TAKE A STROLL IN AUXERRE

Ex­plore the rich ar­chi­tec­tural and cul­tural her­itage of this Bur­gundy town.

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One of my favourite views of Auxerre – and the best way to take in this Bur­gun­dian town be­fore plung­ing into its labyrinthine streets – is from the Pont Paul Bert, which spans the River Yonne. From the mid­dle of the bridge, next to the statue of the Auxerre-born, 19th-cen­tury sci­en­tist and politi­cian, you have a great van­tage point over the old town, which seems to emerge from the wa­ter. The Cathé­drale Saint-éti­enne, Pré­fec­ture and Ab­baye Saint-ger­main all fol­low in quick suc­ces­sion, giv­ing Auxerre its dis­tinc­tive sky­line.

Listed as a Ville d’art et d’his­toire in 1995, Auxerre be­came pros­per­ous dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages thanks to its lo­ca­tion at the cross­roads of trad­ing routes on land and on wa­ter. The town spe­cialised in the wine trade and in ‘ flot­tage du bois’, which in­volved string­ing to­gether logs of wood for build­ing, and float­ing them along the Yonne and the Seine to Paris. A wealthy mer­chant pop­u­la­tion grew up, which led to the con­struc­tion of beau­ti­ful bour­geois homes which can still be seen in the town cen­tre.

To ab­sorb all this his­tory, I headed towards the old town along the park and prom­e­nade that have been cre­ated on Quai de la République as part of a makeover of the river­front. Just past the tourist of­fice, I turned left into Rue Le­beuf and headed up­hill into town. The wind­ing, cob­bled street is edged with tra­di­tional houses with half-tim­bered fa­cades, gera­ni­ums pour­ing out of flower pots on the win­dow sills.

Af­ter a short climb, there is a fork in the road, with Rue Philib­ert Roux car­ry­ing up­ward and Rue Cay­lus turn­ing right. The lat­ter leads to a pretty square, where the medieval Gothic cathe­dral tow­ers above a small es­planade. The ex­te­rior’s newly cleaned lime­stone, typ­i­cal of the area, now

shines in the sun, while there is much to ad­mire in­side, too, in­clud­ing beau­ti­ful stained-glass win­dows.

With my back turned to the cathe­dral, I walked up Rue Fourier, with its invit­ing restau­rants and cafés, to Place des Corde­liers. Op­po­site the car park are a cou­ple of un­pre­ten­tious café-bars that are pop­u­lar with lo­cals. Take a left be­fore those bars and you will reach the cob­bled Place de l’hô­tel de Ville, where the mairie stands, as well as one of Auxerre’s most strik­ing ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures, the Tour de l’hor­loge. Built in the 15th cen­tury, the as­tro­nom­i­cal clock was placed on the foun­da­tions of a city gate dat­ing from Gallo-roman times. It is a beau­ti­ful thing to be­hold with its orange face and golden hands show­ing the move­ments of the sun and the moon.

Satir­i­cal song

The main shop­ping street, which is also cob­bled, be­gins on the other side of the arch­way. The street is stud­ded with small, tri­an­gu­lar bronze ar­rows that mark part of a walk­ing tour called ‘ Sur les traces du Cadet Rous­sel’. It is named af­ter Guil­laume Joseph Rous­sel, an Aux­er­rois court bailiff whose ex­trav­a­gant lifestyle was satirised in a song that be­came pop­u­lar with sol­diers dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion.

I con­tin­ued up the charm­ing Rue de la Draperie, ad­mir­ing the medieval houses, and reached the Cadet Rous­sel foun­tain. This leads into the bustling Rue du Tem­ple, a pleas­ant shop­ping area and the beat­ing heart of the town.

At the end of the street, the spa­cious Place de l’ar­que­buse has a green es­planade cov­er­ing an un­der­ground car park. Auxerre’s main mar­ket is held in the square on Tues­day and Fri­day morn­ings, when stall­hold­ers sell fresh pro­duce in­clud­ing cheese, wines and char­cu­terie from boun­ti­ful Bur­gundy.

The town of Auxerre from the River Yonne, with the Cathé­drale Saint-éti­enne on the left and the Ab­baye Saint-ger­main on the right

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: Half-tim­bered houses in the cob­bled Place de l’hô­tel de Ville in Auxerre; The as­tro­nom­i­cal clock lies above one of the city’s orig­i­nal gates; A statue of Saint-ni­co­las stands within a wall over­look­ing the square that is named af­ter him; The newly cleaned fa­cade of the Cathé­drale Saint-éti­enne

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