Berry may not be the center of the world but it is undoubtedly the center of France! In the middle of our beautiful country hides a very natural region with a beautiful historical and gastronomic heritage and wonderful stories to tell us. You will find here a travel guide with a detailed itinerary to discover this area and a selection of good addresses.
Follow me on a cultural and natural roadtrip in Berry: disconnection guaranteed!
Useful information: coming to Berry and getting around
You can easily come by train to Berry, especially to Bourges (in the Cher) or Châteauroux (in the Indre). Coming from Paris it takes about 2h30 / 3h of travel time.
On the spot, it is better to rent a car to be able to visit several towns and villages more easily.
The map of good addresses!
Berry is a territory composed of two departments, the Cher and the Indre. To help you find your way in this roadtrip that I propose you, here is a map that lists all the good addresses and points of interest mentioned in this article.
Bourges, between heritage and nature
Bourges is a city that has everything to please: a rich history, beautiful monuments, a dynamic city center but also a large natural area quickly accessible on foot. Here is a quick overview of the places that are not to be missed in Bourges.
From the outside already, the cathedral of Bourges impresses: it is the only cathedral in France to have five portals. Its construction was very fast, the building site began in 1195 and the shell was completed less than 50 years later, in 1230.
However, work continued over several centuries: at the beginning of the 14th century the south tower showed signs of fragility and had to be consolidated. In order to avoid deteriorating it, bells were not installed, hence its nickname “deaf tower”. The north tower collapsed at the beginning of the 16th century, its reconstruction was probably financed by donations from the faithful allowing them to eat butter during Lent, giving it the nickname of “butter tower”.
Inside, the cathedral of Bourges stands out in particular by its double ambulatory which made it possible to welcome many pilgrims and by its remarkable stained glass windows of the XIIIth century. It also has the particularity of having neither transept nor aisle which offers a long perspective.
The Jacques Coeur Palace
Another emblematic monument of Bourges: the Palais Jacques Coeur. This 15th century mansion was built by the rich merchant Jacques Coeur, ennobled by Charles VII, to establish his new rank.
After a dazzling social ascent, Jacques Coeur fell into disgrace. Arrested and forced into exile, he could never enjoy his beautiful home. However, he leaves us as a legacy this sumptuous palace which marked a turning point in the history of architecture. A must visit!
MORE INFORMATION : The amazing story of the Palais Jacques Coeur
Just in front of the monument, you can stop for lunch at Chez Jacques with the best view of the Palace!
The marshes of Bourges
Only a 10 minute walk from downtown, the Bourges marshes are the green lungs of the city. On 135 hectares are small gardens surrounded by rivers and paths. Particularly fertile, they make the happiness of their owners by growing beautiful fruits and vegetables!
A nice walk around the Marais can be made, which can be enhanced by a gourmet break at La Courcillière. In the heart of the marshes, in front of a brook, you can taste the local cuisine.
Where to sleep in Bourges?
Not far from the Palais Jacques Coeur, the hotel Le Christina is a nice place to sleep. The rooms are large and have been renovated recently. Some of them offer a beautiful view of the cathedral.
Mehun-sur-Yèvre and the ruins of the castle of Charles VII
It is difficult not to be caught by this castle of which only a tower and a section of wall remain. These ruins testify of a rich history that began in 820: there was a castle mound here that was replaced in the 12th century by a defensive fort to block the road to the English.
In the 14th century, the Duke Jean de Berry made it into a pleasure castle with a large chapel 60 meters high, which can be imagined thanks to this illustration from the rich hours of the Duke of Berry.
In the 15th century, Charles VII made it his residence during his reign in Bourges. It is also here that he gave Joan of Arc his letters of nobility in 1429. The decline of the castle begins at the death of Charles VII: his son makes of it a simple military garrison and abandons the building which falls little by little in disuse. In the 16th century, a storm caused a huge fire, then during the Revolution the castle was sold to a revolutionary who transformed it into a stone quarry and tried to destroy it to erase a symbol of the monarchy…
During the Restoration, the Marquis de Villeneuve bought it and donated it to the city of Mehun-sur-Yèvre, which carried out some work to secure the ruins and the construction of a staircase in the tower to open it to visitors. Today there is a small museum presenting some objects found around the ruins. From the top of the tower you can enjoy an exceptional view of the ruins and the whole region.
To complete your visit, you can go to the Porcelain Pole located below the castle. This space highlights various pieces made in the Berry region and notably from the Pillivuyt factory.
Where to sleep in Mehun-sur-Yèvre?
Le Dormeux is an old farmhouse that has been transformed into a hotel only a few months ago. It is brand new, clean and warm, a nice place to rest after a day of visits!
Visit of the Indre castles
Valençay, the castle of Talleyrand
The Valençay castle is one of the 22 great sites of the Loire Valley as well as Chambord, Chenonceau or Azay-le-Rideau. It is mainly known to have been the castle of Talleyrand but when the famous diplomat acquired it in 1803, the estate already had a long history. With its majestic appearance and its numerous pieces of furniture, this castle gives the impression of still being inhabited.
READ MORE : Valençay, the castle of Talleyrand
Bouges, the pleasure castle
This castle is a charming Italian-style residence built at the end of the 18th century on the site of an old fortified castle. It is owed to Claude Leblanc, a master of Forges who unfortunately could not enjoy it for a long time: ruined, he was forced to sell the estate after 12 years.
The castle then passed from hand to hand, it was for a time the property of Talleyrand and that of Henry Dufour who created an English style park. But the rebirth of Bouges is mainly due to Henri Viguier, owner of the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville in Paris, and his wife Renée. Together, they maintained and refurnished the castle. In love with horses, Henri Viguier made it the center of his leisure activities and set up a stable on the estate. Without descendants, they bequeathed the castle to the Centre des Monuments Nationaux in 1967, which has been responsible for its preservation and opening it to the public ever since.
Since the summer of 2020 and for a period of two years, the exterior of the château has been surrounded by scaffolding for maintenance and renovation work. However, it remains open to visitors during the construction period.
The castle of Azay-le-Ferron: a lesson in the history of architecture
The construction of this impressive castle took place between the 15th and 20th centuries, so that its architecture is marked by different styles.
Among its many owners we can highlight Gregoire Michel, Napoleon’s banker. In the 19th century it was bought by the Luzarche family on a life annuity basis and then in 1951, Mrs. Hersent, the descendant of the family, bequeathed the castle and the estate to the city of Tours.
The castle is surrounded by a vast park which has the particularity of being composed of a French and an English part. It is an ideal place for family visits, combining nature and heritage.
There is not only the historical heritage in Berry, there is also a rich gastronomic heritage, especially goat’s cheese. Zoom on Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, the famous pyramid-shaped cheese and the first goat’s cheese to have obtained an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) as early as 1972! Its pyramid shape is inspired by the bell tower of the church in the village of Pouligny-Saint-Pierre.
Of course, goat’s milk is used to make it and curdled. The curd is moulded with a ladle and left to drain for at least 24 hours. Ripening lasts at least 10 days and the cheeses are offered in two sizes: 150 and 250 grams.
If you wish to buy some, I recommend the Cheese House in Pouligny-Saint-Pierre. You will find a wide variety of cheeses there because although its production is subject to precise specifications, depending on the cheese factory where it is made and its maturing process, there are differences in taste and texture. The best is still to taste several of them to find the one you prefer!
You will also find many local products at the Cheese House: wines, ice creams, jams, honey… and if you can’t make it there, you can order online.
Thanks to the Rives de l’Anglin farm for opening its doors to me.
In the surroundings, you can stop for lunch at the Auberge de la Gabrière. In a natural setting, in front of a vast pond, you can enjoy local products.
To continue your stay in Berry…
There are many other things to discover in Berry. If you have the time, I recommend you to continue your journey towards Nohant to see the George Sand house, towards Reuilly to taste good wines or to visit the town of Issoudun.
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Many thanks to Elodie and Chloé and to all the people I met during my stay for their always warm welcome.
Article realized in collaboration with Berry Province.