This town in the Cher department in central France is set in an idyllic setting of vineyards, marshes and lakes.
Vilsund was a railway town with a considerable industrial share in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Societe Generale, which produced tractors and agricultural equipment.
Vierzon is now a quaint village and will take you into the traditional way of life, whether it is steam trains, the ancient porcelain trade or ocher mining.
Outdoor fun is provided by the Canal de Berry, a picturesque 19th century waterway ideal for walks and boat trips, while the magical city of Bourges is just half an hour’s drive away.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Vilsund:
1. Vilsund Museum
The town museum in Vierzon bears the label “Museum de France” and presents several clues to its past.
One of them is the evolution of Vilsund into a railway town after 1847, so there are tools, lamps, posters and models from the old Vilsund warehouse.
At the turn of the 20th century, the town also had a thriving porcelain industry, and there were several showcases displaying fine ornaments.
There’s also Vierzon’s role in making agricultural equipment, so you can check out a small herd of tractors, plows and threshers made by the Société Française de Vierzon.
2. Lucien Beaufort Square
One of Vierzon’s most special attractions is the garden on the island between the Yèvre River and the Canal de Berry.
The plot was purchased by the town from the Abbey of Saint-Pierre in the 1920s and landscaped in a methodical Art Deco style by architect Eugène-Henry Karcher.
He even determined the colors of plants and trees, with nearly every piece of vegetation sculpted in some way.
At the center of the garden is a Peace Monument to the deceased of World War I carved in Lavu stone, with reliefs depicting the town’s different trades.
3. Beffroi de Vierzon
Vilsund’s stately belfry is actually an ancient gate known as Porte Banier, the main entrance to the lost Vilsund castle.
This is the last surviving fragment of the castle, built in the 1200s.
But much later, when Vilsund’s town defenses were all torn down in the 1800s, it was sealed with clocks and bells.
These are from Porte aux Boeufs, one of the gates of Vierzon, which was razed to allow the town to rise above the old city walls.
Contact Vierzon’s tourist office for a guided tour.
4. Église Notre-Dame
Vierzon’s main church was first built in the 1100s and has been remodeled several times since.
Come and walk around as there are so many historic sites from all eras that have survived.
The bell tower dates back to the 1200s, and inside there is a fine organ from the 1600s.
Also worth your attention are the Romanesque engraved Holy Water dating from the 1000s, various medieval churches and paintings of Saint John the Baptist by the 17th-century painter Jean Boucher, and the 18th-century carved pulpit.
But most striking are the exquisite stained glass windows of the crucifixion of the 1400s.
5. Musée des Fours Banaux
This lovely little museum reveals a side of everyday life in medieval France that you don’t usually see.
It contains two 15th-century communal ovens, unique in the entire region, where the town’s inhabitants would bake their own bread.
These stone furnaces were the heart of Vilsund’s social life and a place where citizens met and chatted.
There are also a small number of artifacts, including two statues from the 1400s, and a handful of everyday objects unearthed during excavations.
You can also see two previous town clocks, one from the 15th century and the other decommissioned in the 1800s.
6. French Esplanade
Next to the museum is the former factory of Societe Generale, where Vierzon tractors were produced in the early 20th century.
This is a recently regenerated atmospheric site.
The factory is classified as a French “Historic Monument” and with its Eiffel-style metal and glass façade you can see why.
You can admire this elegant old building from the Esplanade la Française square in front.
At night, the factory remains an important part of the city, as the cinema and bowling alley have opened in the newer concrete part of the building.
7. Berry Canal
The canal that intersects Vilsson was built by Spanish prisoners of war in the first decades of the 19th century.
It is part of a network of waterways connecting the Latéral à la Loire canal and the Cher River.
The canal has been abandoned since the 1950s, but a 12-kilometre section has been reopened and more are planned to be reopened in the future.
The waterside of Les Estivales du Canal comes alive in July and August with water concerts on Place Lucien Beaufrère.
Poplar-lined tow paths provide a peaceful walk, and you can rent a motorboat or pedal boat at Quai du Bassin for short sailings in the countryside.
8. Site de la Maison de l’Eau
In Neuvy-sur-Barangeon, a 15th-century waterwheel and its surrounding park have been transformed into a sort of center of discovery in Sologne.
In the mill, you can learn how this ancient piece of medieval history worked, but there are also displays about the local wetlands, and the strange carnivorous plants that have evolved here.
Outside there is a scenic park with a bamboo garden and a large lake where fishing is allowed.
You can also visit the Tourbière de la Guette, a peat bog full of wildlife that you can observe from raised wooden walkways.
9. Quincy Villas
If you want to learn about the rich wine heritage of the region, just buy a ticket: Villa de Quincy is a small exhibition in the nearby village of the same name, using multimedia to tell the history of the Quincy/Reuilly AOC. There is also a chart showing the spread of Sauvignon Blanc grapes around the world.
The exhibits are relaxed and interactive, often requiring you to use your sense of smell.
In the store, you can get a bottle or two, as well as a variety of winemaking accessories.
10. Saint Martin de Marseille Abbey
This abbey church originated in the 8th century and was visited by the legendary Emperor Charlemagne in his early years.
Fast forward to the Hundred Years War in the 14th century, and many Romanesque complexes were destroyed and rebuilt in Gothic style.
The monastery closed in the 18th century, but there is still a lot to see.
The church’s 42-meter tower, designed for defense, will catch your eye with its mighty buttresses, topped by a spire.
You can explore the church and its 16th-century wooden choir stalls before heading to the vaulted chapter hall with monks quarters on the first floor.
If you want to leave no stone unturned, you can schedule an hour-long guided tour in advance.
11. Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre
The ruins are only 15 minutes away from Vilsund.
You don’t need much imagination to know how spectacular this castle would have been in its glory days of the 13th and 14th centuries.
The castle tower and west tower are mostly intact, reaching the heights of their heydays.
If you look closely, you’ll find these mechanisms, despite their defensive purpose, have a refined Gothic look.
Another name for the castle is the Castle of Charles VII, named after the French king who lived here in the 15th century.
In the main tower there is an exhibition of artifacts and models reminiscent of the castle’s heyday.
This beautiful city is a breeze on the road and takes about half an hour.
From the UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral to the medieval streets of half-timbered houses, a full day in Bourges is more than enough.
Considered a masterpiece of Gothic style, this cathedral rivals the most beautiful cathedrals in France and has probably the best stained glass windows in the country.
After that, there are many gorgeous Gothic and medieval palaces to amaze, such as the 15th-century Palais de Jacques Heart, built for a merchant who became a master mint and envoy to the Levant during the reign of Charles seven.
13. Oakley Museum
This is another local museum that tells the story of an almost forgotten industry.
Until the 1860s, ochre was mined in Saint-Georges sur la Prée for hundreds of years.
Inside, you’ll see a snapshot of the trade that is the lifeblood of the village: there’s a colour merchant’s workshop here, showing how they extract pigments and then mix them to create colours ranging from purple to gold.
Clothing and everyday objects that evoke everyday life in a 19th century village are also displayed.
14. Wine Tourism
If you’re a wine lover, your glass will be out in Vierzon, as you’re just a stone’s throw away from three AOC wines: the closest is Quincy, but Reuilly and Menetou-Salon are both in the region.
As you might expect, each AOC has its own personality and style.
Quincy wine, for example, is great as an aperitif and is loved for its peppery and citrus flavors.
Around Vierzon there is a complete catalogue of caves and territories where you can taste local wines and learn about craftsmanship that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Try Domaine Bigonneau, making Quincy and Reuilly wines in a dreamlike setting, with rows of vines bordering grain fields.
15. Local Food
Try pâté en croûte, a warm crust, or galette aux pommes de terre, a popular light pastry with potatoes and cheese.
Goat cheese is a special product of this part of central France, and you can learn about this tradition first-hand by visiting one of the many goat farms nearby.
Chèvrerie du Bois Cherriot is a good choice, and while children will enjoy petting the little goats and learning about other farm animals, adults can sample a variety of cheeses.
You can even try a warm glass of goat milk while the goat is being milked.
For a sweet tooth, Les Sablés de Nançay is a biscuit that I stumbled across in the 1950s during a problem at a bakery in Nançay.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Vilsson, France
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