Belcastel - Beautiful villages in France
Belcastel ranked among Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
Belcastel is ranked among France's 'most beautiful villages.'
Nestled in a steep valley on a hairpin curve of the Aveyron, it is one of the region' major tourist sites.
Most of this stunning medieval village unfolds on the north bank of the river.
Old stone houses roofed with local lauze border the narrow cobbled village lanes - calades - that run on the hillside, below the castle.
The Chateau de Belcastel was built in 13th century atop the ruins of a 9th century chapel.
The Saunhac family took possession of the castle at the end of the Wars of Religion.
For the following two centuries, their descendants renovated, expanded and fortified it.
In the 15th century, Alzais Saunhac, Lord of Belcastel, built the superb bridge that spans the Aveyron in order to connect the village with his newly-built church on the opposite bank.
The bridge has become such a landmark that the village council organizes an annual photography and painting competition.
Church of Sainte-Marie Madeleine is understated, yet boasts a superb Stations of the Cross painted by contemporary artist Casimir Ferrer.
It also contains historic stone sculptures and the tomb of Alzais Saunhac.
However, the Saunhac deserted Belcastel in the late 16th century, leaving the castle and village to slowly fall into oblivion and decline.
Chateau de Belcastel today
This progressive decline lasted until the 1970's, when the architect Ferdinand Pouillan purchased the castle.
Pouillan spent the next 8 years restoring it to its former glory.
He brought in a team of Algerian stonemasons who quarried stone from the hillside above the castle and patiently rebuilt towers and turrets without the use of cranes or modern machinery!
An American couple acquired the castle after Pouillan's death and opened it to the public.
The Chateau de Belcastel exhibits splendid collections of 16th century armor and contemporary art
The village of Belcastel has also a museum dedicated to three important village tradesmen—the blacksmith, cobbler and fisherman.
Finally, one of the popular attractions is the Fort du Lourdou at the foot of the Roc d'Anglars, some 500m farther along the Aveyron River.
The 5th century ruined outpost guarded the fortress of Belcastel!
Department of Aveyron
Coordinates: Lat 44.387444 - Long 2.334556
Credits: Photos and source text Evelyn Jackson - Edited by and for Travel France Online - Wikimedia Commons: header