Chalencon and the Devil’s Bridge / Chalencon et le pont du Diable

It was only meant to be a short outing on a breezy Sunday afternoon. Yet the medieval village of Chalencon must have cast its spell on us, for we spent over two hours exploring its pretty streets, taking an inordinate amount of photos along the way.

Having swapped Mermaid for my 8-year-old niece E, we rolled into town as the low winter sun started breaking through the thick cloud. The four children immediately made their way to the castle, their imagination on fire at the thought of conquering such a formidable fortress.

Unfortunately, the former seat of the Chalencon–Polignac family, still privately owned, was closed (see Visitor Information below).

Did you know? The Chalencon–Polignac family accessed the throne of Monaco in 1949 when the late Prince Rainier III (1923-2005), son of Pierre de Polignac (1895-1964) and Princess Charlotte of Monaco (1898-1977), became the reigning monarch of the principality. 


Tout a commencé comme une sortie tranquille un dimanche après-midi de février. Mais le village médiéval de Chalencon nous a fait tomber sous son charme, et nous avons passé plus de deux heures à parcourir ses jolies rues de pierre, prenant dans la foulée un nombre incroyable de photos.

Ayant “échangé” Sirène pour ma nièce de 9 ans E, nous avons déboulé dans le hameau classé comme le soleil d’hiver perçait timidement les nuages épais. Les quatre enfants se sont immédiatement précipités vers le château, leur imagination enfiévrée à l’idée de conquérir une telle forteresse.

Malheureusement, ils trouvèrent porte close. L’ancien bastion de la famille Chalencon-Polignac, propriété privée, n’est ouvert que sur demande préalable (voir Infos pratiques ci-dessous).

Le saviez-vous ? La famille Chalencon-Polignac est sur le trône de Monaco depuis 1949, quand le Prince Rainier III (1923-2005), fils de Pierre de Polignac (1895-1964) et de la princesse Charlotte de Monaco (1898-1977), fut intronisé monarque de la principauté.

My native Haute-Loire is dotted with ancient remains and crumbling strongholds, yet few are as alluring as Chalencon, with its medieval castle, its beautiful stone houses and its infamous Devil’s Bridge. There is a good reason for that – the Association des Résidents (Residents’ Society) has been working on repairing and refurbishing the ancient houses since the 1980s.


Ma terre natale de Haute-Loire compte d’innombrables vestiges féodaux et maisons fortes en ruines. Pourtant, Chalencon se détache du lot, avec son château médiéval, ses belles maisons de pierre taillée et son fameux pont du Diable. Ce n’est pas un hasard : depuis le début des années 1980, l’association des résidents s’applique à réparer et restaurer les édifices historiques de ce site classé.

The so-called Prefecture used to be the local Lord Justice’s house / La Préfecture était en fait la maison du bailli, qui rendait la justice au nom du roi.

Besides, a trail of wood sculptures, stone statues and other bas-reliefs by local sculptor Pogui lends a deliciously whimsical quality to this incredible site. 

Walking past the open gate to his courtyard and studio, we took a sneak peek at the plaster moldings and wooden masks lining the upper floor of the shed.


De surcroît, une série de sculptures en bois, statues de pierre et autres bas-reliefs signé du sculpteur local Pogui confère une touche fantasque à ce site comme figé dans l’histoire.

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En passant devant le portail ouvert de sa cour et de son atelier, nous avons aperçu les moules en plâtre et les masques en bois disposés à l’étage du hangar.

For all that, Brian and I had never visited Chalencon together, and we were on a fact-checking quest.

Stepping back in time

Brian has an old photo, dating back to his first ever stay in France in the summer of 1998. In it, he stands with a few friends in front of a unique arched doorway – the old wooden door to the chapel. As it turns out, Brian had set foot in Chalencon only a couple of days before we met for the very first time! 


Malgré tout, Brian et moi n’avions jamais visité Chalencon ensemble. Et il nous fallait vérifier quelques chose.

Retraçant nos pas

Brian a une vieille photo datant de son tout premier séjour en France, à l’été 1998. Dessus, il se tient avec quelques amis devant la voûte d’une porte distinctive : la vieille porte en bois de la chapelle de Chalencon. Ainsi, il se trouve que Brian est allé à Chalencon quelques jours seulement avant notre première rencontre !

A tour of Chalencon wouldn’t be complete without seeing the infamous Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge).

The 12th-century stone bridge over the River Ance used to provide the only access to Chalencon, some 300 metres below the castle.

Legend has it that the lord of Chalencon made a pact with the Devil to ensure that the latest bridge would not be destroyed by the river’s frequent floods. Satan agreed on the condition that he take the first soul to cross the bridge. On completion of the bridge, the lord of Chalencon stepped forward to sacrifice himself and honour his promise, when his dog ran past him, thus saving his life. Satan, furious at the turn of events, threw a enormous boulder into the river, which can still be seen to this day.

Nowadays a beautiful cobbled walkway winds past a natural cave and ruined outbuildings, all the way down to the elegant Devil’s Bridge. To think that the slender stone structure has been standing over the river for 5 to 7 centuries (sources diverge on the actual age of the bridge) is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

That pact with the Devil was worthwhile, for sure!


Une visite à Chalencon ne saurait être complète sans un petit détour au célèbre pont du Diable.

Ce pont de pierre à deux arches au-dessus de l’Ance, érigé au XIIe siècle, fut longtemps le seul accès à Chalencon, à quelque 300 mètres sous le château.

A en croire la légende, le seigneur de Chalencon conclut un pacte avec le Diable pour s’assurer que le pont ne serait pas emporté par les crues incessantes de l’Ance. Satan imposa une condition : il prendrait l’âme du premier être à franchir le pont. Une fois l’édifice achevé, le seigneur s’avança pour se sacrifier et tenir ainsi sa promesse, quand son chien le devança. Il disparut à jamais, sauvant ainsi la vie de son maître. Satan, furieux, jeta alors dans la rivière un énorme rocher, qui reste visible à ce jour.

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De nos jours, un joli sentier pavé et ponctué d’une petite caverne naturelle et de dépendances en ruines, serpente jusqu’à l’élégant pont du Diable en contrebas. De penser que cette structure élancée domine la rivière depuis cinq à sept cents ans (les avis divergent quant à l’âge du pont) est tout simplement stupéfiant.

Nul doute que ce pacte avec le Diable en valait la peine ! 

Visitor information

Chalencon Village & Castle
RD24
Lieu-dit Chalencon 
43130 Saint-André-de-Chalencon

In the Middle Ages Chalencon was a strategical hub for transport and trade between the Velay and Forez areas. As early at the 10th century, a castle was built on the rocky outcrop overlooking the Ance River. The toll-paying Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge) was the only crossing point on the river. The fortress belonged to the noble Chalencon family, closely related to the mighty Polignac line.
Only a round tower surrounded by a rectangular wall and a chapel dating back to the 10th-11th century remain today. The privately owned castle still belongs to the Polignac family.

Open every day from 1st July to 31st August, 3.30–6pm Monday–Friday and 3–6.30pm weekends and public holidays.
Admissions: Adult €3; Child (8–14 years old): €1 ; Group (10 people minimum): €2 per person.
Guided tour (30 minutes) available on request.

Getting there

Driving on the D9 road (Retournac–Craponne) towards Craponne, take a right onto the D29 at La Baraque hamlet. Continue to Saint-André-de-Chalencon, 4km away. In Saint-André, follow the signposts to Chalencon. At the sharp right turn near the graveyard, continue straight ahead and down until you reach the designated car park, 200 metres from Chalencon. The hamlet is car-free, with residents only traffic.


Infos pratiques

Village et château de Chalencon
RD24
Lieu-dit Chalencon 
43130 Saint-André-de-Chalencon

Chalencon était au Moyen-Age un lieu stratégique de passage et de commerce entre le Velay et le Forez. Construit dès le Xe siècle sur un piton rocheux, le château dominait les gorges de l’Ance. Le pont du Diable, payant, était le seul point de franchissement de la rivière. La forteresse appartenait aux riches seigneurs de Chalencon, apparentés à la famille de Polignac.
Aujourd’hui il en reste un donjon rond entouré d’une enceinte carrée et une chapelle des Xe et XIe siècles. Le château, privé, appartient encore à la famille de Polignac.
(Source : Le Petit Fûté)

Ouverts du 1er juillet au 31 août, 15h30-18h du lundi au vendredi et 15h-18h30 le weekend et jours fériés. 
Tarifs d’entrée : gratuit jusqu’à 8 ans ; Adulte : 3 € ; Enfant (de 8 à 14 ans) : 1 € ; Groupe (10 personnes minimum) : 2 € par personne.
Visite guidée (30 minutes) disponible sur demande.

La visite du village est gratuite et accessible toute l’année. Seule la visite du château et de la chapelle est sur demande.

S’y rendre

Circulant sur la D9 en direction de Craponne, prenez à droite sur la D29 au lieu-dit La Baraque. Poursuivez jusqu’à Saint-André-de-Chalencon, indiqué à 4 km. De Saint-André, suivez les panneaux pour Chalencon. Dans le virage à droite près du cimetière, continuez tout droit par une petite route jusqu’au parking aménagé à 200 mètres de Chalencon. Seuls les résidents peuvent accéder en voiture au hameau.

 

 

21 Responses to “Chalencon and the Devil’s Bridge / Chalencon et le pont du Diable

  • Firstly – What an adorable town!! Pinned for later! Secondly, that legend about the devil and bridge is similar to a story we have here in Regensburg except the builder of the bridge had a competition with the builder of the church and he wanted to finish before the church was completed so he made a pact with the Devil who demanded that the first three souls who crossed it were his, but he outsmarted the Devil and shooed two birds and a dog across it! #FarawayFiles

  • I’m spellbound too! What a magical place Chalencon is – so many corners to spark the imagination. Like Lori I have heard similar tales of the Devil’s Bridge. There’s one near Lucca in Tuscany that is just as lovely. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  • This looks like such a pretty place to walk around #wanderlustkids

  • What a fabulous place! I would absolutely love to visit this village with my kids, so full of history and mystery! Brilliant bridge too,
    Poor dog! #wanderlustkids

  • J’adore. Merci pour l’article, instructif et clair, ainsi que pour tes photos, toujours superbes. Certaines maisons me font penser à celle de tes parents ou à la vôtre, en France. J’aime beaucoup ces bâtisses pleines d’histoire, de charme et de cachet. Sois sûre que je note Chalencon et son pont sur ma (longue) liste de lieux à visiter avec ma tribu.
    Bises à vous 6

  • I knew very well the ruins of the Polignac family’s chateau near Le Puy en Velay, but have never encountered this branch of the family’s power. Your photos are beautifully evocative of this part of the country – they make me want to add Chalencon to my itinerary when I pass through this part of France later this year! Merci d’avoir partagé ces merveilleuses images sur #AllAboutFrance !

  • What a magical place for little people. We have visited a few villages like that in France, but I don’t think we have been there, but I’m not finished touring in France just yet. #AllAboutFrance

  • That’s gorgeous – I love all the statues. So cute. #Wanderlustkids

  • I can certainly see why you picked this wonderful town to explore, and why you stuck around for so long. It’s great that the kids got to spend some time with their cousin as well. The Devil’s Bridge looks like a great place to explore too, such beautiful scenery in general.

    Thanks for sharing with me on #CountryKids

  • There’s definitely something captivating in your description of Chalencon but also slightly unnerving from the photos. Looks like a fab visit and amazing that your husband had been there just before you met. Love the devil legend too..Also congrats on your Coombe Mill welly win!! #CountryKids
    A

  • What a gorgeous village. I would absolutely love to visit. #AllAboutFrance

  • wow that scenery is really something its like something out of fairytale. I could spend hour wandering around there. My pair would love to explore that site too. Hopefully one day #wanderlustkids

  • Proper fairy-tale scenery, for sure! I love the individuality of the buildings, yet the overall harmony of the village. I’ve seen photos of this bridge before, but I never realised just how narrow it is. It is amazing that it has stood for so long! Thanks for sharing yet another beautiful post. #CountryKids

  • A real lovely place, magical even. Every corner has something interesting to look at. I cant stop looking at your photos =) #countrykids

  • Oh wow I can see how a planned hour turned into a couple. Such a lot of intricate little details. We have a devils bridge near us and I swear it looks the same as this one. I’ll have to check. Ours I think was named because of the rock formation below being real jaggy like teeth. Again I’ll check!! A brilliant place to explore to IGNITE the mind and I love all the facts you’ve found out!#countrykids

  • That does look like a rather magical place to visit. Your photos and the views look terrific. Great to get a bit of history too. #Countrykids

  • Loving the pics and happy looks on your kids faces! It also comes handy as we are planning a 10 day tripto France shortly, so pinning for later! #countrykids

  • Amazing photos -I just love them!!!! It sounds a fascinating place to visit, good that the homes have been restored and impressive that those four sets of little legs walked so much too.

  • oh dear I forgot the #wanderlustkids!

  • I love exploring ancient villages like this, they are great for igniting the imagination. Chalencon is even better than usual with its marvellous bridge. As Johnny points out, it’s so narrow, it’s incredible that it’s stood the test of time so well. Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

  • Chalencon looks absolutely incredible. Your pictures are just awe-inspiring. My son would love to see the castle and personally I’d love to cross that bridge. #wanderlustkids

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