The capital of Yonne and the fourth largest city in Burgundy, Auxerre has been active since the first century AD. Then known as Autissiodorum, it was a key city on the Via Agrippa, one of the Roman Empire’s main roads. During the Roman Empire and medieval period, Auxerre was an intellectual and religious centre, playing a key role in the Carolingian Renaissance. The area around Auxerre is also known for its wine — Chablis, Crémant de Bourgogne, and Saint-Bris pair perfectly with the local gastronomy including the moreish gougères (baked choux pastries with cheese). Here is a rundown of ten great reasons to visit this Burgundian city that’s just over 2 hours from Paris, from Carolingian crypts to cherries.
1. Discover L’Abbaye Saint-Germain and its crypts
Founded by Queen Clotilde in the 5th century, this monastic complex contains over sixteen centuries of Auxerre’s history. A necropolis for the bishops of Auxerre, it housed the prestigious school of Auxerre in the ninth century, becoming one of the centres of the Carolingian Renaissance. The Abbey also houses the 9th century Carolingian crypts built around the tomb of Saint Germain (378–448). The crypts are decorated with the oldest murals in France, which are remarkably well-preserved.
2. Look up to see the Clock Tower and its astronomical dial
The Clock Tower recently got a makeover. For two years, the Clock Tower was being painstakingly restored, so this is a great opportunity to (re)discover its beauty. Built in the 15th century on the basis of a tower of the ancient Gallo-Roman castrum, the clock has been working since 1483, designed by the ingenious watchmaker Jean. The clock is particularly interesting because of its two hands: one is solar, travelling the dial in the normal 24 hours, and the other is lunar so has a delay of about 45 minutes compared to the solar hand. The Auxerre clock thus tells us both the solar hour and the phases of the moon.
3. Visit Saint-Etienne Cathedral and its crypts
A must-see monument in Auxerre and a masterpiece of Gothic art, Saint-Etienne Cathedral has the distinction of having only one tower. Take in its facade and admire the many sculptures that express scenes from life at the time. The stained glass windows of the 15th and 16th centuries as well as the choir also deserve noting. Last, visit the crypt to contemplate the rare mural of Christ on horseback and the Treasury, which contains stunning pieces of art, including the Deposition of the Cross by Luca Peni.
Auxerrois, as a wine region in its own right, offers a multitude of ways to discover its wine, its cellars and its winemakers. Explore the vineyard in 1001 ways including by bus, during big festivals like Fleurs de Vigne, and during the traditional Saint-Vincent Tournante. Learn how to decipher the notes in various wines and the best food and wine pairings… Choose between a multitude of winemakers who will welcome you in their domaine for a cellar visit and a tasting of their wines.
5. Canal du Nivernais
The Canal du Nivernais is 174km long, with 116 locks from Auxerre to Decize that you can cross at your own pace. By boat, by bike, or on foot, enjoy the peace and quiet in the heart of Burgundy. Take your time and pedal or navigate along the canal to discover the true beauty of this natural setting. Take the opportunity to stop by one of the wine villages bordering the canal.
6. Enjoy the queen of aperitifs in Burgundy: the gougère!
Gougères are an essential part of Burgundian gastronomy. Made of choux pastry and cheese, they are ideal to savour as an aperitif. Don’t miss the Gougère Festival in the autumn, with demonstrations from artisan bakers and a competition to decide the best gougère. Also discover the new Pyneau Prunutz, which revisits the traditional recipe by offering gougères in different flavours (Dijon mustard, snail butter, Espelette pepper, blue/walnut). Find its authentic gougères at the various local markets but also in its boutique located in the Quartier de la Marine, Place Saint-Nicolas in Auxerre.
7. Cherry blossoms in spring
You’ll notice many cherry trees across the landscape of the Auxerre region, mainly around the villages of Jussy, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Gy-l’Evêque, and Irancy. What could be nicer in the spring than a walk through the cherry blossoms? And in June and July, you can buy your cherries directly from the producers or from the small roadside stands. Some producers even offer a “pick your own” experience if you want to get hands-on.
8. Watch an AJA game
Auxerre has played a major role in the history of football in France, thanks in particular to Guy Roux: a great ambassador of the city, the region, and its traditions, the legendary coach of Auxerre’s team for nearly 40 years! This year, the club signs its big return in Ligue 1. Make the most of the opportunity to experience the warm atmosphere of the matches at the mythical stadium of Abbé Deschamps.
9. Admire Irancy from afar or up close
Around 15 km from Auxerre, Irancy is one of the most charming villages to be found amongst the Auxerre vineyards. Located at the bottom of the valley, bordered by hillsides covered with vines and cherry trees, its narrow alleys and well-established winemakers exude an authentic charm. The view over Irancy is undoubtedly one of the best spots to admire the passage of the seasons.
10. Participate in the Fleurs de Vigne festival
Each year, the great wine festival of Chablis and Grand Auxerrois, Fleurs de Vigne, takes over the quays of Yonne in Auxerre for a day dedicated to discovering the region’s vineyards. Winegrowers and merchants bring wines from the dozen or so appellations available near Auxerre for you to taste and buy but they are also to share their profession, passion, and know-how. Diverse oenological and gastronomic activities allow you to spend the entire day enjoying epicurean pleasures from the terroir: tastings, culinary demonstrations, food/wine pairings…
Find out more about Auxerre: ot-auxerre.com
Lead photo credit : Auxerre at sunset © Michael Guibert
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