Lavardin

Lavardin, west of Vendome in the Loir et Cher department, is one of "les plus beaux villages de France". Its pale tuffeau houses, nestled in the shadow of its ruined castle, look down to the lovely 13th century Gothic bridge over the now peaceful river Loir.

The village wasn't always so quiet, though - the Count of Vendome, owner of Lavardin's castle, refused to recognise Henri IV as king of France, and so he laid siege to the castle, and once victorious had the fortress largely demolished to deny any further possibilities of resistance.

In the cliffs beneath the castle are several troglodyte houses; dwellings hollowed out of the soft rock, some of them still lived in today.

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The pretty medieval buildings of Lavardin attract many painters for the annual Ascension day painting competition; working throughout the day, their works are exhibited, judged and sold at the Mairie in the evening.

The village has an artistic heritage of its own, in the church of St Genest, which has fine wall paintings dating from the 12th to 16th centuries. The paintings are in surprisingly good condition, having been covered over by a layer of plaster and only rediscovered in the early 20th century.

And if painting isn't your thing, how about a game of cards? Lavardin has its own version of the ubiquitous French game of belotte - "chouine", which has been played through the whole Loir valley since the 16th century. On the first Sunday of March every year a huge chouine tournament is organised in the village, with an enormous "pot au feu" cooking outside in giant cauldrons to regale the competitors at the end of the day.

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