Béhuard -an island village that is a delight to explore on foot or by bicycle
Béhuard is a treasure hidden in plain view! This little village is home to La Chapelle Notre-Dame sur la Loire, a pilgrimage site. Not only that, but it is also a UNESCO world heritage site and is listed as one of France’s Ville Fleurie. This later designation means beautiful architecture, flowers and landscaping are a given. It is truly a place very pleasing to the eyes.
Driving from our gîte to Château de Serrant via the D106, we nearly missed this treasure. We knew we were looking for an island in the Loire and had already crossed one bridge. Before we knew it, we were off the island and had missed the one exit!
The town of Béhuard (~10 miles southwest of Angers) comprises the entire island and the D306 leads into the town proper. We parked the car at the first big parking area we found (pretty much the only parking area as it turned out) so we could explore Béhuard on foot. There were picnic tables nearby that would an enjoyable place to eat lunch. Unfortunately, we found no boulangerie on the island for purchasing picnic items. The town of Savennières just across the Loire has several boulangerie options that we will choose from on our next visit!
Peaceful paths along the river just beg to be explored! It felt like we had the whole island to ourselves (one of the benefits of traveling during the off-season!)
According to locals, the village has flooded as recently as 2000 but the beautiful chapel is safe as it is perched upon a rock. How symbolic that as Christians we are taught to build our faith upon the rock that is Christ and this lovely pilgrimage chapel is built upon a rock.
I really do enjoy traveling during the off season as there are fewer crowds at historical sites, but there are also drawbacks. Many of the shops that are open during the high season were closed in October. This one little shop with its resident artist was the exception.
I’ve relied on the local Angers newspaper for the following historical information: In the 5th century the Bishop of Angers built a statue of the Virgin Mary on this rock. Then, in the 11th century, the Count of Anjou gave the island to Chevalier Buhard for services rendered (no, I have no idea what services were rendered but since there is a street of this same name, Buhard is not a mispelling). He then constructed a small chapel for his own private worship on this rock.
Finally, in 15th century King Louis XI (1423-1483) built an actual sanctuary. Now the story becomes really interesting. Louis’ mother was very devout and she who instilled in him a strong belief in the powers of the Virgin Mary. When he was crossing the Charente river his boat capsized. He called on the Virgin to save him and was quickly tossed to shore. In thanks for saving his life, he ordered the Chapel of Our Lady to be built. Today this remains a pilgrimage site.
What to do in Béhuard
Béhuard is a great place for a casual stroll. However, if you want something a bit more lengthy don’t despair. There are two paths to follow which are suitable for both pedestrians and cyclists. Starting at the Place des Droits de l’Homme, we had two choices of walks. One heads downstream and is a very peaceful rural walk while the other goes upstream. Both are about 4 km (2.5 miles) in length. We walked bits of both paths and drove where we could as I had injured my foot earlier and was just not up to a longer walk. We saw several pairs of cyclists as we explored and decided that we definitely want to come back with bikes.
La Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Béhuard
There are some really interesting artifacts inside this small chapel. Climbing to the balcony area gave us a good view of those that were hung high on the wall! I must admit the creaky, ancient wood floor was a bit unnerving! The visible fact that the church is literally built into the rock is amazing to me.
La Cloche de la Paix
Louis XI requested that the Bell of Peace ring daily at 8 in the morning. This was to be a reminder for everyone to pray for peace.
The Virgin and the Saints Statuary
There are various statues of the Virgin Mary both inside and outside of the chapel.
This oak trunk with iron bands encompassing it looks ancient. The scripture associated with the trunk refers to the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4). From that, we concluded that at one time it must have been a coffer for collections.
Outdoor Chapel of Béhuard
What a beautiful outdoor chapel, dedicated to all those who died for France.
On top you can see Christ and the two thieves on the cross and the smaller figures at the feet of Christ are the mother of Jesus, Marie, and Saint Jean.
We would really enjoy returning to Béhuard and cycle around the island as well as along the Loire. The Loire à Vélo route extends from Angers to here and the Béhuard site (www.behuard.mairie49.fr) provides a list of places to overnight along the way. As there are several bicycle rental locations in Angers, we hope to make this trip a reality next summer when we are in Angers.