Avallon: The small town in Burgundy with an Arthurian legend (France)

Get the guide to the town of Avallon in Burgundy, France. From its history, top attractions, where to stay, and the old Arthurian legend.
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Avallon is a picturesque small town located in the Burgundy region of France, famous for its rich history and stunning architecture. With a population of around 7,000 inhabitants, Avallon is a vibrant town that attracts visitors from all over France and Europe.

In recent years, Avallon has become famous for the theory that it is the “Avalon” from the old Arthurian legend. Beyond the legend, the town’s location on a hill overlooking the Cousin Valley gives it a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside.

From its impressive ramparts and charming city center, this is a great little stop for people traveling to Burgundy. So let’s have a look at the top things to see and do in Avallon, shall we? Allons-y!

History and King Arthur

The history of Avallon dates back to the Celtic era, when the Roman settlement here was known as Aballo. It was a trade center located on the road between historic Autun and Lugdunum (Lyon).

During the Middle Ages, Avallon was a strategic stronghold and part of the territory of the powerful dukes of Burgundy. The town was frequently attacked by invading armies suffered greatly during the 100 Years’ war.

Today, visitors can still see the remnants of Avallon’s rich history in the town’s impressive architecture, ancient ramparts, and numerous landmarks.

Avallon house

In 1985, author Geoffrey Ashe wrote a theory that advanced the idea that the French city of Avallon in Burgundy was the “Isle of Avalon” mentioned in the historic legend of King Arthur.

His theory is that “King Arthur” is based on the historical British King Riothamus, who reigned between 454–470 was in fact the “King Arthur” of medieval accounts.

According to Ashe in the year 470, King Riothamus was died around Avallon in Burgundy after being defeated by the Visigoths. It is this similarity along with others that make Ashe propose him as a candidate for the historical King Arthur, with Burgundian ‘Avallon’ becoming the Arthurian ‘Avalon’. However, there is no definitive proof that this is the same Avallon.

Things to do in Avallon

1. Tour de l’horloge

The most recognizable tourist attraction in the town of Avallon has to be the Tour de l’Horloge.

Tour de l'horloge, Avallon

After the Hundred Years’ War, most of the fortifications of Avallon were largely destroyed. The locals decided to use the stones to build a tower at the highest point of the city, in February 1456.

The tower was meant to warn the villagers of the arrival of invaders, and eventually had a clock added to it to become the “tour de l’horloge”, or “clock tower”.

The coat of arms of the city of Avallon appears on the facade, with the motto: Esto nobis, dominate, turris fortitudinis, meaning “be for us, Lord, an impregnable tower”. The building was classified as a historical monument in 1930.

2. Tour Gaujard and Ramparts

On the outskirts of the main center of Avallon (about 5 minutes from the Tour de l’Horloge) stands the remains of the old ramparts of the city of Avallon.

Tour Gaujard

The main tower is known as the Tour Gaujard which was built in the 15th century. Visitors can walk along the ramparts and take in stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

3. Collégiale Saint-Lazare d’Avallon

The Collégiale Saint-Lazare is a beautiful church located in the center of Avallon. Built in the 11th century, this historical French church is famous for its stunning Romanesque architecture and intricate portal dedicated to Saint Lazare.

Collégiale Saint-Lazare d'Avallon

The collegiate church became popular with pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela, attracted by the relic of Saint Lazarus which was placed here in the Middle ages by the Dukes of Burgundy.

Visitors can explore the church and its grounds, which include a cloister and various statues inside including one of French saint Joan of Arc. She was captured and put to death by the Burgundians, who at the time were aligned with the English.

4. Musée de l’Avallonnais

The Musée de l’Avallonnais is a lovely small museum that showcases the history and culture of Avallon and the surrounding region.

The museum’s collection goes through the archeological past of Avallon through paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from throughout the town’s history. It was originally opened in 1862 and located in the Tour de horloge, before being moved to a private mansion in 1912.

Visitors can learn about the town’s rich cultural heritage and see how Avallon has changed over the centuries.

5. Market days

Avallon is famous for its weekly outdoor market which runs every Saturday morning in the center of town. A smaller market is also held every Thursday. Both markets run from 8-13h around the Place du Général de Gaulle.

food market

There is a bit of everything from farmers’ produce, local souvenirs, charcuterie, cheeses, and much more.

6. Burgundy wines

One of the big-names in French wines is the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region. It has the highest number of officially recognized appellations (AOCs) in France, with no less than 37 Grand Crus.

Some of the most famous names in French wines like Chablis Grand Cru, Corton, and Clos de Vougeot come from this region that surrounds Avallon.

Chablis (white wine) is the most famous name we tend to hear from Burgundy, and but Côte de Beaune also has an equivalent 7 white grand crus in the area. For reds, Côte de Nuits has 24 grand crus, mostly pinot noir reds that are some of the most expensive wines in the world.

Burgundy wine region
Map of Burgundy wine region in France

Until 2017, all Burgundy wines were AOC/AOP wines, with Vin de Pays being a new appellation for this region. There are 5 main areas in Burgundy including Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâcon.

Some of the best Burgundy wines in the world are:

In addition, there is also a fortified wine local to the area called the ratafia. Made with fruits from local orchards, Ratafia is a typical Burgundian aperitif. With a delicate taste, quite sweet and slightly acidic, this alcohol is also served as a digestif.

You can read more about Burgundy wines and how to read a French wine label here.

7. Local Specialties

Avallon has several restaurants that serve local Burgundian dishes like the Boeuf Bourguignon, fondue bourguigonon, gougères, etc. The nearby capital of Burgundy is Dijon, which is famous for its dijon mustard.

Varieties of Dijon Mustard
Varieties of Dijon Mustard

The area is also famous for its French cheeses such as Mont d’Or, Comté, and more. You can purchase some of these specialties in the shops around Avallon, and even get some as souvenirs to take home.

8. Château de Bazoches

The Château de Bazoches is a stunning castle located just a short 25-minute drive from Avallon.

It was by Jean de Saillenay in 1180, on the site of a Roman outpost guarding the road between Autun and the town of Sens (known as Gallia Lugdunensis in Roman times).

The castle served as a stronghold was sold to the Bazoches family in the 13th century. It eventually was purchased by the famed military engineer Vauban, purchased the property using funds earned from his work for the Sun King Louis XIV.

It is the Vauban connection that makes the château quite famous today. This is where the studies and plans for the many strongholds that Vauban developed during his career were carried out.

The château is still owned by Vauban’s direct descendants, through his eldest daughter Charlotte. Today, visitors can tour the castle and its beautiful grounds, which include fortifications, a chapel, and a museum.

8. Morvan Regional Nature Park

The Morvan Regional Nature Park is a beautiful natural area located just a short drive from Avallon. The park covers more than 700,000 acres and features stunning lakes, forests, and rolling hills.

Morvan Regional Nature Park

It was officially designated as a regional natural park in 1970. Visitors can hike along one of the park’s many trails or simply relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Avallon town center

How to get to Avallon?

Avallon is easily accessible from Paris, being about 140 miles (225 km) away. It takes about 2 hours to drive, and there is also a direct TER train from the Paris Bercy station to Avallon which takes about 3 hours. The capital of Burgundy, the city of Dijon is about 1h20 by car.

How easy is it getting around?

The town center of Avallon is quite walkable as it is quite small and flat. The center is not usually pedestrianized, except on market days, so you can drive around as well (although parking can be an issue).

There is street parking outside the main pedesdrianized streets, as well as a large parking lot around Place du Général de Gaulle.

How many days should you spend?

It takes about a day to explore Avallon, which you can do as a day trip from Dijon or stay overnight to enjoy the bars and restaurants in the area. You can also coordinate your visit to Avallon along with visits to nearby towns like Maçon, Auxerre, and Bourg-en-Bresse.

Where should you stay?

There are a couple of lovely hotels in the center of Avallon that you can stay at such as:

There is also a fabulous Château just outside of Avallon if you are looking for a more luxurious experience:

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If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about fortified towns around France. A bientôt!

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