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French Connections

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  • On a recent trip to France I stopped off in the medieval town of Dinan having heard that it was a place well worth a visit.

  • Bellac is a small market town in the north west of the Haute Vienne department of Limousin

  • Today is France's biggest day of celebration, referred to as La Fete Nationale or simply le quatorze juillet, the 14th of July. The day marks the success of the storming of the notorious Bastille prison by the people of Paris in 1789, an event that led to the birth of the modern republic.

    Celebrations take place all over France, with the biggest military parade providing a great spectacle in the Champs Elysees. This evening the sky at dusk will be alive with the blaze of fireworks as the French people reaffirm their constitutional commitment to freedom, equality and brotherhood.

    We wish a wonderful day to the French people and anyone lucky enough to be visiting France and allowing themselves to be swept up in the festivities.

  • Troyes (pronounced Twah), a lovely town in the heart of the Champagne region. In this slightly autumnal looking picture a local cafe lies quiet before it opens.

  • The Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche region of France contains the world's oldest and richest known cave paintings, dating back 36,000 years. Now, a perfect replica of this awe-inspiring cave is being opened to the public.

    La Caverne du Pont d’Arc opens on 25th April and is set to become a massive visitor attraction. Also on the vast hilltop site are a discovery centre, a permanent exhibition on prehistoric people and wall art, restaurants and shops.

    Gray Veredon, owner of La Mirande farmhouse luxury B&B near Privas and a qualified tour guide, has been to a preview of the centre and tells us:

    “Eight years seems like a long time to get this project finished but the challenges were enormous - from putting the budget together to finding the right site. The final choice is very typical of the local landscape and vegetation of the area, close to the actual cave and at about the same altitude.

    Tremendous respect has been shown for the forest that grows in this barren area, giving the impression that not one tree or bush was disturbed or damaged and that the pathways move around them.

    The construction was finished right on time and within budget, making it a unique phenomenon in the history of the construction of cultural buildings. The architecture has a beautiful simplicity of style that is very sympathetic to the landscape and bold use of stone and natural wood seems perfectly suited to housing this treasure of humanity.

    The actual cave is 8,000m2 and, for the replica, has been reduced to 3,000m2, incorporating all the major features. This works perfectly. I felt that the power and reality of the animals jolted me right back to the time when great artists worked on the walls of the cave.

    I was also impressed by the awareness of looking at an entire dramatic production. These were not just paintings of animals, but animals relating - running together and watching one another. Each hollow in the stone facade of the cave is used to express a dramatic statement in the story, with an animal seeming to hide from the others or resting after a long run.

    The replica clearly reveals that the cave is a place where rituals were acted out - the type of place that we don't find in our society any more. It was perhaps this ancient reality that had the most powerful and unexpected impact on me.

    I recommend the Pont d’Arc cave to anyone as a fascinating place to visit - and of course I’m thrilled to have it on the doorstep. Looking forward to sharing visits with guests at La Mirande!”

  • The story behind the The Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland) which is the oldest major work of French literature.

  • The village of Estaing in the Aveyron is dominated by a 15th century Chateau which is the home of the former president of France Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

  • In Puisaye, Burgundy, a team of fifty people have taken on an extraordinary feat: to build a castle using the same techniques and materials used in the Middle Ages. Now the Guédelon Castle project has inspired a five-part series on BBC2.Secrets of the Castle started this week and the first episode can be seen on i-player, with four more episodes to come on Tuesdays at 9pm.

    This massive 25 year project has been described as the world’s biggest experimental archaeological site. It was conceived by founder and director, Maryline Martin, as both a living educational tool and an innovative way to create work opportunities for the long-term unemployed, offering skills and qualifications that would leave them with a trade for life.

    The wood, stone, earth, sand and clay needed for the castle's construction are all to be found on the abandoned quarry site and Guédelon, unlike most other building sites, is open to the public. One of the project's principal raisons d'être is to demonstrate and explain to as many people as possible, the craftsmanship of our forebears.

    To visit is to step over the threshold into the heart of a by-gone age. No harsh mechanical sounds, no engines running - just a natural environment that elevates the senses. Explore the site to the sound of metal on stone, the sawing of wood, horses' hooves on bare earth and the hammer striking the anvil - and watch all the trades associated with castle-building in the 13th Century at work. You’ll find everyone from quarrymen, stonemasons, woodcutters, carpenters and blacksmiths to tile makers, basket makers, rope makers, carters and their horses.

    See full details of the project and how to visit Guédelon Castle and check out our great places to stay in the lovely Burgundy region

  • 163881 le vieux moulin

    An article in the latest issue of French Property News magazine tells the story of two really rather romantic French Connections gites with a fascinating history. Both properties have been lovingly restored and now their owners invite holidaymakers to both savour the past and enjoy modern comforts - all in the glorious countryside of France.

    A watermill in Maine-et-Loire

    163881 Carol and baby owls 

    Carolyn and Peter Johnson fell in love at first sight with Le Vieux Moulin (above), especially its tranquil location on a small island between the mill stream and the River Thouet, the fabulous views and the regular sightings of kingfishers, herons, deer and other wildlife.

    “The old mill house was re- built in 1846”, explains Carolyn. “We’ve traced it back to Napoleonic times but we know there has been a mill here since the 13th century. Now it’s our home and we’ve made a gite in the extension, which was once a restaurant and space for dances. Couples would get married at the Mairie and have their reception here.”

    Now, after major renovation work, the watermill gite offers guests an enormous lounge with conservatory and French doors to a balcony, along with modern kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

    A Perigordian farmhouse Pigeonnier

    Pigeonnier

    Jerry Shiveley

    In 1989, Jerry Shively and his wife, originally from the USA, decided to retire to France and discovered Le Tondu, a small estate near the quiet Dordogne hamlet of Naussannes.

    “The elderly couple who lived here were self-sufficient peasant farmers leading a disappearing lifestyle,” remembers Jerry. “They wore wooden shoes, there was no toilet and animals were everywhere. The Pigeonnier was full of chickens.”

    The Shiveleys used local craftsmen to restore the Pigeonnier, preserving as much as possible of the original character and materials.  Now it is a beautiful Perigordian cottage gite with its own garden, a bedroom in the tower and outdoor seating under the eaves.

    French Property News October issue is on sale now. Check out more of our Press coverage and read the full article here

  • La Couvertoirade is an attractive old village situated about 20km north of Lodève, in the Aveyron in SW France.