Beside the eternal Loire, Nevers is the capital of the peaceful and rural Nièvre department in central France.
In the past, the city was ruled by the counts and dukes of Nevers, whose flamboyant Renaissance house is now the town hall.
If you know about decorative arts, you probably already know about Nevers faience, exquisite pottery made by master potters in an industry that employed thousands in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Some workshops still practice this art, and the city’s museums are filled with amazing works of craftsmanship.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Nevers:
1. Nevers Cathedral
Anyone familiar with the cathedral will feel something special about this magnificent medieval building: there are two apexes, one on the west end, usually the entrance to the nave, and the other on the usual east side.
This makes the cathedral completely unique, and appears because the apse at the western end is the remains of an early Romanesque church, which burned down in 1308. In this older apse, there is a fresco painted in the 1100s and you can enter the basement to see the tombs from the 1400s.
Meanwhile, the nave and eastern apse are Gothic, mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries.
2. The Ducal Palace
The heights where the political and religious institutions of Nevers are located is the Ducal Palace, an ancient symbol of the power of the counts and dukes of Nevers.
The architecture is fascinating; it combines 16th and 17th century Renaissance design with skylights, decorative chimneys and a central spiral staircase visible from the front.
The man who started it was Jean de Clamency, who wanted to live somewhere more solemn than a fort.
The palace, now the town hall, also houses the tourist office of Nevers and an exhibition about the city’s past.
3. Musée de la Faïence
Featuring hundreds of local faience pieces, this museum in a Benedictine monastery is a haven for those who love fine decorations.
You will appreciate the know-how of Nevers manufacturers.
This comes in various forms, including tiles, plates, ceremonial plate figurines and bottles, all of which represent more than four centuries of expertise.
But the gallery doesn’t end there, you can also admire nearly 300 pieces of intricate enameled glass from the 17th and 18th centuries, made using a technique that has been lost.
In addition to this, there is a large amount of art from French and Italian schools.
4. Painted Pottery Workshop
The faience industry in Nevers took off in the late 1500s when Italian potters settled here at the invitation of the Duke of Nevers.
Everything is suitable for this craft, as the Loire promises a quick export, and the wood sourced from the Morfan forest can bring out the heat of 1000°C to bake these ceramics.
Trade began to decline at the end of the 18th century, and only one of the original 12 factories survived.
Reborn since the 20th century, you can visit three studios, Faiencerie d’art de Nevers, Faiencerie Georges and Faiencerie Bleue, see a master potter at work and make a purchase.
5. Porte du Croux
On the west side of the old center there is a truly evocative piece of medieval heritage: when you enter the city, looking at the Porte du Croux, you can see the chain slit on the drawbridge in front of the gate.
As early as the 14th century, this would have been lowered to allow people to cross the Passière River, which has since moved underground.
Look up and you’ll see mechanisms and turrets supported by corbels.
Inside there is a small archaeological exhibition about Nevers and its region, spread over three floors.
From Porte du Croux, you can stroll to the right bank of the Loire, in a beautiful garden that complements the city’s old walls.
These fortifications were built in the 12th century by Pierre de Courtenay, Count of Nevers, to defend Notre Dame.
After the 1600s, they were no longer needed.
But this long wall was still absorbed by local property, and the land that became the garden was never developed due to its marshland.
So, due to the quirks of history and the landscape, there is now a large piece of medieval city wall next to pergola, trees, rose gardens and flower beds, all of which end with a view of the Loire on the Mariners’ Quay.
7. Saint-Etienne Church
While not many tourists make it to the churches on the city’s east side, anyone who values historic buildings should take a short walk.
The Church of Saint-Etienne is a remarkable Romanesque building constructed of subtle golden limestone over 900 years ago and has hardly changed since.
The great 19th century restorer Viollet-le-Duc called it “the most perfect monument of the 11th century left to France”. The building is sober without much sculpture or decoration, but for the purity and preservation of the style, you have to go a long way to beat this church.
8. Nevers Manicus Circuit
Petrolheads will be aware that the French Grand Prix was the circuit’s annual fixture until 2008, when the French Motorsport Federation quit the circuit.
The track is only 15 minutes from the road and is mainly used for heritage rallies, testing and ‘track days’, in addition to welcoming some small international events. So if you want to go for a spin on a track that has the likes of Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Ayrton Senna, you can book a driving experience with one of these companies that will let you drive a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche or F1 car.
9. Bernadette Space
Neves is also a major pilgrimage site, as Bernadette Soubirous became a counterfeiter here and worked at the monastery until her death in 1879. In case you were wondering, Subiru was the woman who witnessed the so-called Marianne Apparition, who witnessed the transformation of the city of Lourdes into one of the most important places in the Catholic world.
There is a museum here, located in the mother house of the Sisters of Charity, showing her life and daily life around the former St Gilda’s Abbey.
Her apparently innocent body is on display in an adjoining chapel.
10. Église Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay
If you wander to the northern outskirts of Nevers, you will see a building quite different from the refined buildings of the old center.
You’d be forgiven if you thought you’d found a war relic, as this church bears a striking resemblance to a concrete bunker in Germany.
It’s no coincidence, as functionalist designer Paul Virilio admired the bunkers scattered across France after the war.
With two semi-concrete cantilevered shells on the central pillar, we can guarantee you have never seen a church like this.
11. Voie Verte de Nevers
In the 19th century, a long canal was dug alongside the Loire to ensure that goods could still be transported when the river flooded in winter or dried up in summer.
In Nevers, a 13-kilometer canal tow road has been converted into a greenway.
This designated cycle path gives riders of all ages access to the verdant countryside surrounding Nevers, a mosaic of market gardens surrounded by hedges.
If you want to try something more adventurous, in Pont de Guetin, the greenway joins the Loire à Vélo, a well-signposted and well-served trail that runs along the river to the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean.
12. St Mary’s Church
Navigating the streets of the city centre, this lavish building on St. Martin Street should be an eye-opener.
Chapelle Sainte-Marie has a luxurious Italian Baroque style unheard of in the Nivernais region and rare in the rest of France.
It is attached to the Abbey of Visitation, built in the first half of the 17th century.
The future Queen of Poland, Duchess Louise-Marie de Gonzag, laid the first stone.
It’s enough to stop in front to stare at the pillars and statues of Madonna and Child, but you can go inside on a summer Saturday.
13. The Loire
You can also walk beside this “Fleuve Royal” and imagine that in the 17th and 18th centuries, barges transported faience to all corners of France and Europe.
The river banks around Nevers are picturesque and quiet, with only woodlands, water meadows, hedges and vegetable farms.
If you have a fishing license, you can visit these banks to catch bass, pike, whitefish and carp.
You can also rent a canoe or take part in a guided paddling session at Canoë Club Nivernais.
For motor sailing, there is a small port in Sermoise-sur-Loire where you can charter boats on the transverse canals for a day or more.
The Allier River joins the Loire a few kilometers west of Never, and if you follow the Allier River’s route back for a few minutes, you’ll come to a village that you have to see to believe.
Apremont is a group of small settlements on the west bank of the river.
The Allier waters, the lush greenery along the river, the rustic stone houses and the Château d’Apremont all combine to make this an unforgettable place.
The grounds of the castle are a wonderful floral park that flows down to the river and is decorated with folly, ponds and small waterfalls.
15. Local Food
When you’re in a restaurant in Nevers, order something regional and choose Charolais, the cornerstone of Burgundy meat cuisine.
In Nevers, this will serve as a tartare, but if that makes you uncomfortable, the main course steak is great.
There is also fish straight from the Loire, with perch, pike, trout or small fry (old friends) on the menu.
At the Carnot covered market, which is open Tuesday to Saturday mornings, you can also learn about some other local products such as goat cheese, honey and pain d’épices, a sweet and spicy bread similar to gingerbread.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Nevers, France
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