Atlas Obscura: 5 interesting places in France
Michèle and Sanne are travelling together through Europe and sharing their experiences on their blog ‘The adventures of MiSa’. Recently, they bought an interesting book: the ‘Atlas Obscura’. This guide, with accompanying website is full of strange and original places to visit throughout the world. Michèle and Sanne visited five Atlas Obscura sites in France.
1. Le Cyclop Artwork in Milly-la-Fôret
There’s a huge piece of art hidden in the forest in quiet Milly-la-Fôret: ‘Le Cyclop’. This one-eyed monster is almost 23 metres tall, and was designed and made by the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. He created the sculpture over 20 years, together with his wife and friends. The sculpture is made from three hundred tons of waste, and consists of mosaic, concrete, metal, stones, mirrors and even a waterfall.
We visited the sculpture in January. It was freezing and we couldn’t find the way. After walking for thirty minutes, we saw a vague figure in the forest. We decided to walk towards it, and there it was, in all its glory. Unfortunately the site was closed and we could not view the inside of the statue. Luckily, we were able to see the outside of the sculpture through the fence. The mirrors reflected the morning light, we could see the cyclops’ eye and teeth, and he had his mouth open. We walked around the sculpture and could see some of the other materials used, including a train carriage, gears, blocks and stairs! Fascinating to see, and probably even more interesting when it’s open and you can actually climb it.
Campsites near Milly-la-Forêt
2. Mummies in the Collégiale de Saint-Bonnet-le-Château
At the top of the small village of Saint-Bonnet-le-Château there’s a medieval church, the collegiate church of Saint-Bonnet. Inside you can find a library, murals and religious ornaments from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. But that’s not all! In 1837, thirty well-preserved bodies from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were found under the church. The mummies have been investigated extensively, but it is still not clear what happened. The village has had a somewhat turbulent history, enduring the Hundred Years War, the plague, and religious violence. It’s possible that the bodies are of a murdered, well-to-do family, or they could even be victimes of the plague.
We arrived in the quiet village and walked up to the church. We were really curious to see the church, especially after reading all the theories about the discovery of the mummies. We went into the church and switched on the light in the chapel. We could see the mummies behind a glass plate. It was certainly interesting, but it also gave us the chills. These days, the church also offers a virtual reality tour for a fee, so you can see the mummies closer up. You can see the mummies without the virtual reality tour for free.
Campsites near Saint-Bonnet-le-Château
3. Idiosyncratic and activist art in The Abode of Chaos
In the middle of a rather chic neighborhood above the famous city of Lyon, lies ‘The Abode of Chaos’. It’s an area where artists can express themselves artistically and politically. The owner, Thierry Ehrmann, started this museum in a seventeenth-century house in 1999. Statements against current politics can be found all over the site. There are also giant skulls, burnt-out cars, robots impersonating people and graffiti. It looks like a mess, but there is order amongst the chaos. That said, the City of Lyon does not like The Abode of Chaos, and has already brought the owner to court several times. So far without success.
We visited on a warm spring day. There’s something interesting wherever you look. Beautiful installations, but also less pleasant things. We did find some of the radical statements a bit shocking, but the experience as a whole is wonderful. If we were to visit this chaotic museum again, I’m sure we’d see and experience entirely different things. Entry is free.
Campsites near Lyon
4. Fort Boyard: a fort at sea
Fort Boyard was the brainchild of Louis XIV, who ruled from 1643 to 1715. It was intended to protect the west coast of France from the English. In the end though, it was Napoleon who built it, 150 years later. Construction started in 1801 but proved very difficult due to the changing tides. Construction stopped in 1809. When it was finally completed in 1857, the English were no longer a threat and the fort was therefore no longer needed. After a while it fell into disrepair. In 1988 the fort was restored for use in the famous game show ‘Fort Boyard’. The only way to see the inside is by participating in the game show. It is possible to sail around the fort with a boat, but there is a fee for this.
On the way to the fort, reference is made to Ile-d’Aix as having the best view. However, we chose to continue on to Ile-d’Oléron. We entered the nearest bit of land into our navigation system and hoped we’d reach our destination. We did, and found a parking spot close to the beach. The fort was visible immediately! We decided to walk as close as we could to the fort. And we were able to see the outside well with the zoom on our camera. No need for the boat trip!
Campsites near Fort Boyard
5. Aliens in Bugarach mountain?
The ‘Pic de Bugarach’ is famous for a unique event. According to some, the Maya predicted that in December 2012 the world would perish. A group of people, the so-called “New Agers” believed that only the area around Mount Bugarach would be spared, and that there would be aliens inside the mountain. The village was flooded by New Agers, and the price of homes and land in the area rocketed. Each year, 20,000 people visit the village to pray or perform strange rituals at the base of the mountain, which is also known as the ‘alien garage’. It is true that there are all sorts of caves and passageways below the surface, but whether there are aliens living there…? What is also interesting is that the top layer of this mountain is older than the rest of it. That’s why it’s sometimes also known as ‘the upside-down mountain’.
We visited the area in March. We didn’t have high expectations, but the atmosphere did feel a little strange. We didn’t know if that was because we’d read all the stories, or because there really was something living in the mountain. Next time we’re in the area, we’ll definitely climb the mountain. Who knows what we’ll encounter!
Campsites near Bugarach
Three more interesting places to visit in France
- The ‘calanques’ on the Mediterranean coast are beautiful, partly flooded valleys that reach to the sea. Campsite Pascalounet is close the Parc national des Calanques.
- There are old ochre mines near Gargas. The ochre gives the rocks in the area a gorgeous orange colour. Domaine des Chênes Blancs is a campsite near Gargas.
- You can walk amongst the beautiful limestone hills, olive trees and fruit orchards in the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles. Campsite La Vallée Heureuse is close to the Alpilles and has a lovely view of the area.