Sens, Joigny and Auxerre – these three interesting towns can be found on the banks of the Yonne River. A holiday on one of the best French river cruises will certainly include visits to each, allowing guests to discover the fascinating culture and history of the towns.
In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the town of Sens was wealthy and its inhabitants were powerful. It was where influential churchmen came to study and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, lived here during his exile.
What to See
- Sens Museum – Set in the episcopal palace, the Sens Museum has an astounding range of exhibits, from Bronze Age treasures to fifteenth-century tapestries. The art collection is also worth seeing; it features some notable Renaissance paintings as well as two bronzes by Rodin.
- The Cathedral – Described as the earliest Gothic cathedral in the country, this impressive edifice dates from 1135. It is well-known for its stunning stained-glass windows, best seen from inside the huge building.
- The Old Centre – A wander around the old centre of Sens is well-rewarded as you will stumble across charming Renaissance houses, such as the half-timbered Maison du Portal and Maison Jean Cousin. The old centre also contains impressive eighteenth-century mansions, proof of the luxurious lives the rich used to lead here.
By car the beauty of Joigny is evident, however, visitors approaching the town from the calm River Yonne can appreciate it best. French river cruises often stop here to enjoy the picturesque setting and explore the town’s unique heritage.
What to See
- Ancient Houses – Above the Yonne, on a small hill, you can find a selection of beautiful medieval houses. Most are half-timbered and many boast interesting carvings on their facades. Highlights include the House of the Seven Heads on the Place du Pilori and the House of the Tree of Jesse on the Rue Montant au Palais.
- Medieval Ramparts – The town was once firmly protected by thick ramparts. Parts of these walls are still standing, such as the northern gateway known as the Porte du Bois.
- Churches – There are a handful of churches to explore in Joigny but the most impressive by far is the Church of Saint-Jean. Take note of the highly-decorated tombs here, as well as the beautiful vaulted ceiling.
The final town on the Yonne often visited by the best French river cruises is Auxerre. Like Sens and Joigny, Auxerre is characterised by ancient half-timbered houses. However, the town is also known for its winegrowing heritage, so budding sommeliers should be sure to sample the local wine before they leave.
What to See
- La Marine – In the riverside district the town’s connection to the Yonne is clear. Visitors can see old merchants’ houses; these men were made rich through the river trade. Just above the district sits the town’s oldest monument, the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Germain; construction began in the fifth century.
- Cathedral of Saint Stephen – This gothic marvel was built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries and is unusual due to its asymmetrical façade. Head down to the eleventh-century crypt to discover an amazing fresco of Christ on a horse.
- Leblanc-Duvernoy Museum – This great museum holds a brilliant collection of ceramics, as well as an array of eighteenth-century tapestries from the Beauvais Manufactory.
All this and more can be seen on the best French river cruises along the Yonne.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK’s most respected provider of the best French river cruises for those who like to travel in style. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.