When presented with good food and wine, the French are apt to break out into song.
Ban Bourguignon may sound like a robust chicken casserole flavoured with red wine but in fact it’s an anthem, a catchy ode that celebrates the French lifestyle. The words go ‘La – La la – La la la lère – La la – La la – La la la la la’. It’s a tuneful round of applause sung in honour of a superb dish or a sumptuous glass of vin, with hands raised above the head – twisting, turning and clapping in time to the rhythm.It’s said the song was born in a bar in Dijon in 1905, the capital of Burgundy, a part of France that has a reputation for the very best in French cuisine and wine.
Dijon – the new French capital of gastronomy
Well, the proof is in the pudding – and you’ll find it at the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie et du Vin in Dijon.
It’s a bit of a mouthful, and it may sound rather a dry title but I promise you this landmark destination which opened in May 2022, is anything but.
UNESCO added the “Gastronomic meal of the French” to their Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2010. The accolade recognises a thousand-year-old tradition of preparing good food that includes making everyday meals a celebration. The French Government decided to create a venue to showcase and promote French gastronomy and wine, and Dijon was chosen. It has form. UNESCO-listed vineyards, boeuf bourgignon, gougères – and in Dijon library there’s even a specialist collection of food books and menus, more than 30,000 of them.
Homage to wine and gastronomy
The Cité de la Gastronomie et du Vin is on the site of an abandoned hospital built in 1204 along the old Roman road. It has been a landmark for visitors for centuries and now is a landmark for gastronomy. The ancient buildings have been restored and rejuvenated and additional architecturally fabulous buildings created for this foodie city within a city. You’ll find a monumental exhibition space dedicated to food and wine of France and around the world. There are inventive and interactive displays, films, whimsical patisserie showcases, cakes that look like they were made for the land of the giants, team games involving virtual cooking sessions, rooms set out like dining rooms and kitchens and a former chapel dedicated to the UNESCO-listed “Climats” the winegrowing vineyards of Burgundy. Theatrical, flamboyant and fascinating.
Did you know that at 12.30 each day – around 50% of the entire French population will be sitting at a table to eat lunch?! You’ll certainly learn that the French are a nation of epicureans who know how to make a meal of it when it comes to cooking. And you’ll discover just why French gastronomy truly deserves its UNESCO listing.
And that’s not all you’ll find – not by a long way. In this grand homage to the culture of food – there’s more…
Themed stores that showcase the best of France including cheese, mustard, charcuterie, seafood, chocolate, bread, cakes and more can be found in this brand new gastro-village. Many of the shops have cooking stations. You choose your food inside, they’ll cook it for you there and then. And you can sit and enjoy it in a superb setting.
There are pop-up bistros, the Experiential Kitchen holds masterclasses with guest chefs, cooking lessons, tasting sessions, cocktail workshops, ‘battle of the chef’ sessions and a fabulous rooftop terrace where barbecue classes are held.
There are also pop up “Degustations” – tasting stalls. When I was there Thierry Marx’s team (yes THE Thierry Marx, the two Michelin Starred chef who is one of the most celebrated chefs in France) were there giving away samples of his divine breads and cakes.
A wine library that’s unforgettable
And when it comes to wine, the Cave de la Cité is in a league of its own. Three floors form a sort of ‘wine library’, 3000 bottles of wine, 250 of them sold by the glass. They range from a few Euros to a lot more when you descend to the Cave des Grand Crus. Here they have some of the most expensive wines in the world – up to a whopping 3000 Euros a bottle. These are the sort of wines most of us will never be able to sip (unless we’re on Government expenses). For instance, I spotted a 2017 Musigny, a Burgundian red that will set you back up to 2000 euros a bottle. But here you can have a taste for a mere 65 Euros for a (small) glass.
There’s also the Ferrandi Paris School of Culinary Arts, the Harvard of Gastronomy, where they teach lessons in English. There are fabulous tableware shops. And there’s a Centre of Heritage and Architecture called 1204 which covers the history of Dijon over the centuries.
A truly scrumptious tribute to glorious gallic gastronomy.
More on Dijon
How to get there: Trains from Paris to Dijon take 1 hour 34 minutes.
Where to eat: In a city in which gastronomy is revered, it’s hard to know where to go for a great meal, unless you have friends who are prepared to share their tips. I do – and now you do, because I’m happy to tell you my favourite restaurant in Dijon. L’Essentiel is superb. Chef Richard Bernigaud creates seasonal dishes that are on another level on the tastebud scale. The portions are generous, the staff are friendly, the food is superb. I had melon gazpacho as a starter that I won’t forget in a hurry – zesty and zingy. The menu is created for the season and guaranteed to appeal to your inner glutton.
L’Essentiel, 12 Rue Audra, 21000 Dijon
Where to stay: Vertigo Hotel and Spa, a super designer style hotel in the heart of Dijon from where it’s a short walk to the Cité de la Gastronomie et du Vin via the gorgeous public park.