If you’ve ever travelled around France you’ll know that it’s chockablock with lovely towns and villages, the kind you leave with a desire to stay longer, to linger under the shade of a tree with a bottle of red, a hunk of bread and chunk of cheese. And if you fancy a dash of mustard then Charroux, in the Allier department of Auvergne, is just the place to go. For the past 900 years the world-famous “moutarde de Charroux” has been produced in the village, with a small family (mother, son and step-daughter) continuing the tradition to this day.
The drive from Vichy to Charroux took us through such beautiful countryside that we decided to stop along the way to appreciate our surroundings. After twenty minutes or so of soaking in the panoramic views and taking a few photographs, we got back in the car to continue on our way to Charroux only to find that it was just a few hundred yards further down the road. And so our visit to Charroux had begun.
A visual feast, Charroux lives up to its reputation as “one of the most beautiful villages in France” — everywhere you look there’s beauty, be it the picture perfect houses and cute street signs or the dilapidated buildings with broken doors and peeling shutters — but if you pause to reflect on the feeling behind the wow-how-gorgeous-is-this-place! impression, there’s a sense that you’ve perhaps stumbled onto a film set or into a themed holiday resort for the discerning tourist. As we walked and talked our way through the village we both wondered how life in Charroux is for those who have chosen to make it their home and we agreed we’d like to go back at some point to learn more about the locals, the café/restaurant owners and various artisans, including the celebrated mustard-making family.
On this visit we spoke briefly to the local boulanger about his long working day that begins in the small hours with baking and continues with deliveries to local shops before returning to Charroux to open up the boulangerie for the day. When asked when he sleeps he simply shook his head to indicate he has very little. Later we talked with Paula, the owner of La Boite à Sucre, who commutes every day to the sweet shop she has been running for the past couple of years. Like the baker, she also has a very long day. Last but not least, we met a very cute and curious cat which Sean enjoyed playing with in front of an old wooden door.
Whether they were new or weathered, there were many beautiful doors and windows in Charroux. Between us we photographed many and were often drawn to the same ones, such as the “A Vendre” shutters above and the cobalt blue doors and shutters of Le Relais de l’Orient, a unique bed and breakfast in the centre of the village.
Towards the end of our Charroux meanders we came upon a house set back from the road, grass and wild flowers growing in the yard, cement mixer optimistically situated in the left corner. Perhaps this building, too, is destined for greater and more picturesque things?
And for those readers who also follow Michael Fiveson’s blog, the above image is dedicated to him as he’s both a keen and fine photographer of old barns, sheds and once-beautiful buildings!