The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                     PAGE THREE
Happily 'Lost' in the French countryside continued . . .
Roman Arch in Glanum.  Wikipedia
Not on the list of Most Beautiful Villages, but a town not to miss, is nearby St-Rémy-de-Provence enjoy lunch in one of its many restaurants, wander the smaller streets of this charming town, and perhaps come upon the house where Nostradamus (French physician Michel de Nostradame) was born on December 14, 1503.   We did!  It was a pleasant surprise.   A most interesting archeological site is Glanum, on the south edge of St-Rémy.  Glanum was a fortified town founded by Celto-Ligurian people in the 6th century BC, overtaken by the Romans in 27 BC, but by 260 AD it was abandoned.  [The photo at right is the Roman Arch in Glanum.] 

From June 17 to September 17 there will be an exposition of photographs taken by Michel Elsenlohr of the ancient archeological site of Palmyra and the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus.  The program will be offered both at Glanum and the Hôtel de Sade in St-Rémy.

Map of the Vaucluse.  Wikipedia

to the southeast is the hilltop commune of Ménerbes (Vaucluse), made famous by Peter Mayle's best selling book, A Year in Provence.  It is a delightful tiny village with a population of about 1100 inhabitants and many very narrow streets better suited to horse and buggy than today's automobiles.  But, it's delightful nonetheless for a brief visit.   Also in the Vaucluse is the artist village of Lourmarin surrounded by olive groves and vineyards and boasting a fine Romanesque church and a grand castle.  Also noteworthy, it is the final resting place of Albert Camus. 

For accommodations in the Vaucluse,
Château Juvenal, Le Pavillon de Galon and Château Talaud are all lovely bed and breakfasts ~ Juvenal and Talaud offer weekly rental apartments, and Galon will rent "One Week, One Wing".  The owners each produce wine from their own vineyards, and Château Juvenal makes luscious olive oil as well!

Map of the Var.  Wikipedia The Var département is home to several members of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, one of which is Seillans, a perched village with a view of the plain between Cannes and Saint-Raphaël.  Its houses are on terraced hillsides, fountains dot the village, and it was a favorite location of painter Max Ernst.  Visit the highest village in the Var, Bargème, at 1097 meters, that has a 12th century castle that was destroyed during the Wars of Religion, a terraced hillside below the ruins of the castle, and unobstructed views of the valley below.

Mènerbes        WikipediaSeillans.  Courtesy Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.Lourmarin.  Les Plus Beaux Villages de ProvenceBargème   Courtesy Les Plus Beaux Villages de France

                                            Mènerbes                                                         Seillans                                                      Lourmarin                                                      Bargème

We would like to comment at this juncture about the preservation of ancient ruins in France.
As you explore the country you will come upon a significant number of ruins from Gallo-Romans times.
It is common knowledge that there are more well-preserved sites and structures from the Roman Empire in France
than anywhere else in Europe.  You will see that the French have taken great care over the centuries to preserve, restore
 and protect its archeological history.  Of course, it isn't only Roman ruins but the dwellings and sites of Cro-Magnon man
going back 35,000 years ago to the standing stones and
burial mounds of Neolithic man from about 4000 BC.  France is the most visited
 country in the world, and by preserving
its ancient history ~ from major structures such as the Pont du Gard to the
 smallest artifacts in tiny hamlets countrywide ~ people from all over the world are given the opportunity to share these treasures.

Rose Garlic of Lautrec.The Moulin at Lautrec.  Copyright Cold Spring Press. All rights reserved.
Map Tarn.  Wikipedia
westward, you will enter the Tarn département to find one of its four members of the association worth every minute you can spend there.  It is Lautrec, about an hour east of Toulouse, and a place like no other.  Cozy little streets, a fine place, unique restaurants, a museum taking you back to the time of  Charlemagne who built a church below the village walls, a 16th century working mill at the top of the hill [photo right], and a 14th century market square are all pleasant discoveries in this village of fewer than 1700 inhabitants.

And, Lautrec is renowned for something even more unique: its pink
garlic (ail rose).  Find it for purchase in several little shops in the village. Or perhaps you'll visit during the annual Garlic Festival which, since 1970, has been held on the first Friday of August.  The pink garlic of Lautrec was one of the first agricultural products to be granted the Label Rouge in 1966, a designation that guarantees quality and origin of production.  The Brotherhood of the Pink Garlic of Lautrec, with over 200 members, oversees the fete each year.  Lautrec is pretty, friendly and offers panoramic views of the Agout Valley below.  We wrote about Lautrec in a FRANCE On Your Own in 2011.  Click here to read all about it.  Unfortunately, the lovely B&B mentioned in that article has been sold to new owners who will no longer offer accommodations to travelers.

Consider renting the 5-bedroom apartment in Château de Garrevaques.  There is a swimming pool, a restaurant in the Pavillon on the estate, and it is convenient to Toulouse if you are arriving by air.

Map of the Lot.  Wikipedia
in a northwest direction to the Lot département where two of the five examples of Les Plus Beaux Villages are worth a leisure visit .  The first is Carennac which we covered in detail in our Autumn newsletter, a small village traversed by the River Dordogne and brimming over with Quercy-style buildings and a population dedicated to maintaining its history and charm.   The second is St Cirq-Lapopie, shown in the photo below, high above the meandering River Lot and a magnet for visitors. As shown in the aerial photo below, it is unlikely you will find a more beautiful spot in all of France.  For those interested in Medieval architecture, this village is a treasure trove.  Lovely, well-preserved buildings with red tile roofs, charming winding and narrow streets, and people who welcome visitors warmly to their incredibly appealing village.  In the Lot
Lot you can't go wrong with Moulin de Fresquet a B&B with spacious suites, bucolic surroundind and great hosts.

Carennac.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.Aerial view of St-Cirq-Lapopie.  Les Beaux Villages de France

The River Lot is a delight in itself.  Follow it along its winding, 300-mile course as it snakes its way from its source at Montagne du Goulet in the Cévennes ~  in the region about which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes ~  to quite near the town of Aiguillon where it joins the River Garonne. Along the way you will find little villages such as St-Eulalie-d'Olt before reaching the Gorges du Lot, Conques (a bit of a detour south), Cajarc (near the fine B&B Mas de Garrigue in Calvignac), St-Cirq-Lapopie, the city of Cahors, very pretty Crayssac, Puy l'Eveque, and Villeneuve-sur-Lot before ending its journey at the River Garonne.  The Lot travels through some barely inhabited parts of the Lozère and Cantal départements and the river itself is not particularly navigable.  But one thing is certain:  the Valley of the Lot is spectacularly beautiful, peaceful and hardly touched by time.  You'll love it!

More popular and visited is the département of Dordogne, perhaps best known for its perched villages along the river of the same name and for being a center of prehistory with painted cave dwellings and other traces of prehistoric man.  Three amazing perched villages and members of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France are La Roque Gageac, Beynac-et-Cazenac and Domme.

La Roque-Gageac in the Périgord-Noir takes advantage of the lovely Dordogne River at its base and is a stunning, south-facing village nestled against a backdrop of forested hillsides.  A unique feature of the village is a troglodyte fort built into the limestone cliffside.  Once accessible by climbing 140 steps, it was closed in 2010 after a dangerous rockfall, the last of four that took place since 1920.  La Roque Gageac remains one of the most photographed attractions along the River Dordogne.

Beynac-et-Cazenac, populated since the Bronze Age and just 10 minutes from La Roque Gageac, is rich in history:  it was the French base of operations against the British who were ensconced across the river in Château de Castelnaud.   Beynac was never captured but was occupied briefly by Richard the Lionheart.  The village is more defensive that La Roque Gageac and more open than Domme.  The Château de Beynac at the top of the hillside town was the property of the Lords of Beynac until 1962 when it began a 100-year renovation project under the direction of its new owners.  It is one of the best examples of Medieval château architecture in France and is worth your time to visit.  You may be interested in visiting the half-ruined Château de Commarque owned by the last member of the Lords of Beynac, Hubert de Commarque.  Individual and group tours can be arranged, and if you are a guest in one of his two Périgord châteaus, Château de la Poujade or Château de la Bourgonie, the tours are included in your stay. 

You can enter the fortified bastide town of Domme  ~ built in the 13th century during the Albigensian Crusade by King Philippe III ~ by walking through a massive arched gateway to find yourself in a grand square surrounded by little shops and casual restaurants.  It's situated on a high cliff overlooking the Dordogne Valley, from where you can see the nearby towns of La Roque Gageac and Beynac-et-Cazenac.  

La Roque Gageac. WikipediaBeynac-et-Cazenac from their web siteDomme.  Courtesy Les Plus Beaux Villages de Provence
                                                                          LA ROQUE GAGEAC                                       BEYNAC-ET-CAZENAC                                                    DOMME

Map of the Dordogne.  Wikipedia
in the Dordogne, you can visit two of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France that are on somewhat more level ground:  Monpazier and LimeuilMonpazier was founded in 1285 by King Edward I of England who was then also the Duke de Gascony, and it is very near the massive Chateau de Biron now a museum open to the public.  For a brief period of time, Monpazier was home to Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard II.  It is still an important center in the region for the weekly outdoor market each Thursday in its massive Medieval square surrounded by the original arcades.  It takes visitors back to what life might have been like six centuries ago.  Very near Monpazier you will find Domaine des Faures , Château de Rouffillac, and Château de Castelmerle, all rental accommodations, while Faures also offers bed and breakfast rooms except in July and August.  Farther afield, but still in the Dordorgne is Le Forge du Roy, a magnificent property with ten en suite bedrooms for a group rental.

Monpazier Market Day.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.Limeuil    Courtesy Les Plus Beaux Villages de France web site

                                                                                                      MONPAZIER MARKET DAY                                                        LIMEUIL

Limeuil is a fairytale Medieval village at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vézère Rivers and offers travelers a glimpse into village life on the river 800 years ago.  Because it was fortunate to be located where two major rivers met, Limeuil benefited greatly from river trade.  Its church is Sainte-Catherine, named after the patron saint of boat people.  Lovely Romanesque buildings and three of the four original entrance gates are still standing.  The hillside behind the village is the site of the chateau ~  Limeuil was embroiled in the Hundred Years War and had to defend itself  during a war that actually went on for 116 years.  As with many villages and sites in the Dordogne, especially near the River Vézère, Limeuil traces its first inhabitants back 12,000 to 15,000 years ~ to the Magdalenian VI period ~  judging by the dating of carvings of animals on the walls of the cave near the river.

At this point, we would like to give a tip on driving in France.
 You will find the highways from the autoroutes down to the smallest local roads very well paved and maintained.
 It is truly a pleasure to drive in France.  However, the speed limits, which in the past were rather overlooked by drivers and authorities alike,
 are now strictly enforced.  By strictly, we mean down to the last kilometer per hour.  Speed 'traps' with cameras are strategically located throughout the country.
 You will not see them, but any one of several web sites can be visited to make you more aware of their locations and everything associated with them.
  Having a foreign car or a rental car will not protect you from fines or worse.  We strongly suggest you stay within the speed limits ~
which are already quite generous, to avoid being surprised by a notice of a violation in your mail when you arrive back home. 
You can be fined for exceeding the speed limit by as little as 3 kph, so don't think you are immune!!
 The tightening of the laws has prevented many accidents and tragedies over the past several years, so please take this seriously.

Map of the Corrèze départementCollonges-la-Rouge

Corrèze is a rugged and lovely part of France, quite rural and a pleasant place to drive.  Two of the Most Beautiful Villages of France are worth seeing when you are in this département.  The first is Collonges-la-Rouge, the original Most Beautiful Village
, the organization founded by its mayor. This warm and inviting village of red sandstone buildings was the former stronghold of the Counts of Turenne.  It is a wonderful village for walking and simply enjoying the 15th and 16th century houses, stopping in a little restaurant for a meal or finding accommodations to spend the night in the village.

Church in Collonges La Rouge.  WikipediaCollonge La Rouge.  Tourism web site 

St-Robert is another Corrèze village your may find interesting: a village arranged around a Benedictine monastery built in the 11th century.  It is high above a valley with endless views to the north and toward the Dordogne just to the south.  It is hard to imagine that this small, peaceful town was the scene of violent religious clashes that miraculously left the 12 century Romanesque church [see photo below]  and the rich architectural heritage of the village houses intact.  Each August 15th the village is the site of a pilgrimage ~ the pilgrims gather around a 'magic' fountain below the town.  Our favorite place to spend a few days is Château du Bois Noir, a short drive from St-Robert, and a lovely bed and breakfast with spectacular panoramic views of the countryside.

St-Robert.  Les Plus Beaux Villages de FranceRomanesque Church of St Robert.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.


Lovely Mortemart.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.

Map Haute-Vienne.  WikipediaHeading north and west, you enter the Haute-Vienne département, an agricultural area but with many signs of Neolithic man among its prehistoric sites and villages.  A commune that has provided us with many happy hours is Mortemart which we've mentioned in past newsletters and is worthy of your consideration.  The tiny market center is surrounded by homes, two restaurants, and a fine, historic 10th century château.   Cardinal Richelieu ordered the château destroyed, but the tower and some rooms still remain today to host exhibitions.  Carmelite and Augustinian convents still remind us of the strong religious past of this village, and it was once a very prosperous commercial centre.  The Haute-Vienne is part of the Limousin (now incorporated into the new region Nouvelle-Aquitaine) so you have easy access to Limoges, Bellac and other small cities of the region.  Make your home base Château du Fraisse, a fine B&B in a château that has been in the same family since the year 1220!  They will celebrate its 800th anniversary in three years!

Not listed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France is tiny Montrol-Senard reached from Mortemart just above the village.  It is a designated Village Fleuri [Label de Qualité de Vie], now being held by 4700 French communes, and it certainly does deserve it.  Walk through town and find flowers displayed in hanging baskets, on fences and in the landscaping.  The entire village is an ecomusée, so in addition to tourists visiting the lovely church, eco-tours are now available to them ~ and with the help of donations and volunteers the tour now includes 17 interesting village sites.

Montrol Senard.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.Mortemart Château.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.

                                                      ENTERING MONTROL-SENARD                            CHÂTEAU DE MORTEMART

Burgundy is a great vacation destination.  There is much to see and do, including visits to wine producers and simply enjoying the beautiful Burgundian countryside.  Two départements we will visit are the  Côte d'Or  and the Yonne.

Map Côte d'Or.  Wikipedia

Beginning in the Côte d'Or, we must first say that this is important Burgundy wine country ~ the Gold Coast ~ a limestone escarpment which includes Côte de Nuits to the north and Côte de Beaune at the southern end.  Among the wines produced in this region are Mersault, Pommard, Gevrey-Chambertin, Montrachet and Clos de Vougeot.  It is also here you can see the source of the River Seine if you are so inclined.  You may be as surprised as we were to see that this important 483 mile-long commercial waterway begins with the tiniest spring in a cave in the Côte d'Or as shown in the photo on our first page.  Château de Chorey, a once famous producer of Côte-de-Beaune wine, offers elegant bed and breakfast accommodations.

One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France in this département is Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, made famous by the 2000 movie Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.  The majority of the film was made here, but 5 other French locations were used including Noyers-sur-Serein and Beynac-et-Cazenac.  Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is a Medieval village surrounded by three small rivers, one of which is the Ozerain.  A Benedictine abbey was founded on the site in the year 719, and the town received relics of Sainte Reine from the nearby town of Alise to protect the relics  from frequent Viking raids.  The relics remain in Flavigny to this day.  In the 18th century a home for the Abbot of Flavigny was constructed, and today it is the home to a factory for the village specialty: Les Anis de Flavigny, small aniseed-flavored pastilles sold around the world.

Flavigny Porte.  WikipediaFlavigny s/Ozerain

A forty-minute drive south will take you to Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, another of this département's Most Beautiful Villages. It is high on a rocky spur still keeping watch over the route between Dijon and Autun, and is considered one of the last examples of 14th century military architecture in France.  During the Hundred Years War towers and walls were built to defend the Auxois plain.  It was a prosperous town between the 14th and 17th centuries, and many wealthy merchants built houses in Châteauneuf, many of which still survive today.

Châteauneuf-en-Auxois.  Burgundy Tourism site


Map of the Yonne département.  Wikipedia.One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France in the Yonne is Noyers-sur-Serein, a village of half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, and a Medieval ambiance with its many buildings well-preserved from the 15th and 16th centuries.  The village is in a bend of the River Serein with pedestrians favored in the town center on summer weekends.  In November the village hosts two large truffle fairs attended by locals and buyers from all over France and beyond.  The village has several good restaurants, art galleries and a museum.  And, if you follow the Serein north, it will take you to Chablis!

Noyers-sur-Serein Half-Timber Houses.  Village web site.Noyers Aerial.  Wikicommons

Basilica de Saint-Magdalene.  Vézelay.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.Vézelay.  WikipediaThe second village in the Yonne département that we recommend is Vézelay, high above the valley, and best known for the 11th century Romanesque Basilica of Sainte-Magdalene.  Both the abbey and the town are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

It is said that relics from Mary Magdalene were brought to the abbey before the end of the first millennium by a monk, and they were authenticated in 1058 by Pope Stephen IX which began what, to this day, has made Vézelay a pilgrimage site.  It is also the starting point for pilgrims traveling the Way of Santiago de Compostela (Saint Jacques de Compostelle)

You may want to follow the River Yonne as it wanders through Burgundy.  It has its source at Château Chinon in the massif known as the Morvan. It flows north through Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, Joigny, Clamecy and the city of Auxerre.  It is a lovely river with little traffic, many portions 'canalized', before emptying into the Seine at Montereau-Fault-Yonne in the Seine-et-Marne département.

Stay in the Yonne at La Borde Maison d'Hôtes, Château de Resle, or Le Petit Manoir des Bruyères for exceptional B&B lodging, and the Château de Vallery is a large estate that specializes in hosting weddings and group events.

Map Haut-Rhin.  Wikipedia
the northeastern edge of France is Alsace, a long-disputed region that has gone back and forth between France and Germany several times.  Now, solidly part of France, one département in Alsace is the Haut-Rhin where you will find the charming and lively village of Riquewihr.  The wines produced in this region are primarily white such as Rieslings and Gewürztraminer.  The Vosges mountains to the west and the Rhine River to the east have a great influence over the climate with the mountains shielding the narrow, north to south growing area from westerly winds leaving the area dry and sunny.  Riquewihr itself maintains its 16th century feeling and has been a trading hub over the centuries.  Fortunately, it suffered little damage during World War II. 

Riquewihr VineyardsRicquewihr Horloge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                continued on page 4

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