5 Hidden Gems in Southwest France

Pont du Parayre over the River Audierne below Peyrusse-le-Roc  - an ancient mule and pilgrim track

Pont du Parayre over the River Audierne below Peyrusse-le-Roc – an ancient mule and pilgrim track

This region contains so much to see and do that it’s easy to visit only the obvious places, those that get the most publicity: the plus beaux villages, the Viaduc de Millau, the better-known markets, the famous festivals. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find hidden gems that are well worth a visit. I’d like to share with you a handful of them, about which I’ve written on this blog.

It wasn’t easy to choose and there’s plenty of scope for another five in a post later on. In no particular order, these are my choices.

Hive House in Promilhanes, Lot

House with a difference at Promilhanes - beehives incorporated into the walls

House with a difference at Promilhanes – beehives incorporated into the walls

A very rare example of voluntary human and insect cohabitation, this small house contains bee hives built into the walls. In French, it’s called une maison rucher (a hive house). We visited a number of years ago and I understand it has been fully restored since then, so a second visit is overdue.

A House with a Difference

Les Jardins de Quercy 

Water feature at les Jardins de Quercy

Water feature at les Jardins de Quercy

A lovely garden, or rather series of gardens, created in unpromising conditions: a couple of hectares of north-facing former farmland with the area’s typically stony and infertile soil. The owners have progressively developed it into a wonderful jardin à l’anglaise, with colourful borders, themed “rooms” and hidden corners. A real delight, best visited in May/June when the borders are stunning, but always rewarding.

Glorious French Gardens 

Zadkine Christ in Caylus

Zadkine's Christ

Zadkine’s Christ

The Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) lived in Caylus for a while, but he’s more closely associated with Les Arques in the Lot and with Paris, both of which have a Musée Zadkine. The Christ in the church at Caylus was carved from a single tree trunk and its elongated body and limbs are, to me, reminiscent of the paintings of El Greco. A visit to Les Arques is on my bucket list. 

Five Curiosities in Caylus 

L’académie des Miniatures in Albi

Salle de bain

Salle de bain

Everyone visits the cathedral and the Toulouse-Lautrec museum in Albi. But cross the river and you’ll find tucked away in a side street a delightful small museum dedicated to miniatures. Before you think this isn’t your scene, I didn’t think it would be mine, either.

Each display case contains a miniature room complete with furniture and accessories of 1/7th life size. They provide a very accurate view of French rural domestic life in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

Anniversaires and Albi Revisited

Peyrusse-le-Roc, Aveyron 

Peyrusse - Twin towers of the château inférieur

Peyrusse – Twin towers of the château inférieur

Okay, this is a plus beau village, and in summer it’s probably heaving. I visited one April. However, it is a little off the beaten track and may not be as frequented as villages like Najac. It’s a fascinating place, not only for its stunning towers but also because it was once a much bigger and more important town.

For me, the highlights included the charming walk at the bottom of the hill beside the babbling river Audierne (pic at the top of this post) and the discovery of a medieval potager.

Like all plus beaux villages, this is probably best visited out of season.

Medieval garden at Peyrusse-le-Roc

Medieval garden at Peyrusse-le-Roc

Peyrusse-le-Roc: A Hidden Corner of the Aveyron

You can combine it with a visit to the nearby bastide town of Villeneuve d’Aveyron, which contains well-preserved 14th-century wall paintings in the church.

Wall painting depicting a pilgrim with a rather natty handbag

Wall painting depicting a pilgrim with a rather natty handbag

Beautiful Bastide: Villeneuve d’Aveyron

Yes, I know. I cheated. That’s six. I told you I found it hard to choose…

You might also like:

My series of posts about local châteaux
France’s Most Beautiful Villages: Plus Beaux Villages

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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16 Responses to 5 Hidden Gems in Southwest France

  1. Pingback: 5 More Hidden Gems in Southwest France | Life on La Lune

  2. Interesting and enlightening as always, thank you. I did a double take at your photo of zadkine’s christ as i have seen the one in les arques. A long time after my visit there i read ‘from here you can’t see paris’, an easy read but a good one. As for peyrusse le roc, friends visited in july on our recommendation and found it quiet! They loved it as did we and all thanks to your article. Now i have the maison ruchier on My bucket list! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Les Arques is definitely on my list for a visit soon. I’m glad that Peyrusse wasn’t heaving. It is a little off the beaten track, which may account for that. And the maison rucher is an original. I haven’t heard of another one in France – although there may well be more. I love finding these quirky places. I find them more satisfying than the obvious tourist honeypots.

      Liked by 1 person

      • http://www.cougnaguet.com/
        the number one honeypot close to us is rocamadour, always heaving in summer but so much more rewarding under winter skies because of the rockface. But just down the road is the delightful moulin de cougnaguet tucked away in a pretty green fertile valley. Visit if you can, especially after the hubbub of rocamadour! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Thanks for the tip about the moulin. I much prefer Rocamadour out of season, although we don’t go that often – generally it’s with visitors. However, when we do, we’ll make a point of visiting the moulin as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the suggestions. Next time I have a spare day, I now have places to visit.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. elizabeth Lamb says:

    I thoroughly enjoyes “from here you can’t see Paris” . That sent me to Caylus, not far from us to look at the church, and also to notice a plaque saying that Zadkine lived in Caylus, before Les Arques.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tucsonbabe says:

    Les Arques is an interesting town. At one point it was almost dead.You should read “From Here You Can’t See Paris” by Michael S Sanders. This is the book that sent my husband and I on our “pilgrimage” from Tucson, AZ to Les Arques and other points in the Lot. We now return every other year. I enjoy your blog.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for the reference, which I’ll certainly follow up. Some friends went to Les Arques recently and thoroughly recommended it – partly because there’s a good restaurant in the town! It’s not that far from where we live. Apparently, Zadkine bought a house in Caylus, but moved away because he found there was too much traffic. He’d certainly find that today, since it’s bisected by a main road.

      I’m pleased you enjoy the blog and you obviously like the region, since you keep coming back.

      Like

  6. Osyth says:

    A wonderful selection and a great advert for visiting the area. Oddly enough I was sent a house near Cayrus today ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      There’s plenty to see around here. I’ve already got another 5 things in mind. Nice if you ended up in this area – although I know you love Cantal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        We do love Cantal and it remains our ideal but we do feel that if we reach this time next year when want will rapidly be turning to need as retirement really does begin to beckon that we may have to compromise and in fairness it ps not much of a sacrifice when we already have our little restoration project in the Cantal. That’s the good sense of the wife, the husband is wholly têtu 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Good luck with the decision-making!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        I’ll need it!

        Like

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