This small town in central France’s Cher department is embedded in a pastoral landscape of vineyards, marshes and lakes.
Vierzon was a railway town with its fair share of industry in the 19th and 20th centuries, like the Société Française de Vierzon, which manufactured tractors and farming equipment.
Vierzon is now quaint and rural, and will draw you into traditional ways of life, whether that’s steam trains, the old porcelain trade or ochre mining.
Outdoor fun is on the menu at the Canal de Berry, a picturesque 19th-century waterway for walks and boat trips, while the marvellous city of Bourges is only half an hour by car.
Lets explore the best things to do in Vierzon:
1. Musée de Vierzon
Commended with the “Musée de France” label, Vierzon’s town museum handles several strands from its past.
One of these is Vierzon’s evolution as a railway town after 1847, so there are tools, lamps, posters and models from the old Vierzon depot.
The town also had a booming porcelain industry around the turn of the 20th century and there are several showcases with dainty decorative objects.
And then there’s Vierzon’s role in manufacturing farming equipment, so you can inspect a small fleet of tractors, ploughs and threshers made by the Société Française de Vierzon.
2. Square Lucien Beaufrère
One of the most special spots in Vierzon is this garden on an islet between the Yèvre River and the Canal de Berry.
The plot was bought by the town from the Abbey of Saint-Pierre in the 20s and was landscaped in a methodical Art Deco style by the architect Eugène-Henry Karcher.
He went as far as determining the colours of the plants and trees, and almost every piece of flora is sculpted in some way.
The garden centres on a pacifist monument to the First World War dead sculpted from Lavoux stone, with reliefs depicting the town’s different trades.
3. Beffroi de Vierzon
Vierzon’s venerable belfry is actually an old gate, known as the Porte Banier, which was the main entrance to the lost Château de Vierzon.
It’s the last surviving fragment of this castle and was built in the 1200s.
But much later, when Vierzon’s town defences were all pulled down in the 1800s, the was capped with a clock and bell.
These came from the Porte aux Boeufs, one of Vierzon’s gates that were razed to let the town grow beyond the old walls.
Get in touch with Vierzon’s tourist office for a guided tour.
4. Église Notre-Dame
Vierzon’s main church first went up in the 1100s before being remodelled a few times since.
Come to poke around a little because there’s a lot of historic traces from a variety of eras surviving.
The bell-tower dates to the 1200s, while there’s a fine organ inside from the 1600s.
Also worth your attention is a Romanesque sculpted holy water as old as the 1000s, various medieval chapels and a painting of St John the Baptist by the 17th-century painter Jean Boucher and a carved pulpit from the 18th century.
But the standout has to be the exquisite stained glass window of the Crucifixion from the 1400s.
5. Musée des Fours Banaux
This cute little museum reveals a side to everyday French medieval life that you don’t usually get to see.
It contains two 15th-century communal ovens, unique in the entire region, where the town’s residents would bake their own bread.
These stone ovens were at the heart of social life in Vierzon, and a place where the townsfolk would meet up and chat.
There’s also a small collection of artefacts, including two statues from the 1400s, and a small set of everyday items unearthed during excavations.
You can also see two former town clocks, one from the 15th century and the other retired in the 1800s.
6. Esplanade la Française
Just next to the Museum is the former factory for the Société Française, where Vierzon’s tractors were manufactured at the start of the 20th century.
It’s an atmospheric site that has recently been regenerated.
The factory is listed as a French “historic monument”, and you can see why, with its Eiffel-style metal and glass facade.
You can contemplate this graceful old structure from the Esplanade la Française plaza in front.
And in the evenings the factory is still a vital part of the city as a cinema complex and bowling alley have been opened in the newer concrete part of the building.
7. Canal de Berry
The canal intersecting Vierzon was constructed using Spanish prisoners of war in the first decades of the 19th century.
It was part of a network of waterways that connected the Canal Latéral à la Loire with the Cher River.
The canal has been disused since the 1950s, but a 12 kilometre section has been made navigable again and there are plans to reopen more in the future.
The waterside comes alive in July and August for Les Estivales du Canal when there’s a season of concerts by the water in the Square Lucien Beaufrère.
The poplar-lined towpaths offer a restful walking trail, and you can hire a motor boat or pedal-boat at the Quai du Bassin for a brief voyage through the countryside.
8. Site de la Maison de l’Eau
In Neuvy-sur-Barangeon a 15th-century watermill and its surrounding parkland have been turned into a kind of discovery centre for the Sologne.
In the mill you can learn about how this old slice of medieval history worked, but there are also displays about the local wetlands, and the weird carnivorous plants that have evolved here.
Outside there’s a landscaped park with a bamboo plantation and a large lake where fishing is permitted.
You can also check out the Tourbière de la Guette, a peat bog teeming with wildlife that you can observe from a raised wooden walkway.
9. Villa de Quincy
Just the ticket if you’d like to uncover the region’s rich wine heritage: The Villa de Quincy is a small exhibition in the nearby village of same name, using multimedia to recount the history of the Quincy/Reuilly AOC. There’s also a display charting the spread of sauvignon grapes around the world.
The exhibition is light-hearted and interactive, often asking you to use your sense of smell.
At the shop you’ll be able to buy a bottle or two, together with all sorts of oenological accessories.
10. Abbaye Saint-Martin de Massay
This abbey church has its roots in the 8th century, and the legendary Charlemagne is known to have visited in the earliest years.
Fast forward to the Hundred Years’ War in the 14th century and a lot of the Romanesque complex was destroyed to be rebuilt in the Gothic style.
The abbey shut down in the 18th century but there’s still a lot to see.
The church’s 42-metre tower, designed for defence, will catch your eye thanks to its formidable buttresses that culminate with pinnacles at the top.
You can explore the church, with its 16th-century wooden choir stalls and head into the arched Chapter Hall, which has the monks’ dormitory on the first floor.
If you want to leave no stone unturned you can arrange an hour-long guided visit in advance.
11. Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre
These ruins are only 15 minutes from Vierzon.
And you don’t need much imagination to know how spectacular this castle would have been in its glory days in the 13th and 14th centuries.
The keep and the west tower are mostly intact and reach the same height as in their heyday.
If you look closely you can spot the machicolations, which have delicate Gothic mouldings despite their defensive purpose.
Another name for the castle is Château de Charles VII, named for the King of France who lived here in the 15th century.
In the main tower there’s an exhibition with artefacts and models recalling the castle at the height of its powers.
This wonderful city is a breeze by road, taking about half an hour.
There’s more than enough in Bourge for a whole day, from the UNESCO World Heritage cathedral to the medieval streets with half-timbered houses.
That cathedral is seen as a Gothic masterwork, rivalling the most beautiful in France and with possibly the finest stained glass windows in the country.
After that there’s a host of sumptuous gothic and medieval palaces to marvel at, like the 15th-century Palais Jacques-Coeur, which was built for a merchant who rose to become Master of the Mint and an envoy to the Levant during the reign of Charles VII.
13. Musée de l’Ocre
Here’s another local museum recounting an industry that is all but forgotten.
Ochre was mined in Saint-Georges sur la Prée for hundreds of years up to the 1860s.
Inside you’ll get a snapshot of a trade that was the lifeblood of the village: There’s a recreation of a colour merchant’s workshop, showing how they would extract the pigment and then mix it to produce colours from purple to gold.
And there’s a display of clothing and everyday items evoking daily life in the village in the 19th century.
14. Wine Tourism
If you’re a wine aficionado then your cup runneth over in Vierzon as you have three AOC vignobles a stone’s throw away: The nearest is Quincy, but Reuilly and Menetou-Salon are all in the area.
As you’d guess, each AOC has its own personality and flavours.
Quincy wines for instance go well as aperitifs and are loved for their pepper and citrus notes.
Around Vierzon there’s a whole directory full of caves and domains where you can taste local wine and find out about the generations of savoir-faire that goes into it.
Try the Domaine Bigonneau, making Quincy and Reuilly wines in a dreamy setting where rows of vines are bordered by cereal fields.
15. Local Food
Try pâté en croûte, which is pâté in a crust served hot, or galette aux pommes de terre, a popular light pastry with potato and cheese.
Goats’ cheese is a particular speciality in this region of central France, and it’s a tradition you can get to know first-hand by visiting one of the many goat farms nearby.
Chèvrerie du Bois Cherriot is a good choice, and while kids will love petting the baby goats and getting to know the other farmyard animals grown-ups can taste a variety of cheeses.
When the goats are being milked you can even try a glass of warm goats’ milk.
For something sweet, Les Sablés de Nançay are a biscuit discovered by accident when a batch of cakes went wrong at a bakery in Nançay in the 1950s.