On the lip of a lush cliff in Aveyron hides a place exempt from logic. Granted we’re not scientifically inclined, but there has to be some kind of sorcery bubbling under the bedrock of Bozouls, the ancient French village that’s been teetering on the edge of a massive hole – without totally crumbling in on itself – for about 1,000 years.
Bozouls endures as one of the country’s rarest and most overlooked gems, a place as entertaining to see as it is to say (Boz-oole). Today, we’re diving head-first into the depths of the town that time forgot, to meander its cobblestone streets and knock on the doors of its castle ruins.
To understand Bozouls, it helps to understand the vibe of its encompassing Aveyron region . Not close enough to Paris to be day-trip-able, nor southern enough to be truly on the Côte d’Azur circuit like its neighbour, Nice, this is the land of sweeping, silent gorges. It’s an endless horizon of tumbling gold fields, cows born with black-lined eyes, and Griffon vultures. It’s bar none at making knives, and hiding a medieval treasure in mountain village. Above all, it’s the old stomping grounds of the Knights Templar, and an essential leg of the pilgrimage route of Saint Jacques de Compostelle, a network of ancient roads that culminate at his tomb in north-west Spain. The air is filled with a silent, palpable intensity. The tourist slogan is, “Welcome to Aveyron, Land of Emotion.”
Bozouls as we begin to see it started in the Iron Age as an “oppidum,” meaning the protected heart of an ancient settlement. It still wears the traces of its prehistoric and Roman history with pride, from the Celtic “God of Bozouls” sculpture unearthed on its premises (and on view at this nearby museum), to the remains of the massive, cyclopean stone walls enshrouding it.
Today, about 3,000 persons live in Bozouls proper, and arguably the best part about viewing the 400 metre wide Trou de Bozouls (Bozouls Hole) is that it’s free. Sip an espresso at a cafe on its edge, walk the Rue du Trou (Hole Street) or look smack down its 100 metres drop – not for the faint of heart.
If your vertigo hasn’t bested you yet, head into the belly of the horseshoe shaped hole. You’ll find the two surviving turrets of an otherwise obliterated, 9th century château once belonging to the Count of Rodez, the biggest nearby city. Here are the coordinates:
|44° 28′ 15″ N||02° 43′ 02″ E|
You can picnic beside a babbling Dourdou river and its old ruins, and perhaps even come across a charming Borie, which is a Hobbit-ready stone structure wherein shepherds took shelter from a passing storm, or stored their farm supplies.
We also found the site of the old water mill is for sale! It’s got seven rooms, of which three are bedrooms, charming blue shutters, and some of the best real estate in town. The real estate agent even says that with a bit of elbow grease, the old water mill could be put back to use:
Finally, step inside the medieval église at the heart of it all: Sainte-Fauste Church, which may not look like much from the outside, but whose red stone (a signature of the area) takes on a pink glow by candlelight. The church, established in the 12th century, pays homage to a 13 year old girl who chose to be boiled in a cauldron with her pals rather than deny her love of Christ. (We repeat: Welcome to Aveyron, Land of Emotion).
Above all, the best thing to do at the Trou de Bozoul is just soak up its ancient energy. Stand in awe of the same view as the Gauls. Look for the Coquilles Saint Jacques (Saint Jacques Seashells) fixed to the doorways of those welcoming pilgrims on the Compostelle path; for centuries they’ve served as visual shorthand for one message: come in, weary traveller, and stay a while.
If you’re inspired to stay at Bozouls, we’ve found the perfect Air BnB with views of the Hole and its medieval castle ruins: a 19th century farmhouse big enough to house a family of ten for just $200/night.
It’s furnished with the owners own family antiques, has a vaulted 17th century bedroom, a sprawling garden, and of course, the best morning coffee views you could ask for. Find it here.
Learn more about visiting the Bozouls Hole here.