Bourges Cathedral.

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Cathédrale St-Étienne

Top choice in The Loire Valley

Declared a 'masterpiece of Gothic art' by Unesco, Bourges' 118m-long cathedral was built between 1195 and 1324 on the site of earlier churches and Gallo-Roman fortifications. In the Middle Ages it was a stop on the pilgrimage route from Vézelay to Santiago de Compostela – that's why the nave has two aisles on each side. Highlights include double-span flying buttresses, five finely sculpted portals from the early 1200s and, in the choir, a series of 13th-century stained-glass windows featuring craftsmen at work.

The nave is home to the oldest astronomical clock conserved in France (1424), presented to Charles VII upon his marriage to Marie d'Anjou. Stunningly, it was accurate to within a few seconds a year. The original, non-functioning mechanism can be seen behind glass, next to the restored case.

In the crypt you can see late-medieval masterpieces such as the tomb of Duke Jean de Berry (1340-1416) and parts of a rood screen (mid-1200s); tours, in French with a printed text in English, begin up to five times a day. The north tower can be visited without a guide, but be prepared to climb 396 stairs. The impressive, mid-17th-century organ has 3500 pipes.