PJ and I have been planning our 2014 trip to France with great delight. It is always a pleasure doing that planning = what we call “family time” – we look at the regional churches, find hotels, and make our touring plans.
This year we are doing another wide loop through France picking up several areas that we haven’t previously covered and adding to areas that we have. The numbers on the locations on this map are linked to the descriptions in the text that follows.
Our plans include about 75 churches and visits with several friends and colleagues.
① We start, as we often do, in Burgundy, specifically Vézelay. The Basilique Sainte Madeleine is our touchstone church and we stay at the wonderful Crispol hotel in nearby Fontette. At dinner we can look at the sun setting behind the basilica as we enjoy a bottle or two of the local Irancy wine. If we are really lucky, we’ll finish off the meal with a marc de bourgogne!
While in this area, we will visit other churches in the region and we hope to meet with Pere Angelico Surchamp, the venerable founder of the Éditions Zodiaque. This year Surchamp has returned to his home monastery of La Pierre Qui Vire, about 90 kilometers from Vézelay.
② From Vézelay we go a bit southwest to the cathedral city of Bourges to photograph the Cathédrale Saint Etienne.
③ From Bourges we head to Issoire in the Puy-de-Dôme, where we will shoot the capitals of Notre Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand and visit many other churches in one of our favorite regions of France. We also hope to get permission to shoot several Auvergnat vierges romanes in the treasury of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Clermont.
We will stay, as always at our favorite hotel in the Auvergne, La Cour Carrée. There are only three rooms, but to stay there and enjoy the cuisine of Jean-Luc Villette and the hospitality of Maria Villette is such a pleasure. It was at the Cour Carrée that we were introduced to the Côtes d’Auvergne Boudes wines of Annie Sauvat.
④ From Issoire we go south 90 kilometers to the cathedral town of Le Puy-en-Velay. We will photograph again at the Cathédrale de Notre Dame du Puy-en-Velay and several smaller churches in the area.
⑤ From Le Puy we head east to the Ardèche to shoot a cluster of Romanesque churches. As a great bonus, we will be joined by Nathan Mizrachi who documented his Santiago pilgrimage on his wonderful blog Life is a Camino, which we have followed since its inception. Nathan will spend a week with us photographing these churches.
⑥ We head from the Ardèche to the fabled Provence where we have more encounters. PJ’s brother Mark will be joining us in Aix-en-Provence for two weeks – how he will hold up with our incessant photography remains to be seen, but this will be very exciting. Also in Aix we will meet up with Albert Pinto, whose post here on Via Lucis was quite popular. He lives in Aix-en-Provence now, moving from Chamalières, a suburb of Clermont-Ferrand.
Our hotel in Aix is the venerable Hotel Saint Christophe. Usually we stay in the countryside, but we opted for this hotel in the center of town while we photograph the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur. We understand that the restaurant is quite good and we intend to sample the product of the local vineyards, particularly a nice Bandol.
⑦ After a couple of nights in Aix, we go to Graveson, just north of Arles where we will stay at a wonderful small hotel called Le Cadran Solaire. We stayed there a few years ago and were delighted with the place.
⑧ From Provence, go to the Pyrenées for a week, first to Prades and then south of the border to Cadaqués. While in Prades, we will visit the monastery of Saint Martin-du-Canigou again and see our friend Sister Anne de Jésus. We will also spend time shooting the cloister and capitals at Saint Michel de Cuxa and several other churches in the immediate region.
⑨ From Prades to go to the Mediterranean fishing village of Cadaqués in the Costa Brava, home to painters Salvador Dali. We hope also to meet our online friend Covetotop, who documents his home area with such verve and passion in his blog. While in the region we will photograph a line of churches from the Monestir de Sant Pere de Rodes on the Mediterranean to a cluster of three churches in the town of Besalú 35 miles to the west.
From Cadaqués, Mark will leave us to continue his travels while PJ and I head back into the Pyrenées, first to Foix and then to Saint Giron.
⑩ Saint Giron is in the central Pyrenées region of Ariege in the department of Haute-Garonne, and is the center of a cluster of Romanesque churches including two important ones in the nearby town of Saint-Lizier. After Saint Giron we move further west to the tiny town of Saint Savin and then to the region around Pau.
①① After Saint Giron we go to the tiny mountain town of Saint Savin where we will shoot both the Romanesque church and famous Black Madonna.
①② Pau is one of the great centers of France and the last major city in France on the way to Spain on the Compostela route. We’ll be staying just south of the city for four days while we shoot the churches in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, Lescar, and Morlaas. These were very important stops on the Compostela pilgrimage route, some of the last before the pass of Roncesvalles and the border of Spain.
And of course we will be drinking the splendid Jurançon wines. The vineyards of Jurançon are now right on the outskirts of Pau and first achieved fame because of Henry IV. At birth, his lips were rubbed with a clove of garlic and then a drop of this sweet wine. The golden wine was then hailed as the “wine of the King and the King of wines”. The novelist Colette had her own encounter with Jurançon and called the wine a seductive gallant; “I was a girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous, as all great seducers are.”
①③ From Pau we will journey just a short 35 miles north to the town of Madiran, headquarters for our work on another group of about six churches. Unfortunately these churches are a bit far-flung and we probably won’t get them all.
We will, however, manage to drink a bottle or two of one of our favorite regional wines in France, coincidentally grown in the exact same location where we are staying. Madiran wines (the red in particular) are concentrated and flavorful and have a reputation for promoting health due to their high levels of procyanidins. We’ll pretend that we are drinking the wine for our health instead of indulging our taste sensations.
①④ After Madiran, we continue north to the city of Agen. There is a large grouping of churches between the Aquitaine town and Villeneuve-sur-Lot fifteen miles north. We are hoping that three days will allow us to do them justice, but since we are also planning a day run to Toulouse to reshoot the Basilique Saint Sernin and the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse, I think that we will come up short. Perhaps we will be able to console ourselves with the Gaillac wines from just north of Toulouse. We’ll do our best, at any rate.
To make our dilemma worse, we are also hoping to take a detour to Saint Pierre de Moissac to reshoot the famous south portal and cloister there. We’ve shot twice but feel that we just haven’t been able to do it justice.
①⑤ We move north again, this time to the Dordogne. While in the Dordogne, we will be staying at the hotel that I consider my omphalos, the navel of my being. The Pont de l’Ouysse in Lacave has been by home in the Dordogne since 1986 when it was a modest five-room inn attached to the superb restaurant. It remains my favorite hotel in the world. Graced by the Chambons, Daniel and Mariette, they have recently been joined by two sons have now come home to secure the future of this superb hotel. The food is simply extraordinary and the reception graceful and kind. And we will have ample opportunity to taste the wines of Cahors and the Pécharmant from Bergerac while we stay.
While in the region we will photograph again at Sainte Marie de Souillac and many other magnificent Romanesque churches. We have shot at Sainte Marie at least five times and never get tired of trying to capture the mystery and beauty of the Isaiah statue and the trumeau. We sit for hours staring at the trumeau and trying to decipher its mysteries.
①⑥ When we reluctantly leave a piece of our souls in the Dordogne, we head to Bessines-sur-Gartempe, a small town of 3,000 northeast of Limoges. This will be our home for four days as we photograph a region of French Romanesque that we have scandalously neglected despite spending a great deal of time just south in the Dordogne and just north in the Poitou. We’re going to make up for the neglect this year. Some of the churches we will see are the Eglise Saint-Pierre in Le Dorat, the Église Notre Dame de La Souterraine, and Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul in Solignac.
We will make a short return to the Poitou, however. We are going to Vivonne to visit the wonderful Thérèse Gayet at her home Danlot. The Gayet family has been an important part of our lives since the early 1960’s and we visit whenever we can.
①⑦ Finally, we return to Chartres to continue our documentation of the restoration of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres. Not only will we have the pleasure of continuing our exploration of this great Gothic monument, but we will visit with Madame le Conservateur, the extraordinary Servane de Layre Mathéus. Mme de Layre Mathéus has had an enormous influence on both PJ and myself and we are looking forward to the opportunity to see her again.
This will wind up our 2014 trip – sadly. We always feel that we never do enough, never see enough, never see deeply enough when we are there. There are places that we meant to return to – Bretagne, Angers, Poitiers. We still haven’t spent enough time in Northern France photographing the Gothic cathedrals that are the glory of the Middle Ages.
But as you see from this article, churches and cathedrals are not the only reason we go to France. We have food and wine, and most important, friends to sustain us. WordPress has provided us with a venue to show these churches, but it has also allowed us to find a community of people who love them as we do. This led to a meeting with Vivian Blake, author of VivinFrance, at the Norman cathedral in Coutances in 2012. This has been one of the great unexpected benefits of our Via Lucis blog and we will raise a glass of wine to you all this spring as we travel once again. Salut!