Posted on Jun 17, 2010 in category

Today was a good day to travel. Rain, rain and more rain! Even our hotel owner Virginia at Argenton-sur-Creuse kindly alerted us to the news reports that floods were causing havoc in southern France. 'Forewarned is forearmed' so we decided to make sure that 'Lizzie' our English GPS will not take us down some of her inevitable short cuts into a wet oblivion.

Wendy and I had a choice: use the motorways where one can drive at 130+ and arrive at one's destination 'toute de suite' or drive on the 'D' highways where one's speed is often restricted to 70-90 kms slowing to 50 kms going through beautiful French villages and small towns. We chose the latter; furthermore, we are so glad we did for it paid off at the Le Château de Culan and at Néris les Bains.

At Culan we had no plans to stop and visit what turned out to be the best medieval castle or chateaux I've ever visited. As I motored slowly over this old bridge at Culan (I sensed that this 'pont' was special; in fact, it was Gallo-Roman) Wendy turned around to see this magnificent chateaux towering literally over this bridge. I did a quick U-turn and off we went on a magical tour of Le Château de Culan with French guide, Pierre-Marie Monel.

Le Château de Culan from the Gallo-Roman bridge

Pierre-Marie, armed with a fist full of keys which he used throughout the tour, conducted an extensive hour tour of the chateau. Along with a French couple (yes, the tour was mainly in French), we were shown some amazing insights into medieval life. The beautiful oak beams used in the roofing, towers with trapdoors to enable the pouring of boiled fat on to soldiers below, a dungeon for miscreant soldiers, a series of three watchtowers' accommodation for soldiers, a model representation of Joan of Arc and her contemporary nobles (Joan of Arc stayed here for a short time), an animated diorama version of the taking of the chateau in the 17th century and numerous other aspects of medieval life such as weaponry (Wendy threatened me with a lance), a money chest with a six-way lock plus a false lock and the thought that they slept sitting upright not lying down the position of death (news to me too!).

Inside the courtyard of Le Château de Culan


Above is a drawing showing an early view of the chateau. The Roman Bridge that we drove over is on the bottom left of the drawing

Pierre-Marie (on the right) explaining life in one of the soldiers' watchtowers ('to lay the table' is derived from setting up the trestle every time to eat)

Tower trapdoors that are opened to send hot fat and stone greetings to attackers below


Nobility, like Madame de Sévigné stayed here along with lady of 'les lettres' George Sand; however, 'à droite' the troublesome soldier or two stayed here in the dungeon that was situated in one of the high towers near the watch rooms.

Our next stop on the way to Montpeyroux, which is officially listed as 'one of France's most beautiful villages' and located in the Puy de Dôme region of Central France, was Néris les Bains. Driving into this town, we instantly noticed a sense of real pride in their town, a type of Australian 'tidy town' vibe. Flower pots and gardens adorn this town. A fountain greets the driver with several Roman amphorae-like pots positioned to funnel the water hither and thither. Néris les Bains was and still is a health spa town.

In Celtic and Gallo-Roman days it served as a great stopover for travellers. Nériomagos 'bourgade' or village in the Celtic period meant 'market place of the thermal spring god, Nerios' or Nerius. After getting a few directions at the Tourisme Office (it's highly recommended to start here in each town), we headed off to see the Gallo-Roman baths or 'thermes'. These baths are outside and in a public park. The only trouble was the gates were locked. C'est la vie !

Where there's a will there's a way. The Gallo-Roman thermal baths under lock and key !


The Gallo-Roman theatre is devoid of its stone seating - only the shape remains in a public park


Where's the local museum ???? It's called the 'Maison du Patrimoine' and is housed in a quaint 15th century house.

Although the museum has a relatively small collection of artifacts, it does specialise in the Gallo-Roman period. Néris les Bains like most towns in the Gallo-Roman times began its monumental architecture (forum, basilica, baths and temples) in the Augustan period then expanded rapidly into the 2nd and mid 3rd centuries A.D. It became a very prosperous and substantial thermal spring town on the east-west axis between Lugdunum (Lyon) and Lemonum (Poitiers).


Nerios – god of the thermal spring Inscription of Lucius Julius Equester dedicating the baths


Two interesting bas relief figures of deities that had Celtic origin were of Epona mounted on her horse and Cernunnos, god of the seasons.

The Puy de Dôme's spectacular scenery is the product of its volcanic past. Elevated plateaus and peaks are punctuated with stone villages. Our destination of Montpeyroux is one such village.


It's a living village for the surrounding farms and towns. Our B & B owner, Dominique runs a farm with her husband producing cereals and meat products from pork. We were quick to drop our bags and explore the village.


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