Some 60km west of the Parc du Morvan, Nevers, on the confluence of the rivers Loire and Nièvre, is a strange place, where motorbikers and boy racers drawn to the Formula One racing ring nearby at Magny-Cours mingle in the streets with religious pilgrims come to pay their respects to Bernadette of Lourdes, gourmands attracted by the local nougatine sweets, and shoppers out to buy fine hand-painted pottery. Faïence, as it’s called, has been a hallmark of Nevers since the seventeenth century, painted in the deep colour known as bleue de Nevers; you can still see artisans at work in Faïence Bleue at 22 rue du 14 Juillet or Fayencerie d’Art de Nevers at 11 and 88b avenue Colbert.

Place Carnot is the hub of the centre; nearby, just above the tourist office you’ll find the fifteenth-century Palais Ducal, former home of the dukes of Nevers, which has octagonal turrets and a central tower adorned with elegantly carved hunting scenes. That aside, Nevers’ main attractions are its religious monuments. The stunning Cathédrale de St-Cyr, with its wonderful display of jutting gargoyles, reveals French architectural styles from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries and, with its modern stained-glass windows, brings things right up to the present. The cathedral even manages to have two apses, one Gothic, the other Romanesque. On the far side of the commercial pedestrian precinct around rue Mitterrand is the even more interesting and aesthetically satisfying late eleventh-century church of St-Étienne.

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