Villefranche sits on the confluence of the Tet and Cady rivers, at the foot of the Pyrenees. Because of its strategic location, the town was heavily fortified from the Middle Ages onwards. In the 18th century, the fortifications were reinforced by Vauban, who was Louis XIV’s military engineer and advisor.
Vauban added an extra layer to the fortifications, creating a vaulted gallery on top of the mediaeval ramparts, and topped this with another gallery which was covered with a slate roof! So much more space for soldiers who could aim at the enemy from two different levels.
The shape of the town was very much dictated by the rivers and the mountains – have a look at an aerial view on the internet here. Its appearance has not much changed since Vauban’s major work in the 17th century …
… except that there is now a new road to one side of the town, which takes traffic past the town and up into the mountains. And there is now a railway line, which allows the famous ‘Canary’, the yellow train, to take travellers from Villefranche to the highest railway station in France, at Mont Louis, and beyond.
The layout of the town has remained pretty much the same since mediaeval times – there are two main streets, Rue Saint Jacques and Rue Saint Jean.
Because space was restricted, the houses were built tall. On the ground floor, most houses would have large arched doors, which could be the entrances to shops or stables, or for storing carts. The rooms on the first floor were usually reserved for workshops of artisans, and living accommodations were on the second floor.
This side street leads to a gate in the fortifications, from where there is access to Fort Liberia, a citadel which was built by Vauban, high above the town!
Here’s a picture of Fort Liberia, as seen from down below:
Here is another statue – it sits in a niche high up on a facade. It probably depicts another saint, but with the missing arm it’s difficult to figure out which saint. I have a hunch that it could be Saint Barbara, but I’m not certain.
No trip is complete without something to eat! My travelling companions and I went to a restaurant called Le Patio on rue Saint Jean. Some of the houses had internal patios – as did this restaurant – and that’s where we had lunch.
None of us were overly hungry, so we decided to skip the starter and to have a main course, followed by dessert. I don’t know about you, but for me dessert is a must!! 😀
The main courses were perfect for each of us – and the desserts were even better! The Cafe Gourmand was a particular hit!!
On the way back to the car, I noticed a few more details from Villefranche’s past:
If you want to visit Villefranche-de-Conflent, and want to tie in your trip with a ride on the yellow train, be sure to visit the SNCF website for a timetable.