Le Puy en Velay, the capital of Haute-Loire

Le Puy en Velay, the capital of the department of Haute-Loire, is nestled between a several volcanic spurs, locally called rochers.

Le Puy en Velay - Notre-Dame de France, St-Michel d'Aiguille Chapel and St. Joseph statue
Notre-Dame de France, St-Michel d’Aiguille Chapel and St. Joseph statue

It has been one of the starting points of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela since the visit of Emperor Charlemagne in the 8th century.

Each morning, pilgrims come to the cathedral in order to ask protection to the Virgin before before setting off on their journey.

The city mostly escaped from the ravages of time and history and is therefore full of surprises.

It is also known for its many entertainment, cultural, historical and spiritual animations that bring together pilgrims, hikers, tourists, locals and onlookers during the summer months.

Le Puy en Velay is indeed an exceptional site that also boasts unique architectural landmarks.

Rochers Corneille, Aiguilhe and Espaly

Notre-Dame de France, an imposing statue of the Virgin, watches over the city and the cathedral atop the Rocher Corneille.

Steps lead up to the platform which is now protected by a glass sphere.

Le Puy en Velay - Notre-Dame de France
Notre-Dame de France

The statue, cast from the Russian cannons seized at the Battle of Sevastopol, was presented to the city in September 1860

268 steps carved into the rock climb atop the Rocher d’Aiguilhe and Chapelle St-Michel, which stands some 85m above ground level.

The chapel was built in 962 in order to celebrate the return from the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela.

Isabelle Romée, Joan of Arc’s mother, is said to have visited the church in 1429.

The statue of St. Joseph overlooks the city from atop the 3rd volcanic spur, the Rocher Espaly.

Notre-Dame-du-Puy Cathedral and pilgrimage

In 1988, UNESCO listed Notre-Dame-du-Puy Cathedral as World Heritage Site, under the label Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.

Le Puy en Velay - Notre-Dame-du-Puy Cathedral
Notre-Dame-du-Puy Cathedral

The 12th century cathedral is an elegant blend of Romanesque and early Gothic architectures.

It was built with blocks of dark volcanic rock and white sandstone laid in stripes that produce a spectacular effect.

The western facade has three levels, each opened with arcades of decreasing size.

The Cloister was built between the 8th and 12th century and is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture.

It flanks the vestiges of the 13th century rampart, which isolated the religious compound from the city.

Puy en Velay – Fête du Roi l’Oiseau

Many celebrations and festivals punctuate the seasons.

The most famous is the Fête du Roi l’Oiseau (King Bird), a celebration which started in 1524 in order to crown the best archer in the city.

Le Puy en Velay - Fete du Roi l'Oiseau
Fete du Roi l’Oiseau

The contest originally took place every year on Whit Monday.

The winner was proclaimed Roi l’Oiseau for a year and enjoyed a series of privileges such as wearing the sword and attending processions among the consuls.

He also received the keys of the city and was exempted from paying taxes.

This custom, practiced until the French Revolution, was revived from 1920 to 1940 at the initiative of the local historian Albert Boudon-Lashermes.

Restored in 1986, it takes place on the 3rd weekend of September and lasts 4 days.

More than 6,000 residents, visitors, tourists and professional actors from across Europe.

They turn archers, artisans, merchants, princes, mercenaries or pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, all dressed in period costumes.

They wander the streets of Le Puy en Velay and recreate the atmosphere of the French Renaissance.

Priority is indeed given to street performances and recreation of local everyday life during the 16th century.

This celebration is also a perfect opportunity to discover the delicious Hyppocras.

The recipe for this spicy light wine goes back to the Middle Ages.

Dentelle du Puy

Le Puy en Velay was for centuries the capital of lace in Auvergne.

Sadly the industry declined; a handful of workshops, including an educational center, are now left.

Le Puy en Velay - Fete du Roi l'Oiseau
Fete du Roi l’Oiseau

Legend has it that Isabelle Mamour invented lace-making when the local bishop asked her to decorate the cloak of the Black Madonna for the Great Jubilee of March 25, 1407.

The young embroider indeed had the idea of attaching pins and several yarn shuttles together.

This technique allowed her to produce a fabric of extreme delicacy.

Some believe, though, that foreign traders and hawkers, who traded with the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, introduced lace making techniques to Le Puy en Velay.

Le Puy en Velay – Green lentils

The city is also renowned for its green lentils, which have a unique status.

They indeed have a French AOC (Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée) and are protected in the European Union by the label PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).

The lentilles vertes du Puy come into the preparation of the local dish ‘petit salé aux lentilles – salted pork and lentils’.

Verveine du Puy

A local herbalist, Joseph Rumillet-Carter, invented the recipe for the Liqueur de Verveine in 1859 .

Since that day, the liquor is exclusively produced in a single distillery, La Distillerie de la Verveine.

Le Puy en Velay
Le Puy en Velay

The Liqueur de Verveine du Puy is made from more than 32 plants including the domestic verbena and is aged in oak barrels.

Verbena has been known since time immemorial for its ‘magic’ properties.

The Romans called it ‘Herb of Venus’, as they believed it had the power of ‘reviving a dying love’.

Later, witches and old women used it in the composition of love potions and to predict the future.

You’ll find all these marvelous local specialties and “produits du terroir” in Le Puy en Velay’s weekly market, which takes place on Saturdays.

Finally Le Puy en Velay offers visitors a museum, a park and picturesque streets and lanes where it feels good to stroll.

Department of Haute Loire
Coordinates: Lat 45.042768 – Long 3.882936

Credits: Photos and source article are Jean Piludu alias Poustache  – Text translated in English and edited by and for Travel France Online

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