Ansouis, floating in a sea of vineyards, crowned by its 1000-year-old castle, is a member of the select group deemed worthy of being part of The Most Beautiful Villages in France. Both village and castle are marvellously well preserved, with houses dating back to the 15th century.
Ansouis is a quiet village with picturesque cobbled streets and squares.
At the top of the village, inevitably, the castle, but unusually this is a castle that has withstood all the warfare, revolutions, sieges, fires of the ages and sits still very well preserved. Maybe this is because it has been privately owned for centuries.
Two key religious figures of the 13th century give an insight into castle life in the middle ages. Elzear de Sabran and his wife Dephine, married in their early teens, dedicated themselves to chastity, charity and prayer. Daily life consisted of flagellation with chains, being tied up to chairs with especially uncomfortable ropes, washing the feet of 12 lepers every morning and embracing the worst afflicted. Despite all these diversions, life in the castle was described as ‘sadder than a monastery’. Both of them performed various miracles, one of which is commemorated in a painting in the church of Ansouis, when Delphine brought back from the dead a brigand who had been thrown down the well of the castle.
Another figure from this time gives an insight into how much influence this family held beyond Ansouis. Garsende de Sabran had 4 daughters, each of whom became a queen through marriage into one of the old European nations: of France, England, the Romans, and Naples and Sicily.
It has some beautiful furnishings and tapestries dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, terraces and a garden, which make it well worth a visit. The first structure here was erected in 961. In its current form it has many overlays of the centuries, with the ramparts and watch-towers among the older remnants.
Alongside the castle is a particularly beautiful little church – St Martin. Despite being 900 years old, the colours and chandelier could be straight out of a home interiors magazine.
Ansouis also has an excellent restaurant, La Closerie. As well as a small and crazy museum.
If you like quirky: the Musée Extraordinaire (Extraordinary museum) of Ansouis is one man’s collections of things he found while diving the oceans over 50 years, as well as his paintings and sculpture, and fossils found in the region. This is an unusual remit for a museum, but he was probably inspired by the idea ‘if you build it they will come’. In one room (of what is a village house), an underwater grotto is recreated, mainly with use of blue paint and fish dangling from the ceiling. The Musée Extraordinaire is open in the afternoons year-round.