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Situated in south-western Cantal, la Châtaigneraie, which means “chestnut grove”, ripples with huge coppices, which come to a sharp stop as they reach the River Lot. For a long time this was seen as a barren land, but in fact it really is home to the good life.
La Châtaigneraie is one of the areas encircling the face of the Cantal mountains. Decidedly southern and with a totally different climate, it is bathed in the same sunshine as that of the limestone plateaux of Aveyron, and Maurs-la-Jolie sees itself as “Cantal’s little Nice”.
This region has a specific identity which, at first sight, its geography does little to help you identify. And its twisting roads emphasise the fact that it is an isolated place, in which the tributaries of the Cère and the Lot flow down as water flows off a roof; on one side following the slope of the “grey” Châtaigneraie, so-called due to the fact that the houses are traditionally covered in slabs made of schist, and, on the other, the so-called “red” Châtaigneraie, which is the colour of the barrel roof tiles that used to be produced in the Bassin de Maurs.
In both cases, the scenery is mostly pastureland with cattle-breeding for both meat and dairy produce, whilst chestnut trees, the regional emblem, are lacking.
Briefly put, Marcolès, adorned with golden granite and barrel roof tiles and sustained by its art craftsmen, still retains some of its ramparts and a southern Gothic style church.
The history of Laroquebrou is clearly evident around its old bridge on the Cère River and from the castle defending it from its position high up on a terrace. Montsalvy, with its sanctuary, is home to a castle, an abbey-church, monastic buildings and medieval homes, all within a small area. Finally, Maurs-la-Jolie has expanded from its centre around a Benedictine abbey, with the abbey-church of Saint-Césaire still in evidence, and home to a well-known Roman reliquary bust of its patron saint.
Faithful to its past, la Châtaigneraie asserts its position through two names with the sweet smell of southern Cantal: Birlou and Mourjou. The first of these is a tasty drink comprising a mix of apples and chestnuts, while Mourjou is the headquarters of the chestnut and its derivatives, where everything is done, from grafting to sampling the pélou (chestnut liqueur and Le Fel white wine), or pélou-tonic, which is to pélou what kir royal is to kir. Just like all sorts of modern recipes, these aperitifs were born at Mourjou’s chestnut fair, an event with closely guarded traditions which draws some twenty thousand people to a village that is home to a mere three hundred and fifty people.