Take an important heritage site in the Dijon city center. Team up with some of the biggest players in the business: Eric Pras, Burgundy’s only Michelin three-star chef, to oversee the restaurants; the Epicure Group to create a 3,000-bottle winetasting cellar; top professional school Ferrandi Paris, to inaugurate a culinary school campus. What do you get? A sprawling, one-stop epicurean venue to excite even the most critical gourmands.
Slated to open on May 6, the Cité internationale de la gastronomie et du vin, or international center for gastronomy and wine, has been a decade in the making at a cost of 250 million euros (US$274 million). A building that was the city’s general hospital from 1204 to 2015 (when it was vacated for modern facilities) has morphed into a 16-acre complex that’s transformative for Dijon, both as a landmark destination for tourism and also in the creation of a new eco-neighborhood, with residential units, including social housing, surrounded by a park.
“Here we are at kilometer 0 for the Burgundy wine route, which is classified by UNESCO,” said Mayor François Rebsamen last winter during an exclusive preview of the site. “Our ambition with this project is to celebrate Dijon as a city of gastronomy, a city of wine, and also tell the story of the French gastronomic meal, [added] in 2010 to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.”
The entrance to the complex is a striking new contemporary building called the “Canon de lumière” (cannon of light). This elevated edifice of metal and glass will serve as the Cité’s architectural emblem, housing the Ecole Ferrandi, where intensive culinary courses will be taught in English. (There are both four-month professional programs and two-week discovery courses.) “Ferrandi is often described as the Harvard of gastronomy and hôtellerie,” said the school’s director Richard Ginoux at a Paris press conference on March 9, “and we share the same ambitions and values with the Cité internationale, positioned through excellence and with a desire to promote gastronomic heritage and savoir-faire internationally.”
Inside the Cité, visitors will be able to sip the wines that made Burgundy famous; the Cave de la Cité, a soaring three-level space, will offer 250 different wines by the glass. Pair your winetasting with nibbles like charcuterie, cheese, and gourmet tapas—the menu was designed by chef Eric Pras of Maison Lameloise, a Burgundy institution that’s been recognized by Michelin since the publication of its very first guidebook in 1900. Keen to learn more about the terroir of Burgundy and the climats system recognized by UNESCO? Sign up for a winetasting workshop, between 40 minutes and one hour depending on the theme, with the L’Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne.
A series of pavilions, including the beautifully renovated Grand Chapel, will house museum exhibitions dedicated to the food universe. Permanent shows on wine culture and the French gastronomic meal, explaining its inclusion on the UNESCO intangible heritage list, will be complemented by a show kitchen and rotating temporary exhibits. First up? An in-depth look at the world of pâtisserie, explaining the history, craft, and importance of pastry in France.
Then there’s Le Village Gastronomique, a marketplace with tastings, boutiques, and workshops with local artisans. The Librairie Gourmande, the celebrated Paris culinary bookstore, will open its first outpost inside. Bien sûr, a mustard bar will be on tap; visitors will be able to choose from a variety of gourmet condiments and fill up their own jars at Le Manège à Moutardes. “All the food professions will be concentrated here,” explained Jérémie Penquer, the project manager for the Cité. “The idea is that both tourists and Dijonnais will come here for a real experience.”
There will also be a nine-screen movie theater, a startup incubator, and a four-star hotel, Sainte-Anne Dijon, scheduled to open in 2023 under the auspices of Curio By Hilton. “We anticipate 1 million visitors a year,” said Mayor Rebsamen. “The project is a major boost for Dijon.”
A cultural renaissance
Above all, the Cité reflects Dijon’s mission of valorizing cultural patrimony. The restoration itself was the region’s biggest construction project in 12 years, employing 600 full-time workers to bring new life to a quarter that had been desolated by the hospital’s closure. Four archeological digs took place, one involving a cemetery with victims of the plague. (Important finds will be displayed inside “1204,” a multimedia exhibition space at the heart of the Cité that will tell Dijon’s history.) The project preserved centuries-old trees and remarkable historical treasures. Take, for example, the Chapelle Sainte-Croix de Jerusalem, a bijou-like church that dates from 1459. “The roof was removed tile by tile so that each one could be meticulously restored,” said François Deseille, the adjunct major overseeing the Cité. In the space that will house Eric Pras’s gastronomic restaurant, the workers unearthed enormous timber beams and stone vaults, beautiful historical details now proudly displayed.
This focus on heritage is one of Dijon’s distinctions. With 240 acres of the city center protected by historical monument status, Dijon is home to one of the largest such preserved sectors in France. The historical capital of the Dukes of Burgundy shows off its architecture to masterful effect: the city center is pedestrianized, its cobblestone streets lined by Renaissance mansions and medieval half-timbered houses. Discover a multitude of bell towers and a menagerie of gargoyles on the “Owl’s Trail,” a popular walking circuit developed by the tourist office with 22 stops. (The owl sculpture, carved into the corner of Notre-Dame church on Rue de la Chouette, has been worn thin by the many hands touching it for good luck over the years.)
Climb the 316 steps to the top of the Tour Philippe le Bon, built in the 15th century; there you can take in panoramas over the Dijon rooftops—all the way to Mont Blanc on a clear day. The stone staircase is embellished with sculptures of grapes, a testament to the renown of Dijon’s winemaking in the Middle Ages. Up until 1850, grapevines grew all over Dijon; in recent years, the mayor is on a quest to bring winemaking back into the urban fabric by planting grapevines—the goal is to obtain a distinct A.O.C. for Dijon wines.
In 2019, the Fine Arts Museum, one of France’s oldest museums (1798), unveiled the results of a 10-year renovation. Housed inside the majestic Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, the museum is free to access. “The renovation ‘desacrilized’ the institution to make it more welcoming and open to the city,” explained curator Sandrine Balan. “We have incredible masterpieces here [including the gilded Champmol altarpiece, the sculpted tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy, François Pompon’s white bear]. The idea of the renovation was to give visitors a real proximity to the works, all of which were also restored during the project.”
A Burgundy culinary odyssey
The new Cité would be reason enough for food lovers to book a trip to Dijon. But this pleasant second city, just 90 minutes from Paris by high-speed train, is a bastion of rich culinary tradition. Alongside its four Michelin-starred restaurants, including Cibo where all the produce is sourced from within 125 miles, Dijon has convivial bistros and tables d’hôte celebrating classic Burgundy cuisine cooked in a contemporary way. At Le Chat qui Pense, chef Isabelle Sonnet opened the doors to her home—complete with an old stone staircase, fireplace, and garden—to offer a three-course lunch based on the seasonal ingredients she finds at the market. For example, the dish called “Autour du champignon” honors the mushroom in a melange of textures and forest flavors: a veal terrine sits atop sautéed pleurotes and mushroom mousse.
The city’s love of food is on display at Les Halles, the lively covered market. “Gustave Eiffel, who was from Dijon, actually proposed a bid for the project in the 19th century, but it was rejected because of the cost,” explained local guide Alexia Papin. Eiffel, a Dijon native, was snubbed, but the architect who clinched the contract was inspired by some of Eiffel’s ideas. Today local purveyors like Le Gourmet Dijon show off their wares under the soaring metal roof. In May, Les Halles hosts a giant brunch party with a table running the length of the building.
At the wine shop La Source des Vins, owner Hadika Simon offers tastings and workshops with winemakers. “I play an educational role to show that Burgundy is not just for connoisseurs or the rich,” she said. Simon also champions another iconic Burgundy product: crème de cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur used in kir. Her pick? The artisanal bottles from the family-owned domaine Jean-Baptiste Joannet.
Dijon’s gourmet specialities are part of the city’s heritage. Legend has it that Margaret of Flanders carried gingerbread to Dijon when she married Philip the Bold in the 14th century, and pain d’épices has been a staple ever since. Recognized as a “living heritage enterprise,” Mulot & Petitjean has been baking it according to the traditional recipe for more than 225 years. And the namesake mustard? Even though the Dijon mustard name was never copyrighted—and can thus be made all over the world—the real deal made with 100 percent Burgundy ingredients is available at La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot, also named a “living heritage enterprise.”
Like these maisons advocating ancestral culinary techniques, the Cité complex aims to celebrate French gastronomic heritage. “We want to make this historic site come to life!” said Mayor Rebsamen.
Where to stay in Dijon
Hotel options in Dijon include the historical Grand Hotel La Cloche, a five-star landmark operated under the MGallery brand; the Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge, a 28-room four-star hotel with a Michelin two-star restaurant; and the Maison Philippe le Bon, which occupies three centuries-old residences, including a former convent.
Book now: Grand Hotel La Cloche
Book now: Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge
Book now: Maison Philippe le Bon
>> Next: Among the Vines: A Wine Lover’s Tour of Burgundy
Mary Winston Nicklin