Puycelsi, ranks, deservedly among one of the most beautiful villages in France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France), rising high above the VÃ¨re valley, close to the forest of GrÃ©signe.
It is one of the fortified villages, along with Cordes-sur-Ciel, Catelnau de Montmirail and Bruniquel (to name but a few) on the circuit des Bastides Albigeois – a great circuit to travel through some
superb countryside and see some fantasticly preserved medieval villages in this beautiful part of South West France.
The village was founded in the Xth century, by the Benedictine monks from Aurillac in The Cantal region of France, although there is proof that the site was inhabited during prehistoric times, probably due to its high position domination the valley.
The name, Puycelsi, comes from various derivations – “Puy”, meaning hill in Occitane, but the origin is probably Celt “Celto Dun” – wooden fortress, later changed by the Romans to “Podium Celsium” – flat, elevated land.
The village has seen a pretty violent past, including being sieged by Simon de Montfort during the “Albigeois Cruade” against the Cathares in 1211 – 1213.
The second Crusade of Les Pastoreaux – a revolt emanating from a mass pilgrimage starting from Le Mont St Michel arrived to hold the village to siege in 1320 and finally by the English in 1386 during the 100 Years War, although the village was never taken by force.
The village also endured the Black Death several times, mostly due, probably, as the village is fairly isolated so there was less comings and goings from other places that were much more hardly hit that Puycelsi.
The village today, is mainly made up of second and holiday homes – including 30% foreigners (English, Dutch, German etc.)
Lying about 25km from Gaillac, 30 km from Montauban, 36 km from Albi and about 55km from Toulouse (Paris 540 km and Calais 775 km)
When arriving in the village, there is free car park at the bottom of the hill, for those who don’t want to walk, there are spaces further up the hill along the road, but there is no access to the village by car except for residents.
There is a great, well marked out, easy walk, which goes through some of the 4,000 hectares of La FÃ´ret de GrÃ©signe, called “Le Sentier du Patrimoine” – watch out for a glimpse of deer and wild boar!
The village is reached by climbing the hill through the gates of the 14th century fortifications – you can just imagine knights riding through the two gateways, including the “Porte D’Irissou” on their trusty steeds.
Have a look around the Chapelle St Roch (1703), The 15th century ChÃ¢teau des Capitaines-Gouverneurs, The Chapelle Sanit-James “Des Templiers” after the Knights Templars (there is a lot of history of the Knights Templars close-by). Have a look at the church of Saint- Corneille with its magnificent painted ceiling and wooden statues dating back to the 14th and 15th century.
The streets of the village, with their half-timbered and stone houses are just waiting to be discovered and explored. The views from the battlements across the valley aee amazing.
There is also an arboretum that houses over 700 different varieties of fruit trees and over 100 different grape varieties at the foot of the hill.
In short, Puycelsi has a lot to offer for a great day out – at the top of the hill is a bar / restaurant where you can sip a cool drink, whilst marvelling at this super village and its fantastic views.