Monday, October 20, 2008
Puycelsi, l'un des plus beaux villages en France
In the process of reconstructing my trip to France, I have now come to our visit to Puycelsi.
I had tried balancing our trips from the home base of a cottage near Monclar-de-Quercy so that I did not schedule long roads trips one day after another. The previous day we had visited the medieval walled city of Carcassonne and so for this Tuesday I wanted to visit something closeby.
Our day started at a slower pace than the previous ones and I had to take into account that in France (outside major cities such as Paris) that everything other than restaurants are closed between noon and two. Since we had such a late start I knew we would be arriving around that two hour black out period, so I needed to choose someplace that I would not need to ask anyone any questions.
I chose to visit Puycelsi as our first stop of our day.
Puycelsi was a fun visit because I am not using as a location in my novel. It was disqualified because there is another town nearby that fits into my timeline better. Bruniquel dates back to the time of the Romans and Puycelsi was founded in the eleventh century, well after the time of Charlemagne. Whenever possible I used settings that were present at the time of my story, but I had to make a few exceptions when my plot needs trumped reality.
The poet Ariosto in his epic poem Orlando Furioso concealed an enchanted castle inside a forest that was "close" to Montauban. In looking at maps, it is difficult to overlook the massive Forêt de Grésigne due east of Montauban. The various locales chosen to use in my adaptation had this vast forest as its focal point.
My itinerary for that Tuesday was to do some sightseeing in Puycelsi, drive through the Forêt de Grésigne and then arrive at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val where I could do my fact finding mission. (We had gone to Saint Antonin two days before just to attend their farmers market, but had not discovered the historic sites such as the vestiges of their abbey dating back to the time of Pepin le Bref.)
That was my plan, but things did not work out that way.
Anyway, looking at two dimensional maps does not give you the full sense of what awaits you.
Puycelsi is a hilltop village and here is what we saw while climbing the road and first spied our destination.
Here is a closer shot of that village that has been declared by France to be one of its most beautiful villages or les plus beaux villages.
To earn that designation a village has to go through a selection process that consists of four stages and one of the first qualifications is that it must have less than 2,000 residents and at least two historical monuments.
Puycelsi is a beautiful village.
The wall surrounding the village once had a dozen towers as part of its fortifications.
Here you can see the remaining wall and get a sense of the panoramic view of the valley floor below as well as the forest.
Next to that same wall were a few parked cars. People who live in medieval villages still require modern conveniences such as cars and a place to park them. (We had to park in a visitors lot outside the village proper.)
Here is a private garden behind a residence. Imagine living here and being able to see for miles from your bedroom window.
The brickwork on this dwelling made me nervous. To my eyes it appears that the stones have shifted since they were laid and I wonder about its structural integrity. Then again, that is not my problem!
Here you can see an old stairway whose stones have become worn over the centuries, but it is still used to traverse around the village.
I love the sundial on the side of this building.
And the simple beauty of colorful flowers scaling a wall.
Here is the Chateau du Capitaine Royal...
and its historical marker.
This is the Chapel de Saint Roch which now houses the tourist office. Because we visited between noon and two, it was closed.
Here is its entrance and you can see a statue dedicated to Saint Roch.
A closer shot of another obscure saint that I had never heard of before.
Due to the wonders of the internet, I have discovered that Saint Roch is not only a patron saint of dogs and dog lovers, but of pestilence. He also goes by the name of Rock, Rocco, Rollox, Roque and Rochus. Saint Roch had been born to French nobility, but left that behind as he dedicated himself to treating the sick. In doing so, he became infected with the plague as well and a dog befriended the pious man which wound up leading to his recovery.
He also had a birthmark with the sign of a cross on his chest.
As you look down from Puycelsi you can see the village of Larroque, which I believe might also be named after that dog loving saint.
If you look closely you can also see hay that had been harvested into big rolls near the road.
Here is another breathtaking panoramic view as seen from the top of Puycelsi.
Here is an historical marker affixed to the old Chapel de Saint Roch detailing the origins of Puycelsi to around the year 1000.
Later we wound up driving past the small town of Larroque and here is the same village shown previously but from ground level.
Here are the gray and orange colored hills over the town of Larroque.
After leaving Puycelsi, we started on my planned excursion through the forest.
I had discovered a large map of the forest in the plethora of tourist guides collected by our hosts and left in the cottage. I was certain that I could navigate our way through the complex maze of paths crisscrossing through the woods.
I could never figure out where we were on that huge thing. And the Michelin map did not help either.
It seemed like a simple enough plan, yet it was not. Here is one sign that we saw, but I did not want to take either direction. I thought that the fork in the road I sought would only be a little farther ahead.
Soon we found ourselves on a rural path with sharp gravel stones and my husband began grumbling about the potential of our tires getting punctured and stuck in the wilderness with no cell phone coverage to call for help.
The day before I had lost confidence in our GPS system in devising a route that would take us from Point A to Point B without sending us on goat paths.
We drove around and around in the forest without really seeing much other than tall trees.
Any thoughts I had of possibly scheduling a horse back ride in the forest went out the window as I assumed that Scott would not want to set foot anywhere near the Forêt de Grésigne again during that trip.
If nothing else, it made me realize that even though my heroine should have a strong sense of direction that it would not be implausible for her to get lost in a dense forest if she was exhausted and dehydrated. I was neither exhausted or dehydrated and I had two maps and a GPS unit, but I still became flummoxed.
It was the only time during our whole trip that I was uncertain which way to go. It was an unpleasant feeling and my husband's nerves were rubbed raw by this experience.
Ultimately we came out on the south end of the forest on the opposite side of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and I decided that it would take too long to visit that village that day.
We still had some time for information gathering, and so I chose to use the remaining time to visit Bruniquel since it was nearby. It was named after a Visigothic princess who once made the village her home. She married a grandson of Clovis and became known as Queen Brunehaut (Brunhilda). She had been regent of Austrasia three times in her life and a portion of her life story was chronicled by Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks.
After learning Brunehaut's life story, any fanciful thoughts I had as a child of what it would be like to be a princess is no longer in the realm of "fairy tale" but instead more in the realm of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy.
Her story of power, betrayal, vengeance and tragic demise as well as pictures of Bruniquel I shall save for another day.