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Conques, France

UNESCO village of Conques-en-Rouergue in Aveyron department, France


Conques France, considered to be one of the most picturesque villages in France  , however swamped by travellers seeking to view the beauty. An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983 with small group educational tours for senior couples and mature solo travellers.


The small village of Conques, located in the Aveyron region of Southern France, is an incredible site. Lying at the confluence of the Dourdou and Ouche Rivers, it is surrounded by stunning mountain and forest scenery forming a kind of shell – hence its name, derived from the Latin concha for ‘shell’. The village itself is listed as one of the most beautiful in France, with picturesque cobbled streets and half-timbered houses built into the hillside. Although home to around only 300 inhabitants, 600,000 visitors walk through the village every year. Its popularity comes has no surprise: the abbey – a jewel of Romanesque architecture – is a UNESCO world heritage site; and the village is recognised as a major stopover on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela.

This article explores the history and highlights of Conques. Much of the information is extracted from Stéphane Bern’s The Best Loved Villages of France.

It 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 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 Conques as part of our  Secret France Small Group Tour for senior travellers. This tour gives you the chance to see eight different locations over 25 days while experiencing local culture, trying regional cuisine, exploring breath-taking architecture, and admiring beautiful scenery. This includes a guided walking tour of the sites of Conques, including its famous St Foy Abbey and treasury.

View of Medieval Conques, France.

Abbey Church of Sainte Foy

Conques’s most obvious attraction is the abbey church of Sainte Foy (Saint Faith) – a vast stone Romanesque structure that dominates the town. A hermit called Dadon founded the abbey after settling here, with the aim to live a pious life, at the end of the 8th century. A community soon formed as other men full of piety joined Dadon. Many were Benedictine monks fleeing the Saracens in Spain, and so the monastery adopted the rule of St. Benedict. Securing funding from Charlemagne, a first church dedicated to the St. Savour was built here around 800. Louis the Pious then gave money for the building of a bigger Benedictine Abbey later in the century.

In 886, the relics of Saint Foy were transported from Agen to Conques. Saint Foy was a 12-year-old girl martyred in the fourth century. After being executed by the Romans, other Christians had preserved her remains as relics, which would end up at a monastery in Agen. In the 800s though, a monk from Conques named Ariviscus decided his monastery needed its own important relics. So, he went undercover as a monk in Agen for nearly 10 years, getting closer and closer to the relics until he could eventually steal them! The relics were then whisked away to Conques, where they have remained ever since.

Thanks to the relics of Saint Foy, Conques became a major stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain – over 1,000 km away! Pilgrims from across Christian Europe would come to venerate the relics. This is still the case today, with many walkers taking the historic trail and using the village as a staging point, some choosing to take lodgings in the monastery’s guest quarters. Saint Foy’s relics were particularly popular amongst pilgrims in the Middle Ages due to their reputation for miraculously giving blind people their sight back. This brought more and more visitors and attracted generous donations, resulting in an astonishing collection of gold.

The monks of Conque used the riches to expand the abbey-church, tearing down the original chapel to build the Romanesque structure we see today between 1030 and 1130. Unfortunately, it was then partly destroyed in the 16th century during Protestant uprisings and then vandalised during the French Revolution. However, it was rediscovered in 1837 and has since been subject to extensive renovations that have restored it to its former glory.

Saint Foy abbey-church in Conques, France / CC BY 2.0

The restoration works were finally completed in 1994, with the installation of new stained-glass windows. They were designed and put in place by a great painter from the Aveyron, Pieerre Souglages. The windows do not feature any characters from the bible, but rather consist of abstract lines in streaks of grey, each window with its own unique pattern. This allows for a dramatic effect as the sunshine moves around the building and lights up different windows.

Above the main door of the church is the Tympanum of the Last Judgement. Sculpted between 1107 and 1125, it is considered to be one of the major art works of the 12th century – a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture. It consists of 124 figures depicting what happens when you go to heaven or hell.

Panoramic view of the tympanum of the portal of the Abbey St Foy / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Treasury of Conques

During the French Revolution the parliament ordered the confiscation of the treasures of the Conques abbey church to be melted down for gold. The people of Conques reacted by stealing and hiding the treasures all over the place, such as in chimneys, sheds, and buried in vegetable gardens. Only years later, when Napoleon came to power, were they returned to the abbey.

These days the treasures are located in the Treasury of Conques – a museum housed in the cloisters of the monastery beside the abbey church. The most important treasure is the statue of the Majesty of Sainte Foy. This is a shrine that contains the skeletal remains of the saint, made completely of gold, and encrusted with gems previously donated by pilgrims. It is considered one of the five greatest medieval goldsmiths works in Europe and is the only preserved example of Roman reliquary statues, with some parts dating back to the fifth century.

The incredible museum collection also includes a number of other reliquaries and Romanesque statues. All are made with gold and silver and covered in previous stones.

Golden statue reliquary of St. Foy, from the treasury of Conques / ZiYouXunLu / CC BY-SA 3.0

Other Things to do in Conques

Conques’s shops contain more material treasures. opposite the pilgrims’ fountain, the Musee Jispeh Fau displays an extravagant collection of tapestries and furniture. Plus painters, an antiques dealer, an engraver, a soap maker, a woodcarver, a stonemason, and a tapestry-weaver have all opened up shop here. The restaurant in the Moulin de Cambelong hotel, meanwhile, constructs regional specialities – including a giant doughnut, the fouace – and serves local wines produced by Patrick Rols, a distant heir to the winemaking monks.

When you’re done looking around Conques, you can walk down to the Dourdou Eiver to the magnificent asymmetric ‘Pont Romain’ bridge. This was used extensively in the medieval times, forming part of the pilgrim route (now the GR65). Follow this route and you’ll pass through a medieval archway known as Porte du Barry – ‘the doorway to the suburbs’. Or you can head along the road on the other side of the valley for impressive views of all around.

Le Pont Romain / Daniel VILLAFRUELA / CC BY-SA 3.0

Tour of Conques

Odyssey Traveller visits Conques as part of our 25-day Secret France Tour. This tour is chance to see a new see a new side of this wonderful country and enjoy a travel experience like no other. Designed with the mature traveller in mind, this group holiday gives you the chance to see eight different locations over 25 days while experiencing local culture, trying regional cuisine, exploring breathtaking architecture, and admiring beautiful scenery. From Zurich the tour will move south towards Sare before returning north to Paris to finish. With the chance to take in quaint villages, sample great wine and learn more about the history of France, Switzerland, and Spain, this will surely be a memorable vacation.

The regions of France can further be explored during our 23-day Provincial France Tour and our 24-day Rural France Tour. Escape France’s bustling cities to visit the country’s beautiful rural towns and picturesque medieval villages, basking in the fairy-tale natural beauty, Roman and Imperial heritage, and World Heritage Sites.

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;

External articles to assist you plan your visit to France.

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