If you are planning on visiting Normandy or Brittany, you'll likely be going to the Mont-Saint-Michel - or at least you should be! However, just a short drive away is a hidden gem that you should consider visiting. Nestled away in the Bocage-Normand sits the small yet lively market town with a rich history: Villedieu-Les-Poeles. Well connected, Villedieu has its own train station, linked to Paris via the line to Granville. It's also easily accessible by road, lying next to the A84 going from Caen to Rennes, which is the major transport link to the Mont-Saint-Michel. So getting there is easy enough, so why visit Villedieu-les-poeles? Aside from being surrounded by beautiful countryside, this picturesque town was - and still is - at the forefront of the copper trade. Copper made in the foundries of Villedieu can be found all over France: from the copper cookware of the elite Parisien restaurants to the boilers that fueled the first steam-powered machines of the Industrial Revolution in France. In fact, the word 'Poeles' is derived from the french for copper pans, showing how essentiel the trade has been to the history of the town. Once upon a time, there were over one hundred coppersmiths based in the city, as well as many others employed in the industry! Today there remains just a handful, although they are working hard at keeping the trade alive and still producing to this day many fabulous pieces.
What is there to see and do in the copper capital of France? If you love french history, medieval architecture and fine craftsmanship, then it's a no-brainer! The town boasts several museums, quaint restaurants and antique shops - equally the town is near the zoo de Champremus, so there's something for the whole family. It's no secret that copper cookware has become seriously popular of late, with makers such as Mauviel and Havard, being renowned for their quality, are in fact from Villedieu! So if you are looking to add to your collection, you couldn't come to a better place. Mauviel actually has a workshop in the town and offers cooking classes. Copper is really at the forefront of the town's identity: walking through the town you will see numerous metal-ware exhibits dotting the streets, such as the beautiful sculpture of Marianne, a symbol of the French Republic, standing proudly in the middle of the town square and the many beautiful copper lampshades or planters. The church 'Notre Dame de Villedieu-les-poeles' is an impressive gothic-styled Roman Catholique building, known for its style and stature. It is equally impressive on the inside, boasting some stunning stained glass windows that make for an awe-inspiring atmosphere.
Despite its modest population of just over 3,500 inhabitants, the town played a vital part in France's industrial History. The metalwork industry was essential in moving France forward into becoming a global power, and Villedieu produced the finest pieces in the country. But it wasn't just copper. Villedieu was a hub for producing dentelle, producing pewter as well as forging bells, still to this day you can hear the ringing of the bells from the bell foundry, where you can also have a guided tour of the workshop. The bells in the Chapelle de Notre Dame in Paris were actually made in Villedieu-les-poeles. Villedieu was founded by the Knights Hospitalier, a religious order also known as The Knights of Malta, 'L'ordre de Malte' in French. They were a medieval catholic society of knights, a military order, akin to the Knights Templar and the Teutonic Order, being involved in the Crusades. The cross of Malta can be seen depicted across the town. This aspect of the town's interesting history explains as to why it became the main hub for copper workshops in France, where the Knights of the order would have brought back the coppersmithing technology back to their town from the crusades in the Middle East. The town also played an important role during the French Revolution and The Second World War, but for the sake of brevity, I will let you find out more for yourself - the town's history should be experienced first-hand to get a fully encompassing understanding if you are interested. The copper industry is so rooted in the town's identity that the inhabitants of Villedieu are referred to locally as 'les sourdins' from the french word 'sourd' meaning deaf, due to the loud and constant hammering of the copper from the forgeries which lead to many of the workers becoming deaf. Rest assured, this antonym is from a time before the days of health and safety, the workers nowadays are provided with the necessary protective equipment to prevent such issues. There are many charming courtyards across the town dating back to the days of when the town was a hive of activity from the many workshops, smitheries and forgeries of the Middle Ages.
If you are a viewer of my channel, you will undoubtedly have heard me talk about Villedieu - the town where I go to get my copper retinned or if I need any other specialist restorations doing. You can click here to visit my EtsyShop featuring my copper collection and other antiques. If you want to learn more about using copper, click here to read my blog about the benefits of using copperware in your kitchen. I recently visited L'Atelier du Cuivre, which is my go-to specialist when it comes to retinning copper pieces when required, and recently they were kind enough to let me film the process in their workshop. I highly recommend giving them a visit if you find yourself in Villedieu. Here is a link to their website. you can have a tour of their workshop: