Welcome to Auxerre,
the unofficial gateway city to our favorite cruise region, Burgundy.
According to Penny Liley, owner of 12-guest barge Luciole, Auxerre is “…a jewel of the waterways with a skyline to dream about,” and the Barge Ladies agree! Playing host throughout history to the likes of Joan of Arc and Napoleon, modern Auxerre is a lively borough with 40,000 residents, an historical ambiance, and a welcoming atmosphere. Boasting one of Northern Burgundy’s most recognizable skylines featuring three major ecclesiastical edifices, including a preserved medieval Cathedral, Auxerre serves as a signature mooring for the luxury hotel barges cruising along the River Yonne and Canal du Nivernais.
While Paleolithic and Neolithic cave paintings in the region indicate that this corner of France was occupied by ancient man, the first mention of what we now call Auxerre was as an affluent outpost of the Roman Empire. By the 3rd century AD, this prestigious Roman-Gallo settlement thrived as a commercial center for the transportation by river of in-demand goods to Paris. With the seismic shifts brought about by the Industrial Revolution in the early 20th century, however, canal-based transport throughout France was made obsolete by the proliferation of train travel.
Today, Auxerre’s signature riverfront is brought back to vivid life by the handsome hotel barges and other eye-catching pleasure craft mooring there, thanks to a major renewal of the harbor’s appearance and amenities. Charming cobblestoned streets lead from the bustling marina to lively pedestrian areas and inviting public plazas, making Auxerre a delightful destination to explore on foot.
We caught up with Barge Lady Cruise Correspondent and travel blogger Sapna Dalal who cruised last summer onboard the 8-guest barge L’Art de Vivre. As the vessel’s voyage along the River Yonne and Canal du Nivernais began from Auxerre’s harbor, Sapna enjoyed the opportunity on a Sunday evening to leisurely explore the town’s winding avenues.
With the sun setting over the skyline, she discovered one of the best hidden gems of the city – a bright red British telephone booth! It turns out that Auxerre is the twin city to Redditch, a town in England’s north-east Worcestershire, and inherited this whimsical British icon as a lighthearted symbol of the connection. An unexpected treasure in one of Auxerre’s public plazas, and a perfect spot for an Instagram-worthy photo shoot.
Auxerre’s relaxed atmosphere and accessible history is enhanced by the passionate expertise of its entrepreneurs, with a number of high-end boutiques, specialty shops, and cozy cafes exclusive to the town. Introducing regional products is a calling card of the small ship cruise experience, and barge guests in Northern Burgundy are often treated onboard to the fancy bon-bons and freshly baked breads procured from Auxerre’s boulangeries.
One of Sapna’s favorite breakfasts onboard L’Art de Vivre was from famed pâtisserie Eric Roy, which, according to Captain Matthew Price of L’Art de Vivre, is the best boulangerie in Auxerre. A lovely selection of freshly baked viennoiserie from Eric Roy’s is served to the barge’s guests for breakfast, and Sapna is still talking about some of the best croissants she’s ever had.
“The flakiest, lightest croissants ever, I wish I could have brought them home with me! I’ve been spoiled, no croissant will ever compare.”
Equally as memorable that morning were some of the most adorable shortbread cookies in the shape of a pig. “I could not pass up the cookies at breakfast, they were just too cute and as it turns out, absolutely delicious,” Sapna recalls. She suggests also trying any of the lovely terrace cafes throughout Auxerre.
“Treat yourself to delicious pastry and a café au lait while taking in the sights and sounds of this charming town.”
Other barge cruises in Northern Burgundy approach Auxerre’s culture and cuisine from a different perspective; the 4-guest barge Randle offers a “Barge and Bistro” experience which is sure to satisfy guests with a particular interest in gastronomy. Featuring five dinners taken ashore along the cruise route at guests’ expense, this delectable dining program ensures Auxerre’s cuisine scene is deliciously discovered.
Captain Tim Harold, the Randle’s seasoned owner and operator, curates this authentic dining experience. “Burgundy is famous for its cuisine, and what better way for our guests to enjoy than at one of the excellent restaurants in town,” Tim says. “One of my favorite venues is ‘La p’tite Bearsaude’, which offers classic French fare paired with wonderful regional wines, all served in an intimate atmosphere.”
With so many small ship cruises floating in and out of Auxerre’s marina, enjoying a personalized experience within this lovely city is seamless, glamourous, and easy. Interested in additional insight and information about the 3-star barges Luciole, L’Art de Vivre, and Randle, as well as other barging options cruising within Northern Burgundy? Click here.
Read Barge Lady Cruise Correspondent Sapna Dalal’s first-hand account of the gourmet vegetarian cuisine on which she feasted while aboard the barge L’Art de Vivre here.
Enjoy Barge Lady Cruise Correspondent Ashley Hutchinson’s photographs of the nature and culture she discovered while cruising aboard the barge L’Art de Vivre here.