Vezelay travel guide

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Visit Vezelay (Burgundy-Franche-Comté, France)

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Vezelay, one of the 'most beautiful villages of France', is 50 kilometres south of Auxerre in Burgundy and on the edge of the Morvan Regional Park.

In addition to being listed among the 'most beautiful villages of France', Vézelay and the basilica are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Explore Vezelay

France This Way review: Vezelay is an attractive in an imposing position out along the crest of a hill, with far-reaching views over the 'Monts de Morvan' and centred around an important basilica, so a visit is definitely recommended

The village of Vézelay, founded in the 12th century around the basilica, is more or less one long, steep street that rises up to Vezelay Basilica at the top of the hill.

Enter the village through the imposing Porte Neuve with its two towers, at the bottom of the village. This is part of the fortifications that once protected the village, and were built between the 12th century and the 15th century.

Traditional stone houses in Vézelay

As you stroll along the street you will notice the shells set in the ground. These shells are the symbol of the French pilgrims who set off to walk from France to the church of St James at Santiago de Compostella (Spain). One of the four main pilgrim routes starts from the basilica at Vézelay.

Many of the houses along the main street are now cafes, galleries and gift shops but I was pleased to see almost none of the 'tack' along the road that occupies many a tourist town - if you 'need' carved zebras, coloured fluffy toys and lollies saying "je t'aime" you will need to look elsewhere...

There are also a few narrow winding streets leading off the main street, hemmed in by ancient houses featuring many examples of the local architecture, and parts of the original village ramparts that still surround Vezelay.

At the time of our visit, the side streets were very quiet and empty despite the large number of visitors in the village just a few metres away - be sure to amble along a couple and take a look.


The basilica of Saint-Marie-Madeleine at Vezelay

The highlight of the village is without doubt the Basilica of St Mary Magdalene, an awe-inspiring building with soaring decorative vaults. The basilica contains the relics of Saint Mary and was historically the departure point for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella.

After the 12th century the basilica fell into severe disrepair, and had become dangerous to visit. It was restored in the 19th century, under the guidance of Viollet-le-Duc, the French architect responsible for the renovation of many of the greatest monuments in France, to the splendid basilica that you can now visit.

The most notable event in the history of the basilica took place when Richard the Lionheart and Phillippe Auguste embarked on the 3rd crusade from this basilica.

Facade of the basilica in Vezelay

The facade of the basilica is in the roman style (although much modified and repaired in later centuries) and includes several decorative elements such as the seated Christ (part missing) blessing the evangelists, and also several statues of the saints.

The carving of the Last Judgement above the door is a 19th century addition, the original having been destroyed during the revolution. As you can see, the left tower was never completed. If you walk to the rear of the church you will notice that the chevet, which was built around 1190, is in the gothic style - the original version had collapsed.

Inside Vézelay basilica you first enter the narthex (entrance area) which is a large space with three most remarkable doorways; the entrance to the nave in particular contains one of the most extraordinary roman style sculptures to be found in France, incorporating Christ and the 12 apostles.

The main nave in the cathedral is rather more simple than the narthex, if very large, and the many carved capital stones and the striped effect of using different colours of stone are the main features of interest.

There is a Visitor Centre in an attractive half-timbered building about half way along the main street whre you can learn more about the history of Vezelay basilica.

See Vézelay basilica for details.

Doorway in the narthex of the basilica in Vezelay

Also to see in Vezelay

Jules-Roy House: the writer Jules-Roy lived in Vézelay, and his house can now be visited, next to the basilica. The gardens at the house are very beautiful and peaceful, well-maintained, and have far-reaching views - worth a look even if you don't know of Jules-Roy himself.

There is also a Museum of the work of Viollet-le-Duc. Rooms above the cloister of the abbey now house some medieval sculptures that have come from the basilica and area.

Note: parking in Vezelay is below the village and a small charge (2 euros for 2 hours or 3 euros for all day) is payable.

Attractions nearby

In stark contrast to the abbey at Vezelay visit the nearby village of Saint-Pere - a small village with an extravagantly decorated gothic style church dating from the 13th century and dominating the village centre. The facade and entrance porch are the most impressive features. Also in Saint-Pere you can see the excavated ruins of a roman baths.

The historic centre of Avallon and the quiet streets of Montreal village are other highlights in the region around Vezelay.

You can find more travel ideas in the Yonne guide and the Burgundy guide.

See also Find Vezelay hotels

Photos of Vezelay

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Map of Vezelay and places nearby


Visit near Vezelay with France This Way reviews

Vézelay basilica

Vézelay basilica

The basilica in Vézelay is a monumental example of roman style architecture, with 12th century carvings among its highlights

Vézelay basilica guide


Avallon is a very pleasant town to explore with some very imposing medieval buildings, and the countryside of the Morvan Regional Park is very close by

Avallon guide


The Collegiale Saint-Martin is the principal monument here in the historic centre of Clamecy

Clamecy guide


Behind its fortified entrance, the small village of Montreal is a very unspoiled medieval village

Montreal guide


Corbigny, on the edge of the Morvan Regional Parc, includes an abbey among its cultural monuments

Corbigny guide


The half-timbered houses and riverside setting make Noyers-sur-Serein one of our favourite small towns in this region

Noyers-sur-Serein guide

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Yonne

Tourist classifications for Vezelay

Vezelay is classified as a historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé)

Address: Vézelay, Avallon, Burgundy, 89450, France || GPS coordinates: latitude 47.466, longitude 3.7476

Plan your visit to Vezelay, Yonne

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Vézelay basilica St Madeleine (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site
  • Asquins église St Jacques (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site
  • Clamecy: secteur sauvegarde (17 km)
  • Eglise de Saint Barthélémy (Cervon): religious monument (25 km)
  • Noyers-sur-Serein: most beautiful village (32 km)
  • Prieuré de Saint Révérien (Saint-Reverien): religious monument (34 km)
  • Morvan: regional natural parc (34 km)
  • Parc de Saint-Léger: remarkable garden (37 km)
  • Auxerre: secteur sauvegarde (39 km)
  • Jardin du moulin de Athie: remarkable garden (40 km)
  • Basilique de Saint Andoche (Saulieu): religious monument (42 km)
  • Jardin de la Chaux: remarkable garden (44 km)

The French version of this page is at Vezelay (Francais)