In Brantôme (a photo gallery) - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

September 28, 2022

In Brantôme (a photo gallery)

Brantôme is unlike any other place we’ve seen, with its historic core concentrated in a small circular island in the Dronne less than three hundred yards across.  It takes only a few minutes to traverse the island from one branch of the river to the other, and even without a map it’s pretty difficult to get seriously lost - all roads lead to the Dronne once you’re on the island.

And once you come to the river it’s easy to immediately orient yourself because on the north side the entire opposite bank is lined by the sprawling Benedictine abbey complex; and behind that rises a wall of limestone cliffs perforated by the caves that troglodyte monks initially lived in when the abbey was founded in the eighth century, reputedly by Charlemagne.

Here is a good background article on Brantôme’s history; and here is Susan Carpenter’s account of her pre-Covid visit here three years ago, with a different set of photos and a much more thoughtfully crafted narrative.  Remarkably, I see that we were here on the exact same day of the year as Susan was, as was the case in Aubeterre and Barbezieux also.

On the island, Brantôme. As with many sight lines in the village, the abbey across the river is visible at the end of the street.
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In Brantôme.
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Keith AdamsBoy that's a lot of vegetation on that building. In a few years the structure may have been swallowed whole by the jungle.
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The Rue de Minage (renamed the Passageway rue Victor Hugo for some reason), a bent passageway to the river that was part of the village’s medieval defensive system.
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The end of Rue de Minage opens directly onto the river, at water level.
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The northern channel of the Dronne. The island village is on the right, and just behind us on the left begins the abbey.
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Looking at the entryway to Rue de Minage from across the river.
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Three up.
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Another view along the north channel, with the abbey on the left.
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Brantôme Abbey.
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Brantôme Abbey.
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Tour Saint-Roch and Pavillion Renaissance.
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The campanile, one of the oldest in France, is distinguished by the fact that it isn’t built from the ground up. Most of it stands on a natural outcrop of the cliffs above the caves.
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Cello and Abbey.
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The Dronne and Abbey. This is the view that greets you when you approach the center from the modern development south of town.
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We purchased our way into the caves where the earliest monks lived, which you can either see self-guided for about 7€ each, or with a guide. It’s well annotated in both French and English, and a self-guided tour worked well for us.
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The back wall of the abbey, from inside one of the caves. Our timing for the day was excellent, because showers broke out just as we got here. What better place to be?
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The star attraction of the caves is the Last Supper cave, with a pair of striking bas-relief sculptures carved from the cave walls.
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In the Last Supper cave.
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In the Last Supper cave.
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Two of the caves include dovecots carved into the walls below the roof line. From the information panel: The pigeon house served a domestic purpose. Pigeons were important for the monks as a greatly appreciated source of meat. Moreover, pigeon droppings, as fertilizer, were the object of a flourishing trade. The raising of pigeons was strictly regulated by feudal law, and was an activity allowed only to landowners, the number of birds being fixed in proportion to the amount of land possessed. In other words, the presence of pigeon houses attests to the wealth and temporal power of the monastery.
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The ancient spring of Saint Sicaire is still a source for the town’s water supply. It also feeds a small salmon fry acquaculture within an adjacent cave.
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The abbey and its caves.
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A view along the river from within the abbey.
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Another view of the caves.
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A sculpture in the abbey portrays the martyrdom of Saint Sicaire in Bethlehem when he was slain as a part of the slaughter of the innocents at the time of the birth of Jesus. The abbey was founded when his supposed relics were brought here by Charlemagne.
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Carolyn van HoeveThe Ardeche! Following another of your recommendations we planted ourselves in St Martin d’Ardeche and did a return trip to Pont d’Arc. What an incredible ride! It was overcast, chilly and windy but did nothing to deter from the enjoyment. Woohoo!
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Scott AndersonTo Carolyn van HoeveI’m so glad that worked for you. It was a disappointment that it was too wet to tempt us this spring, but I’ve got an eye on it as an option if we have a good late fall.
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