Chataigneraie region in Cantal - A discovery tour
Chataigneraie is a beautiful French word meaning chestnut grove.
It is also the name given to the southwestern part of the department of Cantal in Auvergne.
The traditional agricultural activity of La Chataigneraie Cantalienne has been for centuries, as you can guess, the production of chestnuts.
The Monts du Cantal and the Mauriac region delineate La Chataigneraie to the north.
La Chataigneraie's altitude ranges from 250m to 800m.
It is therefore a region of contrasted landscapes, with rounded mountains and hills eroded by the millennia and cut by deep valleys.
The northern end of La Chataignerie enjoys a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters.
The south has a more temperate climate.
The subsoil is mostly composed of schist and granite.
This steep and relatively poor land has been traditionally associated with chestnut culture, but also with goats breeding for dairy products, and pigs for local deli.
Walnuts and buckwheat culture was later introduced.
However, the production of chestnuts is still largely dominant.
It has also been diversified with the production of a local aperitif called Birlou.
Finally, the rearing of dairy cows was developed for the production of the delicious AOC Cantal cheese.
La Chataignerie is therefore a quintessential region.
Many of its medieval towns and villages have retained their architectural and cultural heritage.
Many are therefore ranked among Les Petites Cités de Caractère du Cantal - small towns of character.
Mourjou, the capital of La Chataigneraie
Aurillac, the capital of the Cantal department, is the largest city in La Chataigneraie.
However, Mourjou, a small village of 326 inhabitants, is considered the 'capital' of La Chataigneraie.
The village enjoys a mild and temperate climate, which most likely earned it its original name of Monjovis (Mount of Joy).
It is indeed nestled among gentle hills, at 400m above sea level and right in the centre of the region.
But above all, Mourjou boasts a 200-year old chestnut tree, which was entered in L’arbre de l’Année 2015 - The Tree of Year 2015 contest.
This magnificent tree has naturally become the symbol of La Chataigneraie region.
For the last 25 years, it has therefore been used as the cover photo for the poster advertising La Foire de la Châtaigne.
This annual chestnut festival, which takes place the penultimate weekend of October, indeed attracts nearly 25, 000 visitors.
Mourjou’s chestnut tree was also selected in 2014 in order to appear in Les Saisons (The Seasons), a film by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud.
The village’s inhabitants are therefore very proud of their chestnut.
They'll tell you that, within living memory, it has never been cut nor pruned!
You would have guessed by now that the emblem of Mourjou is the chestnut!
Petite Cités de Caractère du Cantal - La Chataigneraie
If you like the Auvergne medieval architecture, you will be charmed by the many picturesque Petites Cités de Caractère du Cantal.
Marcolès is right in the centre of La Chataigneraie.
It offers several summer festivals such as "Les nuits de Marcolès " and "Lez'Arts of the Street".
Senézergues, farther south, holds each October a walnut festival - Fête de la Noix.
Its 13th century castle is not open to the public.
However, you can admire its four round towers peeking above woods and meadows of a green valley.
Maurs is another medieval town nestled behind ancient walls.
It is located on the western part of La Chataigneraie.
Its 14th-15th abbey church Eglise Saint-Césaire boasts an amazing series of religious objects.
These include wooden stalls and statues, today classified Historical Monuments, and the reliquary bust of Saint-Césaire.
Montsalvy is located a stone's throw from Maurs.
The Château de Montsalvy is an impressive mansion erected on the foundations of the village's ancient ramparts.
However, an impressive 18th century tower earned it the label of 'château'.
It is today a retirement home.
Laroquebrou is renowned for its medieval architectural heritage.
The village grew along the Gorges de la Cère, a series of superb canyons in southern Cantal.
You'll find the Château d'Anjony in Tournemire, another picturesque small town situated some 20km north of Aurillac.
The beautifully restored 15th century castle contains superb frescoes dating from the 16th century.
Its four massive round towers overlook the village of Tournemire, which is also ranked among the Plus Beaux Villages de France.
La Chataigneraie is not only renowned for its landscapes and medieval architectural heritage, but also for its culinary tradition.
The many local specialties include among others:
Truffade, porc sausages, pounti, walnut and chestnut liqueurs, and of course the delicious AOC Cantal fermier!
We’ll talk about these towns and recipes in details in future articles, so visit us again!
Department of Cantal - Auvergne region
Coordinates Mourjou: Lat 44.691890 - Long 2.329928
Credits: Photos and source text by Jean Piludu - Poustache - Translated and edited by and for TravelFranceOnline - Photos Wikimedia Commons: Chestnuts header