High Beaujolais Hills & Villages - Walking Trails, Tales & Legends
Like many places across Europe many of the hills in the Beaujolais, in central southern France, were the site of historic forts and religious buildings. Since the dark ages tales and legends have grown up about these mystic places now shrouded in forest.
In the Beaujolais the hills reach just over 1000m in altitude. These rounded granite summits can be visited on our self-guided walking holiday: High Beaujolais Hills which explores these quiet and pretty hills, covered in a dense network of walking trails.
Mont St Rigaud
The highest summit in the French Beaujolais at 1009m, Mont St Rigaud, like much of the higher Beaujolais hills, is made of ancient granite. Several hundred million years ago, these granite hills formed part of mountains which were as high as today’s Alps. Overtime, erosion reduced these mountains to plains which were then covered by the sea and, as a result sedimentary deposits. The movement of the earth’s plates which formed the Alpine mountain range, also caused the upward thrust of parts of the Massif Central, whose Eastern border contains the Beaujolais region. The sedimentary layers have been eroded away revealing the granite bedrock.
The top of Mont St Rigaud was formerly the site of numerous religious buildings. The Romans erected a temple dedicated to the god Jupiter, but by the year 600AD this had been replaced by a Christian chapel. In the year 929 the chapel was given to the monastery of Cluny in Burgundy, who regularly sent monks to the site, but who did not reside there. From 1125 to 1430, a number of monks took up permanent residence in the hermitage on the summit. The monastery was abandoned, from that time onwards and legend has it that the last monks died of hunger and cold following a tragic, harsh winter. The chapel collapsed in 1812 and no signs of its presence remain. Today, your walking trail will lead you to a summit which is home to a telecommunications mast and viewing tower. Just below the summit there is a water source which is thought to have been sacred since druid times and is still celebrated locally for its medicinal properties. A large number of crosses have been planted all around the site by pilgrims. Legend has it, that alongside many other benefits, the water helps with female fertility and each year people continue to gather at this source on the 15th of August.
On the summit there is now a 15m high observation tower with a wide staircase that leads you to a fantastic 360 degrees view. On a clear day you can see the Puy de Dome in the west and Mont Blanc in the east. The tower's pillars are each in one piece as they are carved direct from Douglas Firs.You'll get the chance to summit this hill on our High Beaujolais Hills walking holiday.
The second highest peak in the Beaujolais and another which you can summit on your independent walking holiday is the Roche d'Ajoux.
The Roche d’Ajoux at 973m is the second highest summit in the Beaujolais and consists of ancient volcanic rock known as tuff. Just like Mont Saint Rigaud, it forms the watershed between two of France's greatest river systems. To the east streams feed rivers which end up in the Loire and hence the Atlantic, and to the west streams flow into the Saone and Rhone and then reach the Mediterranean. The summit is said to be the site of an ancient Celtic temple dedicated to the god Jupiter. Views on your walking holidays from the summit are wonderfull across the Beaujolais hills.
Mont Tourveon, at 953m is the third highest summit in the Beaujolais in France. Unfortunately, the trees on its summit means that views are limited. In addition its steep sides means that it does not feature as a climb on our High Beaujolais Hills French walking holiday.
Its summit was the site of an ancient castle, which has become known as the Château de Ganelon, named after the last lord to have occupied it - a widely hated man who was known for his brutality and savagery. He only left his castle to ransack, steal and hunt in the surrounding forests. Legend has it that he was captured, put into a barrel and rolled down the hill, his resting place being the site chosen for the church at Chenelette. (The barrel no doubt comes from the fact that the Beaujolais region of France is probably best known for its gamay red wines.) The chateau was destroyed around the year 800 under the orders of Louis le Pieux son of Charlemagne, King of Aquitaine and Emperor of Occident. All that remains of the castle are vestiges of the base of the walls and the related earth works. Rare archaeological digs have uncovered that the large château was probably based on an ancient Roman oppidum or settlement. The castle was composed of a large wall which surrounded the mountain, with the summit housing two towers linked by two inner walls.
The village of Ouroux overlooks the beautiful valley of the eastern Grosne. The inhabitants are known as Ouroutis. The name comes from the Latin, meaning 'where they pray.' Located on the Roman road from Lyon to Autun, Ouroux has had many invasions: Roman, then Burgundian in the 5th century and Frankish in the 6th. Many remains of buildings and pottery attest to the importance of Ouroux in the Gallo-Roman civilisation. The village was in the hands of the lords of the Beaujeu and the Bernadine community in the 14th century.
St Louis passed through Ouroux bound for the crusades in Egypt and a stained glass window in the church depicts this. The church dates from the 12th century and is of Burgundy style. Enlarged in 1832, it has retained its apse and Romanesque-style square tower.
The village of Propieres is a thriving community of farm producers and craftsmen and women. The inhabitants are known as Propirons or Propironnes.
Propieres had 2 strongholds built by the Lords of Beaujeu. One of them, La Farge, exists today as a school. The only evidence of the past exists in the lintel of a window containing the date 1119 and the thickness of the foundation walls.
The village possessed silver lead mines as well as a tile works and lime kiln. The lime kiln can still be seen at the Grand Mill where there was also a weaving mill. Despite the industrial past, today, Propieres is a village in bloom, known for its floral displays. The old lead mines are now home to bats, whose population are regularly counted and monitored.
At the boundary of Propieres and Poule, is the famous 'La Roche d'Ajoux'. Its name comes from the latin 'ara jovis' (altar of Jupiter). The surface of its top is large enough to do a quadrille (a square dance), which Propirons used to take part in on feast days.
The village of Avenas is situated on an ancient Roman road between Lyon and Autun, known as the Chemin des Romains. During the early middle ages the Sistine monks built a Romanesque style church at Avenas, although it probably replaced an earlier structure from the Carolingienne period. Dating from the 12th century, the church is interesting due to its secondary tower, its beautiful windows, but most of all, because of its remarkable alter carved from white limestone. It pictures Christ surrounded by his 12 apostles and a representation of the foundation of the church by King Louis.
Azolette is a small village, lost in the High Beaujolais hills that has little changed for centuries. The name Azolettes comes from "petite Azole" meaning a place planted with rushes. Azolettes was established as a parish in 1137 by an important negotiation agreed in its church. Azolette was the site chosen for a strong house 10km south of Dun, which at the time was the most important fortified site of the higher hills. It was an advanced warning site. Soon afterwards, the viscount of Dun was attacked and taken by the King of France in 1180 and the area passed into the hands of the Sires of Beaujeu who controlled the Beaujolais region. Several years later and the Lordship of Azolette was given to the Benedictine Abbey of Joug Dieu, founded to the north of Villefranche several years earlier by the Beaujeu family. Azolette stayed under the control of the church for a further 6 centuries until 1749. In the 15th century many of the parishes in the area no longer formed part of the Maconnais but became part of the Beaujolais. Azolettes and a neighbouring parish, however did not and remained an "enclave du Maconnais" up until the Revolution. It now forms part of the Rhone administrative department.
Gros chenes (large oak): On 28 avril 1700, Jean Delacroix bought a small parcel of land called “gros chene” or large oak, named after a large oak tree there. You’ll pass this same large oak tree just before reaching Azolettes, which leads one to the assumption that not only did it exist in 1700 but that it must have been fairly large, for the act of sale to mention it as the name of the parcel. It is therefore possible that the oak is as much as 500 years old.
Church of Azolettes: In 1100, the church was located above the hamlet of Magne and was only relocated to its present location at the end of the 16th century. It was then rebuilt in its present form in 1828. The nave and the two side towers were conserved from the original building. It was renovated in 1996 which received a heritage award.
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