Belcastel, an untouched village, a beautiful castle and a wonderful restaurant in a unique place – Meanderings through France n° 113
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Unless it would be your lucky day you definitely won’t get to Belcastel by chance. This tiny village that well deserves its name, Belcastel means beautiful castle in Occitan language, is not easy to find and you’ll need to drive for several miles on a small country road before being able to see it after taking a last bend. Stop your car and admire from afar the medieval castle perched on the hillside, the houses gathered at its foot and the Aveyron River slowly winding under the elegant stone bridge. So, get your GPS ready and drive to Belcastel, one of France’s most beautiful village.
Located in the beautiful Aveyron department, 25 km West of Rodez, Belcastel stronghold was built during the Midle Ages (its foundations date from the 9th century), on one of the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. It has had many owners through the centuries and was left inhabited and abandoned since the 17th century. In 1974 a French prominent architect of the time, Fernand Pouillon, discovered a ruined village and fell in love with the castle in spite of its very bad condition. The way to the castle and the small streets of the village were almost impassable and only a few walls were still standing up. At that time it was said that restoring the castle would be like trying to empty an ocean with a teaspoon!
Nevertheless, Pouillon felt up to the challenge and works began. It was a masterful success. In only 12 years before his death in 1986, Pouillon was able to rebuild the castle and what had been a heap of ruins was again an impressive castle. This restoration was exemplary and today it is almost impossible to tell which parts date from the Middle Ages and which ones date from late 20th century. Although he intended to restore the all village houses, he had not enough time to complete his plan.
Fortunately his work aroused vocations and was not left unfinished. The remaining inhabitants and the municipality who bought the last empty houses (to let them to permanent tenants), restored the whole village that is now alive all year round. The castle was bought by two NYC art gallery owners in 2005 and is open to the public from April till November.
One thousand years after its construction the castle has been returned to its former splendour and during your visit you will climb up the square dungeon from where you will have a wonderful view over the village, the lovely stone bridge spanning the river and the surrounding countryside. Its owners organise art exhibitions every year that pull modern art lovers from all over the world to Belcastel. You can also spend the night in a tower of the castle where a lovely room for two with a private swimming pool and a fabulous view, has been turned into a unique B&B. What a night!
The castle is not the only point of interest in the village. The charming little church houses a medieval recumbent statue and a small museum set in the former forge is dedicated to local arts and crafts. Belcastel also is a meeting point for all gourmets. Amazingly for such a small village a one Michelin star restaurant is open from January till October in one of Belcastel old house carefully restored and beautifully decorated in a contemporary way. It’s a family business: like their grandparents and parents before them, two sisters Nicole and Michèle Fagegaltier take care of the hungry gourmands! Nicole and her husband, Bruno Rouquier, make a tasty and inventive cuisine inspired by all the wonderful produce that can be found in the region. Quality, taste, sincerity without any affectation or any need to be fashionable ensure you an unforgettable meal that will however have surprises waiting for you. The menu constantly changes with the seasons and with the fresh produce found on the local markets.
Michèle Fagegaltier and her team will welcome you with care and elegance, making your meal an even more enjoyable moment. After a delicious dinner, no need to drive back to Rodez to spent the night. The “Auberge du Vieux Pont” is only a few meters away from the restaurant, just across the beautiful narrow cobblestone bridge dating from Middle Ages. Owned by the Fagegaltier sisters, you will find in this 3-star hotel the same demand for quality and hospitality. Not to forget the appetizing breakfast served on the outside terrace overlooking the river and the castle all summer long. Make sure to make a reservation in advance, both for the restaurant and the hotel.
For more information about Aveyron and Belcastel:
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny