Dijon, Beaune, Lyon & Provence

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Jun 19th, 2018, 05:09 PM
  #1
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Join Date: May 2004
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Dijon, Beaune, Lyon & Provence

After a week in Paris (a separate trip report) my husband and I went to Dijon to meet a friend who would do some sightseeing with us before taking us to her country house about an hour east. On a Sunday, we took the 8am train from Gare de Lyon in Paris and arrived at about 9:30a. We had to park our luggage somewhere for several hours. While the station doesn’t have a luggage storage service on site, they have contracted with a local hotel that is a five-minute walk (too short for a cab ride and maybe a long walk if you have lots of luggage). You pay for the service at the airport– maybe 2 Euros a bag – and they provide you with a receipt that you take to the hotel. There, they put it in a locked, small closet and give you a ticket. It went smoothly.

At the hotel, I asked for directions to the tourist office and, like everyone in France that I’ve asked directions of, they reply “tout droit!” -- “straight ahead,” “you can’t miss it” “just 100 meters.” Ha! When anyone says that to you, it means they can’t be bothered with giving you real directions. I’d say it was about a 15 minute walk in one direction, but given that there are no straight streets in Renaissance era cities and lots of forks in the road, it certainly wasn’t straight ahead. The Tourist Office is excellent though and they are helpful (in a French sort of way). There, you can pick up the “owl’s trail” guide– a directory of four self-guided walking tours, where numbered brass plates in the road (showing an Owl’s image) lead you through Dijon’s history. It’s a great way to see the town in a short time. You can also get an app to “follow the owl” on your smartphone. www.destinationdijon.com

After sightseeing, we had lunch at Le Pop Art, one of the many restaurants that line the Place de la Liberation. On a previous trip there, I had eaten at Café Gourmand, on the other side of the large Plaza and I remember that it was much better. We then visited the Musee des Beaux Arts, located in the east wing of the former Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy.

Fast forward to two days later, we picked up a Hertz rental car at the TGV station in Besancon. I had reserved a mid-size car that was supposed to be a Peugot 308 (or similar), which is actually a compact-size car. I also knew that the car would have a manual transmission. I had no luck finding an automatic car with any company I checked into. Unfortunately, what we were given, take it or leave it, was a Jeep. My advice, if you plan to drive in Provence is to get the smallest car you feel comfortable in. The roads are narrow and you’ll be driving into hillside towns. And given the amount of traffic circles requiring you to slow down, yield and dodge, do what you can to get an automatic. Parallel parking on hills with a stick shift is no fun.

I lurched out of the parking lot (it had been at least two decades since I drove a stick shift) and we wanted to drive through Bescancon before making our way south to Beaune, our first stop. We got to the perimeter of the town, but to see the fortress at the top required some skillful maneuvering on a narrow, steep road up the hill and I was just too intimidated during my first hour with this car. So we reset our Google Maps to Beaune and headed out of town.

Beaune

After stopping for a very brief visit in the small town of Dole, on the recommendation of a friend, we continued to Beaune. There really was nothing to do/see in Dole. A 45 minute drive took us to Beaune, where we stayed at the lovely Hotel de Clos, room 18, which we loved. Located 10 minutes south of the town of Beaune, it is a beautifully renovated farm house in an area that is mostly residential, though I noticed another small hotel or B&B type property nearby.

I had reserved a spot on a 4pm tour of the Fallot Mustard factory (12E pp), which we found interesting, but our eyes were burning from the mustard fumes. I don’t know how the employees work there. After the tour, there was a tasting and they gave us gifts of a sampler of 4 mini jars of mustard. Needless to say, everyone shops the store and leaves with a bag full of colorful mustards. It was enjoyable and despite burning eyes, I recommend it. Later that evening, we had a delicious dinner at Le Berger du Temps, a small (10-12 tables), family-run restaurant that was two doors away from our hotel. Dinner for two was 114 Euros, including a glass of champagne each and dessert.

After a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel, (16 Euros pp), we walked around Beaune – it was a rainy day, stopping at the tourist office for a map, and we departed in the afternoon for a two-day stay in Lyon. There’s certainly a lot more to do in the area – wine tasting, bike riding, shopping etc… but we had planned a quick visit on the way to Lyon and a week in Provence.

Lyon

The drive to Lyon, due south on the A6 took 2 hours and we arrived at rush hour, so the traffic was heavy heading into the city– the rain didn’t help. We pulled up to our hotel – the Mercure on Place Jacobins – so we could unload our bags before finding the nearby public parking garage. This was no easy feat – there’s no porter and it’s a city street with nowhere to pull in out of the bus lane. The front desk staff is extremely helpful and they assisted with the bags, offered me an umbrella and pointed me to the garage. Again – nothing is ever “just around the corner” – it took me a half hour to find the place via one-way streets and park underground. When I entered the hotel I was underwhelmed by the lobby. I had expected a high-end lobby experience- the outside of the building is quite stately and it’s a 4-star hotel. But once in the “privilege” room, we were delighted. It was a corner room with windows on two sides, overlooking the Place Jacobins --a great location for tourists. The front desk staff is very helpful and there's a computer in the lobby for guests to use.

On our first night, with the rain subsided, we had a light dinner at an outdoor table at L‘Echo des Galets – one of a few restaurants in an alley near the hotel, then we walked around the 2nd arrondisement. The following morning, we walked over the river to the Vieux Lyon metro stop to join an English-speaking guide, Delphine, from the Lyon tourist office, for a two-hour walking tour. It included a tour of the traboules – pathways joining two streets, going through several buildings. They date from the Renaissance, but during World War 2, they were used by resistance fighters to hide their activities. There are 230 of them in Lyon and in Old town, you can walk through 33 of them. We saw 3 of them on this tour. The tour guide was superb. She offered an interesting overview of the history and culture of Lyon. I would have hired her as a guide for a full day if I could have. The cost of the tour was only 12 euros pp and I arranged it over the phone the evening before. They confirmed by email. Here’s the contact information:
www.lyon-france.com. +33 (0)4 72 77 69 69. I would ask for any tour that Delphone leads!

We continued to walk around the old town, picking up a tartine sandwich so we wouldn’t spend too much time on lunch. We treated ourselves to some delicious ice cream at “La Fabrique Givree” at 66 rue Saint-Jeane. It’s owned by a creative young entrepreneur named Felix, whose card says “artiste Glacier.” (Ice-cream artist). You’ll find a selection of flavor combinations you’ve never tried before . If you’re in Lyon, do yourself a favor and make a detour to his shop.

In the afternoon, we went on the hop on/off bus, which you can find on the Place Bellecour, located a few blocks from our hotel. It’s where the tourist office is, so you can buy your ticket there before boarding. We didn’t have time to actually hop off, but we have found these tours to be a great way to get an overview of the city in a short time. And since we were only there for a day and a half, this was ideal. The cost is $25 pp. There are two routes. One takes you to the Croix-Rousse- the 4th arrondisement- the hilly part of the city that’s experiencing a “Brooklyn-type” renaissance (I don’t know if that’s an accurate description since we didn’t see it) The bus tour that we went on covers more ground. We saw a part of the city that we didn’t know about – the southern tip where the two rivers – the Rhone and The Saone meet. There, you see very modern, Avant Garde architecture and the Musee des Confluence (located at the confluence of the two rivers). There are also roman ruins on the perimeter of the city.

After, we made our way to the Museum of Deportation and Resistance where we had only one hour before closing to see everything. (Again, we were told it was a 5 minute walk, straight ahead. It was more like a 20-30 minute walk from Place Bellecour.) It’s impossible of course, but it was an extraordinary museum that we hope to return to on another visit. We purchased the museum’s book, written in English, that includes everything that is displayed (in French).

We would have enjoyed a boat ride, but the schedule didn’t work for us. With better planning, we would have definitely made time for that. You can buy tickets at the tourist office at Place Bellcour.

That evening, we had dinner at a restaurant on rue Merciere, a street of dozens of restaurants…sort of like Rue de Buci in Paris’ 6th. We chose “Le Winch”, eating at the table just inside the restaurant by the open doors – far enough from the cigarette smoke outside but still fun to watch the action outside. The restaurant was ok – certainly not what you could get in Lyon if you chose a starred restaurant.

We had less than 2 full days in Lyon but we saw enough to know that we want to come back for a week or two and get to know this lovely and interesting city. If you also have a short amount of time, the Hop on/off bus, a boat ride, a city walking tour of the old city and a memorable meal (better than we had) would be a great introduction. I’d recommend 3 full days at a minimum.

The following day, we left for Provence where we rented a house with friends in the small town of Pantaleon, about 45 minutes east of Avignon in the Luberon. On the way, we made a brief stop in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It was too late for serious wine tasting and too early for dinner. So we just walked the main street, which is lined with shops, and tasted some wines at Vinadea, an excellent wine store, and bought a bottle to take to the vacation rental in Provence.

Provence

From Lyon, I let Google maps take us through the backroads to Pantaleon instead of staying on the A6 to Avignon and going east from there. It was a pretty drive, but of course, if you’re the driver, your eyes are fixed on the narrow road ahead. We arrived at the house and met our friends around 5p. With the food and wine we had all bought at markets and shops in the previous days, we settled in and made ourselves dinner. My husband and I were fortunate that our friends are good cooks and enjoy cooking with the fresh foods purchased at the markets we visited every day. So that became our routine. After a full day of touring, and going to markets, we’d relax over a late Provencal dinner at the house.

On our first day, we checked out the stores of the nearest larger town (not large by any means) called Coustellet and had lunch at Du Pain sur La Planche. Then we visited the Fontaine de Vaucluse, a medieval village where the Sorgue river begins from what seems like still water, but it’s actually a river gushing up from below. The source of the water is the rainfall in the Plateau de Vaucluse. A few meters away, the white water comes down over rocks at 200 cubic meters a second, making it one of the most powerful resurgent springs in the world. You park your car in a lot and walk up a gradual hill about 15 minutes to view the Falls. It’s very beautiful to see and worth the visit. It’s located 25 KM from Avignon.

Sunday is market day in Isle sur la Sorgue, known for the antique and furniture stores. The market is large and takes over the town. We arrived early (on the advice of more experienced market-goers) to secure a parking spot and to see the market before it becomes too crowded. (It was crowded even at 9a). That day was also my milestone birthday, so six of us together had a nice lunch at Le Carre d’herbes. We turned down an indoor table, because it was a sunny day…until it wasn’t. Before we ordered, the rain started and the entire restaurant ran inside . The staff were good sports, setting us up once again. The food was excellent as was the service.

The following (rainy) day, we drove through Oppede (nice but quiet) to Menerbes, where we visited the Domaine de la Citadelle winery and their quirky corkscrew museum. It’s a private collection of more than 1,000 pieces from around the world dating back to the 17th century. (2 Euro entry fee) We tried to have lunch at Bistrot “le Cinq” and at “La Bastide de Marie,” both exceptional we’re told, but the rainy day had eliminated all outdoor seating and every restaurant was filled. Instead, we had a nice meal at an Italian restaurant in Bonnieux called Casa Bonilis. (It used to be called Maison de Bonilis, but maybe new owners changed the name with the menu).

Tuesday was market day in Gordes, a beautiful hillside town only 15 minutes from our rental house. Definitely an upscale area with beautiful homes. Parking was a challenge to say the least, but we found a spot in the lower part of town and walked up to the market. There I saw the large photos of locals that the well known French photographer, JR, posted on some of the buildings. I had seen his work displayed in the old hospital at Ellis Island. 60 minutes recently aired a feature about him. Here’s a link to his bio.

From there we drove another 20 minutes to Roussillon, a medieval hillside town built on the top of an ochre cliff. For 2.5 euros, you can walk a wooded trail that takes you through caverns that are magnificent to see. (Don’t wear your best shoes with white trim!) There’s also a museum (The Conservatoire des Ocres et des Couleurs” where you can learn about the history and technique of ochre products.

On Wednesday, another rainy day – we went to St. Remy for its market. St Remy is definitely more fun to visit under sunny skies, but I still love this town. (The last time we were here, we stayed the week at the lovely Mas des Carassins). We had lunch at a small restaurant called Rest 'Otentik, rue du 8 Mai in St. Remy. The owner/chef, a woman who had worked in major kitchens, served delicious, organic, healthful food. For me, it was the best meal I had had on my vacation. It was light, healthful and beautifully presented. Very friendly wait staff too. 35 Euros for two without wine.

Next, we drove to nearby Les Baux de Provence where there are ruins of a 12th century castle and village. It has a designation of “one of the most beautiful villages in France.” On view outside the Chateau de Baux was a photography exhibit by Lucien Clergue, a young friend of Picasso (there until the end of October) . In the caves, a five minute walk away, was the popular Carriers de Lumieres, a light show where images of Picasso’s work as well as the Spanish masters are displayed, with music. Another version of this art and music show is currently playing in Paris, where the artwork of Klimt is being shown.

On Thursday, I returned to Roussillon to buy some tablecloths from a vendor I had seen in St. Remy. I had brought the dimensions of my dining table and chair fabric so I could find a covering that would fit. I selected 2 and while he was packing them up, the skies opened up and we got drenched in a hail, rain and wind storm that blew through the town. I hadn’t seen weather like that in years. The vendor’s name is M.R. Announ, “Art de la Table.”

That evening, after a thunderstorm knocked out our electricity, we decided to pack up and head to Avignon since we were all getting on trains to Paris the next day anyway. We stayed at the Mercure by the Palais de Papes, had dinner at the restaurant just next door. The next day, we walked around Avignon, did some shopping and had lunch at Coeur d’Artichaut, on rue de la Bonneterie, an organic restaurant, where we enjoyed a vegetarian meal. We took a late afternoon TGV to CDG airport, where we checked into the Sheraton in Terminal 2. (See my separate trip report, A Week in Paris).
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Jun 19th, 2018, 07:57 PM
  #2
dcd
 
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Thanks for the report. We will be in Burgundy and Provence in the fall, so I greatly appreciate the info!!
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Jun 20th, 2018, 04:26 AM
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Hey, sticky, thank you for all the details. I was thinking about taking a river barge tour in France, but I haven't decided yet which one it will be: Burgundy, Provence or Canal du Midi. Since you've already been there, I would like to hear your suggestion - what to choose if you are a first-timer in France? Here is the list of the holidays I was considering: https://www.bargetravel.com.au/locations/france

Thank you so much in advance!
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Jun 20th, 2018, 08:37 PM
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Hi Marie- Gee, it's hard to choose - they all have good itineraries, t so it depends on your interests. Personally, I'd vote for the one in Provence - Arles, Les Baux, Avignon - those are all great destinations on their own. I was just in chateauneuf du pape too - if you like wine, that's a beautiful area to spend a day in.
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Jun 22nd, 2018, 01:20 AM
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Thank you so much, stricky. You definitely helped me make a decision (finally!). I'd like to try some of the region's wines, so Provence it is!
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