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A week in the Haute-Loire, September 2012

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY EXPLORING TO THE LOIRE GORGE TO THE WEST OF LAPTE - CHAMALIERES -SUR-LOIRE

Chamalières-sur-Loire is a small village a few miles downstream fro Retournac occupying the flat valley bottom and surrounded by steep wooded cliffs.

The old stone houses built using dark volcanic stones are clustered round the church. In the centre of the village, near the Tourist Office, is a fortified house with a round tower containing a staircase and a pigeon loft at the top.
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A notice on the church door said a key was available from the Tourist Office or restaurant opposite. Being a Monday, both were shut, but we eventually managed to get a key from the Marie. It was well worth the effort.

There has been a monastery here since the C10th. The present church building is C12th, although the tower was rebuilt in 1900. Only one of the original four bells survive. The others were melted down for guns during the Revolution. Two were replaced in 1900 by generous parishioners.
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It is a large fortified building which could accommodated the townsfolk at night. It was on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela and was a pilgrim stop as it had an arm bone of St-Gilles and a nail from the cross. The church property was confiscated during the Revolution. In the C19th it was taken over by the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph de Puy who visited the sick and ran a school. It was then sold to the town. As well as being a church it also hosts choirs and concerts of sacred music

Only one side of the cloister is left with a corner turret. This was reached through the north door of the church which has elaborately carved capitals with animals and humans. The refectory off the cloisters is now used as a meeting room and was locked. The centre of the cloister is a pleasant grassed area.
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It is a huge, well buttressed building with a very tall nave with round topped windows and round arches above the narrow side aisles. The massive Romanesque east apse has four smaller apses off it.
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Entry is through the west door which has carved round arches. The south doorway is similar but is now blocked with stone. The remains of the C12th door can be seen on the inside. On the floor are the remains of old tombstones.
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Opposite, on the north wall, is part of a C13th grave slab showing the burial scene of a bishop with St Peter holding the keys of Heaven above. This had originally been painted and traces of paint can still be seen.
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To the right is the remains of a small painted C13th carving of a bishop with a shield on his back and holding a crozier reaching out to another figure.
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Immediately inside the west door is a C12th font with four carved figures round the base representing two prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah) and two kings of Israel (David and Solomon).
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The nave is typical of Romanesque churches. An arcade of huge multi-sided pillars with carved capitals supporting round arches separating the nave and side aisles. Long round pillars continue up to support the ribs of the barrel ceiling.
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At the ends of the north and south aisles are altars to the Virgin Mary and to St Joseph.

A central dome in the transept crossing supports the tower. On the back of the chancel arch are the remains of frescoes. On the north side is the Virgin and Child between two angels.
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There is little left of the fresco on the south side, with just the head of Christ in Majesty with an eagle symbolising St John. Originally Christ would have been surrounded by the symbols of all four evangelists.
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The altar is a plain stone table with a crucifix behind it and on a pedestal, a stone host box with a metal door with a communion cup with sheaves of wheat and a sunburst above. There is a decorative iron grille round the back and sides of the chancel with four small apses off the east wall, each with a small altar. There are traces of frescoes of a Benedictine Nun clutching a lighted candle and a Benedictine Monk with a raised finger between the apses.

In the walls of the apses are three horizontal rows of holes called échéas, designed to improve the acoustics of the building.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY EXPLORING THE LOIRE GORGE TO THE WEST OF LAPTE - ROCHE-EN-RÉGNIER

From Chamalières-sur-Loire, we took the old wooden bridge across the river and crossed the railway line to pick up the D35. This is a narrow and winding road which climbs up from the valley bottom onto the plateau. There are good views of the Loire Gorge before climbing up through woodland and down across a deep gorge before finally climbing up to Roche-en-Régnier.

This again is ignored by the guide books and there is little information on the web. It was once a very important settlement, being the seat of a C10th manor, belonging to Regnier, the first Lord of Roche. It was one of the eighteen baronies of the Velay giving the lord the right to participate in the government of the country. This privilege was maintained until the C18th

A fortified medieval town was built on top of the plateau above the river. This is still dominated by the ruins of a C13th round tower, built on top of a craggy outcrop. This was probably built over the foundations of an earlier wooden building. The tower was never lived in but was a defensive structure, intended as a statement of ownership of the area by the Lord. The ground floor was used for storage and access to the first floor was by ladder. It has been in ruinous state since C18th.
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Roche-en-Régnier is a splendid defensive site, being protected by rocky outcrops to north and south. It became a fortified town in the middle ages when the walls with two gateways were built. In 1592, the Duke of Nemours ordered the demolition of the ramparts, but the order was only partly carried out. The remains of the walls can be seen in place.
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The settlement has retained the circular street plan, with houses built onto the inside of the walls.
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There is the remains of one of the gateways with a grassy track running down the hillside away from it.
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This has a round tower with very narrow windows. Beside it is what is described as the Great Townhouse surrounded by a grassy area. Originally this would not have had any windows on the outer defensive wall. This was the jail and later the house of the Mayor but is now a private residence.
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Built on the outside of the wall is a large square pigeon loft which is now disused.
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The settlement has a lot of character with narrow lanes, some unpaved and just grass. There are many old C16/17th stone houses. Some are now derelict, others have been carefully renovated.
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In the middle of the town is the C15th porch, all that remains of the Hotel Vacherel.
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CHAPELLE NOTRE-DAME-DE-BON-SECOURS was built outside walls in the C17th and has been frequently restored. It replaced the old chapel which stood at the top of the hill. It is a simple rectangle with a small bell cote dated 1843 over the west end.
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The inside is very simple with cream painted walls and a blue ceiling over the small apse at the east end Doors on either side of the chancel arch lead to the sacristy. There is a large balcony across the west end.

The marble high altar has a carving of the Lamb of God on the base. Above the host box, pillars supporting an open cupola dome with a small crucifix.
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On a stone pedestal in front of the chancel arch is a statue of the Virgin, dressed in a white robe and holding the Christ Child. and Child. There are painted carvings of St Michael killing the dragon, Joseph with the young Jesus and a large statue of Joan of Arc.

After Roche-en-Regnier, we took the D29 back to Voray, on the River Loire. This is an exciting run on a road cut out on a ledge on the hillside above a deep gorge.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE NORTH OF LAPTE - ROZIER-CÔTES-D'AUREC

We spent a day exploring the small villages and towns to the north of Lapte. This is a super drive across the plateau with open farmland with quite big farms with additional buildings and barns. In September there were huge piles of silage bales.
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Early morning mist was hanging in the Loire Valley.
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Our first stop was Rosier-Côtes-d’Aurac. This was intended as a short stop for the bakers, but turned out longer than expected. Again this is a place ignored by the guide books and there is very little on the web.

We think it was probably a fortified town with a row of substantial houses including the post office which could have been built along the line of the walls. There was a fair bit of activity with locals going about their business.
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ÉGLISE ST-BLAISE is part of a former Cluniac Priory. From the style of architecture, this was probably built in the C11 or C12th although there is some C15th work. It is a long low building with an apse at the east end and a square tower above the crossing.
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There is a lovely carved tympanum above west door of the three kings presenting gifts to Mary holding Jesus, who is represented as a small adult rather than a baby. It is also unusual as there is no crib and no animals.
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Inside is a very simple building with a single nave with a barrel ceiling and wall pillars with superb carved capitals. (The men working in the church are setting up a stage ready for a concert later in the week.)
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There is a fox trying to eat a man, masons with tools, Atlantes Imperturbables ( a figure holding up the top with his hands) and acanthus leaves.
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A crucifix hangs from the roof of the crossing. The altar in the south transept has a beautiful painted carving of Mary holding the dead body of Christ with a skull at her feet and a badge with a coat of arms. The ceiling ribs are painted beige with blue and beige decoration on the arch around the carving of Mary and Jesus. The ceiling has outlines of floral garlands painted on it and a carved and painted boss.
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The north transept has a simple stone altar with a small cross above.

There is a simple stone altar in the chancel apse which has more pillars with carved capitals on either side of the round topped windows.
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On either side are tiny chapel The side chapel to the south of the chancel has a statue of the Virgin on the altar with a cross above. The chapel to the north has the Sacre Coeur on the altar with a cross above.

This was a very worthwhile stop.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE NORTH OF LAPTE - ST-BONNET-LE-CHÂTEAU

St-Bonnet-le-Château is a hill town and there is a splendid view of it from the D3 approaching from the south west, with the church on top of the hill with the settlement below it. This had been a fortified village but has now grown out of all recognition. The château has gone and an Ursuline Convent built in its place.
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The town gets a 1* rating on Michelin maps and is variously described as a ‘gem’ with a ‘remarkable medieval district’. The church features in the guide books for its crypt with C15th frescoes and C17th mummies. These were found when a vault in the nave was opened in 1837. Their bodies had been preserved by alum and arsenic in the soil.

We set off with high hopes.

It is much larger than it looks on the map with a lot of new development round the edges. Signing in the town is not brilliant and the walking map from tourist information proved to be useless for route finding. We eventually found somewhere to park and climbed up through town to the church along narrow alleyways and steps.

In the middle ages this was an important industrial centre with tanning, weaving and metal working. By the end of the C18th, 50% of the male population were locksmiths. In the C19th gunsmiths supplanted locksmiths. Later the manufacture of steel balls for boules became important and it is the only place making the famous OBUT bowls used in pétanque. Narrow cobbled streets are lined with tall, dour buildings and it felt uninviting to explore.
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The COLLEGIATE CHURCH is built on top of a hill and is a huge building that dominates the town and surrounding area. There are good views from outside the east end.
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The building is C15th Gothic architecture, built on the site of an older building. Traces of this remain in parts of the north wall. The side chapels were added later. It is a massive building with large external buttresses and steps up to the large porch at the west end. There are two towers on either side of the transept.
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I had emailed Tourist Information before we left home and knew the section with the mummies was closed for preservation work, but we wanted to see the frescoes, which can only be seen on a guided tour which run on the half hour. We followed the signs to the crypt. This was locked and there was no information about guided tours. After a long wait, we eventually gave up and headed to the church.

A sign on the north door said closed 7-21st September for refurbishment. We swore but decided to try the door which was unlocked. We went into the church, where the annual clean was in progress. People were working round the west doorway and there was someone in the south chapel by the door touching up the paintings. No-one paid any notice to us, so we looked round and took photos, making sure we didn’t get in anyone’s way.

It is a massive church inside but felt completely soulless. We had been expecting great things but it was a major disappointment. There are four side chapels on the south wall and two on the north.
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There are remains of the C15th frescoes around the bosses in the nave ceiling. Those in the chancel have been restored and are much more colourful.
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The wooden pulpit has gilded panels with carvings of the four evangelists with a central panel of Jesus preaching. On the back wall is a carving of the Good Shepherd with his sheep.
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The chancel is big with an iron altar rail. The high altar made of different colours of marble and the stained glass windows are C19th.

The chapels along the south walls have C19th painted walls and ceilings with marble altars.

By now we were beginning to feel very let down by St Bonnet-le-Château and decided to cut our losses and head for Montarchet. Experience during the holiday had taught us that larger towns weren’t as rewarding as the smaller places.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE NORTH OF LAPTE - MONTARCHET

Montarchet is a small hill top settlement of old stone houses with red tile roofs, built around the church. At an altitude of 1160m. it is one of the highest villages in the Haute Loire.
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There are also good views of the surrounding area.
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It is described as a ‘village of character’. Along with nearby Marols, it is ignored by the guide books and there is little information on the web. I had picked up a copy of the visitor guide to Montarcher and Marcols with maps and guided walk round the villages from the Tourism Office in St Bonnet-le-Château.
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The area has been settled since the fifth Century BC when a Celtic hill fort was built here protected by big stone walls. The remains of these can still be seen to the south of the settlement below the line of the later walls.
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This had been a fortified town in the Middle Ages. The remains of old buildings, probably workshops, stores or barns can still be seen outside the medieval walls. All that remains of the castle is a mound of earth and stones earth behind the church. The remains of one of the fortified gateways survives to the west of the church.
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This now leads to the medieval cemetery with old grave slabs.
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There is a pleasant walk along the outside of the ramparts which goes past a small small oratory dedicated to the Virgin.

At the north end of the village, near the car park is what is known as the Claude Ferrier cross, after the name carved on one of the sides. This is dated 1497 and local inhabitants used to hang a lantern on the cross when someone in the village died.
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The church stands on the highest part of the settlement and was originally the chapel attached to the castle. Nearby is a C17th cross with a carving of the Virgin on one side and Christ on the other.
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ÉGLISE DE L’ASSOMPTION-DE-LA-VIERGE DE MONTARCHET is a small building with a square tower at the west end with an attached round tower giving access to the bells and an apse at the east.
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From the east, the solid stone walls give the church a fortified appearance.
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The only part of the original C12th building is the chancel with a small round tower off it. The transepts and north wall are C15th. The west end, bell tower and south wall are C16th. The porch and buttresses of the south porch were added in the C17th.

A steep flight of stone steps steps lead up to the massive buttressed porch over the south door. On the wall is a pre-Christian granite statue showing a mother goddess breast feeding two children which was discovered during the restoration of the church and placed here.

Not only is the door very low there is also a small step up inside to catch the unwary.

Inside it is a simple building with stone slab floor and vaulted ceiling with carved and painted bosses. The inside of the walls are plastered and thin red lines on the walls make a brick pattern.
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There is a beautifully carved and painted Beam of Glory across the chancel arch with a crucifix above it. The spirals on the wall at the end of the beam, represents the Creation of the Universe. The first curve is decorated with ferns and flowers, representing the Creation of the Earth. The five small figures represent the creation of man. The rosettes at the end of each beam under the cross express Divine Glory. Beneath hangs a shroud, representing the triumph of Christ over death and his resurrection.
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The low round pillars around the chance apse have carved capitals. At the angles of the ceiling arches are paintings of urns with flowers. There is a small stone altar with a larger carved wooden chest behind and a host box set in the wall. The processional cross is propped up against the wall. A wooden door leads into the sacristy.
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The north transept chapel has a beautifully carved marble altar with a frieze of drinking birds above. The retable is carved to look like a church with darker panels as the ‘windows’. In front is a statue of Christ. To the right is a statue of St Theresa.
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The south transept has a wooden stand with a gilt statue of the Virgin and baby Jesus who is holding an orb. On the wall behind are the remains of a fresco with two angels holding candles with a third angel above them.

At the back of the church is a memorial to the dead of World War One with 20 names on it, which must have had a devastating effect on a small village like this with a total population of about 200 at the time. There is just space at the bottom to add the two names from World War Two.

This is a delightful spot. It was quiet and peaceful and we much preferred it to St-Bonnet-le-Château.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE NORTH OF LAPTE - MAROLS

Marols is another very nice village of well cared for old stone houses and a fortified church. Again it is ignored by the guide books and there is nothing on the web.

The village grew up along an old Roman road which linked Lyons and Toulouse. It was used by medieval merchants and also pilgrims on their way to Le Puy en Velay. In the C12th the Benedictines established a small priory here. The village and church were fortified during the Hundred Years War in the C14th. The village was ravaged by the Black Death and then destroyed by protestant troops in the C16th.

All that is left of the fortifications is a fortified gateway near the east end of the church and the small postern gate by the church square.
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The CHURCH dates from the C12th and was extended in the C15th, C16th and C18th. It has a very large fortified tower at the east end with machicolations. There are more machicolations on the outside walls of the nave under blank arches. The tower is heavily buttresses and supported by a later buttressed arch with a brick vaulted ceiling.
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There are more buttresses along the side walls and on the west tower which is smaller and more decorated.
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There is a small door on the south wall with steps up to it. Entry is through the west door which has a massive stone porch in front of it.
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Inside the church massive pillars support the weight of the tower. The nave has big square pillars with pointed arches above and a barrel ceiling. On the floor are old tombstones. The side aisles are later and have vaulted ceilings.
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The chancel is separated from the nave by a very decorative wrought iron Beam of Glory dating from the C16th or C17th. Above is a crucifix and a heart with angels heads and two small flowers on either side.
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The tiny chancel under the fortified tower is very simple with a lancet window at the east end. The other, larger chancel windows have pictures of flying doves. There is a small stone altar and processional cross.
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The north transept has a gilt statue of St Joseph and a stained glass window with the Virgin. The south transept has a gilt statue of the Virgin and the Christ Child. Above is a stained glass window with St Peter holding the keys to Heaven.
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Outside the church is what is described as the Argnats cross. The word comes from the local dialect meaning boil, as sufferers of the plague or persistent boils would touch the cross in the hope of a miraculous cure. It is unusual as there is no carving of Jesus. Instead there is a lozenge shape in the centre of the cross. This was common in medieval Ireland and is thought to have been brought here by Irish missionaries.
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The village has kept many of its traditional houses.
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Built from the local granite, these would originally have been farms with house, stable and barn under the same roof. Built to survive the harsh climate, windows were only on the south walls. The west and north walls exposed to the cold winds and rain rarely have windows. The front door often had a glazed transome above the door to let in more light.
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In the churchyard at the edge of the village is the small funerary chapel dedicated to St Roch. This is a small rectangular stone building with a small bell cote above the west end. Unfortunately it was locked.

This was another very good visit.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE NORTH OF LAPTE - SAINT-JEAN-SOLEYMIEUX

Saint-Jean-Soleymieux is a few minutes drive north of Marols. It is a nice small town, well maintained and cared for, with a lot of flowers.
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It has a very elegant Marie and impressive Notary’s house.
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We parked in the square and headed for the church.

ÉGLISE ST-JEAN-BAPTISTE is C14th but has an C11th crypt. It is built on the edge of the cliff and the nave is lower than the massive buttressed stone tower at the west end. A house is built onto the north wall of the tower.
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Entry is through the west door which has a series of carved pointed arches supported by pillars with carved capitals. On one of the arches is a carving of a figure holding the coat of arms of the Seigneurs of the Château du Rousset.

Inside the doorway a flight of steep steps leads down into the simple nave. This is short and very wide with a supporting pillar on both sides. The big chancel has a simple stone slab altar supported on old carved capitals. There is a host box mounted on a pillar behind it.
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At the back of the church is a stone font with a memorial tablet to the dead of World War One. In the north aisle is a beautiful gilt painted statue of the Virgin with the Christ Child who is holding an orb. In the south aisle is a statue of St John the Baptist carrying a cross with a lamb at his feet.

More steps lead down into the crypt of NOTRE-DAME-SOUS-TERRE. This was the original church, which became the crypt when the later church was built above it. There are four central pillars with carved capitals supporting low round arches.
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At the east end in a tiny apse is a stone altar supported by old pillars with decorative gilt mosaic panels. Above is an integral host box with an old painted statue of the Virgin holding the Christ Child. At the back in a small arch is a statue of Notre-Dame-sous-Terre. This used to be carried in procession until the 1960s.

The ceilings and walls are covered with paintings dating from the early C20th in shades of blue, gold and pink.
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Again this was a church which repaid visiting.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE NORTH OF LAPTE - CHÂTEAU d'ESSALOIS and CHAMBLES

From Saint-Jean-Soleymieux we headed east to pick up the D108 which runs along the top of a gorge of the River Loire. There are good views of Château d’Essalois, a splendid ruin on the edge of a promontory above the river.

Signed off the main road, it is a short drive to a large car park with woodland walks and a large sign saying “No cars beyond this point. Five minute walk to the château”.

In fact it took us a good twelve minutes along a rough road. There is actually some parking outside the château as there is a small auberge which also has accommodation and caters for events. It was very busy and we probably saw more people here than we had seen all week.

CHÂTEAU D’ESSALOIS is a large square stone building with two round towers at the front and two square towers at the back. It is open daily from 9-7 and admission is free. Access to some of the rooms is restricted to pre-arranged tours.
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he château was built on the site of a Gallic oppidium which extended 500m behind the Château. The remains of the walls are now covered by broom. There was a château here in the C14th and the present building dates from the C16th. It was the centre of a large estate with farms, woodland and meadows. It was lived in until the C18th but was in a ruinous condition by the C19th. It was bought by Hippolyte Sauzea, a merchant in St Étienne, at the end of the C19th who restored it and bequeathed it to the Hospices of St-Étienne. His coat of arms can be seen on the western front.

The building is, once again, in a ruinous condition and owned by the local community. On the front is a sundial dated 2007 with a sign explaining how to make corrections for the different months of the year.

Steps inside the round tower give access to the first floor, a large open area, and also to the roof for good views of the surrounding area. Below on an island in the Loire is Château de Grangent.
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We felt this is another place best admired from the outside. It didn’t repay the time invested to get there.

Driving south along the D108 to CHAMBLES, we were intrigued by the round tower seen from the road so stopped to investigate. This is another well maintained and attractive village with two restaurants and a place selling ice cream.
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According to the Chambles website, the round tower dates from the C9th and is all that is left of the C13th Seigneurial château. The village was a fortified settlement and the remains of an old gateway can be seen below the church.
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ÉGLISE ST-PIERRE dates from the C13th and was originally a priory chapel. It was extensively restored in the C19th. It is a low building with a semi-circular tower at the east end, which looks as if it might have been fortified.
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The west facade is very plain with a small flight of stone steps leading up to the west door. Above is a small round window with three smaller windows under the roof.
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Inside, well finished square pillars support rougher stone arches. Above is a wooden ceiling. There are small carved wooden altars in the transepts.
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The crossing is large with round arches and has a vaulted ceiling. The chancel has a lower round apse with a simple stone slab altar set on a large stone pedestal. The east window has a picture of the Annunciation.
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The stained glass windows in the side aisles have different designs of flowers - lilies, carnations, roses, lilies…

On the back wall is a carved wood prie-dieu with a large carved back with John the Baptist baptising Christ. On the opposite side of the door is a wooden confessional with a painted statue of St Isidore holding a shovel, sheath of corn and what looks like a miniature spinning wheel in a round wooden base.

This was another good visit.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE NORTH OF LAPTE - AUREC-SUR-LOIRE

This was our last stop of the day. We wanted to visit the church as I had read it had frescoes and C15th murals. Signing in Aurec-sur-Loire is non-existent and roads are busy. We went round twice trying to find the church, as we couldn’t see the spire.

This is a large settlement of stone houses with low red tiled roofs and a is a popular tourist destination with plenty of services and shops.
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There is a large area of parkland round Château du Moine-Sacristain. This now houses the tourist office and a small museum. It is a fairly plain square C6th building with a C12th round tower.
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The Old library is an equally impressive building.
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The town had been fortified and the remains of the walls can be seen along the river. There are the remains of one of the old gateways, Porte David.
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ÉGLISE ST-PIERRE is a very plain and rather uninspiring building from the outside with massive arched buttresses on the north wall and an offset square tower with tiled roof. There are more buttresses on either side of the west door which has a semicircular roof above with a small statue of St Pierre on the roof. The square tower with louvred bell windows and a tall pointed roof.
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The inside was equally as uninspiring, possibly as a result of a heavy restoration in 1993 and had big TV screens scattered around.

The walls are a pale plaster. The centre of the pillars and the underside of the arches are painted in grey in an attempt to look like marble. There are the remains of frescoes on the pillars, but many are in poor condition and it is difficult to make out much detail.
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The chancel has a small free standing altar with gilt decoration. Behind is a modern free standing host box. The lower walls of the chancel are panelled to look like white marble. The stained glass windows are modern with abstract designs of Biblical scenes. On either side of the windows are decorative fluted pillars with a statue set between them.
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The south transept has a painted statue of the Virgin holding the body of the crucified Christ. The north transept has a very ornate carved altar with barleycorn twist pillars with carved vines and decorative tops framing a carved wood statue of Joseph and the boy Jesus.

At the back of the church is a wooden carved prie-dieu which was closed up and had a statue of John the Baptist baptising Christ.

The small treasury containing a C14th polychrome carving of St Peter and a plaster C18th Virgin and Child. Below are C17th reliquaries and a beautiful ostensoir with a decorated base and sunburst round the top.
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Aurec-sur-Loire features in the guide books. It was the end of a long day but again we felt this was another example of one of the larger settlements not delivering.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE EAST OF LAPTE - MONTFAUCON-EN-VELAY

We spent a day exploring to the east of Lapte, doing a circuit out through Montfaucon-en-Velay to Boucier-le-roi and back through Désaignes

It had rained heavily overnight and we woke to low cloud and light drizzle. There had been low mist all the way to Montfaucon-en-Velay, and driving hadn’t been pleasant. We decided to park and go and find a bakers to give the weather time to clear up. It is quite a large settlement with a good range of shops and large houses along the main street. There is a town trail with information boards round the town.
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ÉGLISE ST-PIERRE was built in the Romanesque style in 1817 on the foundations of an older church. It has a huge square bell tower with a porch beneath with stone flagged floor and doorway with a rounded stone archway into the church.
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It is a fairly plain but elegant building with round arches between the nave and the side aisles. Stone pillars supporting the ceiling ribs have beautifully carved capitals with human heads, green men, angels, mermaids with two tails, and grotesque animals all carefully picked out in gilt.
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The big chancel apse has wooden panels round the base of the walls and carved wooden choir stalls.
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The free standing wood altar has three saints carved on the base.
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Behind it is a free standing host box on a barleycorn twist pillar.
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At the back of the south wall is a small wooden font surrounded by decorative metal railings. Behind is is a stained glass window of John the Baptist baptising Jesus with the dove of the Holy Spirit looking down on them, set in a wooden surround with diamond patterned panels, matching the panels in the chancel apse.
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE EAST OF LAPTE - CHAPELLE NOTRE-DAMEDE MONTFAUCON and the GRIMER PAINTINGS




Chapelle Notre-Dame de Montfaucon is at the western edge of the town. It is a large C16th building which was restored in the C19th and C20th. Outside was a sign about an exhibition of pictures in the church by Abel Grimer, a late Renaissance Flemish painter. The twelve paintings date from 1592 and depict the twelve months of the year. They were brought to Montfaucon by Father Jamon when he became priest here. They cover scenes of every day C16th life along with religious scenes from the life of Jesus or the parables. Each is signed by Grimer and there is a biblical reference in the right hand corner.

We don’t usually ‘do’ paintings but were fascinated by these, particularly the intimate details of daily life.

The sequence begins in December with Mary and Joseph being turned away from the inn. The scene is set in a small town with a square, church and well. Townsfolk are going about their daily business.
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January tells of the dream of Joseph and the flight into Egypt. It is a snow scene with people gathering branches from a tree for firewood and the Holy Family leaving for Egypt on a donkey.
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February is the calling of the first disciples. This is a fishing scene with fishing boats and men carrying the fish into the town, a splendid place with a large gateway.
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March shows the planting of the vines. Jesus is with three people in C16thC watching the vines being planted.
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April is the parable of the sower This is a rural scene with a person ploughing with horses and the sower scattering seed by hand on the ploughed ground. In the castle garden, the gardeners are busy at work. Jesus is depicted in the bottom right hand corner.
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May tells the story of the Samaritan woman who had been so busy listening to Jesus at the well she had forgotten to take her water jug. The disciples are bringing food from the town for Jesus.
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June is the parable of the Good Shepherd. Jesus, with a sheep round his neck is with a flock of sheep. In the background sheep are being sheared and bags of wool are being taken to the town.
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In July, Jesus warns against the dangers of materialism and avarice. In the background, seaweed is being harvested and a roof being thatched. A man is sitting under a tree taking it easy with a dog, pigs and hens around him.
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August is about the harvest and the parable of the Sabbath. The wheat is being cut, laid out to dry and piled onto a cart.
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September is the parable of the sterile fig tree. In the story, a fig tree has not born fruit for three years and the owner wanted to cut it down. The gardener asked that it be left for another year and he would fertilise and water it well. If it still did not bear fruit he would cut it down. The parable reflects Jesus (the gardener) offering a chance for repentance and forgiveness of sins. The picture shows a harvest scene with apples being collected from trees and taken back to the town.
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October has a scene of the homicide of the wine growers. The servants have chased the owner’s son out of the vineyard set on the slopes beneath the castle and have killed him; a reference to the Crucifixion.
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November is the wedding of the king’s son. Preparations for the feat are under way with a cow being dragged to slaughter across the castle courtyard. After the rich friends have declined to come, the king is sending out his servants to find beggars and cripples to invite in their place.

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The chapel is a large building with the pictures arranged in sequence round the walls of the nave. There is a decorative pink/beige frieze above then and a narrow pattern round the windows. There are flat pillars against the walls which have carved capitals and support the ribs of the vaulted ceiling. The ribs of the chancel vault are painted in gilt and pink.

There is a large C16th marble altar with an elaborately carved base and retable designed to look like the front of a church with pinnacles and a large spire above the host box. Above is an illuminated statue of the Virgin and Child. This is carved from stone and the Virgin is dressed in a white dress with gold embroidery.

There are carved white marble altars in the transepts. The stained glass window in the north transept has a scene of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In the north transept is the Virgin and Child with Adam and Eve below.

After 90 minutes the rain had eased and there were breaks in the cloud. As well as achieving our purpose of letting the weather improve, this had been a well worth while and interesting visit. The town is ignore by the guide books but the Grimer paintings were a highlight and deserve more publicity.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE EAST OF LAPTE - LALOUVESC

Lalouvesc is about 15 miles south east of Montfaucon-en-Velay. It is a pleasant drive through deciduous woodland. In September there were cars parked along the roadside with people out gathering fungi.

As we dropped down into the town we saw what we thought were old pig styes. Having read that many houses used to have a pig stye attached to them, we parked up and went to investigate. The buildings belonged to the 1700s La Ferme Abrial. The traditional square farmhouse had a separate long low building for the animals. This had been in use until 2007, but is now used for general storage. The stone feeding troughs are planted up with flowers.
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Lalouvesc had been an important staging point on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela with a lot of very large and important buildings and several inns or hotels. It has a reasonable range of shops including antiques and tourist shops.
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The town is built on the edge of the cliff face and on a clear day, there are good super views from the belvedere in front of the Basilica.
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BASILICA ST-JEAN-FRANÇOIS RÉGIS is a massive and very splendid neo-Byzantine building with different coloured stones used to pick out the arches and darker pillars framing the windows. There are two towers at the west end with spires and pinnacles and a low dome above the transept with a cupola.
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This is the third building on the site. The first church was too small for the number of pilgrims. Its replacement was destroyed during the Revolution. Building on this building began in 1865 and took 12 years to complete. The spires were added in 1900. The six ton bell needed 6 oxen to pull it to the church and can be heard 20km away.

Jean-François-Régis was a Jesuit missionary priest travelling through the region of Vivaris, Cévannes and Velay, an area ravaged by religious wars. His simple and direct preaching style appealed to the uneducated peasantry and he made many conversions. He worked with the needy and prostitutes. He encouraged the development of the lace industry and championed the cause of the lace makers. He died in 1640 in Lalvousec and was buried in the church, which became a place of pilgrimage. He was beatified in the C18th.

A small building near the Basilica contains a museum devoted to the life of St Regis with a series of dioramas about his life and work.

Entry is up steps to the west door. It is a huge building and the inside is almost over the top with all the decoration. Huge marble pillars in the nave have carved bases and tops. The nave arches are elaborately carved. The ornate vaulted ceiling has carved bosses.
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At the end of the north aisle is a statue of the Virgin dressed in black with the Christ child standing on a pedestal. At the end of the south aisle is a beautiful metal and enamel reliquary box containing the bones of St Regis, with a gilt statue of him on the wall above. The stained glass windows tell the story of his life.
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The circular transept is huge with a mosaic floor and very simple stone slab altar on a cylindrical base. It is surrounded by four big dark marble pillars with gold eagles on the tops. The carved arches are decorated with gold. Religious scenes are painted on the walls. The dome above has a cupola and is decorated with paintings of angels.
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There is a crucifix hanging from the chancel arch. This has wooden choir stalls and a modern host box of inlaid wood at the back. Arches supported by black or brown marble pillars are highly carved and picked out in gold. Walls are decorated with paintings telling the history of pilgrimage to the site.

This is quite an amazing church to find in such a small place.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE EAST OF LAPTE - BOZAS

By now the sun had come out and it was turning into a glorious day. From Lalvousec it is a pleasant run round the head of the valleys although there were limited views with all the trees. Once we reached St Felicien we were in much more open pastureland This is a very fertile area with a lot of settlement in the valley.
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Dropping down the valley heading to Boucieu le Roi, we saw Bozas silhouetted on top of a hill. It looked interesting, so went to explore. It doesn’t feature in the guide books and again, there is very little information on the web.

Bozas is a small settlement built on top of a hill dominated by the large C15th château. There is parking along the outside of the château wall which has smaller towers along it. This surrounds a large tower and corps de logis.
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Next to it is Église St Pierre which occupies the site of an older building which was a dependency of the priory at Tain. It has a tall tower with the date 1809 and is topped by a spire. Unfortunately it was locked.
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Around the square are a few beautifully kept stone houses. This is a holiday area and many of the houses are now gites.
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE EAST OF LAPTE - BOUCIEU-LE-ROI

It was a very pretty run to Boucieu-le-Roi, through fertile countryside with a large number of orchards as well as pasture land with cows and a few sheep. There were some fields of maize as well as hay meadows with a lot of wild flowers. The area is well settled with small farms and settlement.

The road drops down across medieval Pont du Roi and up past the station.
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The railway line is disused and the tourist steam train service no longer runs. Instead, a velocipede service runs along the 12km of track from Boucieu-le-Roi with return on a diesel rail car. This looked to be very popular with a lot of people waiting.

Boucieu-le-Roi is another hill town and well on the tourist route as it is one of the a ‘Villages of Character’. There is a large car park on the edge of the village. The small and free Musée des Traditions Vivaroises at the start of the village has information (all in French), about rural housing and way of life.

It is a charming and well manicured place which has been beautifully restored to a condition it would never have been like. It felt like a museum as the school was shut and the only people around were tourists. There are no services in the village apart from a bar.
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The settlement dates from the end of the C13th and the early buildings were built on the top of the hill around the château. It was a Royal town; the capital of Haut Vivarais until the C16th, and the site of the High Court of Justice for the area. This was responsible for settling disagreements between the church and nobles, offences and also local appeals. The Bailiff’s House with its tower is the most splendid house in the village.
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During the C14th the town was fortified with houses backing onto the walls. In more settled times, the population moved out of the small settlement around the château to lower down the hill, to the site of the present settlement, where there was more space. Most of the houses here date from the C15th with their pale stone walls and flat red tile roofs. Most have an outside staircase with a small covered balcony leading to the entrance on the first floor. The ground floor was used for the storage of vegetables and wood. The first floor was the living quarters and the second with small windows, was used for storage of dry goods or to breed silkworms.
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At the start of the village is the Chapel to the Virgin in a small stone building with a locked grille across the doorway. Inside is a statue of the Virgin with a few candles on the floor.

The CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST dates from the end of the C15th, but was partially destroyed in the C16th during the Wars of Religion. It even became a protestant church for a short time. It was rebuilt, apart from the tower, in the C17th and now has a very asymmetrical appearance.
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Inside massive pillars support round arches which separate the nave from the wide side aisles. Above is a vaulted ceiling with bosses. There is a simple chancel apse with a modern stained glass window depicting God above a plain stone table altar. The host box is on the side wall.
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At the back of the church is the font with modern paintings of Mary presenting Jesus at the temple and John the Baptist baptising Jesus.

On the south wall is a modern altar of white marble with a carving of the Lamb of God on the base with vines on either side. The wooden altar on the north wall has a statue of the Virgin in an apse above it and a stained glass window with the Virgin.

In front of the altar is the gravestone of Pierre Vigne and his statue is on the chancel arch.

Pierre Vigne is big news in Boucei. He was a missionary priest who thought the area looked like Jerusalem. He built 39 Stations of the Cross around the village in 1712-3. These have a small arch with a carving and a number. 34 are still left.

The château was restored and extended in the C20th and is now occupied by the sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order founded by Pierre Vigne. It has a small museum about his life and work.

The town is surrounded by fertile farmland. There are good views from a view point at the end of the village near the Bailiff’s House. A major flood in 1963 deposited a thick layer of fertile alluvium on the valley floor. Terraced vineyards have gradually been given up and replaced by plantations of commercial pines. The woodland and high pastures are no longer grazed and are reverting to scrub land.
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A DAY TO THE EAST OF LAPTE - DÉSAIGNES

Désaignes is another Village of Character with a compact walled medieval town with three gateways and the remains of walls, surrounded by a lot of later and new development.
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There has been a settlement here since Roman times. In the Middle Ages this was a thriving settlement, surrounded by high ramparts, and one of the largest towns in the Ardèche until the coming of the railway. This went through Le Cheylard rather than Désaignes, and led to a loss of economic development and decline.

Tourist Information have a leaflet about the town in English.

We parked outside the old town and going through one of the old gateways was like stepping into another world of narrow cobbled streets and alleys lined with tall houses.
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In the centre of the town is a large square with the C17th church and a large tree. Unfortunately the church was locked and there was no information about where to get a key.
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The smaller part of the square behind the church contains the Barbière fountain with an old sarcophagus for a basin. The Auberge de la Fontaine is a big old building with a splendid wooden front on the ground floor.
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There were two châteaux. The original C11th château was built on the site of a Roman temple. The building, apart from the tower, was demolished at the end of the C17th. Désaignes had been a protestant town during the Wars of Religion. At the beginning of the C19th there was felt to be a need for a new protestant temple. A square stone building was added to the C11th tower. This is a very plain building with a small doorway at the west end with three small round topped windows above it and a red tile roof. It was also locked.
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Across the road from the temple is an old clog maker’s workshop.
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The C14th château now houses the local museum about rural life and community room. It has some grand fireplaces, the original kitchen, a small chapel and an attractive stone spiral staircase
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This is a very attractive small town with few tourists.
 

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