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Auxerre: an insider’s guide

PUBLISHED: 17:04 08 August 2017 | UPDATED: 17:15 15 August 2017

Auxerre's recognisable skyline along the River Yonne ©bluejayphoto - ThinkstockPhotos

Auxerre's recognisable skyline along the River Yonne ©bluejayphoto - ThinkstockPhotos

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Set on the banks of the River Yonne in northern Burgundy, Auxerre is the perfect weekend getaway destination. Here’s our insider’s guide to things to do, restaurants, hotels and property prices in Auxerre.

Listed as a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire since 1995, Auxerre is a pleasant riverside town whose centre is riddled with medieval streets and period houses. It became prosperous during the Middle Ages due 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.

Auxerre is the departmental ‘capital’ of Yonne, the northern most department of the newly-formed region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. The town clings to the banks of the River Yonne and is located in the Auxerrois wine-growing area which produces some of Burgundy’s most famous appellations, including Irancy or Crémant de Bourgogne.

The town boast both old charm and plenty of amenities, including several good lycées (colleges) and a modern shopping centre. It is lively all year round, thanks to the young students, traditional festivals and a steady stream of tourists, attracted by the history of the town or passing by on a river cruise or a driving trip through the country.

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Place de l'Hotel de Ville and its charming half-timbered houses ©Rndmst | Dreamstime.comPlace de l'Hotel de Ville and its charming half-timbered houses ©Rndmst | Dreamstime.com

What to see and do in Auxerre

Having been recently revamped, the riverbank promenade makes for a really lovely walk. Watch as people stroll, cycle or even rollerblade past, while people relax on their boats moored up on the quay. Sit on one of the benches to watch the port life (located on the opposite quay) unfold in front of you or grab a table at one of the bars and restaurants on the riverfront.

A walk around the town centre will allow you to take in some of the history of Auxerre. The winding, cobbled streets are edged with traditional houses with half-timbered facades, and geraniums pouring out of flower pots on window sills. Some of the streets are 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.

The medieval Gothic cathedral towers above a small esplanade in the centre and is worth stopping by. The exterior’s newly cleaned limestone, typical of the area, now shines in the sunshine, while there is much to admire inside, too, including beautiful stained-glass windows.

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The 15th-century clocktower in Auxerre ©benkrut - ThinkstockPhotosThe 15th-century clocktower in Auxerre ©benkrut - ThinkstockPhotos

Other sites include the Place de l’Hotel 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 stands 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.

For anyone wanting to take a longer stroll around Auxerre, La Coulée Verte offers a picturesque green escape from the busy centre. Sections of the nine-kilometre footpath are set on an old railway track circling the town, while the complete 15-kilometre circuit is accessible by bike. The Parc de l’Arbre Sec is the largest of the town’s attractive parks and gardens. It clings to the banks of the river, next to the excellent municipal swimming pool, which has an outdoor pool, open in the summer.

From 1 July to 31 August, a popular festival called Garçon la Note! offers free pop-up concerts in various town centre locations. It is a great way to listen to local bands, as well as emerging talent while sipping a refreshing glass of Chablis on balmy summer evenings.

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Old charm in the centre of Auxerre ©encrier - ThinkstockPhotosOld charm in the centre of Auxerre ©encrier - ThinkstockPhotos

Restaurants in Auxerre

To get a taste of hearty French food, head to La P’tite Beursaude with its pastel blue façade. It’s small inside but the homemade dishes offer big flavours and the service is very friendly (menus from €27).

A favourite haunt for locals, Poivre et Sel serves typical Burgundian cuisine in a cosy atmosphere (menus from €22.70). The traditional decoration, friendly staff and well-stocked wine list with local vintages make this address a good stop to sample local cuisine.

L’Aspérule’s chef, Japanese-born Keigo Kimura, earned the restaurant a Michelin star just 10 months after opening. The small establishment has just 20 places, offering an intimate and tranquil setting. The food is resolutely French-inspired, seasoned to the chef’s Japanese influence while dishes use only seasonal products.

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Place St. Nicolas in the town centre in Auxerre ©Photopixal - ThinkstockPhotosPlace St. Nicolas in the town centre in Auxerre ©Photopixal - ThinkstockPhotos

Hotels in Auxerre

Budget: a pretty 18th-century auberge (doubles from €63) ideally located in the centre of town, Le Seignelay offers quiet rooms overlooking an inner courtyard. It also has its own restaurant serving traditional dished from Burgundy.

Mid-range: The pretty Hôtel Normandie (doubles from €84), with its vine-clad facade. The three-star town-centre hotel has 47 rooms, a gym, a stylish lounge bar and a secure garage.

Higher end: set in a grand hotel particulier with a vast park, Le Parc des Maréchaux is a comfortable 3-star hotel offering 25 rooms and a heated outdoor swimming pool (doubles from €89)

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The cathedral of St-Etienne in Auxerre ©Photopixal - ThinkstockPhotosThe cathedral of St-Etienne in Auxerre ©Photopixal - ThinkstockPhotos

Buying property in Auxerre

The whole Yonne department benefits from property prices which are lower than the national average with prices hovering around €110,000 for houses, according to Notaires de France. In Auxerre itself, the average price for houses is around €140,000, owing to the fact that it is one of the largest towns in the department and has dynamic commercial areas.

In the town centre, you’ll find mostly apartments (priced at €1,250/m2 on average) but there are also surprisingly large houses, even in the centre. For those with higher budgets, there are some beautiful bourgeois homes and even period hotels particuliers to snap up not far from the centre.

The centre is fairly affordable and prices are relatively homogenous throughout. In fact, it’s the areas just outside Auxerre that are seeing their prices rise. These villages offer a pleasant countryside lifestyle while being close to Auxerre and all the amenities it offers. For instance, prices in St-Georges, a pleasant district overlooking Auxerre, are an average of € 1,547/m2 for houses, while further out still but within close distance to Auxerre, Charbuy has prices of €1,533/m2, according to Meilleurs Agents.

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