The Most Beautiful Villages of France: Astonishing Lavardin


Sometimes the slow traveler finds the best places purely by accident. One of the best of those accidental discoveries for us was the day we found Lavardin. Following a week in the Loire Valley on a cloudy Saturday morning we headed to Orleans. Along the way we discovered Lavardin, a village that has been inhabited since long before Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls and France.


A beautiful garden and fine homes on the river banks.

The village lies along the banks of the river Loir (not Loire, a different river entirely). An old stone bridge connects the two sides of the place, enticing us to make an unplanned stop. We saw on the high hill above the town the remains of a fortress/castle built in the mid-1100’s and largely destroyed by the French king, Henri IV, around the year 1600.


The 1000 year old church of Saint Genest in Lavardin.

On this Saturday morning we enjoyed seeing gardeners at work along the banks of the river. At the bridge we found a restaurant we would have liked to try had we been there a bit later in the day. We followed the main street over the bridge and into the heart of the village where we discovered the Romanesque village church named for Saint Genest. We saw no one around the church but the door was unlocked so we entered.


A glimpse of the interior of the church. This photo is swiped from where you’ll find many more fine pictures of the frescoes in this church.

We have wandered into many ancient churches in Europe. George was particularly fond of exploring and photographing them. But this church held a surprise for us that we’ve found nowhere else. The walls were covered in paintings that are many hundreds of years old. We didn’t have the cameras and lighting required for good photos of this marvel but I’ve found a website that will show you what we found in Lavardin’s 1000 year old church that day. Please click here to see it.


The remains of the 900 year old castle stand today much as they were after King Henri IV’s knights destroyed it.

Since that day in 2005 much work has been done to restore these images in this historic village church. They will continue to astonish visitors for many years to come.


The cute old car seen in this photo is called a Citroen Deux Chevaux, a beloved relic in France. It was manufactured from the 1940s to 1990 and many of them are still running. The name means “two horses.” Citroen, the manufacturer, designed this inexpensive car for farmers who were still using wagons drawn by horses after World War 2.


The village of Lavardin has an excellent website that will show you more of the village and tell you the town’s history across several millennia. Click here.

For years I’ve followed the blog written by Ken, a native of Morehead City, NC. Here’s a link to his post about Lavardin’s church.

The history of the Citroen Deux Chevaux courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Most Beautiful Villages of France: Historic Twins


The Dordogne River winds slowly across southern France, passing centuries-old chateaux and villages. The region known as Perigord is now more often called Dordogne. Here life moves in old, gentle ways. In small villages along the river the townspeople remain well connected to one another, sharing community festivals and dinners, meeting one another at weekly outdoor markets, sharing wines, patés and brandies made from their walnuts. The weather in southern France is often mild in winter attracting many British people who relocate to the Dordogne region for retirement or to establish small businesses. The area is very popular with tourists who are familiar with France. Many local people, both French and British, operate B&B’s or offer vacation rentals and camping sites on old farms. Today they live together in peace but the French and the British have not always been good neighbors.

The history of this region is both long and brutal. Prehistoric cavemen are believed to have lived in this area of France 30,000 years ago. The famous cave paintings of Lascaux are just 20 miles north of the Dordogne river. Two-thirds of all the cave paintings known to exist are in southwestern France. Richard the Lionheart was killed in a battle here in 1199. Between the years 1337 to 1453 the two countries often fought over control of southwestern France in what is called the Hundred Years War. Relics of war can still be found across the region in the form of ancient fortress-castles. Two of these chateaux crown the neighboring villages of Beynac-et-Cazenac and La Roque-Gageac. Battles were sometimes fought between these fortress-castles which are only three miles apart.

Today these peaceful places are members of association called The Most Beautiful Villages of France. Each village is comprised of houses built of golden stone centuries ago. An ancient chateau still stands at the top of each town. The chateau at Beynac is open year-round for tours. The houses in Beynac are stacked on the steep hills and cliffs above the river, the foundation of one at the roofline of its neighbor. The homes in La Roque-Gageac have been sandwiched between the river and the cliffs that run beside it. Each of these villages is the site of fine restaurants and vacation rentals. Boating and camping along the river is easy to arrange. The atmospheric old town of Sarlat-le-Canéda is just twenty minutes away.

Here are some pictures George and I took a few years ago when we explored this part of France. I look forward to returning.


The chateau at Beynac


Beynac is so steep that this street runs along the roofs of the adjacent houses.


Can I please live in this house in Beynac?


Tourists enjoying a ride on the Dordogne river.


The road into Cliffside Roque-Gageac


Buildings stand between the river and the cliffs in La Roque Gageac.


The chateau at La Roque Gageac


Think you might like to know more about visiting Begnac and La Roque?  Here’s a good site to begin with.

My friend Elinor and I have discovered a series of novels set in the Dordogne region of France. Elinor’s much more discriminating about what she reads that I am so I feel safe recommending these to you. The series begins with a book called Bruno: Chief of Police by Martin Walker. I’ve read all but the latest one and find Bruno and his friends to be very likeable.

The Most Beautiful Villages in France: Ancient Belcastel


Tiny Belcastel lies on the banks for the Aveyron River in the department of the same name. With a population of less than 300 souls it remains much the same as it has been for centuries. The 15th century bridge still leads to the 15th century church. (I always like to think that these structures were standing there when Christopher Columbus set sail for the new world.)

The name refers to the chateau which has been perched above the village for more than one thousand years. Built as a fortress, the castle was abandoned in the 16th century and stood unused until 1973 when Fernand Pouillon, an architect, began its restoration. Today the chateau is open for tours during the summer season. Learn more about it here.

One rainy morning a few years ago my husband George and I wandered around the village with cameras in hand. I had learned of the beauty of this tiny place from references on the web to the excellent small hotel and restaurant there, the Hotel du Vieux Pont.(The name means “hotel by the old bridge”.) We didn’t have time then to experience this well-recommended place but I hope to do that in the near future.

Here are some rainy-day images of a perfect French village.


The façade of the Hotel du Vieux Pont in the town of Belcastel. It’s a small, 3-star hotel with a fine restaurant.


This photo has been “borrowed” from the website of the Chateau of Belcastel. Hope they don’t mind my sharing it with you.


Wet scene of the street below the chateau.


The bridge built in the 1400s leads to the church — also built in the 1400s. Things last a long time in the countryside in Europe.


The Aveyron river divides the village.

The Most Beautiful Villages of France: Medieval Conques


Upon entering the village called Conques in southern France the visitor enters the middle ages. Located high on a mountain in the region of Aveyron, Conques (pronounced Konk) has remained virtually unchanged for centuries. The village is thought to have been founded by a hermit named Dadon in the 6th century A.D. but it may be much older. A small abbey grew in the place where Dadon lived. To become successful medieval abbeys needed to possess an important relic to draw pilgrims and their wealth. At Conques, the “draw” was the remains of Sainte Foy.


In the 9th century a monk from Conques was sent on a mission to the abbey in the distant town of Agen where he acquired (by nefarious means) the remains of the young Christian martyr named Foy (French for “Faith,” pronounced “fwah.”) It is believed that Sainte Foy was tortured to death ca. 300 A.D. for refusing to denounce Christianity. It was said that her remains were miraculous. Many pilgrims journeyed to Conques to pray to Sainte Foy and to leave gifts of money, precious metals and jewels to her. Over time the abbey became wealthy.


Click on this photo to see an enlarged view. One of the links at the end of this post provides a detailed description of the sculpture.

In the early 12th century the abbey church that is the center of the town today was built. The abbey lies on one of the pilgrimage routes from Paris to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. It is built solidly of blocks of golden stone. There are two bell towers flanking the door. Today the abbey is best known for its tympanum, the sculpted decoration above the main entrance. It’s believed to have been created ca. 1150 A.D. Traces of centuries-old paint can easily be seen on the sculpture. The photo below will show you its intricacy and a link at the bottom of this post will explain the meaning of the images.


The interior of the abbey church in Conques.

The interior of the Romanesque abbey church is comprised of three narrow aisles. The center one, the widest, leads to the main altar. The nine-hundred-year-old columns are each topped by ancient sculptures of people and animals. Outside a cloister provided shelter to the monks as they made their way from their accommodations to the church for prayer several times a day. Today it leads to the treasury where many golden gifts left behind centuries ago are displayed. The principal relic is the golden sculpture of Sainte Foy which is believed to hold her remains. It is 33 inches tall and has many precious stones attached. (It’s not permitted to take photos of the reliquary of Ste. Foy. For this post I’ve borrowed the one shown here from this site.)

Sainte Foy


This sculpture, believed to represent the builders of the church, always makes me think of the early Beatles.

Today the village (population under 1000 people) hosts thousands of pilgrims and hikers as well as many tourists. A book entitled The Little Saint by an author writing under the pseudonym “Hannah Green” first drew my attention to Conques. Ms. Green wrote about her summertime visits there in the 1970s, describing the people of Conques and her explorations in the hills above the village.


Houses are stacked one above another on a hillside. One street just wide enough for automobiles winds through the village but all the other “streets” are simply ancient tracks twisting past houses that are hundreds of years old. There is a large hostel for pilgrims only, a small hotel and some “chambre d’hotes” (French for a B&B). We stayed at the original village hotel where we enjoyed a fine dinner and a lovely room overlooking the surrounding mountains. In the morning we wandered through the village as the sun came up and made an early purchase in the boulangerie (bakery) across from the hotel.


For me, visiting Conques was an accomplished travel goal. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and hope to return one day.



Images and a description of Conques from the association of Most Beautiful Villages of France.

Another very good online tour of Conques and its church.

A very detailed description of the abbey church and its sculptures by a professor of art history.

A link to the oldest hotel in Conques, where we enjoyed staying.