La France profonde: 4 must visit places – exploring rural France
France has a reputation for being an expensive tourist destination. This is certainly true at the top end of town. Big city hotels and restaurants charge an arm and a leg. Flights and trains are costly. Galleries and museums are rarely free and your budget will soon be out of control if you plan to visit all the highlights listed in your guidebook.
However, France is still a great place for budget travel once you’re off the beaten track. Australians call it the ‘sticks’, the back blocks or beyond the black stump. South Africans call it ‘bundu bashing’.
Most of rural France is very attractive and in many places, not much has changed since the Middle Ages. You’ll often hear yourself saying something like, “Oh, no, not another bloody beautiful village to explore—we’ll never get where we’re going at this rate.”
So, if you want to avoid all these marvellous unscheduled tourist adventures, stick to the motorways. But, if its ‘secret France’, ‘lost France’ or the ‘real France’ that you’re looking for—and if you’re prepared to make the effort, there’s an adventure around every corner on French country roads.
Here are four places not to be missed in rural France!
1. Chateau of Bonaguil
Tom Lawrence brought his bike to France and cycled to Le Chateau de Bonaguil in the Lot et Garonne in 1908. This was the start of his research into medieval chateaux for a thesis he submitted to Jesus College, Oxford, and for which he was awarded a first-class degree.
He then went on to study many more castles in the Middle East, before, as Lawrence of Arabia in WWI, he eventually led the Arabs to victory over the Ottomans at Aqaba.
At Bonaguil the construction of the first castle started in 1259. Over the years, several bloody battles saw it attacked and raised several times. Rebuilding and refurbishments continued to be made right up to the 18thcentury.
What we see today was mainly built between the 15th and 16th centuries… Read more.
2. Cevennes: with or without a donkey?
The donkey was called Modestine. She was sold to him for “a handful of francs and a glass of brandy”. The Scotsman was a writer. He turned his journal into a remarkable little book, which he sold to a publisher for 20 pounds. ‘Voyage avec un âne dans les Cévennes’ is considered by many to have set the scene for future travelogues and guidebooks.
Robert Louis Stevenson went on to write trend-setting adventures like ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Kidnapped’ – and then the classic horror story, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Read more…
3. Rural France: Gorges of the Ardeche
The Gorges de l’Ardèche draw over a million visitors each year. Colloquially known as the European Grand Canyon, a beautiful road with spellbinding views runs for 30 kilometres along the edge of this deep crevasse between Vallon Pont d’Arc and Saint Martin d’Ardèche (the latter village is officially listed as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). Read more…
4. St Jacques route: myth or legend?
Myth or legend? Let’s start with the story of St James because that’s how it all started, and that’s what this is all about. Whether it’s a legend – simply unauthenticated – or a myth – widely believed but false – it’s up to you to decide. And don’t worry, we’ll get on to Shirley shortly. Read more…
Have you spent time in rural France? Which are your favourite areas and why? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments box below.
- Chateau at Bonaguil by Bert Kaufmann via flickr
- The castle at Bonaguil by Ray Johnstone
- ‘Canyon of Tarn River, Cévennes National Park, France’, Marek Slusarczyk via Wikimedia
- ‘Reserve Naturelle des Gorges de l’Ardeche’, Armin S Kowalski via Flickr
- Pilgrims, via wikimedia commons
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