Standing at Place Général-de-Gaulle in Évreux you’ll be in no doubt that you’re in a departmental capital: The buildings here, from the Maison des Arts and town hall to the 15th-century belfry all radiate authority.
The same can be said of Évreux’s marvellous Gothic cathedral, a seat of clerical power in medieval times and joined to an episcopal palace that is now the town’s enthralling museum. There are vestiges of Évreux’s Gallo-Roman walls in the centre, as well as an ancient sister city at ancient Gisacum, where an immense bathing complex has been excavated.
Lets explore the best things to do in Évreux:
1. Évreux Cathedral
Constructed from chalk and with an exceptionally intricate facade on the north side, the town’s cathedral has to be top of your list.
It has been through a litany of conflicts in its time, which actually explains the melange of styles: After the building was almost destroyed in the 100 Years’ War it was remodelled in the Flamboyant Gothic, and there were also 16th-century Renaissance additions.
But if there’s one thing that truly elevates the cathedral it’s the 14th-century stained glass windows, which use a special kind of silver stain that can only be found here and in Rouen.
2. Bishops’ Palace
Attached to the cathedral by a passageway is the Bishops’ Palace, commissioned by Raoul du Fou in the 1400s.
It’s a listed “monument historique” and was built on the Gallo-Roman wall.
The palace is certainly impressive at four storeys in height, and contains the town’s museum.
But before you go in give yourself a few minutes to survey the outside: There are turrets, mullioned windows, ornate mouldings above the doorways and beautiful dormer windows on the top floor, decorated with pinnacles.
3. Musée d’Évreux
Inside that spectacular episcopal palace is the town’s museum, mapping Évreux’s history and archaeology.
There’s also a seriously rich art exhibition, with paintings from the 17th to the 20th centuries by Nicolas Maes, Boudin, Jongkind, Soulages and Fernand Léger, as well as sculpture by Rodin.
Those archaeology galleries have a host of finds from the dig at the Roman city of Gisacum under Vieil-Évreux.
The pick here has to be the awesome bronze statue of Stator.
In the medieval rooms there’s a mitre belonging to the 14th-century bishop Jean de Marigny and several Aubusson tapestries from the same century.
4. Beffroi d’Évreux
It’s not often that you encounter a traditional belfry in this part of the country; in fact the Beffroi d’Évreuxby the water on Place du Général-de-Gaulle is one of France’s southernmost belfries, as nearly all the rest are in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.
This building came through the Second World War unaffected, and dates to the 15th century, with similar Flamboyant Gothic decoration to the Bishops’ Palace.
The tower rises to just shy of 44 metres and houses the emblematic “Louyse” bell, which was cast in the 1400s.
Évreux’s ramparts were constructed in 275 to defend the city against raids.
The total length was more than a kilometre and they enclosed an area of nine hectares.
There are lots of little traces surviving, along Rue Saint-Louis, outside the médiathèque and on the path next to the Iton.
But the most photo-friendly vista has to be from the kink in the Ilot known as the Mirroir d’Eau (Water Mirror), right at the foot of the cathedral and episcopal palace.
6. Place du Général-de-Gaulle
Take a seat by the central fountain on Place du Général-de-Gaulle and you’ll have magnificent monuments everywhere you look.
The town hall is from the 1890s with a “Eclecticist” design.
The fountain in front dates to 1882 and was a joint effort by the architect Charles Genuys and the sculptor Louis-Émile Décorchemont.
It depicts a woman holding an oar, symbolising the Eure and the its tributaries the Iton and Rouloir.
Facing the same square are the Italianate theatre from 1903, the Maison des Arts and the Belfry.
7. Église Saint-Taurin
This medieval church used to be attached to a Benedictine monastery built to venerate St Taurin, who was the first Bishop of Évreux and was martyred in the 5th century.
The building was reconstructed in the 15th century, leaving a mix of Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
The big story here is the reliquary of St Taurin, dating to the 1200s and regarded as an outstanding piece of a medieval goldsmithery.
There’s more besides, such as the statues from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, and the stained glass windows in the choir and south transept, which are date to the 1400s.
8. Maison des Arts
On the same square, this is another handsome building, in a Louis XIII-Revival style.
It was completed in 1880 and was built to house Évreux’s museum, which moved in the Bishops’ Palace in 1959. Since the 1980s it’s been converted into a centre for art, with studios, classrooms and galleries, and hosting workshops for kids in summer.
If you’d like to see what the town’s budding artistic talent is up to, the galleries are open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
9. Wander along the Iton
This river has always been an indelible part of life in the town: In Roman times the walls were aligned with the course of the Iton, and later it was harnessed for waterfront industry, supplying dyers and tanners with water, and powering mills.
One of these, the Moulin de Navarre, remains in good condition and still has its electric turbine, installed in 1893. Another thing you’ll notice is the profusion of washhouses: In past times anybody with a property on the riverbanks was permitted to build a laundry and charge people to use it.
And as you step through the town you’ll see that plenty of people took the opportunity to build one!
Almost 2,000 years ago the Gallic Aulerques Éburovices tribe founded two cities in this area.
Mediolanum Aulercorum became modern Évreux, while Gisacum seven kilometres southeast was more of a religious sanctuary.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries grew to more than 250 hectares before being suddenly abandoned.
The site has been excavated since the early 1800s, and while a lot of the artefacts have ended up at the museum in Évreux there is a interpretation centre on the site open daily from March to November.
So far the only monument open to the public is the bathing complex, 109 metres by 84 to giving you an idea of Gisacum’s prestige.
11. Voie Verte le Bec-Hellouin-Évreux
There used to be a railway line running all the way from Évreux to Honfleur on the coast.
This line shut down in 1971 and in the last two decades different parts of the route have been paved over and turned into a walking and cycling paths.
Starting at the station in Évreux you can travel as far as the medieval abbey at Bec Hellouin, without having to spend any time on roads.
For families hoping to break out into Normandy’s famous “bocage” countryside of green pastures, orchard and hedges , this is everything you could need.
12. Arbr’en Ciel
If you’re here with youngsters during the school holidays this “accrobranche” park will be open every day.
For the uninitiated accrobranche courses are set in woodland, raised above the forest floor and featuring rope ladders, zip-lines, monkey ladders and Himalayan bridges.
And this isn’t just for kids, as grown-ups are free to try these courses too.
Arbr’en Ciel is perfectly safe as you’ll be wearing a harness attached to a cable that runs the length of each course.
There are five courses in all ranging in difficulty and found in mature oak forest five minutes from Évreux.
13. Day Trips
With Évreux as your base there’s no lack of interesting, historically rich and beautiful places to within an hour by car.
Château Gaillard in Les Andelys is a brute of a castle, built by Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century and then fiercely contested by the French and the English during the 100 Years’ War.
More serene is Claude Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny, where you can make the pilgrimage to see the pond, Japanese bridge, lilies and wisteria that he painted, as well as interiors designed by the artist himself.
To the north is Rouen and its half-timbered houses and cathedral also famously painted by Monet, while to the south is Dreux where members of the aristocratic House of Orléans are buried at the Chapelle Royale.
14. Calvados Morin
A Normandy classic, calvados is a brandy made from apples.
In Évreux you’ll be on the far eastern side of the Calvados AOC, which sets the rules for distilling this beverage.
You’ll have a unique chance to get to know this beverage at Calvados Morin, one of the oldest distilleries in Normandy, open for visits on Fridays from March to October.
At this bucolic site on the banks of the Eure every step of the process is revealed, from apple harvesting and pressing to ageing, which happens in underground cellars dug in the 1800s.
15. Food and Drink
Set your alarm for the market in the centre of Évreux on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
If you’re holidaying at a gite there’s nowhere better to do your grocery shop, and in autumn you can sample the apples (Calville blanc d’hiver and Rever) Normandy is known for.
One delicacy specific to Évreux is rillettes d’oie (a sort of goose pâté), and the town also has a reputation for confectionery.
The trickily named zouzous d’Auzou are pralines with a nougat filling.
Meanwhile La Louyse du Beffroi d’Évreux is in honour of the town’s belfry and has an apple confit, soaked in pommeau (apple juice and calvados) and then dipped in dark chocolate.