Herisson (Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes), France October 2023 (Tour 8)

Some 200 miles north of Millau, in the Allier Department of the Auvergne, is the tiny village of Herisson; 600 inhabitants, a handful of shops, no hotels and only one bar-restaurant. We stumbled on the place while looking for somewhere to stay and it very quickly blew me away. It’s a picturesque medieval village in a most delightful setting on the River Aumance and it is brimming with history and character.

We parked the Van in the municipal campsite and made our way through the Parc Louis Bignon towards the centre of the village. In case you’re interested, Louis Bignon was born in Herisson some time in the 19th century and rose to become one of France’s most famous chefs and the owner of ‘Cafe Riche’ which at the time was Paris’s most fashionable and expensive restaurant.

From the park, there is a footbridge across the River Aumance which leads to La Porte de L’Enfer, one of two surviving medieval entrances into the village. The views from the footbridge, both up and down the Aumance, are splendid and some of the charming stone houses on the river bank are more than 500 years old.

The most obvious feature of the village and the one I was intent on visiting first is the castle. It is in ruins now but was constructed in the 14th century by the Dukes of Bourbon (on the site of earlier castles) and is steeped in history having been besieged by the English at least twice during the ‘100 Years War’ and again by Protestants in the French ‘Wars of Religion’. It was a small civil war between members of the Bourbon family which finally resulted in it being dismantled in the late 17th century by order of a certain Cardinal Mazarin. It’s walls were then used in the construction of many of the village’s existing houses but what remains of the castle is now protected.

For a village of just 600 souls, Herisson is very well provided with churches. There are four in total; five if you count the 12th century church of Saint Pierre de Chateloy which is just outside the village. My favourite is the 19th century Church of Notre Dame with it’s wonderful staircase at the entrance and some beautiful stained glass windows.

Others to be seen are the Eglise de Saint Sauveur in the village centre (most of the church is 17th century but the belfry dates back to the 12th century), the 16th century church of Saint Etienne and the 17th century Chapelle du Calvaire. This latter building sits on a small hill on the edge of the visit and offers a great view over the village towards the castle.

Originally there were three medieval gates into Herisson. Two still stand, the 14th century Porte L’Enfer (also known as the Porte de Varenne) and the Porte de Gateuil…

As mentioned previously, there is just the one bar-restaurant currently open in Herisson; that is the ‘Auberge’ and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the place. The service was friendly and attentive (despite the fact we were the only diners interested in eating at one of the outside tables), the wine was local and the food was fine given we were staying over for just the one night.

Although the last to finish our drinks at the restaurant, we weren’t too late. We had a fairly long drive the next day and there was still one more place to visit before we could leave in the morning. Herisson is the French word for hedgehog (see photo below of house with hedgehog tiles) and there’s a small distillery in the village (the Monsieur Balthazar Distillery) which produces a whisky called ‘Hedgehog’. Now that’s got to be worth a try.

post script: Hedgehog is actually bourbon with a high corn content, barley and rye – As Charlie Endell would say “That’s nae a whisky. That’s a dirty glass”.

Le Puy en Velay (Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

We wouldn’t have come to Le Puy en Velay (it’s not Vanya’s kind of place) except that I thought there was to be a preview of the “Puy de Lumieres” (light show) while we were there. In fact, it is to be previewed in two weeks time with the main event running in July and August. The preview weekend is the best time to visit because you get to experience the full event without the large crowds which are standard during the French holidays. For the unaware, eight of the principal sites in Le Puy are lit up during the “Puy de Lumieres” in the most vivid colours for at least two hours every night and a spectacular light and music show follows. Those sites lit up include the cathedral, museum, theatre, town hall, the old bridge over the Loire and most impressive of all, the complete Rock and Chapel of St Michael.

Two sites lit up in Le Puy during a previous Puy de Lumieres

No matter, many of Le Puy’s principal sites are still worth seeing even without the light show and you can buy tickets from the local tourist office and from the sites themselves which offer discounts when visiting three or more locations. I bought such a ticket (I think it cost me 10 Euros) and this allowed access to the three locations which most interested me:-

Le Rocher et Chapelle Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe: This is Saint Michael’s Chapel built up on a volcanic rock known as the needle. You only have to look at the rock to see the association with a needle. The chapel was built in 961 upon the instructions of the local Bishop after he had completed a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela It’s a short sharp walk up a staircase to the chapel itself and well worth the effort. The views over the town are tremendous.

Two photos I took of the outside of the chapel

… and inside

Rocher Corneille et Statue Notre Dame de France: The Statue of Our Lady of France has been built on the town’s highest point (another volcanic rock, this one some 757 metres high). The statue is made from the metal of 213 Russian cannons seized during the Crimean War. You can climb up inside it and there are a few small windows. One of the advantages of visiting outside of the holiday season is that I had the place almost to myself and was able to open one of the windows.

The Statue of Our Lady

Inside the head of the Statue of Our Lady.

A couple of views from the viewing platform, one down on to the Cathedral and the other over to the needle.

The Cathedral of Our Lady: This 11th-12th century Romanesque cathedral complex (the starting point of the Via Podiensis pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela) has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998. It contains many interesting features including an unusual 134 staircase leading up to the front door, a statue of the Black Virgin, 12 century cedar wood doors and some quite beautiful cloisters. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see of the Cathedral. It closed for the day as I arrived.

Walking down through the old down past the cathedral and on into the commerciual part of the town.

Later in the day, just as it was getting dark, Vanya and I made our way back into Le Puy from our campsite on the edge of the town (almost directly underneath the Aguilhe) and, even without being lit up by the aforesaid Puy de Lumieres, some of the sites/sights looked impressive although; overall, Le Puy doesn’t really do it for either of us. It struck us as a dirty and untidy place and, having seen most of the three monuments that I wanted to see, I’m not convinced that either of us would return.

Apologies. It’s 4 June 20023 as I finish writing this short entry about Le Puy en Velay and we visited the town almost a month ago. We are now back in England and, once again, I have been remiss in terms of keeping up with my blog. Needless to say, any further entries as to Tour 7 will also be more than a month out of date but, I’ll do my best to make up this record.

Vogue (Ardeche), France September 2020 (Tour 3)

Just 15 minutes drive south of Aubenas and sitting on the banks of the Ardeche is the small village of Vogue. It’s another Plus Beau Village de France (voted into the top five) and a very popular tourist resort and we were not surprised to see the place quite busy even at 10 o’clock in the morning. Ordinarily I try to steer clear of busy villages but this is one that you just have to make allowances for. It is stunning.

It sits up against a small cliff and it’s labyrinth of narrow winding lanes, of which Rue des Puces has to be amongst the narrowest I have ever come across, is truly wonderful.

This is a place the French love to visit (we didn’t see or hear anyone who is not French during our time there) and, leaving aside “Francethisway.com” and “France-voyage.com” it is difficult to find much in writing about the place that is in English. It is as if the French want to keep it a secret all of their own.

To discover anything about Vogue you need to google in French and if, as is the case with me, your knowledge of the language is insufficient to understand anything about the castle and it’s inhabitants or how the village was built up around it, you should just revel in the place, take your photos and let the views themselves do the talking… Une atmosphere unique; Vogue c’est vraiment chouette; C’est une vrai paysage de carte postale.

We walked around for a couple of hours, sat and enjoyed a cup of coffee in the sunshine and finished with a photo-shoot of Vanya “a la Vogue” before moving on to our next destination of Moustiers Sainte Marie in the Alpes de Haute Provence.

Aubenade (Ardeche), France – September 2020 (Tour 3)

This was one of the prettiest camp sites to date and certainly the most friendly. We were parked up right alongside the Ardeche River and decided to stay two nights, notwithstanding the mosquitoes. Thank goodness we had Avon’s Skin So Soft, the most effective midge repellent by far.

Not a bad view to wake up to…

The camp site restaurant was not doing food but the owner reserved us a table at the “La Maison Restaurant” and very nice it was too with Vanya and I both going for Saint Jacques et Crevette followed by the largest Creme Brulees.

The next day was about chilling around the pool and enjoying some beers Vanya had found in the local supermarket.

… and Nala has always liked the water.