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Editor'S Choice - 2020

Cabourg and Chaumont-sur-Loire: two French villages to flee to forever

Unique villages where tradition and gastronomy are almost everything, villorrios with ancient flavor surrounded by dreamlike places, places that distil history --- In France there are around 30,000 villages, all tiny, many of them full of soul and charm. Hard to choose? Here are a couple of ideas to make your job a little easier.


It has just over 3,500 inhabitants, but this coastal town of Lower Normandy, about two hours from Paris, has it all: the ocean bathing its magnificent beaches, a promenade lined by bourgeois buildings, a culinary tradition as rooted as delicious (cream mussels and pistachio muffins are memorable) and a hotel, almost a palace, Le Grand Hôtel, which faithfully keeps the memory of its most illustrious guest; Marcel Proust, one of the most important French writers of the 20th century.

The author of In Search of Lost Time Cabourg became its summer resort between 1907 and 1914. In the pages of his famous work, Proust describes in detail some of the places in the area but changing the name to "Balbec". It will be here in Le Grand Hôtel, where Proust confessed for the first time his desire to be a writer and where he spent many summers, staying on the fourth floor, writing or trying to write, because as he himself told his friend Émile Mâle: “I cannot write to you in the middle of the deafening tumult and melancholy of this heinous and sumptuous hotel. "

In spite of his complaints, the writer always ended up returning to drive people crazy, as they say, with his hobbies (he couldn't stand a current of air no matter how small). Today Le Grand Hôtel is a hotel that retains the bourgeois charm and literary atmosphere of the time despite the almost comprehensive reform that took place in 1994. Half of the rooms have views of the sea and the other half to the well-kept casino gardens. “I woke up and on the sand of the beach bathed in the prodigious light of dawn, the knights of a riding school performed equestrian exercises. Possibly one of the most beautiful images I have ever seen, ”says an old lady, former actress and former aristocrat, who whenever she can not resist the pleasure of spending the night in this hotel and of course, as a literary obsessive she is, visit Marcel Proust's suite, on the fourth floor, where everything is still preserved as he liked it.

The hotel where Marcel Proust was walking © Corbis


Recently, during a meal and knowing that I should write this article, I asked a photographer from a French travel magazine which was her favorite village. The answer was automatic, Chaumont-sur-Loire. "Yes, certainly the castle is a fairy tale," I replied. “Not only that,” he hastened to say, “there the International Garden Festival is celebrated every year, a true delirium for photographers.”

Before following this track, let's start from the beginning: Chaumont-sur-Loire is a tiny enclave in the Loire Valley, whose castle, which belonged to Catalina de Médicis, has been declared World Heritage by UNESCO. His style exemplarily reflects the defensive architecture of the era and the Renaissance style. Formal definitions aside, I think the description that best fits is the one made by a three-year-old daughter when she saw him: "Mom, does a princess live there?"

But the charm of Chaumont-sur-Seine is not reduced to its beautiful and photogenic castle or its surroundings. Every year, for twenty years, One of the most important events in the world of landscaping, the International Garden Festival. This year 20 projects have been selected from 300 arrivals from around the world. The competing gardens are exposed to the public from April 24 until October 20. A true panaché for the senses whose number of visitors reached a record 350,000 people last year.


To clear any doubt about it and simplify the work, Association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (literally, Association The most beautiful villages in France), created in 1982, regularly publishes a list of the most beautiful villages in the Hexagon based on three essential aspects: a uniquely beautiful and intact landscape or environment, at least two monuments of historical value and the number of inhabitants (in no case should it exceed 2,000).

At present, 157 villages spread across 21 different regions encompass this select club governed by strict standards and under strict supervision. Any suspicious alteration of the urban plan or the environment entails automatic expulsion. The Association also organizes tours to get to know some of the villages. Especially interesting is the one organized by the Périgord region, to Domme and La Roque-Gageac to know all the secrets of one of the most French products that exist: the foie gras.

Castles and gardens: France squared © Corbis

Video: Parc & Château de BEAUREGARD english (April 2020).

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