Seguret, “safe place in troubled times”, a haven. It’s on top of a hill, watching its neighbours on the flat – Roaix and Sablet. It’s framed by a skirt vineyards and petticoats of lavender. Winding country lanes like arteries run down them, bringing the lifeblood of the town – wine – to its centre to be both drunk and sold. A feudal chateau stands at the very peak, revered and yet decrepit as an ancient monarch’s bones. The village itself is not much younger, and yet it still lives.
It’s walled and gated with arches of ivory limestone. And stepping under the entry, I hold my breath, I feel like I’m walking into a living, breathing entity. The stones are crumpled and paled like wrinkly skin, and it feels close. The lanes are small – too small for cars, and so we walk like ants over this massive being, in search of vistas and food.
We find the eyes – both at restaurants – one at La Table Comtat, and the other on the terrace of the wonderful Le Mesclun where we linger for lunch and a stunning Champagne I will later forget the name of. We stare out for hours out at the sloping views as if we too are made of stone.
We find the heart – beating and gushing – a fountain bringing life from the deep waters under the Dentelles de Montmirail (literally, lace of the admirable mountain), and guarded by fearsome mascaron, spewing up a watery gift for the good, and keeping evil spirits at bay. People fill water bottles, they use it as a meeting point. A dog laps from the basin. We rest beside it in the shade and eat salted caramel ice-cream.
When the heat defeats even the shady arches, galleries and degustation rooms, we take refuge in the chapels, the old soul of this being. Deep stone caverns, chocked into the hill like a set from Lord of the Rings, but prettier, less menacing in nature. The walls are cool to the touch. The floors are so worn by the feet of many ages that they appear like sheets drooping between the grids of a drying rack. Stone, worn soft. The light that shines through the simple stained glass windows is ethereal, a gift from God in itself, and even the agnostics say a prayer of thanks.
We take a final stroll up the hill as the sun begins its path down it. Soon, the lanes become so narrow and stepped that we begin to feel like we are inside someone’s property, and we decide that is enough for today. But I know for certain we will be back.
I come from Australia, the largest country, the smallest continent, the oldest country, some say. And yet, it is a country with very little visible history. It’s a little like Dubai – a nomadic population has existed longer than history, but apart from a few scattered relics – cave paintings, tools, the occasional story of the dreamtime, and of course the ancestors of these indigenous wanderers, there is no sign that people lived there before European settlement. In Australia, the oldest surviving building is 223 years old. Can you imagine how I feel when I walk through the arch of a village with pristine buildings from the 10th century?
I love architecture. For me, it’s a free art gallery. I can happily walk streets of beautiful cities and villages and look. I don’t need to do much else. And France has a plethora of beautiful villages, all the same, and yet all different. I never tire of them.
You could visit this site for the official list of “The most beautiful villages in france” – yes, it’s a genuine title – or just take a look at my favourites:
I love love love:
The town of the Cathars, haunted and hauntingly beautiful, and isolated in the midst of incredible landscape
I think (after Seguret) the second most beautiful I have seen. A spectacular circular plaza, and wonderful artists, views, roses in fountains, everything.
Some others not on the official list but on mine:
Rocamadour – why this pilgrim town doesn’t make the cut, I have no idea. It is built into a cliff on the edge of Lot and the Dordogne, and is a vertical rather than horizontal religious wonder. It’s super touristy, but worth it.
Grimaud – Has an arty feel, singing cicadas and dubious connection with the Knights Templar. We dined at lovely Le Cafe de France on Place Nueve. It also has a tourist train link to the kooky Port Grimaud
Martel – It’s not just the town, which is gorgeously in-tact, and choc-a-block with gourmet eateries and wine stores, but the scenic train ride around the edge of the hill, and looking down over the green-blanketed area.
St Emilion – Not only about the wines. This is a perfect village, very neat and tidy, with a macabre tower that can be climbed for a rooftop view, and quaint little wineshops and gourmet food stores that all require visits.
Sarlat – already blogged.
Druyes Les Belles Fontaines – already blogged.