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A week in the Cantal, September 2012

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
This trip report was originally published on Slow Travel. All the pictures can be found here.


BACKGROUND TO THE TRIP

We enjoyed Brittany so much last year that we decided we wanted to see more of France this year. We decided on a week in the Loire Valley, followed by the Auvergne. This is mountainous country with many narrow winding roads. I soon realised that this covered a large area and looking at the maps driving times would be slow. We decided to spend two weeks based in two different areas. This report covers the first week spent in the Cantal region. We spent the second week in the Haute Loire.

We wanted to use Brittany Ferries to book ferry crossings and accommodation. There were only a few properties in the area we wanted to stay. I dismissed those that would entail a long drive along narrow roads at the start and finish of the day. This reduced the choice to one;L’Oustalou de Vernusse just outside the small village of Cassaniouze, about 25 miles south of Aurillac. (The gîte is still available for letting but no longer through Brittany Ferries.)

The gite was about 5 minutes drive from the village, on top of the plateau with a superb view across the rolling countryside with wooded valleys.

There was no light pollution and on a clear night the stars were amazing. There were a few isolated farms and the only sounds were cow bells, crickets and the occasional donkey. It was a typical Auvergne building of dark volcanic stone with a flared stone roof to throw off the winter snows and shutters. There was a small garden and terrace where we ate our evening meal. This was a delightful place and we really enjoyed it.

It was also a good base. Cassaniouze had a bakers and a small but well stocked Utile supermarket. There is also plenty to do within one to two hours drive. This is an area which gets few foreign tourists and hardly features in the guide books. Apart from the larger towns there is often little information on the web. I had planned out itineraries for everyday but soon found this is an area to throw away the guide book and my itineraries and we used the Michelin 1:200,000 road atlas to explore. Driving times were slow and we frequently didn’t achieve as much in a day as expected. It didn’t matter as we found many delightful small villages well off the tourist beat.

As the report is long, I have broken it up into separate sections for the different places we visited.
#2 Impressions
#3 Uzerche
#4 Cassaniouze
#5 Settlements on the south bank of the River Lot
#6 South of the River Lot - Sénergues
#7 South of the River Lot - Espeyrac
#8 North bank of the River Lot - Viellevie
#9 North bank of the River Lot - St Parthem
#10 North bank of the River Lot - La Vinzelle
#11 North of the River Lot - Montsalvy
#12 Truyère valley - Entraygues-sur-Truyère
#13 Truyère valley drive
#14 To the south of Cassianouze - Conques
#15 To the south of Cassaniouze - Abbey church of St Foy, Conques
#16 To the south of Cassaniouze - Bozouls
#17 To the south of Cassaniouze - Belcastel
#18 To the south of Cassaniouze - Peyrusse-le-Roc
#19 To the west of Cassaniouze - St-Santin and St-Santin-de-Maurs
#20 To the west of Cassaniouze - Montmurat
#21 To the west of Cassaniouze - Capdenac le Haut
#22 To the north of CAssaniouze - Souceyrac
#23 To the north of Cassaniouze - St-Céré
#24 To the north of Cassaniouze - Autoire
#25 To the north of Cassaniouze - Loubressac
#26 To the north of Cassaniouze - Laroquebrou
#27 To the north of Cassaniouze - Girgols
#28 To the north of Cassaniouze - St Cernin
#29 To the north of Cassaniouze - St-Illide
#30 To the north of Cassaniouze - St Martin de Cantalès
#31 To the north of Cassaniouze - Salers
#32 To the north of Cassaniouze - Puy Mary and the Jordanne Valley
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
IMPRESSIONS OF THE CANTAL

This is an area of deep wooded valleys and gorges with very steep sides and a lot of bare rock. The valley bottoms are often quite narrow so settlement is built either on the side of the mountains or on the tops. Roads are cut out of the mountainside on a narrow ledge so can make for exciting driving. Trees however do restrict views.




We found that many of the scenic roads marked green in the Michelin Road Atlas were actually through woodland along the sides of the valleys. Roads across the open tops often had 360˚views, even though they didn’t merit a green line. Apart from the main 'red' roads, driving was slow as roads were narrow and often winding. Signing was usually good and off the main roads, there was little traffic.

Above the valleys the plateau is undulating and very fertile, especially when you consider much of it is over 1000m. It is a region of scattered large and prosperous farms. It is mainly pasture or hay meadows but with some maize which is used to feed the cows in the winter.




All the cows wear bells. The most popular breed is the Salers cow which is a deep red brown with horns.


These are dairy cows and their milk is used to make cheese - huge great rounds of a hard cheese with a rind. Some of it is kept for up to 16 months so really does taste good and reminded us of cheeses when we were young. There is also a range of soft cheeses and blue cheeses. All the shops, including small village shops, sell a good range of different local cheeses.

This is not a major vine growing area and there are few vineyards, apart from around Entraygues-sur-Truyère and Le Fel where the vines are grown on terraces on the south facing slopes.

There is a lot of mixed woodland and especially sweet chestnut trees. These all had a heavy crop of spiky nuts when we visited. The chestnuts are gathered and ground to make flour as well as being used with apples for making a liqueur called Birlou. The Chestnut House in Mourjou has a small museum explaining the importance of the chestnut. This includes using the leaves to stuff mattresses and the bark for tannin. It sells a wide range of chestnut products.

The north around Puy Mary is volcano country with many volcanic cones standing up above the countryside. Vegetation here is very different with rough grazing on the tops with heather. There are small stone burons (barns) in the fields which were used in the summer to make cheese. The yellow gentian is found growing here and is used to make an aperitif.


The houses are traditionally built from the local dark volcanic stone and have stone slab roofs which are flared to throw off the winter snows.


These may be beautifully designed with larger slabs at the bottom and sides and smaller slabs at the top. They lower edges of the slabs are curved and look like feathers on a bird’s breast. There are dormer windows on the first floor and all windows have wooden shutters.


Houses in towns are larger with two or three stories and there are some timber framed houses.


Small villages are built around the church and have a square where there is usually parking. Some may have a château, although few are open to the public. Many churches, like Girgols have ‘cloche peigne’ steeples which are characteristic of the area. This is a flat, rectangular belfry with open bells. In 1794 according to local instructions, “provocational” parts of churches had to be brought down to the level of the nave. Most Romanesque towers were pulled down. They were later replaced by the cloche peigne with space for two or four spaces for bells.


All the churches have a memorial to the dead of World war One and also World War Two. Looking at the numbers killed in World War One it must have had a devastating effect on the village, especially when several people in the same family were killed.

Some of the villages were fortified in the C15th and the remains of the fortifications can still be seen in towns like Souscayac. There are many hill villages, built on a narrow topped hill for defence.


Capdendac-le-Haut is on most visitors tick list and gets busy. Not far away is Montmurat which doesn’t get a mention in the guide books or the internet, but is a delightful small hilltop village with church, Marie and a few houses. You will have this to yourselves.


Tourist honey pots like Conques and Belcastle also get very busy. There is little parking so it is advisable to arrive early or else later in the afternoon.


We were disappointed by some of the larger towns like St Céré, and to a lesser extent Salers, which are plugged in the guide books and get a star rating in the Michelin Road Atlas. We found many ‘hidden gems’ like Laroquebrou, Girgols and La Vinzelle. These are ignored by the guide books and often there is little information on the internet, which is why I have written detailed reports for them.


One of the biggest surprises of all were the beautiful frescoes in the small chapel under the bell tower in Cassaniouze.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
UZERCHE

We broke journey at Uzerche on our way from the Loire Valley to Cassaniouze. The old town is built on top of a rocky outcrop in a loop of the River Vézère.


This has been settled since the Bronze Age and was a strategic site since Roman times. The first walls were built in the C7th and strengthened in the C8th when it became an important military base to stave off attacks by the Duke of Aquitaine. A Benedictine Abbey was founded here in the C9th and the Abbatiale St-Pierre was built on top of the outcrop in the C11th and the old town grew up round it.

In the Middle Ages, Uzerche became a major junction and market town and grew rapidly to become the capital of the area. New walls and fortifications were built in the C14th with nine gateways. Only the Bécharie Gate is left.

The town was considered impregnable. During the C16th to C18th many of the local nobility settled here and built grand town houses with towers and turrets. Many of these still survive.


We managed to find a car park signed for the Old Town at the southern end of the town off the D920. From here there were good views of the Abbey and Château Pontier.

The old town is built on a narrow promontory of land high above the river. There is a step climb up to the only remaining Bécharie Gate, flanked by tall stone buildings.


Beyond the roads are narrow with even narrower alley ways off them and are lined with tall houses.


To the south of the Abbey is Maison Boyer Chammard a solidly built stone building dating from the C16th-18th, with a wooden balcony overlooking the river. Across the Square, Place de Vigerons, is Tour du Prince Noir which dates from the C12th. Beyond the Abbey buildings are Château Tayac with a C15th tower and splendid coat of arms over the doorway. Beyond, overlooking the river is the equally grand Château Pontier. Just down from this is Hôtel des De Chavailles belonging to the officer of the Royal Justice. There are gardens on the slopes of the valley below.


The small CHAPELLE NOTRE-DAME DE BÉCHARIE is at the southern end of the fortified town, above the moat. It is a small rectangular building with an octagonal tower at the east end. The original building dates from 992AD and was built for saying prayers for Archambaud, first Viscompte Lombon. It was restored in the C19th when crenellations added to the tower. It is only open in July and August and there was no information about getting a key.


ABBATIALE ST-PIERRE was built in the C11th with a Romanesque choir with radiating chapels and a crypt. The bell tower above the nave is C12th and has a square base with pointed gables and an octagonal top. The vaulted roof is C13th. The tower at the south west corner and the round towers at the end of the north transept were added in the C14th when the church was fortified. There is a smaller pointed tower above the transept crossing. The walls are buttressed and there are decorative stone supports under the eaves. There are the remains of doorways and windows on the outside of the north wall.



Entry is up steps to the south porch which was added in the middle of the C12th. An old mass sundial is engraved on the left side of the door.


Inside the door is a small chapel on on the right which has a marble altar with a statue of Virgin. On the west wall of the porch is an old carving of a figure with writing which is an epitaph to Bason II who died in 1006.


The nave is narrow and very tall. On either side are two even narrower side aisles with round topped supporting arches. Big cruciform pillars with round arches separate nave and side aisles. There is little decoration apart from the carved stone Stations of the Cross and statues of St Germaine with a sheep and St Anthony of Padua.


The door at the west end has an internal wooden porch with painted panels with bishops and saints. There are two massive marble altars on either side at the back of the nave. The south has a gilt Virgin and child. The north altar has St Joseph.

The choir is very elegant. There is a simple mass altar with an C18th gilded high altar behind with a bulbous base. This is unusual as back and front are the same. In the centre is the Lamb of God surrounded by scrolls. There are cherubim heads at the corners. There is an elaborate host box with scrolls supporting a small crown with a cross.


There are old wooden choir stalls with misericords. The lectern has a carved eagle perched on a gilded globe. Chandeliers hang from the ceilings.


Round pillars with carved capitals and round topped arches separate the choir from the ambulatory. Wrought iron doors with a roundel with crossed keys and a bishop’s mitre above shut off the ambulatory from the nave.


There are four smaller round apses off ambulatory, with statues of Joan of Arc, St Roch, Jesus and a gilt statue of St Peter

The entrance to the crypt is on the outside of the building on the north wall. (Look for a small wooden door with a sign.) The crypt has the same layout and dimensions as the choir above it. Just inside the door on the left side is a box with a green button to press for the electric light.


It is a very low with a round ceiling supported by a massive central pillar. At the back are the remains of the steps up into the church. There are bits of old carved masonry lying on the beaten earth floor. There is a round ambulatory around the central area which has apses off it. Large windows in these provide some light.



In the north apse is a large stone grave slab standing on a stone arch which has the remains of carvings on the top and carved sides with flowers and shields. Beside it is an information sheet explaining that these are the remains of St Leon and St Coronet brought from Brittany for burial here and interred in crypt 1158. The bones were removed and the graves destroyed during the Revolution.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
CASSANIOUZE

Cassaniouze is a small village about 38Km south of Aurillac which has hardly changed over the last century. There are a few houses clustered round the square with the war memorial, church, Marie and a school. It still has a bakers, small Utile supermarket and an ironmongers. The butchers had closed.


On the edge of the village is the fountain which was built in 1905 and was the water supply for the village until the 1960s. It is a small stone building with stone slab roof and a gilded bust of Marianne above the entrance. The lavoir is nearby.

At the entrance to the village is a brown sign for a C14th bell tower. The church is a fairly simple building with a nave attached to the bell tower. This is all that is left of the original church which was demolished in 1905 as it was in a state of collapse. Some of the old stone was reused when the church was rebuilt 1906-7.


Entry to the church is through the plain west door. Immediately to right is passageway into the small chapel beneath the bell tower which is all that remains of the original church building. Nothing had prepared us for what we saw. It is beautiful and the walls and ceilings are covered with the brightly coloured remains of C13th, C14th, and C15th frescoes.


Rather than religious pictures, these are abstract or geometric designs. The wall arches have a triangular design in red, yellows and blacks. The sides of the windows are panels of yellow and red. Red scrolls form a border above the long narrow chancel windows. Above is a small round window which has a sheaves of wheat design around the window in yellows and reds. Then circles with red lilies on a yellow background and finally a yellow circle with small red loopy patterns with red borders on circle.There is a wide frieze half way up the wall with a black background and a scroll design in reds, yellows and whites. Below this is the remains of a yellow band with red diagonals. The ceiling ribs are painted with red wavy lines along the sides and the ceiling vaults have a series of decorative circles with black, yellow and red designs.


There are small carved heads at the base of the ceiling ribs, including a lovely one of what was described as an Atlantis Imperturbables (a head with two hands holding up the top).


A wooden altar rail separates the chancel which has a blue altar has a gilt and blue urn shaped host box. Above is a gilt statue of Mary crowned with a tiara who is standing on a blue sphere with gilt stars and a serpent at her feet.


The remains of two niches in the walls hold church treasures. That on the north wall has old crucifixes, bibles and rosaries. The larger niche on the south wall has a C15th processional cross with a crucifix and small bells as well as two small ostensoirs.


The main church is plain in comparison. It has a wide nave with transepts and rounded chancel apse. The walls are stone with a plastered ceiling. On the walls are wood carvings of the Stations of the Cross in very decorative wooden frames. The wooden pulpit has carvings of the four evangelists on the sides. The canopy above has a carved spire and a cross.

There is a simple wooden mass alter with an elegant white stone high altar behind. Four pillars enclose the crucifix and support a church spire with pinnacles.


The simple Romanesque chancel windows have images of Joan of Arc (north), Christ (centre) and St Roch (south). On the walls are statues of Joan of Arc, St Anthony of Padua, St Roch and St Michael killing the dragon.

There are altars in both the north and south transepts. That in the north transept has a statue of St Joseph with the young Jesus and a large painting of the Baby Jesus being presented at the temple. The south altar has a statue of Virgin and Child and a picture of the Assumption of the Virgin above. There is another picture of the Virgin and Child presenting rosaries to St Dominic and Ste Catherine de Sienna.

The font is by the west door and there is large painting of John the Baptist baptising Jesus with a dove representing the Holy Spirit beaming down on him. On the other side is the memorial to the dead of World War One. Above is a painted wall carving of Christ on the cross and an angel giving succour to a wounded soldier.

This is a fascinating church and an unexpected surprise. There is a certain amount of information (in French) in the church but even the Cassianouze website makes no mention of the bell tower chapel and its frescoes.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
SETTLEMENTS ON THE SOUTH BANK OF THE RIVER LOT

The River Lot is a wide and attractive tree lined river carved down into the limestone. Before the days of good roads, it was the main method of transport for the area. Many of the settlements have a long history but time has passed them by. The roof tops of ST SULPICE can be seen above the trees. The chapel has a pre-Romanesque bell tower, but is only open on Journées du Patrimoine.


A short distance east is NOTRE-DAME d’AYNÈS, with a few houses built around the church. There was no one around and the place felt very dead. The church was built in the C14th/15th on a Roman site. It was shut with no information about a key. The Priest’s house is built onto the east end of the church but is no longer lived in.


The stonework on the small stone calvary in the churchyard across the road is so eroded it is difficult to make out the figures.


MONTARNEL is a delightful spot at the end of the road. In the C11th the village which grew up round the château, which is one of the oldest in the area. The château is closed except for Journées du Patrimoine. The curtain wall with two smaller towers surrounds the remains of a larger round tower.


It is a delightful village on the river with well maintained stone houses with stone slab roofs, dormer windows and shutters.


CHAPELLE ST-JACQUES ET ST-ROCH had belonged to château and was built in the bailey. It is a simple stone building with a small peigne cloche at the east end. The west front is C12th. The rest of the building is C13/14th.


Inside is a very plain nave with a statue of St Roch above the pointed chancel arch. The small chancel is separated from the nave by a C13th decorative iron grille similar to that in Conques.

POMIÉS is on top of the plateau above St Sulpice. This is a small farming settlement surrounded by big open fields with fences. This is cattle country with pasture, hay, grazing and some maize.

CHAPELLE ST-PIERRE is of unknown date but thought to be pre-Romanesque and restored in C19th.


It is a very simple church with wooden steps leading up to the gallery. There are small statues of Notre-Dame de Lourdes and Joseph and the young Jesus on the chancel arches. The white marble altar has a carving of the Lamb of God with a sunburst on the base. Above is a picture of the nativity.

Further to the south east are the two larger settlements of Sénergues (#6) and Espeyrac (#7)
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
SOUTH OF THE RIVER LOT - SÉNERGUES

Sénergues and Espeyrac are two small settlements on the plateau to the south of the Lot Valley. They are surrounded by open rolling countryside. These were both stops on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela.

Sénergues is a small neat settlement dominated by its huge Château.


This is privately owned and not open. The large square keep is purely defensive and dates from 1385 during the Hundred Years War. It had a few very small windows and the living quarters were accessed by a wooden ladder. During the C15th two round towers were built with the Corps de Logis, but were never finished.


ÉGLISE ST-MARTIN is a modern church built on the site of an old priory. It is a plain stone building with buttressed walls and square tower with open bell windows and a pointed hexagonal spire. At the east end a big house has been built onto the church.


Entry is up steps with statues on either side of a pilgrim and a bishop.


The inside of the church is very simple but very stylish with plaster walls with granite facings round the windows as well as on the sides of the pillars and under the arches. The ceiling ribs are granite and have carved bases and carved bosses. There is a pointed chancel arch with small chancel beyond. A small stone table serves as an altar.


There is a massive C11th stone font in the chancel which has rope carving round the top and base.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
SOUTH OF THE RIVER LOT - ESPEYRAC

From the river, Espeyrac looks like fortified hill town. It still retains a circular street pattern round the church with a big square in front of it.


The well dated 1825 has a small carved scallop shell at the base, a sign of pilgrimage.


The large stone church has a massive tower with clock, louvred bell windows and a small pointed top. A round tower on the side gives access to the belfry.


A flight of steps leads up to the west door The double window above is dated 1881. Inside there is a massive porch under the tower with a statue of St Peter with his keys and a cockerel and a statue of St Roch pointing out the carbuncle on his leg.

The inside of the church is plaster with granite, similar to Sénergues. On either side of the door are statues of St Louis and the Curé d’Ars. Facing are two memorial slabs to the dead of World War One. Many families lost three or four men.

The floor pulpit next to the chancel arch has carvings of the four evangelists. The high altar has a carving of the Lamb of God on the base. The round east window has an image of Christ with a Sacre Coeur on his chest.

In the south aisle is a beautiful carved white marble altar with a gilt inlay of lilies and flowers. Above is a statue of Joseph with the young Jesus.


The small altar and retable in the north aisle has an M monogram on the base and inlaid gilt roses. The wall behind is painted pale turquoise with gold fleur de lys and there is a statue of Notre-Dame de Lourdes in a wall apse.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
NORTH BANK OF THE RIVER LOT - VIELLEVIE

The ‘main’ road runs along the north bank of the river. It is a peasant run through woods with open fields and small villages.


Viellevie, a pretty little village with old stone and timber frame houses.



In the centre of the village is a massive square stone built château with two C13th round towers and a later C16th building behind with a wooden gallery running along the top.


ÉGLISE ST-LAWRENCE is a nice little church tucked away in a corner beneath the château. It is plaster covered with a pointed witch’s hat steeple.


Inside, massive stone pillars support round topped arches with a very narrow passageway on each side. Above is a barrel ceiling. The nave has small stained glass windows.


There is a pointed chancel arch with a very old stone font with carved band round it.


The high altar has a marble base with a gilt carving of the Lamb of God on a roundel on the base. Above is a superb painted retable. Five small statues are separated by barleycorn twist pillars. Behind is a big picture of the crucifixion with a carving of God the Father above. There are gilt statues of the Virgin and Child and St Foy on either side of altar.


This was an unexpected find. Vielleviel doesn’t get mention in the guide books and there is virtually nothing on the internet.

LE FEL is a tiny settlement on a spur of flat land high above the valley bottom, with good views across the surrounding countryside.


It is reached by a very steep and narrow road which climbs up through the terraced vineyards. The well cared for, pretty houses are spread out along the main street. There is a small round tower with a pointed roof. The history of this is unknown and it isn’t know whether it was part of a larger defensive structure.

There is a 1.5km Discovery Walk round the village and vineyards with a series of information panels.

The D573 to the north of the settlement leads up onto the high plateau and to the D920 between Montsalvy (#11) and Entraygues-sur-Truyére (#12).
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
NORTH BANK OF THE RIVER LOT - ST PARTHEM

St Parthem is a pretty, well kept small village of dark volcanic stone or plaster covered houses with some timber frame, particularly on the back.



In 2012, it had lost all its services. There were no shops and the restaurant was shut and for sale. Off the main street is a free standing bread oven which was given by the Seigneur in Middle Ages and had to be used by the villagers. There was a timetable and different things were cooked on different days.

There is a beautifully restored cattle crush which was used to restrain cattle for examination of their hoofs for cleaning or veterinary treatment.


A track leads down to the river. This had been an important port and there is the remains of masonry from the Quay. The land along the alley is very fertile and there are small market gardens and orchards of walnut trees.


As usual, we headed to the church. This is a small plaster covered building with a stone roof and a variety of roof lines. There is a small squat square tower at the west end with open bell windows and a pyramid roof. The nave is tall and narrow with lower side aisles and a small bell cote at the east end. There is a rounded apse at the east end with a sacristy off.


Outside the church is a cast iron crucifix with Christ on the cross. Below is a scene removing his body for burial.


Entry is through the west door which is dated 1561 and is set in an elaborate portico with a carving of an anchor above.


Inside, massive arches support the weight of the bell tower with a small gallery.


At the back is an old font which is now used to hold flowers, as well as a memorial to the Dead of World War One.

The nave is very simple with round arches in the walls separating nave and side aisles. There are small framed prints of the Stations of the Cross and painted statues of St Foy, St Catherine, Notre-Dame de Lourdes, St Anthony of Padua, St Theresa and a crowned Christ.


There is a simple, modern stone altar in thechancel apse. On the back wall is a small wooden crucifix and when we visited in September there was a large poster celebrating “Collecte Nationale Novembre 11”. This did rather look and feet out of place.


The south transept has a big stone altar with feet and a M monogram on the base and a small statue of the Virgin and Child. Above is painting of Mary with Jesus presenting rosaries to St Dominic and Ste Catherine de Sienna.


The north transept has large cast iron gates cutting off the altar. This has a carved base with feet and palm leaves on either side of the Sacre Coeur. The two locked reliquary boxes contain bones of St Arthem and St Ugan whose busts are on the transept pillars. There is a small stone statue of Notre-Dame de Lourdes on the altar. Above, a large painting of God the Father looks down from Heaven with doves and the Sacre Coeur surrounded by a crown of thorns with two figures below.

Above the door into the sacristy in the north wall of the chancel is a painting of the Flight into Egypt. The picture above the south chapel altar has the Sacre Coeur with a crown of thorns in the centre with St Peter, St Roch, St Anthony with a pig and St Anthony of Padua holding a lily.


The treasury in the chancel has a communion plate and cup and a beautiful C15/16th processional cross with a crucifix set with semi-precious stones which was made by the same workshop as the cross at Cassaniouze.


All in all, it was rather a strange church. The best bit were the statues.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
NORTH BANK OF THE RIVER LOT - LA VINZELLE

I hadn't picked up La Vinzelle during preliminary research. It doesn't feature in the guide books and, as I later found out, there is little information on the web. There was a leaflet in the gîte about the village which sounded very interesting, so we decided to find it and explore.

La Vinzelle is a tiny hamlet built on a shelf above the north bank of the River Lot.


It had been an important settlement in the Middle Ages and a stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. It now markets itself as a village of flowers and there are two way marked walks around the village and surrounding countryside.

We took the top route from Cassaniouze, off the D25. This is a very narrow and windy road with few passing places. It drops steeply down from the plateau through the trees. The better route is from the D42 along the valley. The road climbs steeply up to La Vinzelle but is wider with fewer bends.

There is a small on road parking area at the top of the village above a small market garden and the cemetery. Roads in the settlement are narrow and there is nowhere to park.

La Vinzelle is a delightful place of old dark stone houses with barns lining the narrow cobbled streets and green lanes. The houses have small windows and stone slab roofs. Most are well cared for, although a few are derelict.


Red geraniums and bright orange pot marigolds added a welcome splash of colour.


In the centre of the settlement is a wooden cow restraint (Lo Trabalh or ferrage des vaches although this has not been restored unlike the one at St Parthem.


At the top of the village is the small stone ÉGLISE ST-ROCH. This was built in the C11th and was originally the chapel of a château which was demolished in the C14th. It is a simple stone building built against the rock face with massive buttresses at the east end. It has a small tower at the west end and above is a separate bell tower.


Steps lead up up to south door of church. Inside, stone steps lead up to the gallery and wooden steps lead from this into the tower. A large central stone arch with a carved badge supports the gallery.

There is a carving of St Roch, who is the patron saint of the village and one of the stained glass windows has an image of him.



In a niche on the north wall is a small treasury with a silver ostensoir, small reliquary, communion cup and plate.


A simple ceiling rib separates the nave and chancel. The free standing high altar is painted to resemble green marble and has a silver Lamb of God at the centre. The retable stretches the width of the east wall. There are wooden cupboards below and the top is divided into three parts, separated by round pillars again painted to resemble marble with gilt tops. On the top are four gilt painted urns with red flames. The centre piece has a cherubim head framed by green and gold scrolls and a small cross above.

The large gilded host box has a carving of a pilgrim on the door and a crucifix above. Above it is a painting of the crucifixion. Below is a gilt frieze with grapes and birds. On the left is a statue of St Clair. On the right is St Joseph with the young Jesus.


Standing above the church is the bell tower donated by a wealthy parishioner. This was specially built to house a massive bell. This was cast in Rodez in 1870 and brought by boat to St Parthem and then pulled up to La Vinzelle by bullock cart. It was too large to fit in the church.


This is a delightful small village. It isn’t the easiest place to find and is definitely off the main tourist route and gets few visitors. It does have a restaurant and repaid exploring
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
MONTSALVY

Montsalvy is a typical small French market town which lacks the character of Conques (#14 )and gets few tourists. The town dates from the C11th when the monastery and hospice were built. This became one of the most important abbeys in the area and the town was fortified in the Middle Ages. Two of the gateways survive as does the medieval street pattern of the old town.


Tourist information have a leaflet with details of a guided walk round the old town. There is a large car park on the western edge of the town on the D19, Junhac road.

Many houses are covered with plaster and there are few stone and timber frame houses with narrow alleyways. Montsalvy has been an important industrial and commercial centre from the Middle Ages and still maintains a good range of shops.



The remains of the château outside the south gate is now a retirement home. It was built on the foundations of the old ramparts and the tower dates from the C18th.


The ABBEY CHURCH dates from the end of the C11th. The refectory building and the Chapter House of the original priory survive.


The rest of the buildings including the cloisters have disappeared, although the cloister green survives. The church has been restored and repaired. The roof is C15th and the west fascade is C18th. It is a large solidly built stone structure with an apsidal east end and square tower with a pointed roof and small cupola above the transept.


Steps from the main street lead up to the west door which has a small carving of the Virgin in a brick niche


The inside of the building is very elegant. The nave and side aisles are later and covered with cream plaster except for ceiling ribs and a stone band running along the top of the walls. Pillars supporting the pointed nave arches and the ceiling ribs have carved capitals.


The elaborately carved wooden pulpit has panels with Biblical figures and saints. There is a massive canopy above with carved wooden drapes hanging down and an angel with a trumpet above.


The transepts and chancel are the oldest part of the building and have bare stone walls and ceiling. Massive transept pillars support the weight of the tower. There are two metal reliquary boxes on those nearest the chancel.


In the transept is a large mass altar with red marble surrounded by grey and gold frames. In the chancel, wooden steps lead up to a dais with a semicircle of four pillars which support a band of grey and gold decoration with gold cherubim. Round the back wall of the chancel are carved wooden seats. There is a small round topped window giving light and a small crucifix on the east wall.



The small chapel in the south transept (taken with flash) has a stone carved altar and a gilt statue of the Virgin and Child.


The chapel in the north transept has a low decorative iron grille across. Inside is a beautifully carved stone altar with saints on the base.


There are five small apses off the north wall which each houses a chapel. From the east end, the first is
Chapelle du St Sacrimont (again taken with flash) with marble altar and retable with inlaid gilt decoration and a painted statue of Christ on wall above.


This is followed by a chapel with a modern altar with a painting of the risen Christ on Easter morning with Mary, Mary Magdalene and two disciples. The ceiling is carved and painted red and grey between the vaulted ribs. There is a big wooden stand to support a Bible and an old painted statue of Joseph and the young Jesus on the wall.

The centre chapel now houses a massive stone font and has a statue of St John on the wall.

Next is the Chapel of the Virgin which has a decorative metal grille across the entrance. Inside is a large carved wood altar and retable with a statue of St Ann with the young Mary above the host box. Two painted angels hold candles and garlands. There are statues of St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony of Padua and Notre-Dame de Lourdes.

The last chapel is no longer used and is closed off by red and green doors. It contains a confessional and assorted bits of disused furniture.

The Treasury Museum is in the old Chapter House, reached by a short passage from the south side of church. There is no charge and it contains a nice selection of exhibits including church vestments, ostensoirs, an enamelled metal book rest with an illustrated Bible, a diadem set with semi-precious stones, small reliquaries and communion plate.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
ENTRAYGUES-SUR-TRUYERE

Entraygues-sur-Truyère means between the waters and is a pretty, medieval town at the junction of the Lot and Truyère rivers.


The old bridge across the River Truyère is now one way, bringing traffic into the town. This was originally built in the C13th but was rebuilt and restored in the C17th.


A newer bridge has been built further up the Truyère river. There is some parking in Place de la Republique outside the North Gate. Failing that there is a lot of parking along the side of the river.

Just down from the old bridge is a C14th flour mill which was turned into a small hydro-electric plant at the beginning of the C20th.

There has been a settlement here since the C10th, although it was higher up the hillside above the present town. The fortified château was built in the C13th and a wall built round the town. It had been an important market town and thriving port and shipyard in the Middle Ages. The old mooring rings can still be seen along the quay on the River Lot.


Tourist Information has a free leaflet in English with details of a guided walk round the old town.

The main shopping street is Tour de Ville was built in the C19th against the line of the old wall. This has a good range of small shops.

It is an interesting walk through the old town which is a maze of narrow streets and alleyways with a good mix of C15th to C17th stone and timber frame and plaster covered buildings with stone slab roofs.



Many of the door have two knockers. The higher one was for those on horseback.


Parts of the walls and the fortified Lot and Descombels towers still survive.



Place Albert Castanié was the main square in the middle ages and roads radiate from here. It has a painted iron crucifix on a stone pedestal in the centre of the square.


The Marie is in the former Franciscan Convent opposite the Abbey. The ABBEY is a very plain plastered covered building of unspecified date with stone buttresses and a small square tower over the west end.


Inside it is a very plain Romanesque style building. Walls are pale cream plaster and have stone pillars supporting round stone arches and which continue up to form stone ribs on the ceiling. There are round topped windows in the side aisles and above the arches in the nave with pictures of different saints. The wall mounted carved wooden pulpit with carvings of saints and a splendid carved spire above it.


The chancel is very plain with a modern stone altar with an abstract design on the front. The east window has a colourful modern design in stained glass. An old font to the side of the high altar is now a water feature. The old choir stalls with beautifully carved misericords.


The CHÂTEAU over looks the confluence of the two rivers with old gabarres (river boats) pulled up along the banks.


The original building was C13th but was looted and destroyed at the end of the C15th. All that remains of the C13th building are the bases of the two towers, a stairwell and a vaulted room on the ground floor. It was rebuilt in the C17th. Two tall square stone towers flank a plaster covered logis. It is surrounded by a tall stone wall and now houses a private school run by the sisters of St Joseph of Clairvaux. 



CHAPELLE NOTRE-DAME DE PONTET is at the south eastern edge of the town on the Estaing road just before the road bridge and by the confluence of the Lot and the Print. There are two chapels. The oldest was a small hermitage dating from 1097.


A much larger chapel was added to the side in the C17th when an Ursuline Convent was established here. The upper floor was the living quarters. This was later replaced by the Brotherhood of Black Penitants Cross until the early C20th. The square doorway on the west all has a carving of a nun above it.


Entry is through the original chapel which has rough stone walls and ceiling and a stone slab floor. The only light is from the small window above the door and equally small window in the north wall. It has a womb like quality. The altar is a slab of granite set on a granite pedestal with a crucifix above.


A rounded arch leads into the bigger chapel. This has plastered walls, low vaulted ceiling and a stone floor. At the east end is a bulbous wooden altar with a small painting on the wall above of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child and a small round window above it.


Stained glass windows on the south wall have pictures of the Virgin Mary, Christ the Saviour of the World and St Augustine. Old simple wooden benches line the nave walls and there is a large cross shaped ostensoir on the west wall. Several old verger’s wands or maces are propped up against the walls of both chapels.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A CIRCULAR DRIVE ALONG THE TRUYERE VALLEY

From Entraygues-sur-Truyère there is a lovely drive along the west side of the valley on THE D904 to Lacroix-Barrez and back along the D97.

This is a quiet area, well away from tourists. Roads are are narrow and very bendy in places, as they pass through woodland along the valley sides. There is very little settlement.

We followed the sign to the Belvedere in ROUENS and parked by the church. This is a nice stone building with the date 1868 on the arch above the west door, but was locked. Rouens is a pleasant village of beautiful stone houses with flared stone slab roofs and a small communal bread oven. The Belvedere is at the end of the road and has a picnic area with some parking. There are superb views of Truyère Gorge and across to Vallon, with its château set high on a promontory above the river with a small waterfall tumbling down the far cliff face.


LACROIX-BARREZ is a large rather uninspiring village. We drove through, following the signs for BARS and its viewpoint. This is quite a long drive along a narrow road from the village. Unlike Rouens, this is terribly disappointing unless you are into electricity supply. Trees restrict the views of the gorge but there is an excellent view across to the power station with pylons and cables. Definitely a waste of time.

Bars is a pleasant dispersed village but was completely deserted. It has an interesting church with a peigne steeple with four bells. Stone steps on the outside south wall lead to a wooden doorway and give access to the steeple. It is a simple stone building with stone slab roof and a huge stone shelter over the west door. On the left is an archway with a door into a small building added to the north wall of the church which now looks to be used as a store room.


There is a locked metal grille across entrance to church. This gives a tantalising glimpse of the inside of the church. The tops of the arches and ceiling ribs are painted bright yellow. The nave walls are white while the chancel is painted pale blue. The side chapels on each side have elaborately carved altars and retables but only part of these can be seen. The high altar has a massive carved stone retable with statues carved above the host box. On the wall is a beautifully pulpit with panels painted to resemble marble framed with gilt and turquoise. There are painted statues of saints on the walls. This looks like a hidden gem.

Driving back through Lacroix-Barrez to pick up the D 97 we made a brief stop to look at CHAOS DE BOULES (to the west of the road) and La coulée de lave (to the east of the road). There are small lay-bys next to each and an information board. They are large areas of lichen covered boulders and remains of a lava flow from four million years ago which has since weathered and eroded to boulders.


The road follows the top of the gorge and there is suddenly a superb view of VALLON and Château de Vallon on a narrow peninsula of rock above the Truyère valley. It is a pretty settlement of old stone houses with stone slab roofs, a small chapel (locked) with a small bell cote with two bells and an old sun dial on the wall, communal bread oven and the graveyard with white tombstones at the end of the peninsula.


There is a small park at the start of the village by the restaurant. The Art Gallery had a few paintings and local crafts for sale.

CHÂTEAU DE VALLON dominates the settlement but is one of those buildings that is more interesting from outside as there is not a lot left inside. We wouldn’t bother going in another time, although the views from the top of the donjon were good.



When we visited the outer curtain wall had scaffolding over it for restoration work. There is a large entrance gateway which now doubles up as Tourist Information as well as the ticket office. Staff were welcoming and very helpful giving us a mass of information about the area.


On the inside of the gateway are remains of domestic quarters including the kitchen and the ivy covered C14th chapel. This still has it’s vaulted ceiling with carved boss.


The donjon is at the end of the site and is a tall C12th square tower. The inside of the château has been partially refurnished as a modern interpretation of what it might have been like. This didn’t work for us with a small drape hung above a trestle table with upholstered chairs in the great hall and a modern four poster bed complete with cushions on the floor above.


Rooms had large fire places and splendid vaulted stone ceilings with carved bosses.


The different floors and roof are accessed by a narrow spiral staircase in the wall. Passing on this is difficult.

Our final visit was to the tiny isolated settlement of BÉZ BÉDÈNE reached by long narrow road off the D34 south of St-Amans-des-Cotes. This seemed a long 1.9km from road sign. The road drops down through trees and there is suddenly a superb view between the trees down onto the settlement below. Fortunately there are a few small places to pull off the road to take pictures.



It is a delightful setting with a few old stone houses clustered round the church which is built on the top of a narrow promontory high above a loop in the river Selves. This runs through a steep sided wooded gorge.


At the start of the settlement is a small car park with a cafe. It is an excellent view point with views across the wooded gorge of the Selves to the north and down to an old bridge across the river to the south with a few isolated farms in clearings among the trees.


A hermitage was built here in the C11th by St Gausbert and later a small priory was built. The tiny CHURCH is C12th and represents the transition between Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture. It is a small cruciform building with a small peigne steeple above the transept which has two bells.


At the west end is a big porch with stone benches. There is the remains of a blocked door on the south wall and arch bases from a long gone building. Beyond is small graveyard.

We were later arriving than intended and at 6.15 the church was locked. There is a sign by the church and steps up to an exhibition which is open 3-6.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
TO THE SOUTH OF CASSANIOUZE - CONQUES



Conques is a World Heritage site about 20km south of Cassaniouze. It is a super drive along the D601. The road is cut out on a shelf high above the valley with the river in a deep wooded below. There are a few isolated settlements half way up the hillside in clearings among the trees. Once across the River Lot, on the D901, the countryside is flatter.

Built high on the hillside above the River Dourdou, Conques is surrounded by steep wooded hillsides.



Visitors cars are not allowed to park in the town and there are small parks at either end of the town. These do get full early, so it is best to plan to arrive early or late afternoon.

The town grew up round the Benedictine Abbey which was founded in the C9th. Parts of the medieval walls with turrets and gateways survive. Inside there are narrow cobbled or paved streets. Even the drains in the road are made of strips of schist. Roads and houses are built on different levels with steps between. Sturdy shoes are the order of the day.


Most houses are built from the local stone, granite and schist although there are many timber frame houses and some covered with ochre coloured plaster. Tourist Information is in an C18th bourgeois timber frame house which was originally Hôtel de Ville and still has its clock.


It has a free leaflet in English with map and information about the buildings and a trail to follow. They also organise 45 minute tours of the upper galleries in the Abbey church.

There are several tourist type shops selling wooden items, children’s toys, jewellery and a bookshop. The bakers sells bags and tins of local biscuits; small thick rounds of a shortbread mix with ground and chunks of nuts. These are very good.


CHAPELLE DU ROSAIRE with its rather an insignificant west frontage, is sandwiched between other buildings, and was the C15th Abbot’s personal chapel. Inside there is a simple nave with wall pillars up to the ribbed, vaulted ceiling. Steps lead up into the chancel which has a beautifully carved modern wood altar with two angels holding a shield. In a niche under a carved portico on the east wall is Christ crucified with the the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. There is a modern icon of St Foy on the transept pillar.


On the ceiling are the remains of early C16th frescoes. These have swirling blue designs with roundels and include the lion of St Mark, an angel with a book and a winged ox of St Luke with a book.



The ABBEY CHURCH OF SAINTE- FOY is a magnificent Romanesque building with the only surviving medieval shrine on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela.

A Benedictine Abbey was founded here in 819AD by a hermit called Dadon, as the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela passed close by. In 866AD a monk was dispatched to the monastery of Agen to steal relics of St Foy, a virgin martyred in 303AD under Diocletian, and known for her ability to cure blindness and free captives. Once at Conques, these were placed in a golden statue. The monastery prospered and pilgrims left jewels to be added to statue. In the C11th the Abbey church needed to be replaced by a larger building, which was finished in 1120. The Chapter was dissolved after the Revolution, the church sold and most of cloister disappeared for use as building stone. The building was restored in the C19th when it was about to collapse. It is now the parish church, but still attracts pilgrims.

There are two square towers at the west end with tall pointed roofs and a taller octagonal tower above the transept.


The chancel apse has round pillars with round topped arches on the outside. Round it is the ambulatory with a lower roof line and apses off this with even lower roofs.



The rest of the exterior is fairly plain with narrow buttresses. There are massive sandstone blocks at the corners with an infill of smaller granite or schist stones.

The west door has two heavy wooden doors with an amazing tympanum of the Last Judgement (1107-1125) above with at least 124 figures, including bishops, abbots and kings. There are still traces of the original paint.



Christ in Majesty presides over the scene in the centre, raising his right hand to show the way to the chosen and indicating the path of the damned with his left. Archangel Michael and a demon weigh the souls of the dead on scales at his feet. A procession of saints and historical figures move in procession on the left, led by St Peter with his key..On the right is a group of four angels and beside them are examples of punishments of the damned. Above Christ's head, angels hold banners with inscriptions.

On the bottom level, Heaven and Hell are depicted as roofed buildings, each with an entrance door. On the right side of the scene, the damned are forcibly pushed into the Jaws of Hell.


On the left are the righteous being welcomed by angels, who lead them gently by the hand to an ornate door. On the other side of the door Heaven is shown as a city, representing the ideas of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Heavenly Jerusalem. In the centre is Abraham, who embraces two saved souls. He is flanked by prophets on the right and saints on the left, each represented by pairs of men and women.


Round the walls on the outside of the church are remains of tombstones in recessed arches and also the remains of old sarcophagi. On the south wall is the recessed tomb of Bégon III with an inscription. A small relief panel represents Christ enthroned between an Abbot on Christ’s right and St Foy acting as an intercessor on other side.


A couple of arches remain of the east wall of the cloisters. The west wall is still complete with double round topped arches with two smaller round pillars in the centre supporting the arch.


The capitals are carved and there is a lovely carving of mason’s heads peering over a wall and another of knights holding a shield and spears.



Behind this is the refectory building, which gives access to the Treasury.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
TO THE SOUTH OF CASSANIOUZE - CONQUES AND THE ABBEY CHURCH OF SAINTE-FOY

The overall impression inside the Abbey Church of St Foy is size. It is a plain building with a very tall nave which makes it feel narrow. Massive mulitsided pillars support round arches which give access to the side aisles. Round topped windows in the side aisles and nave have plain glass.


Above is a second level of smaller round arches which have a central pillar with carved capitals. The side aisles have supporting round topped arches along them and a barrel ceiling. The chancel is small in comparison with a large ambulatory round it.


At the back of the nave steps give access to the west end towers and the galleries. The large organ is above the west door and there is a gilt statue of the Virgin Mary with Christ on the back wall. Opposite is the font with a carving of John the Baptist baptising Christ.

The octagonal transept tower feels light and airy with eight round topped windows separated by round pillars. The tops meet at a central carved and pointed boss with a shield and bishop’s mitre. The carved tops of the transept arches still have traces of red and blue paints. At the corners of the transept arches are carved figures including angels holding a book.


The Sacristy in the south transept has the remains of C15th frescoes on the walls in shades of blacks and blues. These shows the martyrdom of St Foy, but it is difficult to make out details.


There is an altar with a magnificent retable at the end of the south transept dedicated to St Foy. At the centre is a gold figure of St Foy holding a palm in her left hand and the sword that killed her in her right hand. She is surrounded by pale green pillars with gilt carvings of vine leaves and grapes. On either side are carved gilded panels showing the burning and beheading of St Foy.


To the right of this is another chapel with a simple old stone slab altar and wooden carving of a pilgrim with a stick above.

The chancel is surrounded by tall round pillars with round topped arches with the ambulatory behind. There are two more levels of round arches above.


The stone high altar has carvings of a bishop on either side of St Foy set in round topped recesses with gold decoration. To one side is an old wooden abbot’s chair.


The sacred relics were originally kept in the ambulatory and the side aisles were used to channel pilgrims to the ambulatory, so the monks were not disturbed at prayer. It is separated from the choir by a decorative iron grille with sharp spikes on top, designed to protect the reliquaries from theft. These are now in the Treasury. Stone benches round the walls allowed the pilgrims to sit and rest.

Three apses radiate off the ambulatory. The south one has a stone slab altar with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Above is large oil painting of the Virgin in Heaven surrounded by cherubim, looking down and blessing the people on earth. The centre apse has stone slab altar with a small crucifix. The north apse has a stone slab altar with a gilt statue of Joseph with the young Jesus. Above is a painting of Mary and Joseph with an Elizabeth holding the baby John the Baptist.

The north transept has simple modern stone altar table with an old stone altar to the left.

The TREASURY is reached off the cloisters and is the most amazing collection of silver and gold plate and reliquaries from the C9th to the C16th. These were kept in the church until 1975 when the treasury building was constructed to hold them.

The highlight is the C9th statue of St Foy en Majesté, which contains her relics and is the only surviving example of the statue-reliquary shrine that was common in the Middle Ages. It is the oldest surviving statue in western Christianity. Made from wood it is completely covered in gold, precious and semi precious stones.

A second reliquary of St Foy was found under choir during C19th restorations. It is a small casket covered in silver studded leather with enamelled medallions dating from 1100-1130 and contains many bones belonging to St Foy wrapped in fine fabric and a belt.

There is a beautiful silver and gilt carving of St Foy dating from the end of the C15th holding a palm leaf to signify martyrdom and a sword and grid iron.

There are other examples of small casket reliquaries studded with semi precious stones, portable altars and a late C15th processional cross with a figure of St Foy.

Unfortunately no photography is allowed in the Treasury. A free, illustrated information leaflet in English is included in the price. The entry charge also includes entry to the JOSEPH FAU MUSEUM in the home of a former Mayor. This is an interesting building and houses a collection of capitals from the cloister, sculptures, furniture, tapestries. and other artefacts from the Abbey. The C17th tapestries illustrate the life of Mary Magdalene and were originally in the Chapter House. There is one of her towards the end of her life entering the state of rapture. A semi naked Mary is being carried by angels. One wonders what the monks made of it.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
TO THE SOUTH OF CASSANIOUZE - BOUZOLS

Bozouls is a small town between the limestone plateau and the Lot Valley, where the Dourdou river has cut a deep 300’ canyon into the limestone. The new town has grown up on the right bank of the canyon.



The medieval town with the ancient Église St Fauste was built on a rocky spur high above one of the bends in the river.


This is a marvellous defensive site, accessible only from the south where two medieval round towers controlled entry across the bridge.



There is little about the town in the guide books but I had found a photograph on the web and decided we had to visit.

We parked in the main square in Bozouls and walked along the road which runs along the top of the canyon, to the different viewpoints. It was as good, if not better than the photographs. The old town is built on a very deep incised meander in the river with vertical canyon walls of liassic limestone and trees growing along the bottom. In September the river was a small stream. Steps lead down from the square to the bottom of canyon where there are paths along bottom.


There is on road parking at the start of Trou de Bozoul and a small car park a bit further on. We walked along the single street to ÉGLISE SAINTE FAUSTE, past the old stone or plaster covered houses.




The church is C12th. The south aisle was added in the C14/15th to support the nave as the pillars were beginning to bulge outwards. Additional external buttresses were added to the east end in the C17th as was the massive arch in front of west door. The church was in use until 1964.





Entry is through the west door under the square tower belfry. There are splendid carved capitals on the doorway.





The nave has massive red sandstone pillars with carved capitals supporting the round topped arches. It is empty apart from old benches round the walls.


A beautifully carved wooden pulpit is mounted on a wood pedestal. It has a carved back board and square carved canopy above with a cross on the top.




The chancel apse is surrounded by a narrow ambulatory. The round pillars have carved capitals. The stained glass windows in the small apses off the ambulatory have pictures of St Paul, St Joseph and the young Jesus in centre and St Peter as an old man holding the keys of Heaven. The high altar has a crucifix above.


The south aisle has a series of small chapels with altars. The altar at the back of the church is separated from the nave by tall iron railings. The altar base has a roundel with the Sacre Coeur on a royal blue background. Gold fluted columns support an arch with God the Father above on a deep blue background. Below is a gold Mary holding Jesus and surrounded by 16 gold medallions with Biblical scenes.


The centre chapel has a red marble altar with a star burst on a painted marble background and a large painting above.


The wooden altar in the south transept is painted to look like marble and has a painted statue of Christ set in an elaborate grey and gilt frame with sunbursts at the corners.


This is an amazing place. The gorge is stunning. There is probably little in the modern town to attract the tourist although the walk around the rim of the gorge is worthwhile.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
TO THE SOUTH OF CASSANIOUZE - BELCASTEL

Belcastel is reached by a narrow winding road off the D994, through the trees in valley bottom. It is marketed as one of the most beautiful villages in France and is a popular day out. There is limited parking on the edge of the village which was just beginning to empty out by 5pm. There is no parking for visitors in the village. This is a place to visit early in the morning or late afternoon.


It is a very photogenic village along the wooded banks of the River Aveyron, dominated by the C11th château with the stone houses tumbling away below it.



The château was built round a C9th chapel and has a square central donjon surrounded by a curtain wall with corner towers. It was abandoned in the C16th and became derelict. It was bought in by a French Architect Fernand Pouillon in 1975 who began to restore the building. The château is now open to the public and houses several art galleries as well as a collection of armour.

This triggered a renewed pride in the village and many of the houses were restored. It is an attractive village of stone houses with tiled roofs.



The narrow cobbled bridge is C15th and connects the town to the church. In the middle is an old stone cross.



ÉGLISE SAINTE-MARIE-MADELEINE was built in the C15th on the foundations of a C10/12th building. The porch and tower are C19th. 
It has a very tall narrow nave with a square tower and spire on the south side. Entry is by the west door.


Just inside the doorway is a very old stone font with a band of carving round the bowl. It stands on a stone pillar with a head and cross carved on three sides.


There is a wooden gallery across the back of the church with a statue of Joan of Arc and the war memorial.

The nave is very plain with cream plaster walls. Two stone wall pillars support the ribs of the vaulted ceiling. Transept arches are also stone. On the walls are paintings showing a very modern interpretation of the Stations of the Cross.

The chancel is very elegant with long stone ribs on the ceiling with a carved central boss. There is a very simple free standing stone altar and a large crucifix on the east wall with a small round window above. There are gilt statues of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. The stained glass window on the side wall of the chancel has an image of Mary Magdalene.


Set in a recess in the north transept is the carved tomb of Alzias Saunhac, who was responsible for building the church.

The south transept has rather an oppressive dark wood altar with a painting of the Virgin and Child with cherub heads in the corners.


In many cases the description "most beautiful village" is a marketing ploy for a pretty village. Belcastel though is one of those villages that really does deserve the title. It is delightful.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
TO THE SOUTH OF CASSANIOUZE - PEYRUSSE-LE-ROC

It is a pleasant cross country drive to Peyrusse-le-Roc, through pastoral agricultural land with some maize. Farms are large and many have a fortified tower above the entrance.


Peyrusse le Roc is situated on a col between two mountains. There is a brief glimpse of the two towers and the remains of the silver mines through trees. There is a large picnic site and car park below village.

The area has been settled since the C8th. The original site was around the narrow pinnacle where a fortress had been built. This seems to be accessible by what looked a series of very dodgy iron ladders.


Silver was mined round the base of the rock from Gallo-Roman times. In the C13th there was a town of 700 houses around the site and it was the local centre of power. The site was abandoned in the C16th with the import of cheap silver from South America and the population moved to the present town on top of the hill, where a new château was built in the C15th.


This was a fortified town and still has the remains of the gateways leaqding into the town.


The large square, Place des Treize Vents, with church, Marie and a well in the corner is lined with old stone or timber frame buildings.



Narrow cobbled streets off the square drop steeply down the hillside for views of the two towers.


The church is a long, low stone building with a sturdy tower with louvred bell windows and low tile roof with a small cupola on top with a cross. There is a massive archway over the south porch. The wooden door set in a stone portico dated 1680 has a small statue of the Virgin and Child above.


Inside is a large plain plastered nave with square stone wall pillars up to a simple vaulted ceiling and has a light and modern feel. The most noticeable feature is a long panel along the walls with a series of painted Biblical scenes designed to look like a tapestry.

The modern wooden high altar has a carving of the feeding the five thousand.


On the wall behind it is a wooden crucifix with carvings of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.


There are three chapels along the south wall. The chapel by chancel has an altar with the Sacre Coeur on the base. The retable is painted to look like grey marble and has two pillars with carvings of gilt grapes with green leaves which surround a painted statue of Christ with the Sacre Coeur on his chest. There are statues of Jesus, St Germaine de Pibrae, a confessional and a funeral bier.

The centre chapel has pale grey painted altar lined with darker grey and the letter J on the base. There is a wooden crucifix above the host box and a statue set in a border of gilt roses.


The last altar is painted bright blue and has panels with an abstract design of flowers and fruits. Above is an elaborate retable with gilded carving. In a niche above is a statue of Mary holding the body of the crucified Christ. There are statues of Notre-Dame de Lourdes and St Antony of Padua.


At the back of church is a wall mounted marble font with a scene of the baptism of Christ by (a now headless) John the Baptist.

This isn't one of the most beautiful villages and its somewhat remote location means that few visitors find it. One website does describe it as "among the hidden jewels of the region with a great deal to enjoy." That seems an accurate description and we would have welcomed more time to have explored the remains of the old village and disused silver mines.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
TO THE WEST OF CASSANIOUZE - ST-SANTIN AND ST SANTIN-DE-MAURS

We spent a day exploring some of the smaller settlements to the west of Cassaniouze. The D25 is a superb high level drive across the plateau with open views across rolling farmland with some trees.

On the Michelin map, St-Santin and St-Santin-de-Maurs look like a single settlement around a crossroads. They are unique in France as they are actually located in two different departments with two Maries, two schools and two churches. St Santin is in Aveyron in the Midi Pyrenees while St Santin de Maurs is in Cantal in the Auvergne.

Although only 18km away from Cassaniouze, the architecture is very different with pale stone and flatter red tile roofs. It has a much more Mediterranean feel. Many of the buildings are covered with ochre coloured plaster, which glows in the sunshine.


Older houses often have large stones at the corners and across the lintels.



The two churches are close together. In front is a joint war memorial with a list of the Cantal dead on one side and Aveyron dead on the other.


ST-SANTIN CHURCH is the older, and is a Romanesque building. Inside, a locked iron grille prevents entry. There is a simple square nave with an ornate carved altar is set in a small red painted apse.


ST SANTIN-DE-MAURS CHURCH is C19th and is much larger with a tall tower at the west end.


At the back is a wooden gallery. The high altar has a painted statue of the crowned Virgin holding the Christ Child. On the left is a statue of St Anne with the young Virgin Mary.


There is little information about either village on the web. Their main claim to fame seems to be their 'double' identity.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
TO THE WEST OF CASSANOUZE - MONTMURAT

Montmurat is a tiny settlement built on top of a hill and there are excellent views of it from D45.


The road climbs steeply round the hill to Montmurat. There is little information on the web and I had picked up a brief mention in Eyewitness Guide to France. It is a delightful small place with a central square with a fountain, Marie (shut when we visited on a Monday) and a chapel. There are a few old stone houses with more on the hillside below and along the spring line. We had the place to ourselves.


It is a marvellous view point across rolling, fairly well settled countryside with a lot of trees. This is pastural grazing land with some hay meadows. There were a few fields of maize and areas of poorer uncultivated land.


On one side of the square is the chapel with a small hexagonal tower over the chancel.



A glass door prevents entry. Inside it is a very simple with framed prints of the Stations of the Cross. There are simple stone altars on either side of the chancel arch with statues of the Virgin and Child and St Joseph.
 

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