05 September 2011

The streets of Bellême

Bellême, population 1600, is a village that feels like a town. At least it feels that way on market day, and that's when we were there. There were a lot of people in the market around the church, but the streets of the old "closed city" above were basically deserted, as you can see in my photos.

La rue du Château in old Bellême

Why is it that so many French towns and villages look and feel like ghost towns when you drive through them or walk around their streets? It's a mystery. I guess everybody has a car these days, so you don't see many people out on foot. If it's lunchtime, everybody in inside, or in a courtyard, having the mid-day meal. In the afternoon, they're taking a sieste. And on Sundays and Mondays, most of the shops and restaurants are closed.

One of the gates of the old walled city

Another reason for the quiet streets of a town like Bellême is that a lot of the houses are weekend or holiday residences, I assume. A lot of Parisians have houses there — Paris is just three hours east by car. Bellême looks like a much larger town than it really is. Remember, the population is just 1600. It was double that 150 years ago, and has steadily declined since. Bellême used to be the capital of the comté du Perche, which is predominately rural.

Old houses like these are called hôtels in French. They are
hôtels particuliers, built and occupied by wealthy families —
not hotels in the modern sense of the word.

Bellême is in the middle of a forest that is part of the Parc naturel régional du Perche. The town was founded in the 10th century at the intersection of two roads, one coming from Chartres to the east and the other from Evreux to the north, both leading to Le Mans. The founder, granted the land by the French king, built a château on the spot. A second château was built on higher ground a century later. Neither château exists today as more than ruins. Bellême also claims one of the oldest churches in the Perche. It dates back to the 11th century.

I liked the colorful stucco on the façades
of many of the houses in Bellême.

During the One Hundred Years war inthe 1400s, Bellême was beseiged several times by the English. That's when the ramparts protecting the city, including the gate pictured above, were built. The town was again pillaged and burned in the 1500s by protestant forces during that period's religious wars. So the old houses you see in my pictures of the "old" city date back only to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Rue de la Ville Close in Bellême

After we wandered through the market and old streets, Walt with Callie to drive back to Saint-Aignan. The rest of us had lunch in a nice Logis restaurant called the Relais Saint-Louis.


  1. Belleme looks wonderful. Leon and have often asked ourselves where all the people are as we wander around French villages.We have pretty much come to the same conclusion as you.
    Like the new banner pic.

  2. That lunch at the Relais Saint-Louis was delicious.

    Perhaps some of the inhabitants of Belleme were still on vacation when we were there.
    Your photos are lovely.

  3. And, what foods did you all enjoy at the Relais Saint-Louis? :)

  4. The new picture is interesting, but I can't tell whether you're angry or bored.

  5. Judy, food post to follow.

    Starman, I was probably sad and worried that Walt had to drive back to Saint-Aignan alone that day. But did you see the other pictures of us on the bench. There were other expressions...

  6. Yes,wonderful photos indeed.
    Do all the houses have access
    at the back where they can
    park their cars? They are what
    always spoils the scene for me.

  7. Ken, I would assume Walt and you speak english when you are by yourself. I have been here so long that I speak english to the few french friends I have in the States. They don't mind as I am really struggling with my french.
    Your observations is so right on about streets being deserted at lunch time. If there aren't any touristic shops around, you won't see too many people unless it is market day. Most people like you, shop at Leclerc, Carrefour... I really got home sick when I read "Mais qu'est-ce qu'on mange ce soir". She made pounti and other delicious food. I am so happy to know that Evelyn & Lewis and you guys had such a good time in "Normandie". Life is good!

  8. I knew I was going to make spelling and grammatical mistakes when I wrote that long comment.
    Sorry! I am losing my french but making mistakes in english too.

  9. Belleme has just been put on
    my next trip to France list.
    It is so neat and clean and
    (in my imagination) cozy...
    Who wouldn't love having such
    a village as the backdrop of
    their lives? You appear to
    have had a grand time...one
    so well deserved. Great
    pictures. Bless you for
    sharing, as always.

  10. We really had a great time in Bellême, I enjoyed the atmosphere in this tiny "ville close" and our lunch was really good at "Relais Saint-Louis" :-)

  11. Mary07, tu sais quoi? J'ai perdu toutes tes photos. C'est bête.

    Mary, Melinda, Sue, thanks.

    Nadège, Walt and I do speak English together most of the time. Some things are easier to express in French, though, when you live here. I know what you mean about trying to deal with two languages. Walt says he is now illiterate in both French and English. Me too.

  12. Ouah, tu as perdu toutes les photos que tu avais téléchargées à partir de ma carte ??? J'ai essayé de t'envoyer toutes les photos Palluau Valençay, mais tu me dis n'avoir rien reçu... Je me demande comment faire... Il y en a trop pour les envoyer au fur et à mesure... Ou bien les mettre sur une clef et t'envoyer la clef par le "snail mail" ???

  13. My husband and I are planning a trip to France in May and will be spending 2 or 3 days in Belleme, where, my family roots are. My ancestors family name is "Rouleau" and it would be so nice to connect with someone, but just walking on the ground that my ancestors walked on will be exciting! Any suggestions/tips will be appreciated. Belleme sounds like a beautiful village.


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