I’ll certainly be back – Autumn maybe?
Before I depart – Let me share three interesting facts/stories about La Romieu – the village where twelve years ago I found a ruined medieval house that I painstakingly restored.
It is where I escape to whenever I can! As far South as Nice, but way further West and not far from the snow capped Pyrenees. Balmy long summers and good skiing in winter less than an hour away.
1. Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
La Romieu has this year been awarded this proud badge of honour.
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the Most Beautiful Villages in France) is an association set up to protect and promote the heritage of the most beautiful villages in France. The association, which began in 1982, now includes only 156 French villages spread over 14 regions and 69 departments.
2. Chemin de Saint-Jacques (Camino de Santiago - Pilgims' route of St.James)
La Romieu is a small village with a population of about 500 (not counting cats – see 3 below). It’s located in Southwest France in the Midi-Pyrénées region and is situated on one of these routes.
Travellers on the pilgrimage, who hold a “Credencial” (pilgrim’s passport) can stay in accommodation called “albergue” for between 6-10 euros a night per bed and are similar to youth hostels. Here is one such accommodation right in the heart of the village.
Pilgrims are usually limited to one night’s accommodation and are expected to leave by eight in the morning to continue their pilgrimage. Many Pilgrims pass through, easily recognisable as they often have a scallop shell attached to their nap-sacks and carry a staff. Some even pass through on their long, long journey with donkeys and young children!
Very ordinary hikers join the fray looking just like you and me. So why not get those hiking boots out and have an adventure?
3. "The Legend of the Cats”
One of the main tourist attractions in my small medieval village of La Romieu, is the abundance of cats to be found here. They sun themselves on ancient window ledges or peer over walls, out of windows, delighting all who pass by… especially children.
They are never a problem, always well behaved and stand frozen in time like statues, because they are made of stone.
They are the work of artist Maurice Serreau, a resident since his retirement.
It was around 1992 when he retired to this quiet village.
One day on hearing about the legend of “Angeline and the Cats” he decided to sculpt a cat. Now there are many, not only adorning the window ledges and walls, but in every conceivable way.
I have a collection of tiny cats, in all sorts of materials, inside on my kitchen window sill. I have a large one sitting in my garden scaring the real cats away! I have a cat door-stop.
He made cats for the shop-keepers, the tourists and anyone who asked.
And so the legend was kept alive, added to and enjoyed by all who now visit.
There are also a large number of cats that live in and around the village, all officially cared for, if not owned...
I will start with my version of the story I was told, and continue with the one I found on: France today.com
– Once upon a time... There was a woodcutter who lived in the nearby forest. Everyday he would collect the wood he had chopped and bring it to the village of La Romieu. He finally fell in love and married one of the village girls who went with him to live in his log cabin. They were very much in love and in 1338, their daughter who they called Angeline was born. One day, the woodcutter did not come home. The next day, Angeline’s mother, holding her tightly, went to look for her husband.
– Imagine her heartbreak when she found him felled by a tree and quite dead.
– After a few days, the villagers noticed that the woodcutter had not delivered their wood as usual, so set out to the forest, to see why. The log cabin was empty, so they ventured further into the woods. A baby’s cry ended their search. There under a tree lay the woodcutter and his wife with her head close to his lying still. Sadly she had died of a broken heart, leaving behind a very hungry baby.
– Angelina was adopted by a kind couple that lived in the village.
– As Angeline grew, she took solace from her love of cats. There were always a few that followed her wherever she went… (the story continues, following the version on France today.com)
– During this time, two years of severe drought caused a famine and the villagers were hungry. They were searching everywhere for anything that was edible. Soon the village cats started to disappear as the starving villagers resorted to eating cat stew.
– Angeline begged her adoptive parents to let her hide a couple of cats in the attic. They couldn’t say no to the poor child. She had already lost her parents and they didn’t want her to suffer the loss of her beloved cats as well, so they agreed. Since Angeline hid one male and one female, her kitten collection increased steadily.
– Finally, to everyone’s relief, the weather improved, crops flourished, and food was again plentiful. But because there hadn’t been any cats to patrol the village streets, the rats had overrun the town and were ravaging the crops. The villagers held a meeting to try to find a solution. Everyone was surprised but happy when Angeline announced that she had twenty cats (as the cat population in her attic had increased tenfold) and they would be more than happy to help with the rat problem. All were in agreement and the cats were let loose in the village. The rats soon disappeared and the crops were no longer threatened.
– Village life returned to normal and Angeline went back to helping her adoptive parents work in the fields, always surrounded by her cats. But as she grew older, something very strange happened to Angeline: people say her face began to take on the appearance of a cat and even her ears transformed into pointed cat ears. A bust of Angeline, looking very cat-like, can be seen on one of the buildings in the village.
A final wave goodbye to my house and garden (now in the good hands of Nicolas Rochebloine, local gardener) – content in the knowledge that all will be pruned within an inch of its life for my return.
Cute isn’t he?