Quelle Surprise!

Who doesn’t love a good surprise when traveling?

Most of our visit to the Auvergne region of France was fairly surprising, mostly down to the fact that I’m not a huge pre-trip planner in general, plus my crazy new work schedule last spring that left little to no spare brain space to plan for our trip anyways. I’m sure at some point this laissez-faire approach will bite me in the butt, but so far, I’ve done okay. Auvergne worked out fairly well for us, with a fantastic variety of activities, and an extremely helpful host at the holiday apartment that we chose for our five days in the region.

On our first full day, he advised us to head towards a few villages that were about an hour away from our location, and so off we went. However, on the way there, we saw something that made us say “WHAT IS THAT?” and a few minutes later we pulled the car over into a helpfully placed viewpoint parking lot.

So what did we see? Click on for details…

Points for the most dramatic sky go to…

Well, where do they go to? After that, we started paying a bit more attention to all the road signs, and not just the ones that we ought to be following. A few minutes later, as BV navigated roundabout after roundabout, I determined that the fortress on the hill was part of the village of Polignac… and that name rang a bell somewhere in the dusty corner of my French class brain.

That view and the name got the fortress added to our list of things to do in our time in the area, and on the last day of our trip, we decided to stop in Polignac on our way to Le Puy-en-Velay.

As you can see, the weather finally decided to turn it around just as we were planning to head back to Germany.

Not pictured: a pretty brisk wind, meaning that a scarf and jacket was still necessary.

After getting our self-guided tickets (€5) and only getting stuck in the automatic gate one time (whoops), we were both inside the castle grounds. And we were… darn near alone. There were one or two other couples poking around, but other than that, we had the ruin to ourselves. God bless off-season (mid-May, this time), travel.*

Walking up the path to the fortress with crumbling walls atop the rock formations, it was hard not to be impressed. The location was used for defense as early as the 10th century, with the Polignac family taking it over, giving the village its name, and building up the fortress since the 11th. You don’t hear that everyday.

The brochure from the ticket office and some signs led us around the grounds, more or less following the numbers through different stations. The guardhouse held some fun old weapons, and there were stations set up outside for some sorts of games or events that are probably held on weekends or holidays.

We spent a fair bit of time admiring and smelling herbs in the medieval garden. Apologies to people who plant lavender, as I will poke it so I can smell it until the next time I wash my hands. In my defense, all I wanted to do in France on this trip was see some lavender fields and there were none to be found where we went. Next time.

Note the crowd of visitors up ahead. All two of them.

We continued on, admiring the old bee hives, crumbling workshops, and even a cemetery. Not weird at all.

Medieval apiary.

There were signs to please not step in the graves, just FYI.

It wasn’t weird, that is, until we realized that we were not as alone as we thought. Quelle suprise!

There, in a fenced area along the side of the fortress, were…

A WHOLE FAMILY OF GOATS.

At which point, screw history and ruins… GOATS! Baby goats!

ZOMG.

As goats are curious and climby sorts of creatures, there were as interested in us as we were in them. Maybe later in the season they’d be less inclined to pay us any mind, but again, we were nearly alone. Hence, a series:

Fuzzy goat heads scratched, we did eventually move on towards the tower that dominated the fortress grounds.

But before we reached the tower, I turned around and noticed something odd.

Ummm… weren’t you guys inside a fence five minutes ago?

Uhoh. Had we encouraged the goats to escape? Did we unwittingly lead them down a path of vandalism? Or would they do this anyway? Do they have free reign? Are they descendants of the Polignacs? Is the ticket lady going to come up here or a guard appear from under a rock and yell at us?

Neither of us had seen any obvious holes in the fencing and this had happened in a matter of minutes, so we both figured that this was not out of the ordinary. Mostly I just hoped that we hadn’t accidentally shown them the way to freedom and that they wouldn’t eat that nice garden we’d seen earlier. We headed into the tower, and left the goats to their devices.

There were a few small exhibits inside about the family and it looked like they did some demonstrations on medieval food, as there was a table set up with various labeled herbs and vegetables. I was more interested in the giant fireplace, so here’s an incredibly unflattering picture of me demonstrating the scale of that puppy.

Y u so tired-looking?

Thirty-two meters higher, we confirmed that the goats were still frolicking about while we took in the view and tried not to blow away. I was so happy that the weather had cleared up because the views of the surrounding countryside were truly fantastic. Click through the gallery for a view from all directions…

Back down at ground level, or at least, ground level on top of this enormous volcanic rock formation, we wound our way along the ramparts and back towards the fortress gate.

Here you can see a nice view of the mousetrap. Picture yourself getting shot to bejeezus if you got through the one door and were trying to beat down the next. Alternatively, for our more modern times, picture yourself trying to navigate around a tour bus or two of retirees who are stuck listening to their guide via audio device but also discussing amongst themselves where the next bathroom and or cake stop might be and oh my goodness it has been so long since they last found a bathroom or cake.

In other words, I was very happy to visit off-peak and be able to stride through this gate unimpeded and without being at the wrong end of a crossbow.

Castle conquered, we found our way back to our car and drove out of town. Before heading to Le Puy, however, we found ourselves on a stretch of country road with a much sunnier view than the one that had drawn us in a few days before.

I mean, how could you not stop?

The Fortress of Polignac is very worth a visit, even if I can’t remember all the historical details we learned that day. But really, 1) it was nearly a year ago, 2) if you’re terribly interested, you can research it or 3) visit for yourself, and 4) I was horribly distracted by GOATS.

And really, shouldn’t every ruin come with GOATS? I think so. Let’s make that happen.

But in all seriousness, it was a really interesting visit. I can’t promise you’ll have the place to yourselves, but it felt very cool to be nearly alone in this huge ruin. The signage (and visitor’s guide), was informative, and it seems they have some medieval festival events there as well. We didn’t hang out in the town too long as it was just after lunch aka closing time, and we still needed to get on to Le Puy, so if you go, let me know if we missed anything good!

*This year not withstanding.

 

 

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