TO SEE | VILLAGE
I love the French “Most Beautiful Villages of France” classification, as it points out interesting villages with a rich heritage. It is a good starting point when I don’t know my way around. Sometimes I am a bit disappointed by the village, also depending on when I am visiting. But the classified Villefranche-de-Conflent is a true gem that captures my heart immediately!
Villefranche-de-Conflent is a fortified village that was founded in the 11th century by the count of Cerdanya. Being part of the Catalan Pyrenees, Villefranche-de-Conflent had a strategic location in an area that changed hands between the French and Spanish occupiers now and then. In 1654, the village was taken by the French again, who were determined not to lose it to the Spanish again.
So new fortifications were needed, and at that time the famous French military engineer Vauban was the man to ask for the job. He perfectly understood how to protect Villefranche-de-Conflent from enemies who could hide in the surrounding mountains. Vauban reinforced the ramparts and made them higher and incorporated some of the medieval towers into the modernised fortification. Like the Tour du Diable (Devil’s Tower) below, which even got cannon loopholes.
Wrought iron signs
It’s interesting to know a bit about Villefranche-de-Conflent’s history when my family and I wander around. The village itself is not too big, and in autumn it is not busy at all. Entering by the Porte de France, we walk on the rue Saint-Jacques to the Porte d’Espagne and back on the rue Saint-Jean. This pretty much covers the whole of Villefranche-de-Conflent. I absolutely love the wrought iron signs that you see everywhere, bringing us back to the days when the region produced a lot of iron. Even today you will still find some “ferronniers d’art”, or ironsmiths, mostly producing art. It’s a great game with the kids to guess the different professions and crafts that the signs represent.
At the place de l’Eglise we stop for a drink. In summer, you will find more terraces here, however even in autumn we find a nice little café for a pause. The kids want to roam around a bit more, as they have seen some interesting shops. I think they are mostly touristy shops, but if you look around, you’ll find some local artists as well. And our sons definitely want to check out this store full of iron signs. Not the real vintage stuff, but reproductions that the boys started to collect a while ago. I prefer looking at the facades and iron signs, and I spot a most unusual chair…
World Heritage Site
At Villefranche-de-Conflent, UNESCO classified no less than three sites as official World Heritage Sites. Of course the fortified village itself. But also the two other Vauban strongholds: Fort Libéria and Cova Bastera. If you want to visit Fort Libéria, you can enter it by the underground staircase with 1,000 steps, starting right after the Saint-Pierre bridge. You will be greeted by Saint Pierre himself, or Saint Peter, holding the key to the Kingdom of Heaven in his hand. Villefranche-de-Conflent is also the starting point of the famous yellow train, going to Latour-de-Carol by 22 stops.