Dijon, the owl can be seen on brass plaques on sides of certain historic buildings, and you can follow the trail by owl plaques on the sidewalk (much more fun and educational than attempting to find Pokémon).
Before our Dijon stroll, we visited the palace, which now houses the terrific Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts), one of France’s major fine arts museums. To make this even better, admission to the museum is free.
Although under renovation, what we witnessed inside was dazzling. In the Salles des Gardes are the magnificent “Tombs Of The Dukes”...Philippe le Hardi (Philip the Bold) and his son, Jean sans Peur (John the Fearless with his wife, Margaret of Bavaria).
Tracy called the room “breathtaking,” which is coincidentally what I had called our climb up Tour Philippe le Bon. To get in the spirit of local names, I dubbed myself Tom The Breathless. Leaving the tomb room, the Musée des Beaux-Arts continued to impress with rooms filled with beautiful paintings, sculptures and other pieces that span more than five centuries. It’s one of the oldest museums in France (1780s).
There could be a Monet or da Vinci in the room, but if there are dogs in the painting, they always win out.
Among the many paintings we found interesting were of Saint Margaret and Mary Magdalene…
Upstairs in the Musicians Gallery, there is a cool view of the tombs.
I don’t know why, but macabre art always fascinates me.
Finally, although it was still morning, we bid a good knight to the Musée des Beaux-Arts (if you visit Dijon, this is a must-see in my opinion).
As we walked toward the church on rue de la Chouette, there on an adjoining chapel, is where you’ll find an owl sculpture. Tradition has it that if you rub the owl with your left hand (just think of Donald Trump on a plane) and make a wish, it will come true. Although the idea is kind of a hoot, I can tell you it doesn’t work. San Diego State did not go undefeated this year. When I told Tracy this, she wished for a more thoughtful husband.
Legends abound here. Another one said that a moneylender who had come to Dijon to be married was crushed when a gargoyle fell on him. They were removed, and in the late 1800s sculptors made these “false gargoyles.”
Atop Église Notre-Dame is the Jacquemart family statue, “which stood on the top of the belfry in Courtrai (Belgium) before Philip the Bold, in punishment for a rebellion by the Flemish population, had it dismounted, crated up and brought to Dijon in 1382.” He gifted it to the city.
…and then continued on our way past hôtels particuliers (loosely translated to grand townhouses), including La maison Millière, a medieval house built in 1483, although the cat on top dates from the early 20th century…
Also on our abbreviated Owl Walk we saw La Place du Théâtre and…
All this history made our flamboyant foursome hungry, so we headed back to Place de la Libération…
…where we had a good lunch (a little mustard dressing, of course) with a view of the fountains and palace.
After lunch, we walked down the main shopping drag, Rue de la Liberté…
There is one architectural structure of the original Romanesque abbey that remains today…
Wandering the crypt, things were looking up.
Our goal now was to drive back to Beaune along the Route des Grand Crus, which is about a 60 kilometer stretch of road through the vineyards of Burgundy. After a slight GPS malfunction, we headed out of town and reached the road.
It’s not that the vineyards are not colorful and the towns charming, but I think living in California we are pretty spoiled by the beauty of our own Napa, Sonoma, Alexander, Santa Ynez and other gorgeous vineyard valley roads, so the drive was not overwhelming. That said, if you visit here, my guess is you’ll probably love this drive (especially if you haven’t walked nearly five miles in Dijon).
Another confession…My preference is for heavier wines (zins, cabs, etc), so I didn’t love the Burgundian wines (they were good, just not my favorite). If you are Pinot Noir drinkers, however, this area’s varieties might just be your vin heaven. We did make a quick stop at a tasting room in Gevrey-Chambertin (after our GPS sent us into a field…now that was fun), but we didn’t buy (of course, being the responsible adult…and designated driver…I only took a few sips).
Stopping at Chateau de Clos de Vougeot, we hoped this might be a place for a tasting. It’s a charming chateau, but unfortunately it’s not a spot to taste wines. We stepped inside for a moment and strolled through their vineyards (so I did “stop and smell the vineyards”).
Harvest had begun!
By now were fairly tired (ok, we were exhausted) after a big walking day in Dijon (I decided not to let Tracy look at the Fitbit for fear of recrimination), plus we still had that Magnum of our “house” wine to finish back at the B&B, so it was on to Beaune, where we sadly had no time for a nap (a recurrent theme on our trips).
As I walked outside with the rest of the Magnum in my hand, I saw Philippe. “That was a great price for such a large bottle,” I said.
Laughing, Philippe said, “That’s the bottle you took?” By the look on his face, I realized it was a little too good a deal. I had taken the wrong wine the afternoon before. I paid him the difference, and we finished it off before dinner. You never know what you’ll find until you stroll around the grounds.
…(our restaurant was located virtually next door to Le Bacchus, where we had dined the previous evening). Caves Madeleine prides itself on “fresh-from-the-farm meat and vegetables,” and I had read some pretty heady reviews of both its cuisine and wine. One again, the reviews did not lie. Tables are lined up against the wall, and then there was one large communal table. All seats were filled by the evening’s conclusion (all three restaurants we dined at in Beaune were packed, so even if you go in shoulder season I would recommend reserving a table).
Our waiter brought a chalkboard to our table with four choices of a plat and entree. We ended up calling this our Looney Tunes dinner, because I ordered the rabbit, while the others went for the duck (sorry Bugs and Daffy).
…and I have to admit I was hesitant about ordering lapin with a sabayon sauce. After one taste, “I yelled out, “Wow!” Tracy asked whether she could have a bite. I was firm, but kind, when I replied, “I’m sorry, but I’m not one to split hares tonight.”
The table also shared a peach cake with raspberry sorbet, because there is never enough food.
Since it was our last night together, the four of us walked back to Hôtel Le Cep for a last toast goodbye. Paco (aka Michael…I knew we had written his name down) was behind the bar, and Greg asked him to pour me an after-dinner I had never heard of before…Aperol. Michael concocted a drink of Aperol, tonic, champagne and club soda. It’s hard to describe, but it worked.
As we were about to depart, Michael wanted to introduce us to yet another potent potable. Since I had left my good liver back in the U.S., I obliged. He poured us all a shot of Soplica, a vodka from his home country of Poland. Thankfully, I would not have to get into an automobile until the following day.
Tomorrow, Greg and Gloria would head to Normandy, while Tracy and I faced our longest drive of the trip. Burgundy would soon be in our memories as we headed toward the lovely Luberon and our home base of Bonnieux. We only had one job the next morning…figure out which petrol to correctly put in the car. It sounds easy enough, but it turned out to be a little harder than we thought (don’t worry…we made it to Bonnieux by sunset).
Next – Day Five: “Diesel” Or “Diesel”, Shut Out At Obi-Wan Kenobi, Never Pick The First Restaurant You See, Chicken Or Beef, It Helps To Have The Address, Room With A View, Circuitous Dinner Route, Beautiful Bonnieux, Dining Delight and Carrying A Torch