This coming weekend the annual Journées du Patrimoine take place throughout France. You can visit historic buildings and monuments, some of which are not normally open to the public, and many of them offer free entrance. I have already noted several places I’d like to see. This link takes you to the official website. Clicking on ‘Programme’ opens an interactive map, which is annoying, since you have to know where you want to go to start with. However, you can also download and browse regional brochures.
My previous post about hidden gems proved popular, so I thought I’d add five more. They are not all historic monuments, but they are things worth seeing and/or doing in my opinion. You can read more about them in previous posts, for which I give the links below.
Le Château de Cas, Espinas
This castle of 13th-century origins dominates the Bonnette Valley between Caylus and Saint-Antonin. It’s the home of the Lastic Saint-Jal family, who restored it to its present impeccable condition in the 1980s. The château was used for storing clandestine arms during World War II, but it was ransacked and badly damaged.
The château has a tiny Romanesque chapel, which I think is delightful.
The Viaur Valley
The River Viaur is a tributary of the Aveyron, which it joins at Laguépie. One of our favourite walks starts below the pretty village of Bar and goes alongside the river under spreading chestnut trees. If you go at the right time, the autumn colours are spectacular and the chestnuts are falling. You can gather them to your heart’s content.
This walk passes through Lagarde Viaur, now a very quiet village but once a more important township in a strategic position. The commune has put up plaques recounting its history. I particularly like the fortified church at the top of the village.
I’ve written about the Viaur in two posts:
The Abbaye de Beaulieu, Tarn-et-Garonne
Take the road from Parisot to Verfeil, which winds along the beautiful Seye Valley. As you round a bend, you come upon the Cistercian Abbaye de Beaulieu, which nestles in a sheltered spot by the river. This tranquil place certainly lives up to its name.
The abbey has weathered fluctuating fortunes in the past. After the Revolution, the magnificent church was used as a cowshed and was filled with manure. Then, a scheme to move it stone by stone to Saint-Antonin was foiled by Prosper Mérimée, inspector of historic monuments, in the 19th century. The abbey was restored from 1959 onwards and is now a centre of contemporary art.
I mentioned this town briefly in my previous post about hidden gems, but I think it’s worth an entry of its own. Often overlooked in favour of its large neighbour, Villefranche-de-Rouergue, and the Plus Beaux Villages of Belcastel and Najac, it is nonetheless an interesting and appealing place.
The present town has spread beyond its original walls, but much of those remain, along with several fortified gates. Villeneuve is a bastide, one of the defensive new towns that were constructed during the 13th century on a grid pattern around a central square. This is a place to wander around while imagining how it would have been in its heyday.
A highlight is the soaring church of 11th-century origins. It has a series of 14th-century wall paintings showing pilgrims en route to Saint-Jacques de Compostelle.
Truffle Market at Limogne, Lot
The Limogne truffle market is not exactly a gem but it deals in them – the black diamonds of Quercy. It’s overshadowed by its much bigger sibling at Lalbenque (to which, incidentally, I have never been). I found it fascinating when I visited a few years ago. The market is held only during the winter months, when truffles are found. Since they are becoming scarcer, only a few sellers attend. And blink and you’d miss it; it’s all over in about 10 minutes. However, as an example of a particularly French enterprise, it’s well worth a visit.
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