The capital of the Yonne department, Auxerre (pop 44,620), is a pleasant riverside town that has a good balance of energy and relaxation. The town rose to prosperity in the old times, thanks to its river port that was strategically located on the wine route. However, the river trade took a back seat when railway transport was introduced to the scene. These days, the Yonne River sees more leisure boaters and holiday cruisers. The old river contributed to a thriving community in Auxerre for many centuries; as the town’s history dates as far back as the Roman era. You will be able to see remnants of Roman relics, Gothic churches and medieval residences.

Dissected by the Yonne River, Auxerre houses its old city centre on the western bank. The commercial streets of Auxerre stretch to and fro from the areas north and south of the old city. You can arrive at Auxerre via trains, at the Gare Auxerre-St Gervais station [rue Paul Doumer] that lies on the river’s eastern bank.


Although the old city of Auxerre houses many churches, the Abbaye St-Germain takes the cake in this category. Dominating the northeast corner of the old city quarter, Abbaye St-Germaine roughly dates back to the 9th century. The building started off as a basilica that was erected atop the tomb of St-Germain- a bishop who made Auxerre an important religious centre in the 5th century. The abbey quickly rose to prominence in the Middle Ages (especially under the Carolingian kings), attracting pilgrims from all over. The abbey continues to house one of the best examples of Carolingian architecture, in its crypt (that contains the tomb of Saint Germain himself). Beautiful oak beams uphold the area and its walls are filled with 9th century frescoes. Surprisingly, further archaeological digs have uncovered sarcophagi that date back to the 6th century.

This mysterious and ancient building befittingly houses the local Musée d’Art et d’Histoire [Place St-Germian, +33 386180550 ad/ch €4.60/2.30]. The museum houses a fine collection of historical relics, such as Gallo-Roman sculptures, well-preserved pottery that date back to the Merovingian and Etruscan eras, weapons from the Bronze Age, as well as a medieval scriptorium (a place where monks copied over manuscripts). A ticket to this museum will also allow you a visit to the crypt, which is otherwise closed to the public.

The Musée Leblanc-Duvernoy [9 rue d’Egleny, Free] is housed in an old hotel building and it showcases a good collection of regional and international pottery, as well as 18th century Beauvais tapestries. The eclectic Église St-Eusébe is located near by, attracting visitors with its mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

If you head back into the heart of the old city, you will arrive at the Église St-Étienne. This Gothic structure dominates the Auxerre skyline with its stately presence and 68m-tall bell tower. The pale building is a masterpiece of ancient architecture as it features mainly Gothic and some Romanesque features. The axial chapel, ambulatory, and choir date back to the 1200s, while the crypt dates back to the 11th century (and hence features a Romanesque style). The Gothic western front of the cathedral was unfortunately damaged during the Wars of Religion. The beauty of this building is showcased between June and September when the entire complex is showered with coloured lights during a 70-minute light-and-sound-show.

Further down south stands the tall 15th century Tour de l’Horloge. In the center of the medieval, commercial area, the clock tower was installed in 1483, as part of Auxerre’s fortifications. It was only in the 17th century that the structure became a full-fledged clock tower. Its sun hand indicates the time, while the moon hand indicates the day according to the lunar month (hence it makes a full rotation every 29.5 days).



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AUXERRE:   1. Tourist office  2. Train station (east of map limits)  3. Abbaye St-Germain & Musée d’Art et d’Histoire  4. Musée Leblanc-Duvernoy  5. Église St-Étienne  6. Tour de l’Horloge