Collonges-la-Rouge is the base of the Association des Plus Beaux Villages de France, a distinction that bestows justified acclaim on some of France’s most agreeable villages.
Exactly so with Collonges. This is an engaging village, liberally adorned with pepper-pot towers, turrets and beefy walls built of burnished red sandstone that flank a warren of narrow streets shaded by aged chestnut trees. It is an altogether delightful and skilful use of traditional materials that blend harmoniously.
This is a most agreeable village to explore, one where you have to work hard to become lost, not that it matters. Arrive in the morning and stay over for lunch; you won't be disappointed.
Collonges is small-scale, and sadly, like so many ‘Plus Beaux Villages’, now victim of its own renown, but it has a distinctive air of greatness that smacks of a grandiloquence and authority that is more imagined than real. In fact, pull off the road here and the village comes as quite a surprise.
During the 16th century, Collonges was the place chosen by the nobility for their holidays, and it was they who built the mansions and manor houses that give the town its individuality. One unique and remarkable peculiarity is the 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic church on the main square, which during the often bitter Wars of Religion (1562-98) saw Protestant and Catholic agree to share the church, shedding their differences, and conducting services simultaneously.
The countryside around the village is gently undulating, intermittently wooded and dotted with juniper bushes, walnut plantations and vineyards.