Dijon: Grand designs in Burgundy's cool capital

As the city undergoes a major transformation, David Atkinson wanders its revitalised streets

Place Darcy has been symbolic of Dijon of late: a work in progress. But, as part of "Le Grand Dijon", the master plan to revitalise the city by its ambitious mayor, François Rebsamen, Dijon's sleek new trams are now gliding across the historic city centre.

"Dijon has really come alive with revived public spaces and new pedestrianised streets," says tour guide Sherry Thevenot of Bourgogne Authentique. "It still has the classical sites, but a new sense of vibrancy pervades."

Place Darcy is a transport hub and a suitable starting point to explore this much-overlooked French city with great aspirations. Start by heading straight under the Porte Guillaume, Dijon's Arc de Triomphe, and head east along Rue de la Liberté. This street, which is essentially the dividing line between medieval Dijon to the north and the classical city of the 17th and 18th centuries to the south, is the next to be pedestrianised.

On the right, as you walk towards the Place de la Libération, is Maille (00 33 3 8030 4102; maille.com), Dijon's celebrated mustard shop, with free tastings of its hand-pumped spicy condiment. Cross over and walk past the Galeries Lafayette to Place François Rude, home to the chocolate-heaven Pâtisserie Carbillet (00 33 3 8030 3882; chocolat-carbillet.com) on the corner of Rue des Forges.

Heading north, take Rue Odebert to loop around the covered market, Les Halles, the design for which one of Dijon's best-known sons, Gustave Eiffel, was famously shunned by local officials. Eiffel left and went to build a tower in Paris instead. Time your visit for Tuesday, Friday or Saturday to buy from local producers direct. The restaurants around the outside also ply local fare – try D'Zenvies (00 33 3 80 50 09 26; dzenvies.com) for the "I Love Dijon" set menu of ham terrine, beef bourguignon and panna cotta at €18 (£14.50).

Back along Rue des Forges, skirt the fringe of Place Notre Dame, with its impressive 13th-century church, and turn right into Rue de la Chouette, home to Dijon's lucky-charm owl. (Touch it and make a wish.) The cobbled street leads past the townhouse of Hôtel de Vogüé into Rue Jeannin. This area was formerly the antique-selling district of Dijon, but today it's better known for its tucked-away little salons de thé, such as La Rose de Vergy (rosedevergy.com), the best place to buy pain d'épices, a spiced loaf, and Le 2 bis Epicerie Gourmande (00 33 3 8067 8422; open 10am-1pm and 3-8pm Mon-Fri, 10am-8pm Sat) one of Dijon's chic new café-delis.

Turn right on to Rue Lamonnoye and head south, passing the Grand Théàtre on your right, en route to Place St Michel. The square is home to one of the three most important churches in Dijon, with its distinctive combination of a Baroque interior and a Renaissance façade. Often missed, just before the church, is the entrance to the Musée Rude (Rue Vaillant; 00 33 3 8074 5270), dedicated to the 18th-century sculptor born in Dijon; it opens, however, only between June and September.

Walk back along Rue Rameau to Dijon's historical cornerstone, the Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne. But, before visiting, it's time for a breather. Head across the road to Place de la Libération and pull up a chair at Café Gourmand (00 33 3 80 36 87 51). The area was designed as a royal square in the 17th century to reflect Dijon's sense of prestige. Only 15 years ago it was a car park, but the Grand Dijon project has revived its regal glory, and today it is filled with dancing fountains, buzzing cafés and free concerts in the vibrant heart of the city.

Now you're ready to do justice to the Palais and the adjacent Musée des Beaux-Arts (mba.dijon.fr), with its array of treasures. The building will remain open throughout the ongoing redevelopment, with the first phase, a new courtyard restaurant, to be completed by 2013. Work to split the collection into three sections, reflecting different periods of French art history, is due for 2016.

Having spanned the centuries of French art from medieval to modern, you'll probably need a sit-down. Walk through the museum to the back entrance on Rue des Forges, and head north along Rue de la Préfecture to Place de la République. Pick up the tram, buying a ticket for €1.20 (£1) from one of the trackside machines.

Hop off the tram back at Place Darcy for a stroll in the adjoining park or pop into L'Edito (brasserie-ledito.fr/dijon), the trendy printing press-themed café that has become the meeting place for in-the-know Dijonnais. As the trams glide by, it's a great vantage spot from which to observe how stately Dijon is reinventing itself as the coolest place between Paris and Lyon.

Fresh cuts

The newly opened Dijon tram (letram-dijon.fr) has transformed transport around the city. Place de la République, where the tram's twin lines converge, is blossoming as a new inner-city hub, with a slew of new cafés and restaurants opening along Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau and around the square. Try Bistrot République (16 Place de la République; 00 33 3 8060 8645; bistrot-republique.com).

Maison Millière (10 Rue de la Chouette; 00 33 3 8030 9999; maison-milliere.fr), a cosy café in the historic quarter, opens Dijon's latest chic salon de thé this autumn in a historic townhouse, Hôtel Chambellan, on Rue des Forges.

Travel essentials

Getting there

David Atkinson travelled with Railbookers (020-3327 2439; railbookers.com), which offers a twonight package in Dijon from £315 per person, including return Eurostar travel from London St Pancras via Paris, and accommodation with breakfast at the Sofitel La Cloche.

Staying there

Hotel Sofitel La Cloche, 14 Place Darcy, Dijon (00 33 3 80 30 12 32; hotel-lacloche.com). Doubles from €152 (£122), including breakfast.

Go guided

More information

Dijon Tourist Office (visitdijon.com). Burgundy Tourism (bourgognetourisme.com)

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine