Blesle is a municipality of Haute-Loire, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, 22 km west of Brioude, on the borders of the departments of Cantal and Puy-de-Dome.
If the territory of the locality, vast of nearly 30 km ² is still very uneven, ranging from 472 to 875 m of altitude, proving its membership in the south of the Massif Central, the village is located in the valley of the course of the Seeker, dominated by a basaltic cliff.
In the north of the territory, the Chadecol plateau is occupied by man since the Neolithic and then during Antiquity. However, it is from the ninth century that the village develops when the Benedictine abbey of St. Peter is created. The powerful monastery is soon confronted in the eleventh century with the ambitions of the barons of Mercœur who build a fortified castle. This duality provokes many conflicts, and the prosperity of the village declines even before the throes of the Revolution.
In the 20th century, the consequences of the rural exodus will be followed, despite mining exploitation and the development of foundries. After the Second World War, the exceptional heritage of Blesle (religious monuments, remains of the castle and medieval houses) is highlighted and tourism restores its luster to the town, which has about 650 inhabitants.
Member of the very selective Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of France, Blesle is now an essential step during a stay in the region.
The charm and the picturesque medieval streets and half-timbered houses, which were once home to craftsmen and tradesmen, seduce the visitor. However, many religious or civil buildings, mostly restored or whose remains have been highlighted, are worth a visit or special attention.
This is the case of the abbey church Saint-Pierre, whose oldest parts date back to the twelfth century, classified as a Historical Monument in 1907. Romanesque style, it houses a treasure: a Virgin of the thirteenth century. An interior restoration completed in 2009 has uncovered wall murals of great richness. These decorations contrast with the apparent sobriety of the choir, the chapels and the transept. We will linger at the level of the choir of the Ladies (in reference to the old nuns) which houses the treasure of the abbey of yesteryear, and we admire the carved decoration aisles (collateral nave). Finally, we will observe that the bell tower of this church of great proportion only remains the square base, a consequence of the Revolution... The building is open and can be visited every day.
But if Blesle has a church without steeple, the village has a bell tower... without a church. Indeed, the church of St. Martin, built in the fourteenth century, was sold and dismantled to the revolution. Only the bell tower was preserved in 1830, to compensate for the destruction of that of the abbey church... More surprising, in the village, were scattered carved decorations previously belonging to this building (gargoyles, in particular).
Still on the religious level, the chapel of the Chaigne, away from the town, dates from the seventeenth century and has recently been decorated with a painted. Similarly, we must linger in the countryside around the town at the church of San Sebastián, Bousselargues, protected as historical monuments: with the exception of the portal (XV) and the bell tower (nineteenth), the building retains its original appearance of the 12th century and its painted Romanesque decorations, notably in the "cul de four" of the apse.
On the civil plane, remain elements of the old fortress of the "civil" lords of the fief of Blesle, the Mercœur, the abbesses also claiming the temporal power... before progressively renouncing it from the 16th century. We can cite the watchtower of Massadou, erected in the twelfth century on a rocky peak, and especially the tower called the Twenty angles, which faced the monastery of the nuns. It was built on a quadrangular plan, with on each side two buttresses supporting machicolation. Symbol of the Mercœur power, it was surrounded by other fortified elements. Access is from the second level.
During a visit to the village, other vestiges of the old castle - some of them included in the Supplementary Inventory - mark out the circuit, which also includes the Château des Chavagnac: it was erected at the beginning of the 18th century by the new owner of the lordship, passed after the Mercœur in possession of many families (the Bourbon-Montpensier, the houses of Lorraine then Vendôme)... Of classic style, it replaced the dilapidated lodgings of the medieval building. It now houses a retirement home.
Guided tours of the village are available all year and especially in season. Information on +33 4 71 74 02 76.
Direction then the old hospital of the twelfth century which welcomed in the Middle Ages sick but also beggars and pilgrims. In addition to architectural elements of the period (semicircular door, remains of the chapel Sainte-Catherine), one of the buildings now houses on two floors an amazing museum of the Headdress. From private collections, are presented 700 headdresses of yesteryear and hats and traditional costumes of Auvergne. In a different register, models representing the medieval village are also exhibited. Open from May to September. Price: 3.50 and 4 euros. Information on +33 4 71 76 27 08.
A stopover at Blesle is also synonymous with the discovery of grandiose landscapes typical of this part of the Massif Central: basaltic plateaus inherited from volcanic eruptions, valleys and hillsides. They were dedicated in the past to specific types of crops (cereals, vines, orchards). Starting from the village for the most part, no less than 17 hiking or mountain biking routes allow you to walk through them, with varying degrees of difficulty. Some of them take part in the paths of Saint-Jacques passing by the commune, others follow the course of the river bordered by laundries. Maps, guidebooks and information on +33 4 71 74 02 76.