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You will find the picturesque village of Charroux 20 km south of Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule in the department of Allier.
Not only Charroux is one of 11 villages of Auvergne ranked among the most beautiful villages in France (Plus Beaux Villages de France since 1981) but it is also the only one in the department of Allier!
Charroux is an ancient stronghold that belonged to the House of Bourbon.
Perched on top of a hill at 413m above sea level, it commanded the vast plain of Limagne and boasts spectacular views over the Chaine des Puys.
The House of Bourbon became linked to the Crown of France in 1272 when Beatrice of Burgundy, Lady of Bourbon, married Robert of France the son of Louis IX (St-Louis).
Her descendants, from Henri IV to Louis-Philippe, ruled France.
Charroux started to thrive when Bourbonnais was officially made a Duchy in 1327.
The village was granted a charter by the Dukes of Bourbon.
It benefited from privileges and custom duties exemption or franchises that turned it into a dynamic place of commercial exchanges.
Although independent, the village of Charroux benefited largely from the influence of the Dukes of Bourbonnais until the attachment of the duchy to the French crown in 1531.
Came the Wars of Religion and their devastation.
Charroux fell into decline as it was located outside the main axis of communication, the road linking Clermont to Paris.
The development of viticulture, however, saved the village from oblivion.
It was then part of the renown Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule Vineyard.
Charroux experienced another period of prosperity until the phylloxera epidemics that disseminated the French vineyards in the 19th century.
This led to a new phase of decline which resulted in an important rural exodus.
Then WWI broke out!
Of its thriving wine-growing era Charroux has retained 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries beautiful bourgeois houses with carved stone facades, vaulted cellars and a superb Halle (covered market).
During the 19th century Charroux specialized in an original production, the production of mustard.
This thriving traditional production dwindled alas after WWI.
A local family business relaunched the traditional production in 1992 after restoring the old presses, millstones and presses.
La Moutarde de Charroux is today regarded as one of the best!
It is used by some chefs and is exported abroad.
The village of Charroux has retained its medieval appearance and has been beautifully restored.
Its superb architectural heritage has turned it into a tourist destination.
You’ll enjoy strolling along the picturesque lanes that have retained their evocative names and are witnesses to its affluent past: Rue de la Poulaillerie, Rue de la Corderie, Rue des Tanneurs, Rue des Fours à Chaux…
Charroux is laid out around a circular plaza known as Cour des Dames where the provostship once sat.
All that remain of the double rampart erected during the 12th/13th centuries are a 60m long section, the gateways Porte de l’Horloge and Porte d’Orient, the belfry, St-Jean Baptiste Church and a superbly preserved 14th century half-timbered house.
The fortified Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church was built during the 12th century.
The origin of its unusual truncated tower remains a mystery.
Some believe that it was lowered during the Middle-Ages in order to pair its height with that of the belfry.
Others think that the tower was partly destroyed during the French Revolution!
In fact nobody really knows!
The belfry of Charroux dates from the first half of the 13th century and is one of the oldest in France!
Two religious institutions of soldier-monks, the Knights Templar Commanderie de La Marche and the monastery of the Order of St Antoine, were erected outside the fortifications during the 13th century.
Their vestiges were demolished in 1960.
Take the detour to visit Charroux when you are in Auvergne, you’ll fall in love!
You’ll also enjoy the many craft-shops and museums:
Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions, Museum of Charroux and its canton, the Clocks Museum, the Mustard Factory and the gardens of the Maison du Prince de Condé where Henri I of Bourbon, the uncle of Henry IV, stayed in 1568.
There’s a lot to discover, no wonder it has been ranked among the Plus Beaux Villages de France!
Charroux was selected from 22 villages ranked among the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France’ for a French TV program « le village préféré des français » which will be broadcasted soon.
Please feel free to vote on this link if you believe that Charroux should be elected ‘the most beautiful village of France’.
Coordinates for Charroux en Bourbonnais: Lat 46.185442 – Long 3.162598