Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Gate 1 Day 4 Paris to Dijon

May 2019 - Paris to Dijon France

Italics are Gate 1 descriptions.
DAY 4, Saturday

Champagne Tasting, Dijon

Travel from Paris to the famed Champagne region with its magnificent stretches of vineyards as far as the eye can see. 

This historic province in the northeast of France, formerly ruled by the Counts of Champagne, is best known for the sparkling white wine that bears its name.

The bus is very comfortable and we can read and relax. There is wi-fi so we can also get online.

 In Epernay, visit one of the renowned cellars, learn more about the process and enjoy tastings of this very expensive bubbly delight. Its main boulevard is the elegant residential Avenue de Champagne, with its timeless neoclassical villas and Victorian town houses. 

Wake up call 6 AM breakfast served from 6:30
Luggage out by 7 AM

We had breakfast and were on board the bus for a departure at 8 AM which turned into 8:15 as she double checked no one had forgotten anything in the safes or elsewhere. This guide is organized and plans minimal breaks and short lunch breaks so we have more evening time.

We arrived in Epernay around 10:30 and it was cold and rainy out.

Épernay, the self-proclaimed capitale du Champagne and home to many of the world’s most celebrated Champagne houses, is the best place for touring cellars and sampling bubbly.

Avenue de Champagne is known as The Golden Mile.

It is lined with elegant champagne producers.

Beneath the streets in 110km of subterranean cellars, more than 200 million bottles of Champagne, just waiting to be popped open on some sparkling occasion, are being aged. In 1950 one such cellar – owned by the irrepressible Mercier family – hosted a car rally without the loss of a single bottle!

Eugène Mercier was committed to furnishing his clients with wines of a consistent character year after year. But for that, he needed a container big enough to allow blending on a grand scale. The answer was to build a giant barrel, a project that began in 1870 with a detailed planning and troubleshooting phase that took two years to complete — under the supervision of aptly named cooper, Jolibois (literally "pretty wood" in French). The raw materials came from Hungary: 170 oaks in all, felled every autumn from 1872 onwards for five consecutive years.
The year 1879 saw completion of the finished structure, which was painstakingly loaded onto 11 huge carts for transport to Strasbourg. From there it was taken by train to Epernay where a waiting Eugene Mercier eventually took delivery on 11 September 1881. On 7 July 1885 the House of Mercier updated its inventory ledger as follows: "One tun containing 200,000 bottles, with a holding capacity of 1,600 hectolitres, weighing 20,000 kilos and assembled from 800 elements". All that remained was to check the barrel for leaks. The 1887 vintage marked the barrel’s long-awaited christening: newly filled with 1,600 hectolitres of wine, the Mercier foudre was ready for the grandest blending ever conducted.

Eugène Mercier was a great communicator who never tired of telling the world about his giant barrel that took 16 years to make. In 1889 he seized his opportunity to make a splash, announcing that the barrel would be among the flagship exhibits at the upcoming Exposition Universelle in Paris. On 17 April that year a team of workmen wielding demolition hammers broke through the walls of the immense Mercier cellar and duly extricated the barrel from its resting place. It was then mounted on four enormous wheels, specially built by the Chemins de Fer de l’Est (eastern railway) to support its hefty 20-tonne weight, and hitched to 12 pairs of Morvan oxen — helped on the steepest hills by a team of 18 horses, not to mention the crowds of spectators who walked alongside it. Mercier’s giant barrel was a sight to behold. Schoolchildren were allowed out to see it. Factory workers downed tools to join the onlookers lining the streets. Where these were too narrow for its great girth, the barrel would take the long way round. Sometimes there was no other solution than to knock down any trees or walls blocking its path. One week later, the outlandish cavalcade arrived at the gates of Paris, only to find that the only way to manoeuvre the barrel inside the city walls was to "shave" a bit off the five corner buildings — having first paid through the nose to acquire them.

Once through the Porte de Pantin, the barrel made its way down the Rue d’Allemagne, then the Rue La Fayette, before taking the Avenue de l’Opéra and following the Orsay embankment. Now it only remained to widen the entrance to the exhibition hall and wheel the barrel inside. With his giant baby in place, Eugène Mercier could finally sit back and savour the taste of victory. Knowing that his barrel’s only rival was the Eiffel Tower made that victory even sweeter.

And it was Mercier that we visited. I must say, this was one of the best tours ever.

A video.

Along the 18 km of Mercier’s underground wine cellars, everything has been designed to impress the visitor: a panoramic elevator, huge low-relief sculptures carved into the wall, giant wine barrels …

The visit starts with a film which retraces the history of the founder Eugène Mercier. Take the panoramic elevator and find yourself 30 m below the ground! Aboard the little train, with your multilingual audioguide, you travel along the impressive 18 km of tunnels. The wine cellars are the first to have been designed on one level and are set out geometrically. They were inspired by the design of New York and are intended to be easily accessible to visitors!

These splendid galleries are decorated with sculptures, carved into the chalk stone walls by artist Gustave Navlet, which you see as you travel along the tunnels. In the high vaults you can see the famous giant barrel, which contains 213,000 bottles of champagne!

She was too risque for the 1889 world esposition so she was hidden down here.

Then a flute of complimentary champagne.

Back on the bus and it is still raining.

We make an hour break for lunch at a highway stop.

Don't expect however to find a city surrounded by mustard fields; the yellow fields that can be seen round Dijon in the spring time are fields of colza, or oil-seed rape, not of mustard. Most of the mustard used in Dijon mustard these days comes from Canada... little of the Dijon mustard bought in supermarkets, or even in delicatessens, actually comes from Dijon.

Then it rained even harder with some snow!!!

Then continue to Dijon, once home to the Dukes of Burgundy, a vast center of wealth and power. 
View the striking Dijon Cathedral and the Ducal Palace, a remarkably well-preserved Gothic structure that served as the royal residence for the estates of Burgundy. 

Dijon was the capital of the Dukes of Burgundy, and the Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne still stands today in the center of town at the Place de la Libération as a reminder of those glory days.

We arrived at 4 PM and Laura had our keys available.

Hotel Le Jura
The hotel is situated in Dijon's city center. The Dijon Cathedral is within a half mile walk, and the Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon is within a mile walk.
Beverages are available at the hotel's on-site bar.

Walking tour started at 4:30 and I opted out as I needed  my other shoes and it was too cold. John decided to take the tour and these are his photos.

Dijon has one of the best preserved medieval centers in France. It is easy to walk and see the sites, with lots of pedestrian walking streets.

Our hotel, lovely and comfortable.

This monumental 18th-century arch serves as the western gateway into Dijon's pedestrianised medieval centre.

Street frontage was at a premium in the Middle Ages, so a house with a big façade sent the message that the owner was very wealthy. The maison des trois visages gives the impression that it’s bigger because it is actually two half-timbered homes made to look like one with three gables.

Another highlight is the town clock, which was taken as war loot from Courtrai (Belgium) by the grand duke and given to the people of Dijon in 1383, in recognition of their help in the war against Flanders.

 The clock originally only featured the statue of the single man, Jacquemart. People joked about his bachelor status for a few hundred years until in 1651 a female companion was added for him, Jacqueline. Then, people made fun of their infertility and so that joke went on for another 60 years or so until in 1714, a little Jacquelinet was made for the clock. Having one child proved to be so hilarious for the next 160 years until in 1884 little Jacquelinette was added to the clock.

Church of Notre Dame is like no other Gothic building of its time. In the heart of present-day Dijon, within the confines of the medieval city walls, is this church.

It was built in the 13th century and is home to two of the emblematic symbols of Dijon: the little owl carving on one of its angles, that has been seriously manhandled as it is said to bring good luck if you rub it with your left hand, and the bell ringing automatons at the top. 

The façade is decorated with dozens of grotesques, each one with its own personality. You’ll scratch your head at some of the choices of those early sculptors.

One way to see the major sights of Dijon is to follow the Parcours de la Chouette, or Owl's Trail, a self-guided walking trail indicated by brass owls in the sidewalk.

John came back around 6 and he was freezing!

We headed out for dinner around 7:30 and it was still freezing out.

The Maison Millière is located right at the heart of the historical centre of Dijon, just behind Notre-Dame church and close to the Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne or the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Built by Guillaume Millière en 148.3 Figures of an owl and a cat perch high atop the roof of the 15th-century Maison Millière, which was a setting in the 1990 film Cyrano de Bergerac with Gérard Depardieu.

Statue of Philip the Good

This lovely little square with its shady ancient trees and Gothic-inspired rockery fountain was once part of a larger garden created for the Duke’s wife. After World War II, in 1955, the statue of Philip the Good found its home here. It was created by sculptor Henri Bouchard. Behind him is the Duke’s real home, the Palais de Ducs.

The half timbre buildings were some of my favourite and reminded me of what we saw in Germany.

  Dinner on our own. Hotel does not have a restaurant. It did have one and it did room service.

Lots of restaurants close by.

The market closed on a Sunday.

Overnight: Dijon

Meals: Breakfast

Links to previous posts about this trip:
April 27 Toronto to Paris
April 28 Paris
April 29 Paris
April 30 Paris
May 1    Paris
May 2    Paris
May 3    Paris


  1. Had no idea the Champagne cellars were so huge, amazing!
    I like the owl trailing signs in Dijon, great idea.

  2. Quite a different world in those wine cellars. The bas reliefs in there particularly catch my eye.


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