With its winding streets and rich heritage, Auxerre is a delightful town of historical and artistic interest just a few kilometres from the Chablis vineyards. It was involved in river trade from the first century onwards, and in the Middle Ages increasing numbers of pilgrims came to worship the relics of Bishop Saint Germain. The St-Etienne cathedral was built on the foundations of several Gallo-Roman buildings and the St-Germain abbey crypt is adorned with some of the oldest wall paintings in France. In fact the town has a proliferation of architectural styles, from medieval and Renaissance to Art Déco.
Near the marina is the departure point of the Canal du Nivernais with its 116 locks. Two of Auxerre’s oldest districts are close by: La Marine, which has retained its narrow winding streets and half-timbered houses; and old Auxerre, with a spiral of pedestrianised streets grouped around the Tour de l’Horloge. Cadet Roussel, a famous figure of French nursery rhymes, lived here. In May a wine and local produce festival known as ‘Fleurs de Vigne’ takes place in town, while on summer evenings the pavement cafés resound to a range of musical styles during ‘Garçon La Note’.
At the meeting point of Roman roads and many inland waterways, Chalon-sur-Saône was a trading centre of European importance in the Middle Ages – but it’s most closely associated with photography, being the birthplace of French inventor Nicéphore Niepce, who is generally credited with the invention of this medium. The town’s eponymous museum is devoted to the history of photography; among the many cameras on display, don't miss the Daguerreotype and compare it to the tiny spy cameras of the late 20th century.
On Fridays and Sundays, Place St-Vincent comes alive with a colourful market of local produce. The traditional medieval Fête des Fous continues annually with cavalcades and carnival floats, and the ‘Chalon dans la Rue’ festival sees artists set up all over town. A visit to Chalon is also the perfect way to begin your tour of the Côte Chalonnaise wine area, part of the main Burgundy Wine Route.