Our last day in Paris, we started the morning with a relaxing buffet breakfast, then took a taxi to the Gare de Lyon to catch the TGV, France’s high-speed train, to Dijon. At over two hundred miles per hour, the TGV is best described as fast. And four hundred and fifty daily connections throughout Europe make traveling by bullet train certainly more attractive than flying—not to mention more interesting.
As we neared Dijon, I was in awe of the acres of vibrant yellow fields that stretched to the horizon, their beauty even more striking contrasted against a backdrop of deep green hills. Naturally, I assumed the crop was mustard seed for Dijon mustard production. However, later in our trip a local gentleman informed me the crop was rapeseed for the manufacture of canola oil. Canola (Canada oil) was bred from rapeseed at the University of Manitoba in the early 1970s. He also told me that since 1950 mustard growing in the Burgundy region has declined with every passing year. Traditionally, mustard seed was grown in Burgundy by the same people who made charcoal. When charcoal production declined, so did mustard production. Today, 95 percent of the twenty-five thousand tons of seed used every year in French mustard production comes from Canada. As I was about to part company with him, he said, “Dijon mustard was first produced for the grand dukes of Burgundy, but the name refers only to the recipe and can be made anywhere.”
An hour and forty minutes later, our train pulled into the Dijon station. We collected our rental car and drove to Beaune, where we would stay for three nights while we explored the Burgundy wine region. We checked into the Hostellerie Le Cèdre, and with no plans for the afternoon except to sightsee, we dumped our bags in the room and set out. But first, at the urging of the hotel staff, we grabbed an umbrella from the stand near the front entrance.
Our first destination was the Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, a Gothic building with colorfully glazed roof tiles in an interlocking design of red, brown, yellow, and green. The building, now a museum, was once a hospital and refuge for the poor, who were cared for by an order of nuns.
Next, we visited Collégiale Notre Dame, a church built in the twelfth century and constantly altered and embellished over the years to represent both Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Inside are rich tapestries depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. They were woven in Flanders in 1500. The front of the church is on rue d’Enfer (hell) and the back of the church on rue Paradis (heaven), if my French serves me correctly. While beautiful from the front, the church is far more intriguing architecturally from the back.
We didn’t take the train touristique, as we preferred to sightsee on foot, but a disembarking visitor said her hour ride was most enjoyable and well worth the seven euros.
As we drew near our hotel, the sky turned a dark gray, and threatening clouds gathered over Beaune. We ran for the entrance to Le Cèdre, reaching it just in time to avoid a dousing.
That night, we had dinner reservations at Le Bénaton. A bénaton is the traditional wicker basket used in nineteenth-century Burgundy to transport grapes from the fields during harvest. The photo shown is courtesy of St. Martin’s Gallery, which sells eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English, French, and Continental antiques.
Le Bénaton is housed in a former home and is a small restaurant with limited seating. Our corner table was intimate and cozy, although at the hour we had booked, early by European standards, we were the only patrons. The interior was contemporary and decorated in warm golds and burgundy, with open stonework, bois de rose wood floors, and low light for a romantic environment.
While we each sipped a glass of white wine and nibbled on olive bread, still warm from the oven, we perused the menu. We decided to order à la carte, as opposed to one of the set offerings: market, pleasures, flavors, and discovery. For starters, Dave ordered duck foie gras with smoked eel cassis. I ordered the scallops: grilled and in a truffle bouillon. For a main, I had wild turbot and butternut squash with a clementine reduction. And Dave ordered lamb with harissa, and fennel, carrots, and olives. For dessert, chocolate molten cake with a blackcurrant reduction, and gold mountain in a hot and cold caramel sauce. Spectacular!