Leaving Uzerche, we felt there were so many choices of where to head next. We still had a few weeks spare before our house-sitting commitment, and we were geographically close, less than a day’s drive away. It was time to slow down our progress and concentrate on a more detailed exploration of the surrounding area. After much debate and deliberation, we headed off west, to visit a few of the nearby Beaux Villages a France. Our first stop was then to be the village of Ségur-le-Chateau.
The day was reasonably bright as we headed west, across small country roads. The village was not looking too promising on first arrival, as the streets approaching the centre were all dull grey and crumbling walls, and the similarly plainly decorated church was surrounded by busy scaffolding. But once we reached the main heart of the village and parked up by the trickling river, we could appreciate what had earned the village its coveted status. The prime setting on the curve of the river was quite exceptional, with picture-postcard timber and stone buildings tumbling out over the flowing waters and the tall ruin of an historic castle on the hill behind. What remained of the castle’s huge stone walls was awash with thick ivy, hanging loosely off the face, offering a look of aged grandeur.
After a brief appreciation of the view, we entered what we thought was a small tourist office, but turned out to be the Mairie. The gentleman working there, who may have even been the village mayor, immediately took us under his wing, located a key to the closed tourist office and gained us access to lots of leaflets, maps and useful local information. One of the local maps had a recommended walking route around the village, so with no other plans, we took off to follow this. We didn’t abide by it fully, spurring off to see other corners as they caught our interest, but it offered a general structure to our wanderings. A steep cobbled path led up the side of the church and almost instantly into open countryside with views over the village, before looping back around and back to the centre.
Some buildings have been recently renovated, their stone cleaned and everything looking neat, but the village still has a long way to go to bring the overall ambience up to the same exacting standard. But should they try achieving that perfect look, they may end up losing something of that ramshackle wonderfulness. The intangible feeling of real lived-in untidiness, worn timber and stone permeated with depths of history and time, could potentially be swept away with too much polishing of the village. But without continued investment and growth, it may have a limited future as a viable town for locals, beyond the influx of seasonal tourism. It’s a fine balancing act, and sits well beyond my paygrade to adequately advise upon. We returned to Benny with these thoughts tumbling through our minds.
We slowly squeezed between the high mountainside rock and a bulging stone house to leave Ségur-le-Chateau, then drove on small, empty roads to reach Saint-Robert, a short drive south. It was another in the long line of 100 designated French Beaux Villages we hoped to visit. There was a large aire on the outskirts of the village that we could have stayed at, but later decided against. We parked up there in the spacious parking, beside only one other motorhome, and walked the short way to the village centre. Saint-Robert was predominantly built from warmer stone, and felt neater and better kept, rather than the quirky, tumbling-ruin feel of Ségur-le-chateau. Both villages had their obvious charms, but in very different ways, with Saint-Robert feeling just a little classier, being more homogenised in material and colour.
We first gravitated to the Romanesque church, part of a Benedictine monastery built by the followers of the eponymous St. Robert, positioned as the central focus of the village square. We had a short look inside, noting the different stone finishes on various levels, simple and effective as decoration. We enjoyed the wonderful views from the church gardens down to the valley far below, marvelling at the setting. We wandered the main streets in all directions, ensuring we saw each alcove, square and point of interest, viewing the village from all available angles. There were a few large chateaus on the edges of the village, hidden away behind tall walls. Centrally, there were a proliferation of gites for hire, and it seemed that much of the population must be temporary visitors in peak times.
We returned to the aire in Saint Robert for lunch, where we considered stopping over for the night, but instead decided to make a further move, closer to the next places of our interest. So we drove off east to locate our new aire, near to the hillside village of Dampniat, to set up our next few days of exploration and sight-seeing in the region.