A good dose of French villages

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A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 1:02 am

I visit my parents for Christmas each year. They live near Bordeaux, which means from Grenoble I have to cross France from East to West. It's about 7h of driving on motorways, which amounts to around 170 € just in highway tolls... France is probably the country with the most expensive highway network. So a while back I said *&%$#! it. I'm French, I have plenty of leave days, so instead of paying tolls, I'll take a longer leave, drive on the country roads and stay in hotels or using AirBnB. It's not that hard finding a very nice hotel or studio for 50/60 € per night in France, especially in winter. I know that a lot of Aussies dream about going to France for the medieval towns and villages (while us French dream about Australia and its wildness), so even though it's not really bushwalking, I decided to share some photos.

The first region I visited was Auvergne, also called Massif Central. It's basically a hilly region, 1400 m at its highest, mostly ancient volcanoes. In the South of this region, the major town is Le Puy En Velay. Red roofs, volcanic rock paved streets, narrow streets, secret passages, it's a very nice town, a bit too big though. You can climb to the Notre-Dame de France statue, a massive 23 m cast iron representation of the virgin Mary. I'm not religious, but it looks slightly better than the giant red lobster in Kingston, SA.

Nearby I also visited the medieval village of Lavaudieu, away from everything.
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Le Puy En Velay
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Le Puy En Velay
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Le Puy En Velay
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Notre-Dame de France
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Lavaudieu
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 1:14 am

The next village I visited, called Blesle, was stunning. It's not a big tourist destination at all. It doesn't have a big castle or a large cathedral or anything. It's just authentic, quiet, with artisans, half timbered houses everywhere, a nice river, an ancient keep... It's quite something to get lost in those small streets.
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 1:23 am

Next I explored the Lot river region. Carving an ancient gorge in the landscape, surrounded by rocky hills, it rivals the well known Dordogne, in Périgord. The village of Conques is right on the side of one of those hills, and I did a half day walk around the countryside to get some nice views. The village in itself is quite fun. Being on a steep hill, everything is crooked and narrow, kids must have a blast playing there. It also got most of its remparts still standing, alongside a huge abbey.

In the area, I stayed in Figeac. It's like a medieval city surrounded by modern subburbs. That kind of ruins it frankly. You get a medieval feel with city people. It's busy, it's noisy, I prefer the small villages. Nearby you can check out Cardaillac, and climb to the summit of an ancient keep for some nice views. Capdenac, on top of a cliff, is also quite nice. A bonus with all these villages is that each one has his baker, with century-old recipies, all different as soon as you drive 50 km or more.
Attachments
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Conques
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Conques
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Conques
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Cardaillac
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Capdenac
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 1:29 am

On the last day before visiting my parents, I checked out Saint Cirq La Popie. A well known ancient village overlooking the Lot river, on top of limestone cliffs. It's a classic, and it's worth it. Steep streets, half timbered houses, a lookout on top of the cliffs. I also hiked the "chemin de halage" which is an ancient path carved right in the cliffs by boatmen who used it to tract their boats with mules. Today it's open to pedestrians. Climbing back to the village is via a very steep and nicely overgrown cliff track with trees eaten by moss.
Attachments
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The Lot river
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Saint Cirq La Popie
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Saint Cirq La Popie
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Chemin de Halage
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Moss
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 1:47 am

On the way back, I went further North to the classic pommy magnet that is Périgord.

I first visited Beynac-et-Cazenac, a village with its own castle, with crows circling around it. About as authentic as it gets. There's even a secret path leading to a cave with prehistorical paintings, and no so prehistorical graffitis... Nearby La Roque-Gageac sits between a cliff and the Dordogne river. Showing how rich the people living here centuries ago were, there's a collection of exotic plants on the South facing main street with banana trees and palm trees. Not far away, Domme kept its remparts and ancient windmill, overlooking the whole region.

I stayed in Sarlat. It's a nightmare to park on the boulevards outside this medieval city. But I have to admit that if you want to shop for food in the area, this is the place to be. Amazing pastries, biscuits, and of course foie gras. I stayed in a studio, on the last floor of a medieval half-timber house. For 55 € a night, it's hard to say no. Being quite big as opposed to the villages I've visited, and all medieval, it's easy to get lost there, but also enjoyable.
Attachments
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Beynac-et-Cazenac
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Beynac-et-Cazenac
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Beynac-et-Cazenac
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La Roque-Gageac
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Domme
Last edited by Hallu on Mon 11 Jan, 2016 3:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 1:55 am

West from Périgord is a region called Quercy, of which Saint Cirq La Popie, shown before, is part. I actually prefer it to Périgord : it's wilder, less touristy. It's also there that you'll find Rocamadour, probably the most impressive cliff village and castle in all of France. You can see it from a dozen angles. The visit is a hike in itself, with so many stairs. The top castle was closed in winter however. There's also a place you can visit where they breed eagles for a reintroduction program. And all around Périgord and Quercy I think I've never seen so many eagles, so it must be working.
Attachments
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 2:02 am

North from Rocamadour is a series of medieval villages all completely different from one another. Curemonte sits on a flat plateau with small castles ressembling manors. Collonges-La-Rouge is a magnificent and unique village, with houses and monuments made out of red sandstone. Turenne sits on a high hill with an ancient castle. All have a label called "most beautiful villages in France", which is an organisation that uses strict criteria to give this label to outstanding historical villages, combining great monuments and preserved houses and streets, mostly pedestrian streets, and artisans. You can check out the list here : http://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org/en , it hasn't disappointed me so far.
Attachments
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Curemonte
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Collonges-La-Rouge
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Collonges-La-Rouge
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Turenne
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Turenne
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 2:14 am

On the last leg of my journey, I visited Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, a nice mid-size town on the river. Further North, Tournemire in Auvergne is well known for it square four tower castle, that you can see from quite far. It's built out of those black lava rocks, just like most of the houses in the region. Salers is probably the most well known village in the area. It's got a cheese and a breed of cows named after it. The food there is probably the best in the region indeed, and the views are amazing as well. On my last stop at stayed at Saint Antoine l'Abbaye, an hour from Grenoble. It's got a massive abbey you wouldn't expect to find in this tranquil countryside.

All in all I think this is the proper way to travel in France : take a car, drive the backcountry roads, stopping in historical villages, hiking alongside gorges, sample the food and try to keep up with the huge number of regional specialties. We often take our country for granted, which is a lesson I learned in Australia. In 2.5 years over there, many Aussies told me they hadn't seen as much as I had, so I decided not to make the same mistake with my own country. And giving the finger to those private highway companies charging outrageous toll prices isn't half bad either.
Attachments
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Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
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Tournemire
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Salers
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Dormant volcanoes outside Salers
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Saint-Antoine-L'Abbaye
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby gayet » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 8:54 am

Great post Hallu, thank you.
I love all the ancient buildings and architectural changes over the centuries. You just don't get that in Aus.
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby north-north-west » Sat 09 Jan, 2016 10:57 am

Wonderful. You had pretty good weather, too.
Thanks for the tour. It's cheaper to stay here and let you take us around. Could you visit Poland at some stage? I'd rather like to see where my parents grew up . . .
"Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens."
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby sim1oz » Sun 17 Jan, 2016 9:38 pm

Thanks Hallu. Great post and pictures. After Poland, I wouldn't mind seeing Spain :D
Carpe diem!
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Thu 21 Jan, 2016 11:28 pm

Thanks. I have no idea where the next trip will be or when. The one in the US last year and French income taxes (about a month salary per year) have purged my savings account. Travelling solo is expensive, so I want to travel with friends this summer for the next one, probably somewhere in Western Europe.
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Suz » Sat 16 Apr, 2016 6:32 pm

ooh how dreamy. you're like our own personal rick steves haha. can you please do some hiking village-to-village? ;P

travelling solo is expensive in cash terms, but travelling with friends can be expensive on your 'tolerance'.
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Hallu » Sun 17 Apr, 2016 10:46 pm

Well I usually don't hike village to village it's so much easier to drive. But plenty of GRs (long route hikes) cross villages, especially in South West France, like Dordogne or Quercy. In other regions, especially in central France, there can be a whole lot of nothing before reaching the oasis that is a historic village. So walking there isn't a good idea. In the Alps, most GRs have stops in villages (half is huts, half is villages, something like that). The French have been reconnecting with their villages recently, thanks to websites such as this one : http://www.france-beautiful-villages.org/en . It's not just about the stone or half timbered houses and historic buildings, it's also about food, people and surrounding scenery.
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Re: A good dose of French villages

Postby Watertank » Tue 31 May, 2016 9:44 pm

Hallu
thanks for the lovely photos and reminding me of my hiking in France in 1993 - I went through some of those villages. For anyone interested in getting more ideas of walks in France I recommend the website of an Australian couple who travel to France every year - walk the entire time and then fly home - great reading - http://walkinginfrance.info
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