Dijon France is a Great City to enjoy the Freedom of the Segway
By Sony Stark
There’s no better way to visit the essential landmarks of Dijon, France than aboard the safe, solid and sexy Segway.
Yes, sexy! Where there are scooters in Paris and ferry service in the French Riviera, there are Segways in Dijon.
Just 186 miles southeast of Paris or 90 minutes via the super-accelerated railway system, Rail Europe, sits a wine town in the heart of the Burgundy region. Originally called Divio, Dijon is better known today for its famous yellow spread and expensive reds rather than the powerful Dukes who used to govern here.
With so much to see and do in “The Mustard Capital of the World” and with limited time to explore on foot, I happily board my visionary two-wheel personal roadster.
A Tour on Wheels
Since 2001, when the Segway was first introduced, it’s had its share of negative press. Between software recalls and people finding it ‘strange looking’, its reputation could use a makeover.
I catch my George Jetson-like reflection in the store window and smile. A nearby group of teens laugh and point.
“Hey, what do they know?” I say to myself. This is going to be a blast!
My virgin ride is a bit bumpy at first. There’s no doubt you need some degree of coordination and balance to ride one. But after a few minutes, I feel like a superstar. The Segway is exciting, appealing and glamorous, or, in a word –- sexy.
Currently, Dijon is undergoing rough stretches of reconstruction to make way for sidewalks built of Burgundy stone. Still, most of the present sidewalks are wide enough to accommodate pedestrians and machine. Thick tires and a cautious guide prove this method of transport to be the right one.
Circling Religious Masterpieces
Dijon predates the discovery of the gastronomic condiment by many centuries so our first stop includes several notable architectural masterpieces.
Circling the 13th-century Notre-Dame church, we admire rows of false gargoyles, tall spires, and countless fleur-de-lis symbols.
A small bas relief in the shape of an owl nest on the north side of the building. The owl is Dijon’s most prominent symbol of charm and good fortune. You’ll see owl markers cemented to the sidewalks to help you navigate past special sites.
With the extra height, I’m able to pet the sculptures’ tummy and make a wish without stretching. The tradition is said to make dreams come true provided you rub with your left hand.
The carving was damaged by vandalism 10 years ago and its popularity has rubbed it down to a clean polish. Still, it’s fun to play the part of a hopeful visitor.
Riding into History
We dart under the overhangs of half-timbered wooden houses dating back to the 12th to 15th centuries, a time when infamous Dukes like Philip the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, reigned. The kingdom of Burgundy has these four leaders to thank for the rich architecture of Dijon.
In the middle ages, horizontal framing provided the fastest and most structural sound method of connecting walls with beams. The aesthetics of a rough-hewn building creates a warm and romantic mystique into the past.
There are 40 timbered homes in Dijon with some of them preserving their first floors as storefronts. It makes for an interesting dichotomy seeing modern furniture and artwork resting alongside the earliest dwellings in town.
Built in 1483, the Maison Milliere on 10 Rue de la Chouette (Owl Street) sits directly behind the Notre-Dame. With its original wooden shutters and straw and sawdust pugging (soundproofing), it’s the oldest timber house in Dijon.
FYI: If you rent the 1990 film “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Gerard Depardieu, you’ll catch several frames of this relic.
A Place of Peace
Onward we roll, into a quiet public park and peaceful garden called Jardin Darcy. Designed in 1880 by Engineer Henri Darcy, the fountain helped supply the city with fresh drinking water.
This is where my booster helps tackle hills and climb terraced landscapes. I rocket past crystal clear pools and Neo-Renaissance statues. I’m really getting the hang of this and then, suddenly, one of my legs slips off while jumping a curb. I steady myself and grip the handlebars.
No harm is done but the human blooper is a good reminder that the Segway is a machine and not an extension of your body. It’s extremely intuitive and reacts with your slightest movements.
Dijon’s Crowning Glory
Onward we pace, parking our motors briefly to enjoy the lavish buildings surrounding Place de la Liberation (Liberation Square): the Musée des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts) museum, La Chappelle des Elus (Chapel of the Elected Representatives), the Palais des Ducs, Dukes Palace and La Tour Philippe le Bon (Philip the Good’s Tower).
Designed in 1685, Liberation Square is a royal semicircle plaza and considered one of the most beautiful in France. Locals gather for drinks and dinners under broad white umbrellas while children screech with delight in the cold, dancing fountain waters.
Available in increments of 24, 48 or 72 hours, the Dijon Pass will save you money on meals from a wide range of venues.
Every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dijon comes alive with the smells of beef bourguignon, escargot, a black currant aperitif called crème de cassis and pains d’épice, a type of gingerbread cake.
These are popular gourmet specialties found at Les Halles Market, a large steel structure built by Gustave Eiffel, the same engineer who built the Eiffel tower in Paris.
The French Burgundy region is obsessed with fresh quality fruits, vegetables, bread and cheeses, and this crowded gastronomic smorgasbord is the best in the Burgundy region. And the bonus is my Segway has a built-in grocery basket for loading up on jars of honey and bottles of vino.
Every Refrigerator Has Mustard
Finally, we arrive at Boutique Maille, originally the home of Grey-Poupon, a busy corner shop stocked with antique ceramic jars of mustard samples in the display window.
The other Maille Boutique is in Paris and it was videotaped for an episode of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Host Andrew Zimmern.
Dijon’s Maille Mustard Shop
But it’s 32 rue de la Liberté where the genuine Dijon mustard with white Chardonnay wine made its debut in 1845. It proved to be smoother, creamer and tastier and trumped Maille’s mustard made with vinegar.
The recipe has changed since it was sold to Kraft Foods but the original is still sold in this shop. Like beer, it’s pumped through a hand tap into small ceramic jars, just like they did in 1845.
Visitors from all over the world pack the tiny shop to pick from 50 varieties including best selling favorites black currant, gingerbread, chardonnay, blue cheese, walnut, and mango. Every year the shop develops eight new flavors so the selection is constantly changing.
Even though the mustard seed has been around since civilization began, it took the potassium-rich soil and climate of the Burgundy region to perfect the yellow flowering plant.
The end of our tour includes a succession of well-aligned neo-classic parliament buildings, spacious courtyards, private mansions, and gothic abbeys.
There is so much splendor and elegance in Dijon that I encourage the guide to extend the tour. Rather he promises that both Dijon and the Segway aren’t going anywhere and will be waiting when I return for a longer visit.
It’s time now to indulge in some fine haute cuisine at a 13th-century crypt-turned-restaurant, the La Dame d’Aquitaine.
Fabulous Eats & Hotel Recommendations
La Dame d’Aquitaine
23, place Bossuet
+33 (0)3 80 30 45 65
After an informal lunch try their eggcup-sized crème brûlée for dessert.
9, place de la Liberation
+33 (0)3 80 30 25 30
La Rose de Vergy
Sample the homemade biscuits, gingerbread, and candies.
1 rue de la Chouette
+33 (0)3 80 61 42 22
L’Autre Entrée des Oenophiles
Trendy wine bar and brasserie ~ request to sit in the room with the fireplace near the courtyard.
19 rue Berbisey
+33 (0)3 80 30 53 55
Bistrot des Halles
Dine outside and try the duck confit with a bottle of 2008 Bourgogne Blanc.
10 rue Bannelier
+33 (0)3 80 49 94 15
Best Western Chapeau Rouge & 1 star Michelin Restaurant
Four stars with modern bathrooms and helpful staff. Request to stay on the 2nd floor overlooking the top of Saint-Bénigne de Dijon Church.
The restaurant is 5 rue Michelet, +33 (0)3 80 50 88 88
Dijon Tourist office
Segway rides are available April through August but only on weekends and holidays at 3p and 4:30p and limited to 7 persons at a time. Prior reservations are required.
More Helpful Links
France Tourism Development Agency, ATOUT FRANCE – www.franceguide.com
Dijon Tourist Office- www.visitdijon.com
Air France – www.airfrance.us
Rail Europe – www.raileurope.co