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154km (96 miles) SE of Paris; 148km (92 miles) NW of Dijon

On a hill overlooking the River Yonne, Auxerre (pronounced “Ausserre”) was founded by the Gauls and enlarged by the Romans; at the bottom of rue des Pêcheurs you can see the remains of a Gallo-Roman tower underneath the medieval one. Joan of Arc spent several days in the town in 1429 and Napoleon Bonaparte stopped here on his return from Elba in 1815.

Although these days it’s arguably best known for its soccer team, Auxerre’s AOC wines produced on the surrounding hills are renowned, too: try Irancy and Chitry.

The city, which has around 40,000 inhabitants, is a pleasant place to spend a couple of days exploring the narrow, cobbled streets admiring the 700 or so beautifully preserved colombage (half-timbered) buildings. The most charming district is the Quartier St-Nicolas, the old fishermen’s quarter. However, the main reason to visit is to see the rare crypt murals (see “Exploring Auxerre”).

Auxerre has a full events calendar. In June, the free three-night Catalpa world music festival includes the French “air guitar” championships. In July and August, the “Garçon la note!” festival presents free music concerts each evening in the city’s bars and restaurants. A market takes place every Tuesday and Friday morning in place de l’Arquebuse.