Travels in France, Saint Amand-Montrond in Cher
Bavard | September 9, 2009 at 07:53 amby
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On the contrary, it offers the curious tourist another perspective on what life is like in France, away from Paris, the City of Lights or the ever-popular Côte d'Azur.
In a real sense it's France at its natural and rural best: home to some popular wines such as Menetou, Quincy, Reuilly, and probably the most famous of all, Sancerre, it's also the venue for the annual spring music festival in the main town of Bourges and the department in which you'll find one of the country's prettiest villages in Apremont-sur-Allier.
To the south of the department however is an even less well-known gem of a town, Saint Amand-Montrond which provides an insight into how the French really live.
Steeped in a history that can be traced back as far as Roman times, the modern day Saint Amand-Montrond is the result of a union between three smaller towns that had independently flourished economically in the Middle Ages.
With a population of just 11,600, it's far from being a bustling metropolis, but that doesn't mean it has nothing to offer the curious visitor.
It's packed with history, and once you've left the main shopping thoroughfare and found your way to the streets of the old town, you're in for a real treat.
You can take in the Saint Vic museum or admire the sculpture of the 12 century Gothic church.
Wandering through the streets, you can follow an itinerary provided by the local tourist office, with a route offering explanations that'll help the development and history of the town come alive as you dwell in front of the Maison d'Angle or make your way to the Cours Manuel.
All in all it's the kind of town where even the most hapless of photographers would be hard pushed not to take at least some snaps worth sharing.
History apart, there's also the proximity of Saint Amand-Montrond to the huge and immensely beautiful Forêt de Tronçais, which is actually in the neighbouring départment of Allier and, for nature lovers, definitely worth a trip in its own right.
The forest has over 10,000 hectares of trees, a majority of them oak with just under a dozen classified as being at the ripe old age of 350 years plus. There are 40-odd natural springs, four lakes and a a fauna and flora galore.
Indeed the official site promoting the forest and surrounding villages probably quite rightly heralds it as "the most beautiful oak forest in Europe".
Right now the town is preparing itself for a centuries-old tradition, that of the Foire d'Orval or Orval Fair, which takes place on the third Monday in October.
It's basically an excuse for the Saint-Amandois ou Amandins (as the locals are called) to have a jolly good knees-up and share their enjoyment of the town with visiting delegations from its three twin towns of Nottuln in Germany, Otwock in Poland and even Riobamba in Equador, as well as folk from neighbouring towns and villages.
So for those of you who are interested and want to catch a glimpse of what France has to offer apart from the obvious, maybe that's a date to note in your diaries.