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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Two christmas trees ,Moonbeam (2L), Moonchester (2R) and Santa Claus outside the Etihad Stadium
footballAll the action from today's games
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
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

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas