Castel d’Alzac, a superb 5-star holiday accommodation in the French countryside – Meanderings through France n° 129
By Annick Dournes
How about spending your future holidays in a vast apartment set in a 15th century castle overlooking a quiet village of the Grands Causses Nature Reserve in Southwest France? Let me suggest this amazing mix of luxury, sustainable development and relaxation.
Saint-Jean d’Alcapiès, a village like no other
If there are many small farming villages in France where castles have fallen into neglect, I guess there are very few like Saint-Jean d’Alcapies. Following their dauntless mayor, the 266 inhabitants of this charming village gathered to buy “their” castle, the Castel d’Alzac, and embark on a slightly crazy project: turn it into luxury holiday accommodations for demanding tourists from the whole world. As you can well imagine financing such an ambitious project for such a little rural village was far beyond its financial capability. But to Saint-Jean d’Alcapiès’ mayor every problem has a solution and he soon decided to call on investors of all kinds including a successful crowdfunding campaign with Kiss-Kiss-Bank-Bank! It took sheer determination with a touch of madness but today it is a total success!
It was high time that Castle d’Alzac regain its former splendour. The castle built in the 15th century was largely destroyed by fire on August 15th, 1656. The squire who lived there left it forever and the remaining buildings were turned into a farm. But today the sheep pen, barn and henhouse have been replaced by five vast apartments decorated with fine materials, fully equipped kitchens, top of the range bathrooms, wood stoves, private jaccuzzy, terrace or garden. There also are a heated outdoor swimming pool, a sauna in the conservatory and a spa with wellness treatments on demand. Not to mention the great parking lot whose pavement is equipped with photovoltaic panels. This innovative system called Wattway provides power for the whole castle.
The smallest apartment for two is 880 sq ft, another one for four is 1140 sq ft and the other three are 1300 sq ft! The castle can also be wholly privatized and welcome twenty persons, an ideal stay for big families or large groups of friends. Note that the Castel d’Alzac is very successful and that booking in advance is required for the summer peak season but the area also is magnificent in early and late season when booking is easier. http://www.casteldalzac.com/en-gb/
What to see, visit taste when in Castel d’Alzac
This magnificent bridge is only 20 km away from Castel d’Alzac and its high, elegant silhouette overlooks the River Tarn Valley and Millau city. It took 3 years to build Millau Bridge before its opening in 2004. The figures of this cable-stayed bridge are impressive: its highest pile (245 metres) is the highest in the world, it is 345 metres high at its highest point, 2460 metres long, 32 metres large and has no less than 154 shrouds! A dual 2-lane motorway goes across the bridge. Don’t miss to visit the rest area accessible from the highway or from a side road. There a museum tells you more about the bridge and its area and a restaurant ruled by the famous “Bras” family who also owns a 3-star restaurant in the region, propose quick and tasty snacks made with fresh local produce.
Peyre is one of “France Most Beautiful Villages” and is only a few miles away from Millau Bridge. It was built against a high cliff overlooking the Tarn River and most of its houses are troglodyte, partly dug into the soft tuff of the cliff. Walking up the narrow cobbled streets you will get to the church and get a spectacular view of the Taen valley and Millau Bridge spanning over it.
Roquefort, a village and its ancient cheese
Roquefort is only 5 km away from Castel d’Alzac. This small village is entirely dedicated to the famous cheese that made it famous worldwide. This blue cheese slowly matures in the deep, dark and damp caves dug into the rock. Roquefort cheese is a tasty ewe cheese and can only be made in the village to bear that name. There are several factories in the village and most of them are open to the public. The Carles family makes genuine Roquefort since 1921 with due respect for tradition. Many amateurs say that the Carles Roquefort is the most authentic one.
If you wish to have a particularly instructive visit of Roquefort caves, you can go to the Roquefort Société caves, where guided tours are organized several times each day. At the end of the visit you can shop different kinds of Roquefort cheeses to bring them back home in an airtight bag! Their restaurant next to the caves proposes delicious meals with or without Roquefort cheese in a friendly ambiance.
Brousse castle, a proud medieval fortress
Brousse castle was built on top of a massive rocky outcrop overlooking the Tarn River in the 9th century. Driving on the road that follows the river you will discover a wild and sparsely populated valley and the castle will suddenly appears, majestic and timeless. Park your car to walk up to the castle that has been carefully restored and is now open to the public. On you way you will see a charming medieval bridge, an ancient church and its small bucolic cemetery and the old houses made with local rocks where you will discover many interesting architectural details.
The Russian Orthodox Church of Sylvanes
This amazing wooden church was born from the strong friendship between a French Dominican Father, André Gouzes, and a Russian Bishop, Alexander Moghilev who met in the 1990’s during perestroika. During a trip in the region Bishop Moghilev was impressed by the beauty of a hill, lost in the countryside and decided to have a Russian church built there. It was first built in Russia, near Kirov by local craftsmen who used ancient techniques of the 7th century. It was then taken to pieces and shipped by train all the way from Russia to this remote place in Aveyron. It took 6 months to the same Russian workers who had made it in Russia to rebuild it on top of the hill in 1993. Topped with typical onion spires this vast church welcomes ecumenical services and music concerts. http://www.egliserusse-prieure-sylvanes.com/index_1092.htm
Sylvanès Abbey, a musical abbey
Sylvanès Abbey originally was a Cistercian abbey built in the 12th century. Partly destroyed during the French Revolution it was restored from 1975 by Father Andre Gouzes, the very same Father who helped build the Russian Orthodox Church. This remarkable man also is a great musician and composer. Every summer 15,000 music lovers go to Sylvanes Abbey for a Sacred and World Music Festival. The huge church where the concerts take place was built in a true austere and simple Cistercian style. Next to it you will visit the beautiful scriptorium with its elegant arches, the capitular hall and the only remaining Eastern side of the former cloister that looks both wistful and glorious in the morning sunlight.
There are many other places to go to in the area. You will discover several of them in these related articles:
More about Castel d’Alzac and Aveyron: http://en.tourisme-aveyron.com/index_en.php
Text & Photos ©Annick Dournes