A tour recalls an unexpected episode of Montargis history. Unwittingly, the town played a part in the communist revolution in China. In the 1910s, several young Chinese students came to Montargis to study or work in the Hutchinson factory, which was at the time the town’s main employer. These young people were named Zhou Enlai, Li Fuchun, Li Weihan, Chen Yi or Deng Xiaoping, who later became the head of the Chinese Communist Party. Some 400 Chinese youths came to Montargis between 1912 and 1927 and apparently were introduced to Marxism by French workers in their factories. In August 1920, Cai Hesen, who was the mentor of the small Chinese community, wrote a letter from Montargis to his friend Mao Zedong to suggest the creation of a Chinese communist party. The tour takes visitors to the houses, schools and factories in which the Chinese lived during this period and is especially attractive for a growing number of Chinese tourists.
No one really knows who invented pralines but Montargis plays a central part in the most usually accepted theory. The sweet made of almond and sugar was apparently invented by Montargis-born Clement Lassagne, who worked as a chef for the Duke of Plessis-Praslin. His master asked him to create a sweet he could offer to his many female conquests. Lassagne later retired back to Montargis, bringing to his hometown the recipe which made his fortune and became famous the world over. Nowadays, the Mazet confectionery continues the tradition and sells pralines under the brand the Duke de Praslin, claiming to use Lassagne’s secret recipe.
Montargis featured on the Tour route three times in the past and was always partial to riders with a strong finish. Hermann van Springel was the first to win a stage here in 1969. Seven years later, the town was the start of a ride to Creteil, and another Belgian, Freddy Maertens, was the day’s winner. The last time the peloton was in town, in 2005, victory befell the most Belgian of all Australian sprinters, Robbie McEwen. Montargis also took an active part in the recent history of Paris-Nice as the start of the Race to the Sun was held for three years in the neighbouring town of Amillly.
|1170||Pierre de Courtenay, the fourth son of King Louis VI the Fat receives the town as a wedding present. He grants the population many rights and privileges. He gives it to King Philip II Augustus in 1188.|
|1427||The Montargis people are rewarded by King Charles VII for their heroic struggle against the English in the Hundred Years War.|
|1525||Montargis is ravaged by fire. The beautiful choir in the Sainte Madeline church is built.|
|1528||King Francis 1 entrusts the town to his sister-in-law Renee of France, who is protestant, and then to her daughter Anne d’Este.|
|1612||Marie de Medicis buys the town from Anne d’Este inheritors.|
|1627||Montargis passes to the House of Orelans who keep it until the Revolution.|
|1749||Birth of Mirabeau in the Bignon Castle.|
|1767||Birth of painter Girodet.|
|1870||Debrie sculpts the Montargis Dog statue, which recalls a 15th century legend telling the tale of a dog who identified his master’s murderer and led to his arrest.|
The square tower called “Poterne” built by King Philip II Augustus, a corner tower overlooking the town and a couple of ruins are what remains of the Montargis Castle. Parts of it can be visited on request at the Tourism Office. The walls facing town are in the course of restoration as well as some of the medieval and Renaissance gardens that surrounded the walls. A pedestrian tour gives a nice overview of this royal castle.
Prefecture : Orleans
Population : 648,000
WebSite : www.loiret.fr
The Loiret department holds a major communication and strategic position in France, making it a much disputed area throughout history. Its economy is mostly rural, forest and cattle providing most of its wealth. Small industries have developed around towns like Orleans and Montargis while gastronomy remains an essential fixture with specialities such as vinegar and poultry in Orleans, pastries in Pithiviers, game in Sologne, honey in Gatinais and Loire Valley wines.
This picturesque medieval town grew around its 12th century castle built by Etienne de Sancerre on the site of an ancient Roman fort. Destroyed by the English in 1359, it was rebuilt and surrounded by elegant walls and towers that have survived in parts to this day. In 1437, Chatillon fell in the hands of the Coligny family, hence its name today. Writer Colette lived in Chatillon where she married Willy.
Préfecture : Auxerre
Population : 352,000
WebSite : www.cg89.fr
The department draws its name from the river which cuts though it from South to North and joins river Seine in Montereau. It is Burgundy’s most dynamic department with a population growth of 0.41 pc each year leading to 350,000 inhabitants now. Numerous castles and rural tourism in the natural park of Morvan contribute to its appeal but its vineyards are also very attractive: chablis, irancy, vezelay are among the famous wine appellations in Yonne.
The Tour knows St Fargeau well since a stage finished by the castle last year. First a hunting manor for Auxerre bishop Heribert, the natural son of King Hugues Capet, the castle was host to many prestigious characters throughout the centuries. Bought by Jacques Coeur in 1450, it sheltered Madame de Montpensier, dubbed la Grande Mademoiselle, when she fell out of grace in 1652. She spent five years in “exile” in St Fargeau. In 1713, the castle was bought by the Le Pelletier family. A member of the family, Louis-Michel Le Pelletier, was murdered the day before Louis XVI was beheaded on January 20, 1793. A painting by David paid homage to Le Pelletier but it disappeared and is sometimes said to be concealed somewhere in St Fargeau. French academician Jean d’Ormesson spent his childhood in the castle.
Prefecture : Nevers
Population : 229,000
WebSite : www.cg58.fr
Located between the Paris region and Massif Central, Nievre is ideally placed between the regions of Burgundy; Centre and Auvergne. Bordered by the Loire river and the Morvan massif, the department is split in three distinct areas, the hilly Morvan to the East, the rural central part and a more urbanised western zone by the Loire. Most of its 221,000 inhabitants live in the Val de Loire (Nevers, Decize, Cosne-sur-Loire) but the population is stable in the rural, farming centre, hence the importance of gastronomy in the local customs. Nievre is famous for its cows and beef of the Charolais race, but also for its cheese – crottin de Chavignol – and its Pouilly wines.
The St Amand en Puisaye castle is one of the most important Renaissance castles in the region. It was rebuilt in 1530 from a medieval castle ravaged by the Duke of Burgundy when he raided the region in 1402. The castle nowadays is home to a ceramics museum reflecting the importance of this trade in the village.
The Corbelin Castle is on the town’s lands. It is characteristic with its four massive round towers (14th century), its housing body (16th century), its 18th century aisles and a more recent 19th century building. A castle existed on the spot as early as the 12th century. Between the County of Nevers and the Barony of Donzy, along the Corbelin river, it played a major part in the timber floating industry and produced steel until the 19th century. The ruins of an old furnace can still be seen. The 13th century chapel was used until 1800 and then became a barn. It was restored between 1995 and 1998.
The local castle is surrounded by large moats flanked by four corner towers. Its central pavilion and main building (15th to 16th century) are especially elegant with their finely designed windows and the blazons of its owners, the Rabutin and Jaucourt families. In the 18th century, Louis de Jaucourt was one of the main sponsors and contributors to Diderot’s Encyclopaedia, writing more than 17,000 articles in Brinon.
The first local lord was mentioned in 900 and the town’s first ruling family remained in the castle until 1360. A medieval fortress originally, it was built on a rocky hill, naturally protected by the waters of the river Aron, 20 metres below. Long seen as inviolable, the castle suffered heavy damage in the wars between King Louis XI and Charles the Bold in the mid-15the century. It was rebuilt around what was left of the dungeon. The successive landlords added a personal touch, giving the castle its present charm. The daughter of Robert Sribny has in turn lifted the gauntlet and the castle is now a guest house in which are given lessons in haute cuisine. The gardens and the park are listed among the most remarkable in France.
The canal, 174-km long and 2.6-metres wide, links the Loire and Seine rivers through the Yonne. It goes through the Nievre department, finishes in Auxerre and comprises two bridges and 116 locks. Started in 1784, it was finished in 1842. Originally used to transport timber from Clamecy to Paris, it became a crucial traffic axis easing the development of the Yonne vales until the railroad appeared. It is now used for leisurely boating and is seen as one of the mosty beautiful canals in Europe.
The virtues of St Honore’s hot waters were discovered by Julius Caesar’s troops when they invaded Gaul. The Roman baths were destroyed in 373. In 1789, a local doctor, Regnaut de Lormes, rediscovered the spring and the water was again exploited commercially in 1855 when a spa was built by marquis Antoine Theodore d’Espeuilles, whose castle is still visible on the top of a hill overlooking St Honore. The spa trend led to the building of a casino, hotels and a theatre but the activity was reduced after WW2.
For cycling fans, Luzy is notable as the birthplace of Jean-Francois Bernard, third in the 1987 Tour de France, in which he won a fantastic time-trial on the Ventoux. Revealed by a stage victory in Gap the previous year, “Jeff” also won Paris-Nice, the Criterium International and stages in the Giro and Vuelta. Faithful to his native department, he launched an amateur race to his name in 2005.
Prefecture : Macon
Population : 571,000
WebSite : www.cg71.fr
In size, Saone-et-Loire is France’s 7th biggest French department and its population is 550,000. In the southern part of Burgundy, it is surrounded by four regions, Burgundy, Centre, France-Comte and Rhone-Alpes. Its is famous for its fine wines and its beef, the world renowned Charolais, while Bresse is noted for its chickens. But Saone-et-Loire also has a rich industrial history with coalmining in Blany and Monteceau-les-Mines, metalworking in Creusot, Gueugnon or Chalon and ceramics in Digoin, Paray-le-Mondial and Charolles.
The world capital for stainless steel, Gueugnon used the material that made its wealth and repute to embellish its streets and parks. Between 1987 and 1991, as part of an international symposium for monumental sculptures, 23 renowned sculptors executed huge statues turning Gueugnon into an outdoors museum. The sculptures, some reaching five meters in height, are scattered around town, especially around the Parc de la Maison pour tous, near the castle of Aux, located close to the finish line. Pierre Hemery, Bernard Thimonnier, Momcilo Milovanovic, Dietrich Mohr, Herve Bourdin, Roland Cognet, Ivan Avoscan, Michel Makuchowski, François Noel, Karen Gudlen, Jean Suzanne, Bernard Morot-Gaudry, Alain Bourgeon, Gérard Lardeur,Ariel Moscovici, Eléonore Straub, Jean-Claude Mattei, Nicolae Fleisig and Jean-Marie Chupin were the sculptors chosen to prove that art and industry could work hand in hand.
Gueugnon history almost entirely coincides with that of its steel plant, Les Forges, created in 1724 and which became the world’s leader in stainless steel some 250 years later. At first, a number of rich families took turns at the head of the plant which first made iron for clouts and nails. But it was only in 1845 that, then owned by the Campionnet family, Les Forges took a new dimension. The Campionnet were known as harsh bosses and in 1899, a long strike had a lasting impact on the working class history of Gueugnon. One of the leaders of the strike, Jean Laville, became mayor in 1919 and gave his name to the town’s football stadium. In the late Sixties, Gueugnon became the world leader for stainless steel and the plant hired some 4,000 hands, producing more than 300,000 tons each year. Technological progress as well as successive economic crises weighed heavily and Les Forges were bought in 2006 by Indian tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, who became the world’s number one steel producer.
Gueugnon is the first unprecedented finish town in this Tour de France. Better known for football and its team – Les Forgerons – who won the French League Cup in 2000, the Burgundy town is opening up to cycling as well. In 2008, it hosted the women’s Route de France. And while the sport is relatively new in Gueugnon, it is very popular in its surroundings. Gueugnon often hosted the Circuit de Saone-et-Loire, organised by the powerful club from Le Creusot, a member of which is French time trial champion Jean-Christophe Peraud. The race celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2010 and can boast famous past winners like Jean-Francois Bernard, Franck Pineau, Hennie Kuiper or AG2R team director Vincent Lavenu.
|876||Mention of a small village called Quinium.|
|1724||Creation of Gueugnon steel plant.|
|1784 to 1787||Construction by Emiland Gauthey of a bridge over river Arroux.|
|1849||The steel plant is owned by the Campionnet family.|
|1899||Big strike at the steel plant.|
|1910-1920||The steel plant develops. The village becomes a town.|
|1919||Jean Laville becomes mayor of Gueugnon.|
|1931||The Wendels take over the steel plant.|
|1960||The town becomes the world capital of stainless steel.|
|1987||Début du Symposium de sculptures monumentales en inox.|
|2000||Gueugnon FC wins the French League Cup|
The museum of local history
The museum of local history is ideal to discover the town’s productions and to see how Gueugnon evolved from a small rural village into a big industrial capital.
THE MONOXYLE PIROGUE
Discovered by chance in the bed of the river Arroux in 1984, the monoxyle pirogue (built in a single piece of wood) is nine metres long and dates from the 9th century. Soaked with water it was restored by a laboratory in Grenoble and should soon be visible in the local museum.