||Visit France on your screen!
This website offers you thousands of photographs of the Regions,
Départements, cities, towns and villages of France. Use it for planning
your holiday, vacation, travel or even a day trip – or simply enjoy the
stunning landscape, architecture and curious corners of France, North,
South, East and West. Churches, cathedrals, châteaux, cottages, museums,
galleries, playgrounds and parks, you'll find an abundance here.
All photographs ©Hedley Grenfell-Banks
Photographs on this site are restricted to a maximum
width of 500 pixels. For larger versions or the original transparencies,
For the main index,
For a map of France
with regions and Départements, click here.
For a table of contents click here.
|There are corners of France where the very air is magic;
where the past is not merely close to, but actually a part of, the
present. These are places not visited by many tourists, yet not inimical
to strangers. They are secret places; but once you have found them, why,
you are in the secret and therefore a friend.
Take, for example, Brantôme, a little town which must be one of the most
beautiful places on earth. Twenty thousand years ago there were people
living there in caves hollowed out of the cliffs along the river bank.
Twelve hundred years ago Charlemagne – in person – founded an Abbey there.
The monks diverted the river and made an island, on which people built
little houses with thick white walls and soft red roofs. And that is the
whole story. Nothing has changed, nothing has happened since. There are
still houses cut into the cliffs. There is water and willow trees, silence
and slow time. Visitors come and are swallowed up. Only the bell on the
abbey church, one of the oldest bells in France, punctuates the dream.
There is a village in Normandy called Neuilly-la-Forêt. The forest has
been gone a hundred years, but the name remembers it. It stands on a
hilltop and watches the world. In 1944 the Battle of Normandy raged all
around, but Neuilly was not disturbed. It is a beautiful village, and its
600 people love it. Once a year, on the Sunday before the fifteenth of
August, they turn back the clock. In 1989 they turned back to 1789. In
1991, they turned back to 1911. The Mayor, in top hat and tricolour sash,
presided at a
wedding. These were not actors, but
the Mayor himself and his people. The bride was the grand-daughter of the
girl married that same day in 1911, and she rode off in the same carriage.
The fire brigade joined the procession in their brass helmets, and 100
villagers in their grandparents' clothes danced all day and feasted at
trestle tables in the village square.
Let us not forget that France is the most modern country in Europe; the
France of the Ariane rocket, the Pompidou centre and the channel tunnel,
with the fastest trains in the world and fast broadband almost everywhere. But it is also one of the most ancient countries,
and its past is still present. In the city of Rouen, for example, they are
halfway through their conservation project. So far, 400 medieval houses
have been restored. Which means that Rouen alone has 800 medieval houses;
and medieval, in Continental Europe, means 'before 1492'.
There is a plateau in the South of the Auvergne called La Margeride. Its
villages snuggle in folds of the hills and drowse in the summer heat. They
have names like Loubaresse, Signalauze, Combechalde, Orceyrolles. The
local council has stopped time in four of the houses; a forge, a school, a
bakery and a peasant farm; not preserved, not shown under glass, but
simply kept. Look, this is how we are. This is how we always were. 1875
was a good year, but so were all the others. Secret France is waiting.
Only an ocean stands in your way.