Thursday, 30 October 2014

France, Aveyron: Belcastel, Villefranche & Conques

view of the village from Le Château de Belcastel

I am back in France; it seems that I can't keep away from this country. Can you blame me? The place is dotted by fairytale villages with beautiful period castles, majestic cathedrals and medieval stoned bridges. Aveyron is a department located in the north-east of the Midi-Pyrenees region of southern France named after the Aveyron River. 
Aveyron - map

Belcastel

Belcastel is a picture perfect medieval postcard village with cobbled streets and stone tiled houses. There's a sense of tranquillity; it was beginning of October, I was told in the Summer the place is hiving.  March to May and September to November are  the times to come to Belcastel. There are various activities during the Summer months, from Village Fete where Belcastel all comes alive for the community feast, fireworks, light show, treasure hunt at Easter; music events as several scenes from operas will be presented. The present owners are gallery owners and they hold exhibitions of sculpture and paintings at  the Château de Belcastel.
             

Château de Belcastel

At the beginning of the 20th century, it wasn't  possible to access Belcastel as it was surrounded by intricate and overgrown paths. The  discovery of the steep rock that dominated the poorly conditioned houses of the village and the remains of the still formidable castle completely ruined was the turning point to the local community.
Belcastel Village
In the 70's Fernand Pouillon, one of the greatest architects of his time, bought the ruins and immediately started its restoration in just ten years the building was restored to its former splendour. The  village was rebuilt due to the extraordinary initiative encouraged by Fernand Pouillon,  following his example, set out to restoring and breathing life back into the village's houses, church, communal buildings and eateries. An incredible story behind this magnificent and imposing building that overlooks the village.  You can stay at the beautiful Chateau de Belcastel from €195/night in high-season, minimum of two nights and week at €1100 and low-season at €145/night and a week at  €900. For more info: Belcastel

Villefranche-de-Rouergue

Next stop,  Villefranche,  a typical bastide city founded in the Middle Ages, with streets intersecting at right angles, converging on a central square bordered by arcades, the commercial heart of the town. Today it is the venue for the colourful and a very friendly market that takes pace on Thursdays. There are guided tours of the Bastide Royale in July & August, with audio-guides available year-round at the Tourist Office. This historic  walled city was built along the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela.

Villefranche-de-Rouergue : The Place Notre-Dame, the central square is dominated by huge crucifix ironwork and is without any doubt one of Villefranche de Rouergue’s landmarks - On Thursday morning market takes place.



 vegetables, charcuterie, wine, cheeses, spices and fish can't get any fresher than this! fishmonger nets out the  fish and gut to order.
 bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and confits.


 The lovely local speciality Gâteau à la broche de l'Aveyron -  made of lots of eggs, flour, sugar, rum, orange blossom water and orange zest.  'baked' over coal in a spit that turns as you pour the batter. Excellent!


Walking around Medieval Villefranche

Villefranche-de-Rouergue : Notre Dame Cathedral

The cathedral's construction began in 1252 and lasted three centuries! The impressive 58m high bell-tower was completed in 1589 and has a special and unique feature: the arched porch is open on four sides and spans the street.



Villefranche

Le Chartreuse in Villefranche

The old Chartreuse Saint-Sauveur was a monastery of monks-hermits of the Carthusian order .  it was founded in the 15th Century  and closed - the last monks being expelled - in 1790 by the revolutionary authorities. Since the French Revolution the monastery buildings are part of the hospice and hospital in Villefranche de Rouergue, a public health among the most dynamic in the Midi-Pyrenees region is known for its excellence in health care provision. It is consistently ranked in national surveys, including hygiene quality.

Le Chartreuse in Villefranche



where to stay and eat in Villefranche


Les Fleurines *** is very adequate and clean accommodation near the centre of the city, modern with some quirky character. I loved the shower in this hotel quite roomy and power  shower. Fresh croissant and Nespresso available at the breakfast buffet, double room starts at €83/room. follow them on twitter: @Lesfleurines 


 Lunch at Villefranche




Lunch is always a simple affair, so I thought.....In Aveyron, Charcuterie is everywhere; salamis, dried sausage, local hams, pates, rillettes... and so we dived into the meats!  I am thinking that's it, that's our light lunch.... but not someone had other ideas... Then it came Aligot, the region speciality dish, mash potatoes with garlic and lots of tomme fraîche d'Auvergne (local cheese) - what a theatre to serve it!
chef Cedric Teissedre serving aligot at Le Glacier
Aligot and steak
very satisfying tarte aux pomme with salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream for good measure!

 Brasserie Le Glacier:
3, Place J. Jaures, 12200, Villefranche-de-Rouergue
t:+33 (0) 565451883



Dinner at L'Epicurien

L'Epicurien was walking distance from our hotel, about 10 minutes passing through the city centre. It has no curb appeal, but what lacks in the deco department makes up on the tasty food and the nice welcoming service. The dishes were very creative and very well executed.  The best meal of this leg of the trip.

wine was the local, well next door neighbour,  Gaillac -  richly coloured, spice-scented, round red wine matched perfectly well with my duck.  amuse-bouche: goats cheese mousse with prune marmalade  at the bottom of that glass  - incredible!

my dish: fried polenta with a slightly crust, duck with fig butter - that gave the meat a slightly sweetness, creme noisette, local vegetables - absolutely gorgeous and very filling dish.  The fish dish looked amazing too.

 The vegetarian dish: duck egg cooked sous vide with a black truffle gravy, two types of potato (chips and cake) and a tomato and onion bruschetta topped with local hard cheese Laguiole- I was told it was excellent.
 little red berries 'crumble' dotted by mango and berries jus - so pretty
the selection of cheeses: an unexpected presention goats cheese mousse, cheese wrapped in bacon, local cheese with confit and a very good looking toast - very pleasing plate

a trio of desserts: petit gateau, raspberries sorbet on peaches  and roll of filled with light cream - orange blossom and nuts

         
petit fours: raspberries mousse and creme brulle and a very good espresso to finish a delectable meal and a busy day. Very good and friendly service.  They have a la carte menu,  set menu (€31 and €60/per person) and lunch menu: 2 courses from €18.50 and 3 courses €21 . the menu changes all the time so check their site:
8 Bis Avenue Raymond Saint-Gilles, 
12200 Villefranche-de-Rouergue, France
T: +33 5 65 45 01 12

Conques

A significant cultural and religious centre, the site of Conques, an important staging post on the pilgrim way to Santiago de Compostela, remains a jewel of romanesque art.

Conques, the name derives from the Latin "concha" meaning shell,  is situated in a remote creek, shaped like a shell and enclosed by steep rocky crags. It was here that the hermit Dadon chose to withdraw from the world to live a life of religious contemplation. Thus was born the Benedictine monastery, founded in the 8th century

Conques


 Conques, the name derives from the Latin "concha" meaning shell,  is situated in a remote creek, shaped like a shell and enclosed by steep rocky crags. It was here that the hermit Dadon chose to withdraw from the world to live a life of religious contemplation. Thus was born the Benedictine monastery, founded in the 8th century.
           

Beautiful and calm medieval village, possibly the most beautiful (in my eyes) community in France.  In the Summer, this 92 inhabitants village,  turns into a pilgrimage route and rest point with auberges and infrastructure to accommodate the pilgrims, it's one of the most famous routes to Santiago de Compostela.
 The new windows in the abbey, designed by Pierre Soulages, are in harmony with and serve to enhance the austerity of the romanesque setting. 





 the reliquics


beautiful village of Conques


A waterfall in the middle of Salles la Source Village - Idyllic!  we were on the way to Rodez


on the way to Rodez

Disclosure: I was a guest of Aveyron Tourism Board . All views are my own. I retained, as always,  full editorial control over this review.



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