Almost every village, town, or small city we have visited has at its center, tall connected buildings with similar architecture that date back to the town’s beginning. There is often little adornment on the building’s side facing narrow streets and walkways, although the doors are often quite attractive and container plantings soften the appearance. Windows are customarily shuttered. Our visits are often in early evening and the inhabitants are in their homes with family having dinner.
In larger towns, as you move out from the ancient centers, the homes are more commonly one or two story and surrounded by walls and hedges. With few exceptions, homes are of brick or stone; stucco is common and color is consistently a pale grey or beige. Roofs are clay or slate tile. While most homes share these properties, each remains unique in its character, details, patios, and gardens.
Homes viewed from the waterway represent many of the most lovely we have seen (this may be because we have spent most of our time sailing, and possibly because they tend to be less hidden behind walls and shrubs). The two homes below have thatched roofs.
Thatch can be made of many types of grasses, but those that are the most durable and masterfully sculpted are made from the hollow stems of grasses. Along the Rhône we saw farms of of phragmites and recently harvested bundles beside the river bank. Phragmites is a grass commonly used in France and roofs made from this type of material will typically last 60 years!!
Groups of homes are common.
Contemporary architecture is uncommon outside mid to large cities, and is typically restricted to large buildings. These two homes sit alongside more traditional neighboring homes on the Seine.
Along the Seine there are hills with white stone cliffs. We understand this is the type of stone quarried for many buildings in France. We observed a number of homes and buildings where the back portion of the roof or the side walls join the cliff. In some cases, garages for an existing home were carved into the stone. In the most unusual cases, the only parts of what appears to be a cave-home within the cliff are windows and doors. We understand that these cave homes were initially built and inhabited to hide from danger – subsequently for cheap living – now most are uninhabited, but there are still cave-home communities in France.
I have been unable to learn anything about this specific group of cave-homes along the Seine, shown here.
I cannot finish my impossible attempt to describe the many types of homes we have seen without including these last two. The first, home or church, because it is so fanciful with a tree growing out of its foundation.
The second are representative canal and river barges that have been retired. When barges are operational, carrying loads through the intricate waterways within Europe, there is a fully equipped home built within. The boat captain and often spouse, et al. live in the boat – cars and other types a vehicles are carried on the barge which has a crane to lift them off. When these boats are retired, many continue to serve as peoples’ homes. Most are permanently moored along a canal or river bank (including up to and within Paris). They have sources of water and electricity. They range from old barges that have seen years of post-functional neglect to lavish, imaginative, beautiful homes, with lovely patios and container gardens. Some have also been converted to high end “waterfront” restaurants and some as fueling stations and stores. I only have room left to show you two – there are many hundreds.