A walk in Villedieu is one of the best ways to discover this historic town which was established in around 1130. There are 14 orange and brown information boards with text in both French and English to help you on your walk through centuries of history.
Villedieu is relatively compact although this walk could take you around an hour and a half. Much will depend on how much you linger at each information board. The town is built on a slope so not all of it may be suitable for everyone. However, there is a reasonable amount that is flat. There are also cobbled streets and courtyards to explore.
Start your walk in Villedieu at the Tourist Office which is on La Place des Costils. There’s parking right outside although on a Tuesday morning the large weekly market takes up some of the parking spaces. There’s also a smaller weekly market on a Friday morning.
Go inside the Tourist Office and pick up a copy of a brown A5 leaflet called Villedieu-les-Poêles – a trip through history. They have versions in both English and French. There’s a map at the back of the leaflet and additional points of interest to explore. Not all of the 14 historic boards are marked on the map. However, the location of all the boards is shown on the first information board you’ll visit.
This, together with the information below will help you to find all 14 boards and learn about Villedieu-les-Poêles. Alternatively, you can buy a pathways booklet for 1,50€ which details the 14 stops. It’s available in French, English, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and German.
The information boards look like this. The first one can be found right outside the Tourist Office.
1. Villa Dei – Villedieu
The first information board explains about the history of the town and how it was named. With your back to the Tourist Office walk across the car park in La Place des Halles and make your way to the bridge which is marked as no. 2 in the information leaflet. You’ll walk past the old covered market/corn exchange on your left.
2. Le Pont de Pierre – The Stone Bridge
This is a very picturesque spot and one of the original entrances to the town. You’ll be able to find out where the keystone to the gate of the original stone bridge is now located by reading the board.
Now walk up rue Gambetta towards the church and look for Cour Deuzet on your left. Head towards the Commandery park which is no. 4 on the leaflet.
3. Les Tanneries du Bord de Sienne – The Tanners on the Banks of the River Sienne
Here you can learn about the leather trade that existed in the town. You can also see the back of the Commandery buildings. Retrace your steps and turn left up the rue Taillemarche. At the end of the street turn left until you reach the Commandery.
4. La Commanderie – the Commanderie
The Commander’s residence stood on the site of the mansion and the Saint Blaise chapel. The Commander held both religious and secular powers and dispensed justice. You can read more about the Order in the leaflet.
Carry on along the Rue du Pont Chignon until you reach the next information board on your left.
5. La Fonderie des Cloches – the Bell Foundry
Bells have been made in Villedieu since the end of the Middle Ages. The bell foundry building was built in 1865. You can take a paid visit to the foundry and tours can be arranged in English.
The website for the bell foundry is here. http://cornille-havard.com
Now retrace your steps and go back to the church.
6. l’Eglise Notre-Dame (interieur)- Notre-Dame church (interior)
Make your way to the north side of the church where you’ll find the information board near the doorway. There’s more information about the church in the brown leaflet. There are also information sheets in French in the church. The church was built in the 12th century and has architecture dating from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. In the north transept is a stained glass window representing some of the saints for the artisan crafts. Saint Hubert is the principal figure and he is the patron saint of the pot making and copperware brotherhood.
When you leave the church make your way over to the town hall. Before you cross the road, you’ll find another information board describing this location.
7. L’Hôtel de Ville- Town Hall
This is also known at Le Mairie. The town hall was originally built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The wealthy people of the town met here to organise the town’s affairs and taxes were collected here. The town flourished between 1846 and 1880 and in 1869 the new town hall was opened. It’s a wonderfully grand building.
Walk across to the the town hall and once you’ve explored the steps look for the next information board. As you face the town hall it’s on the right hand corner of the building on Place de la Presbyere. This board explains about the outside of the church so turn round to see the church and the features described.
8. L’Eglise Notre-Dame (exterieur) – Notre-Dame Church (exterior)
The gargolyes and sculptures are some some of the architectural details you can see.
From here, walk up the main street towards the top of town. You will now start to walk up a slight slope. The next information board is just off La Place de la Republique on the wall of a small alleyway named Cour de l’Abbé Gauthier.
9. La Place de la Republique
From the square you can see the statue erected in 1889 for the centenary of the French Revolution.
Continue walking up rue Carnot and onto rue Général Huard. As you walk up the righthand side of the road you’ll find board no. 10 at the entrance to the Cour aux Lilas. This is also marked as no. 10 in the information leaflet.
10. Le Travail du Cuivre – The Copper Trade
Here you can learn more about the copper industry at one of Villidieu’s oldest workshops. Their website is here.
Cross the road and walk downhill on rue Général Huard. You’ll see the entrance to a courtyard and the next information board.
Before you go into the courtyard, take a look down rue du Docteur Havard towards the church. This is one of my favourite views in Villedieu.
11. La Cour du Foyer – The Furnace Courtyard
This courtyard is one of 35 that you can visit during your walk in Villedieu. It’s also one of the prettiest. There’s lots more information in the brown leaflet and this is no. 11 on the map. The pan maker’s museum and the lace-making house are here.
Walk through the courtyard and eventually you’ll come out on rue des Quais. Turn left and follow the river. At the bridge cross over to the small park area. The next board is at the end.
12. Les Lavoirs du Bord de Sienne – The Wash houses on the Banks of the River Sienne
A number of public and private wash houses were built on the rivers banks during the 19th century. You can learn about how long the washing would take.
Go back across the bridge and continue along rue des Quais. The lane turns to the left and becomes rue des Mouliniers. Before you turn right down the hill onto rue du Docteur Havard you’ll find the penultimate information board.
13. La Dentelle de Villedieu – Villedieu Lace
Lace making was another big artisan trade in Villedieu predominantly between 1760 and 1880. Rue du Docteur Havard was one of the most industrious with over 500 workers making lace during the town’s heyday.
Continue walking down the street until you get to Cour de la Luzerne on the right hand side. It’s marked as number 19 in the brown leaflet.
14. La Cour de la Luzerne – Luzerne Courtyard
The final information board describes the houses in the courtyards dotted around the town. As an artisan town, the ground floor of the houses was the workshop and the living accommodation was above. The living quarters were accessed by external stone staircases in case of a fire in the workshop. There are still many examples of these outside staircases in the courtyards. The courtyards had large wooden gates which were closed at night during curfews.
So, that’s the end of your walk in Villedieu. Many of the houses in the courtyards are still lived in today so please be respectful when you go into them. There are plans to restore another 4 courtyards. You can read more about the courtyards here.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed discovering the artisan history of the town. The Tourist Office website is here. You can also arrange a guided tour for a minimum of 5 people. Tours can be given in English and are arranged with the Tourist Office. As well as the history and the market twice a week there are also a couple of copper shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and independent shops.