Conques is one of the most beautiful villages in France, and it is located in the Occitania region. It sits between the River Dourdou and the River Ouche and is surrounded by a forest. Built on a hillside, this remarkable site is an important architectural and cultural heritage which, on 1st January 2016, was placed into the Conques-en-Rouergue commune.
The village had 3, 000 inhabitants in the 13th century and it was more important and bigger than the city of Rodez which explains the large number of buildings. It is filled with narrow medieval streets, so larger vehicles have to park outside because it is not possible to enter the village.
In the 19th century, many visitors came to see the village which was saved from oblivion due to the efforts of a few dedicated people. It was restored from a religious point of view in 1873 by the Premontre order. They took such a good care of it, and because of them, Conques became one of the most beautiful and moving medieval villages that can be visited. The whole structure of the community is intact, and only small constructions were made, such as the roads being paved.
Its name, Conques, originates from the Old French “conche” which means basin. One of the major heritage is the St. Foy abbey and its treasury which in 1998 was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The original monastery at Conques was an oratory from the 8th century which was built by monks who fled the Saracens in Spain.
In the 11th century, the original chapel was destroyed, and a much larger church was designed for the relics of St. Foy. It was built in Romanesque style from local limestone infilled with a gray schist. It has stained glass windows made by Pierre Soulages which have the most beautiful transcendental light’s action. In the 15th century, the large dome had to be replaced because it collapsed.
The abbey looks remarkable in its surroundings filled with little houses with pointy roofs which look like they’ve been taken out of a fairy tale. Another major attraction is the castle with its octagonal tower which is a little bit higher than the one of the abbey because the original owner wanted to put his importance before the church. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site at the village is the Roman pilgrim’s bridge dating back to medieval times.
Along the path from the bridge is the Sainte-Foy chapel with a beautiful view over the village.In the 1992 Disney cartoon Beauty and the Beast, the fictional village of Villeneuve where Belle lives looks very much like Conques. Currently, in the filmed version of 2017, the production designer Sarah Greenwood took the inspiration for Belle’s village directly from Conques.
The setting was also influenced by other French and German towns and palaces, like Rotenburg, The Palace of Versailles, but much of the inspiration was from this southern French little village. The almost identical Conques was built in Surrey at the Shepperton Studios. They made 27 beautiful sets inside magnificently decorated, and one of the most beautiful is the castle which was designed in French Rococo.
The similarity to some scenes from the Disney cartoon is apparent, for example, the bread ovens, and the fortifications. There is an 18th-century house with four bedrooms, 800 meters from the center of the village that could be the inspiration for the Belle’s cottage.
This remarkable property has a wine cellar, two bubbling springs, and terraces. It is a remarkable cinematic event featuring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the lead roles along with the supporting cast including Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans and more.
Besides the abbey, which is the main attraction in the village, there are many houses to be explored inside. In the tourist office of this little town, visitors can get a plan of Conques which shows the few remarkable places.