18 June 2009

A day trip through the Berry

Yesterday CHM and I took a long road trip, traveling a big circle to the southeast of Saint-Aignan in the Berry region. The weather was gorgeous. We took the autoroute all the way down to the town of Saint-Amand-Montrond, which is just south of the city of Bourges and 150 km — 90 miles — from Saint-Aignan.

The château at Meillant, near Saint-Amand-Montrond

It took us nearly two hours to get there, even by autoroute, and toll was 9.10 euros. First we had to get to the autoroute entrance north and east of Saint-Aignan, and that took 30 minutes or so. Then there were several long stretches of autoroute where road work had one of the two lanes blocked off. There were plenty of big trucks on the road, so the going was slow. It always takes longer than you think it will to get to your destination in France.

We left the house at 9:00 a.m. and returned at 8:00 p.m. Below is a list of the villages and towns we spent at least a few minutes in along the way.

Saint-Amand-Montrond -> Meillant -> Noirlac -> Bruère-Allichamps -> Ainay-le-Vieil -> Culan -> Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre ->
Neuvy-Saint-Sépulchre -> Châteauroux -> Levroux -> Valençay ->
Couffy -> Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher

Meillant was our first real destination. There's a beautiful château there. We then had lunch in Saint-Amand, where the autoroute spit us out initially and which we had to drive through to get to Meillant.

A shop on the main street in a little town in the Berry

Noirlac, near Meillant, has a very old Cistercian abbey complex that has been particularly well restored. Bruères-Allichamps, just a couple of miles north in the Cher River valley, is a picturesque village that is known as the geographical center of France. Ainay-le-Vieil and Culan both are the sites of fortified medieval castles. At Neuvy, there's an 11th century church modeled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. And so on.

Typical small-town scene

I'll be posting pictures of all these towns, villages, and monuments over the next few days and weeks. I took more than 300 pictures.

One of the things that struck me about our visits to all these monuments was how nice and helpful the people working in the shops and selling tickets at the various sights were. At Culan, for example, a young woman took the time to explain how we could drive down a steep, narrow lane and make several left turns to get to a Roman bridge over a little river down below the château.

We had lunch here in Saint-Amand-Montrond.

She came outside with us and pointed out all the twists and turns. "At the Roman bridge, there is a good spot where you can stop and take some pictures of the château," she said. "Then you cross the bridge and take another left turn to get back to the highway. There's a big sign that says the road is one way in the wrong direction for you, but you can ignore that. I do. I drive it every day, and I've never had any trouble."

The Roman bridge at Culan

I thanked her and told that, if a policeman stopped me, I would mumble and mutter in English and pretend I didn't speak French. As it turned out, I didn't have to bother, and we got to see views we wouldn't otherwise have discovered.

The castle at Culan seen from
the Roman bridge over the Arnon river

Of course, CHM charms everybody with his happy smile, quick sense of humor, and melodious French.


  1. What a delightful daytrip, Ken, and beautiful photos, not to mention the gorgeous looking weather. Can't wait for the next report.


  2. I bet you two wild and charming guys win over everyone you meet. Has anyone ever asked if you were related?

    That roman bridge was built to last- it's beautiful. I'm looking forward to seeing lots more photos.

    Speaking of waitresses, on our way back from Austin we stopped in Meridian, MS and asked a waitress how the city got its name. She told us that it was named so because it is on the prime meridian! LOL

  3. You paint beautiful word pictures in addition to your digital pictures. Sounds like a most agreeable day!

  4. Can't wait to look at more pictures of those charming cities and villages. The chateau is very pretty.

  5. great photos! How lucky you are to have so much beauty around you. So much green!

  6. Why is it called the Berry, Ken?

    Thanks for a great post. Glad you found those helpful directions from a friendly Frenchwoman!

  7. Hi Ginny, as with most French words, the name Berry is the result of "phonetic erosion" — simplification — over the centuries. Berry is a very old term. The Romans found a Celtic tribe — des Gaulois — called the Bituriges living in the area. Their town is now called Bourges and the inhabitants are called les Berruyers and les Berruyères. The province is Le Berry. Words and sounds have evolved over the centuries (or millenia).

  8. Wonderful pictures. Great ideas for some touring round next time we are in France. Thank you for that, you're a star.

  9. I am so delighted that more and more people are visiting St.Amand my home town. Thank you for your blog. :)

  10. Thank you for your comment, Belkiss.


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