Emerging from surrounding greenery, some 12 miles (19km) southeast of Brive in the Limousin region, France, is the red village Collonges-la-Rouge. Regarded by many as the most beautiful village in France, it is built entirely from local red sandstone. Its many medieval turrets and watchtowers, houses and great mansions, pedestrian precincts and flower-decked lanes all speak to a long history and enduring mystery of a French village unlike any other.
This article is part of our series on French villages, each with its own unique history and culture. Odyssey Traveller visits these villages on our various tours of France, each taking you on a journey through different periods in history and exploring the rich tapestry of these places and the people who have lived there. On each tour, we examine the various cultures and economies that have shaped these villages, including their agriculture, trade, and merchant activity. In doing so, we delve into the wealth and philanthropy that has come out of these places, represented today in the art of their museums and galleries, as well as the palaces and homes built in these periods. Each village we visit will offer a unique snapshot of the past, showcasing the lives of the who people who lived there and how they created vibrant and thriving communities. Join us on a journey through time to discover the beauty and history of these enchanting French villages.
Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of Collonges-la-Rouge as part of our 24-day Rural France Small Group Tour for senior travellers. During this tour, we explore the pastoral and provincial splendour of Rural France through towns which have resisted the dual siege of the automobile and the property developer. Our small group will visit many of France’s beautiful towns where within their walls the villagers conduct their daily lives much as they have done since Napoleonic times. This article explores the history and sights of Collonges-la-Rouge as background information for your tour. Much of the information is extracted from Stéphane Bern’s The Best Loved Villages of France.
The origins of Collonges-la-Rouge lie in the 8th century when the monks of Charroux Abbey founded a priory here. The priory attracted a population of peasants, craftsmen, and tradesmen, living and prospering arounds its fortified walls and developing the medieval village. Once thriving, the community offered accommodations to pilgrims on their way to Compostela via Cocamdour. Towers, pepper-pot turnets, and bartizans surviving today whisk you back to that remote time.
In 1308 the small village came under the wing of the Viscounts of Turenne, one of the largest fiefdoms in France. With this it was granted its freedom by charter of franchise and endowed with broad rights of jurisdiction. Flocks of prosecutors, lawyers, and notaries followed, who built themselves opulent homes that earned Collonges-la-Rogue the nickname “the city of twenty-five towers”. Faubourgs, or suburbs, were soon created as the space within the fortified walls became too small to contain the entire population.
The Viscounty was sold in 1738 and the French Revolution later in the century led to the destruction of the priory buildings. The village would surely have fallen into disrepair without the unwavering devotions of its locals. At the beginning of the 19th century, it even regained a short-lasting prosperity. After this though its population slowly decreased and Collognes-la-Rouge was eventually turned into a stone quarry.
The villagers, however, remained conscious of their village’s matchless beauty and historical significance. In the beginning of the 20th century, a group created the association Les Amis de Collonges (“the friends of Collonges”), eventually obtaining the classifications of the entire village as a historical monument in 1942. Then, in 1982, the ‘Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of France’ was established with Collonges-la-Rogue included.
The defining feature of Collonges-la-Rouge is its red sandstone buildings (rich in iron oxide). Many of the impressive houses were built in the 15th and 16th centuries. Highlights include Ramada de Friac, which hosts two watchtowers, as well as Maison de la Sirène, which includes a vaulted porch, Gothic doorway, period interior, and a small, stone mermaid sculpture outside. The Château de Vassinhac, owned by the former feudal Lord of the town, meanwhile is fully refurbished with antique pieces such as the former bed chambers of the famous French writer Collette. It also has elegant mullioned windows. The Château de Benge itself hosts beautiful Renaissance windows, along with machicolation remains.
The Church of St Peter is equally splendid, with its gabled Romanesque bell tower, reinforced at the time of the Hundred Years War and its entrance decorated with a 12th century tympanum in white stone contrasting with the otherwise crimson sandstone. The church dates back to the 11th century and was developed up until the 15th. Its notable for its two naves, in which simultaneous Protestant Catholic services would be conducted. Next to the church is the Chapelle des Pénitents – a small chapel which, no longer in use, now hosts an excellent exhibition.
Visitors can enjoy the sights by strolling along the village’s many narrow, cobbled alleyways, each leading to another turreted house or pretty patch of garden. The historic centre is also pedestrianised. Here one can find a marketplace dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Shops sell souvenirs and quality goods, such as locally made aperitifs, wines, and liqueurs, and organic produce.
There are also a variety of cafés and restaurants. Located on the borders between the Limousin and the Perigord, Collognes-la-Rogue knows its food. Limousin lamb, duck breast, foie gras, cepe mushroom omelette, curdled milk tart, and chocolate and mustard cake can all be enjoyed here at their best.
Tour of Collonges-la-Rouge
Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of Collonges-la-Rouge as part of our Rural France Tour for mature and senior travellers. On this small group Rural France programme, we spend 24 days exploring France beyond its bustling cities. During this tour you will explore the pastoral and provincial splendour of Rural France through French rural towns. France’s rural villages and towns have resisted the dual siege of the automobile and the property developer. This decision has long protected the rural landscape, thus avoiding the incursions that laid waste to provincial centres in so many other European nations.
As you will see, many of France’s beautiful towns remain untouched by the depredations of the last century. Within their walls the villagers conduct their daily lives much as they have done since Napoleonic times. These villages, or communes, maintain lives based on villagers’ needs, rather than for those who seek to profit from them.
We start and finish this vacation program in Paris and explore small towns in France. This small group tour of rural France is limited to a maximum of 18 people. Travellers are escorted by a Program Leader, who works with a number of local professional guides who will give information about the towns of France and take you to the best restaurants and shops to rest your feet.
On these guided tours, they share with you the culture and the history of rural France. Topics include the local taxation system, the European Union and its impact on rural village life and the regional centres, as well as commentary about the history of the pays, an area whose inhabitants, sharing common interests, enter into a planning contract to build a community.
Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations designed for mature and senior travellers. We specialise in offering small group tours partnering with a local tour guide at each destination to provide a relaxed and comfortable pace and atmosphere that sets us apart from larger tour groups. Tours consist of small groups of between 6 and 12 people and are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.
Articles about France published by Odyssey Traveller
The following list of articles, represents some of the articles published by Odyssey Traveller for mature aged and senior travellers to maximise their knowledge and enjoyment of France when visiting;
- Exploring France by rail some tips.
- Ten of the best travel books on France
- Ten things to do in France when you visit
- Designing Paris
- Paris; leaders and landmarks
- Guillamot prevents the collapse of Paris
- The elegant arcades of Paris.
- Questions about France
- Studying Gargoyles and grotesques
- Ten of the best French cookery books.
- A guide on France for mature travellers
External articles to assist you plan your visit to France
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