2 hours 30 minutes away from Paris by train, in the département of Allier, is a town rich in an exceptional and little known heritage. Welcome to Moulins! Steeped in history, Moulins and its surrounding area are a testament to several centuries of French history, from the Dukes of Bourbon (14th century) to our time. A thriving town sustained by recent initiatives: the restoration of historic sites and the creation of artistic spaces. This impetus has allowed Moulins and its region to be distinguished by the EDEN competition in 2017, the theme of which was cultural tourism.
An urban landscape steeped in history
Bourbonnais capital and former duchy of the Bourbon family, history fans will love Moulins and its region. Allier is ranked second in terms of the French département with the most châteaux. Don't miss out on a guided visit of the keep of the Château des Ducs de Bourbon in Moulins. Dating back to the 14th century, the château spans across the ages and served different functions: the ducal residence from 15th to the 17th centuries, it would then be turned into a prison until 1983, before being restored and opened to the public. In Moulins, it also a great idea to take a stroll in the historic neighbourhood. Private mansions, bourgeois residences, the cathedral and museums make up a magnificent painting. Near to Moulins, Souvigny, a former Clunisian site, was a regional spiritual capital from the 10th century due to its vast priory complex. This is made up of the Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul church and the priory gardens. An unmissable place for fans of Romanesque and Gothic churches.
A cultural dynamic of sharing
The triptych of the Master of Moulins, housed in the cathedral, is worth the trip alone. Not far, the Maison Mantin is one of these fully restored sites now open to the public. This example of a middle-class residence ahead of its time at the end of the 19th century contains a surprising collection of artistic works, items of furniture, tapestries and also a collection of curiosities. Other great cultural facilities have been set up in certain heritage-steeped places like the Centre national du costume de scène (The National Centre of Costume and Scenography - CNCS) in an 18th century barracks, the Musée de l’illustration jeunesse (Youth illustration Museum - MIJ) in an 18th century private mansion and the Musée de la Visitation (art museum) in private mansions from the 15th and 17th centuries. Moulins and its region's tourism office and the Heritage Area are Tourism and Accessibility certified.
The region's heritage is also underground with the Caves Bertine where it is possible to visit the restoration works. 250m2 and over three levels, this vast underground construction was discovered by chance during the acquisition of the Imprimeries Réunies printers located above it. The restoration of these ancient sites is an aim of the town. Just like with the creation of new sites, with for example the Street Art City project (a one-of-a-kind). It is based in the centre of France, right in the heart of the Bourbonnais wooded countryside. Since April 2017, Lurcy-Lévi has been offering 22,000m² of interior and exterior walls where the greatest graffiti stars can take it in turns to express their art and allow the place to disappear in favour of a work created under the impetus of international artists.
A surprising natural environment
The town crossed by the Allier owes its name to the watermills which were dotted around it. The mills have disappeared but the name remained and the river still runs through it. It is one of the last wild rivers of Europe and it is a delight for fans of unspoilt natural areas and lovers of water-based activities, both sporting and for fun.
The region has numerous hiking trails and a range of forests and wooded countryside to explore. The brand new Val de Loire-Bourbonnais Regional Nature Reserve is a testament of this. With over 320 species of plants listed and an abundant fauna, notably birds, the site has a remarkable biodiversity.
For a breath of fresh air, you don’t need to venture far from the towns and villages thanks to the region's numerous parks and gardens. The Arboretum de Balaine with its landscape garden is ideal for strolling and relaxing. And the banks of the Danube offer a formidable place to escape, on foot or by bicycle.
With the historic neighbourhood of Moulins, the Clunisian site of Souvigny and the châteaux of Allier, the Moulins region has a rich and varied cultural heritage. A real immersion into French history during the period of the Dukes of Bourbon, this unique environment inspired the residents and encouraged artistic competition. A fine achievement which led to this destination being distinguished by the EDEN competition in 2017, the theme of which was cultural tourism.
A town of history....
To immerse yourself in the ambiance, nothing could be better than a stroll through the heart of the historic neighbourhood. Strolling along the small narrow and cobbled streets is a treat for the eyes. Admire the wonderful half-timbered houses, as well as the private mansions with pink and black diamond-shaped brick façades. Visit the Jacquemart and the Chapelle de la Visitation accompanied by a guide speaker.
Art and history fans will not want to miss out on a visit to the Musée Anne de Beaujeu. The permanent museum exhibitions let you discover varied collections covering all the periods: Egyptology, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. The altarpiece room, recently re-opened to the public, contains exceptional works. The statuary is also impressive. Certain guides have qualified the Moulins museum as the Little Louvre of the region! Just next to the Musée Anne de Beaujeu, the Maison Mantin, recently restored, is a striking example of a middle-class interior of the 19th century. Near to Moulins, in Souvigny, the town museum houses a collection dedicated to local heritage.
....and of art
In Moulins, history and art are intimately intertwined. Right in the middle of the historic neighbourhood the Notre-Dame Cathedral can be found. This houses one of the most admirable works of the town: The Triptych of the Master of Moulins, with extraordinary colours. This excellently preserved painting represents the Virgin of the Apocalypse, accompanied by its patrons: the Duke Pierre II of Bourbon and his wife the Duchess Anne de Beaujeu, as well as their daughter Suzanne.
The Musée de la Visitation give you the chance to discover the incredible heritage of the Order of the Visitation. It contains a collection of precious silks, floral embroidery and silversmithery decorated with jewellery made by nuns, unique in France. The museum regularly offers temporary exhibitions (for example on lace).
Visiting Moulins is also a chance to admire the surprising collection from the National Centre of Costume and Scenography, a unique preservation organisation in France and abroad due to being entirely dedicated to the tangible heritage of theatres. It brings together approximately 10,000 theatre, opera and ballet costumes. It regularly organises fascinating temporary exhibitions.
Moreover, the town encourages artistic creation in all its forms. A unique site in the world due to its breadth is dedicated to street art. The graphic arts also include the Musée de l’illustration jeunesse (Youth illustration Museum - MIJ). Dedicated to book illustration, the museum aims to form a collection of original works representative of the history of children's illustration from the 19th century to our time.
The landscape of the Moulins region has a wild nature, like the river which crosses it: the Allier. It is a chance to observe nature up close, to head off on a hike along marked trails or enjoy water sports.
An ornithologist's paradise
The Allier crosses the region of Moulins. It is one of the last wild rivers of Europe allowing its meanders to flow freely and spreading out widely over the area according to its flow. This river is rich in shallow coastal wetland, backwater, quarries, etc., allowing for the natural development of a prosperous flora and fauna. Its perfectly unspoilt surrounding area is the habitat for over 250 migratory bird species. There you will find the black stork, the white stork, the common crane, the purple heron and even the red kite, as well as rare species like the osprey, the stone-curlew and the squacco heron. This bird paradise is the second largest bird sanctuary in France. Approximately 80% of the bird species of Auvergne pass through, nest or breed there.
In Moulins, the Espace nature du Val d'Allier is a formidable platform to discover the surprising Bourbonnais biodiversity. A permanent exhibition, a temporary one and discovery museum spaces exhibit, in a fun and educational way, the biodiversity of the Nature Reserve.
A paradise for hikers
Rolling countryside dotted with wooded farmland, the region of Moulins appeals due to its serene nature. The Val d'Allier Nature Reserve stretches over 1,450 hectares across several municipalities. Numerous hiking trails cross this wild, verdant and vibrant space. At the main entrance points, themed panels inform the visitor of the features of this natural environment. The Sentier des castors (beaver trail) owes its name to the mammals which have found refuge there. As they are active at night, during your daytime hikes you will have a greater chance of meeting coypus, roes and large numbers of birds.
At the weekends, guides organise tours to head off in discovery of this abundant biodiversity. The region is also ideal for bicycle rides and horse rides. There are several horse riding centres including the Belcerive one. There, trips into the forest are on offer, as well as beginners' classes.
This wonderful region crossed by the Allier and the Loire can also be explored by water in a kayak or a canoe. In Gannay-sur-Loire, the Domaine du Bourg is the starting point for a kayak trip on the Loire. Other sites also offer introductions, training and even competitions in this discipline.
Fans can practise fishing on the banks of one of the ponds or artificial lakes of the region like the one of Les Ozières in Yzeure. Moreover, its developed banks offer an ideal family leisure area. A picnic area, pedalo rental, a beach volleyball court for sports fans, a children's playground, there is something for everyone!
Moulins and its region share their secrets with the curious visitor. There’s so many wonderful surprises in store in the historic neighbourhood where the inner courtyards harbour precious architectural heritage. A guided visit is the ideal way to immerse yourself in this world. And to go and meet some Moulins residents what could be better than taking part in one of the festivals or one of the numerous cultural events on at the time?
Follow the guide!
The Bourbonnaise period can clearly be seen in the town of Moulins. Discover it during one of the guided visits offered by the town. The "Cours intérieures" (Inner courtyards) visit reveals the beauty and architectural wealth of numerous private courtyards in the heart of the historic neighbourhood. With Gothic décors, 18th century private mansions and elements from the Renaissance period, this great diversity of styles and periods is also recounted to you via the audio guide available from the tourist office.
Another site associated with the town, which has become its emblem is the Jacquemart; this clock tower and belfry showcase the mediaeval character of the places. It is also an excellent view point to admire the town. The fashionistas will want to know that Gabrielle Chanel, known as Coco, spent 6 years of her life in Moulins. A guided visit retraces her story.
Not far from Moulins, a real city dedicated to street art, a unique place dedicated to urban art, offers over 55 mural paintings created by artists from all over the world. A stunning and completely immersive architectural and artistic discovery.
Festivals and cultural events
Cultural events are spread across the year in Moulins and its surrounding area. This starts with the BD Moulins comic book festival in March then the carnival in April. During the last weekend of June, the town of Moulins celebrates the Allier, the famous river which crosses it.
In addition to this, every year in May there is the Nuit des Artistes (artists’ night), with shows, encounters and events on the programme. Bookworms will not want to miss the Salon de l'illustration et du livre jeunesse (Illustration and children's book exhibition) in May or even the Salon du livre ancien (Antiquarian book fair) in November. As for film-lovers, they will discover the tempting programme of the Jean Carmet festival in october. Fans of old bicycles and those that are curious will take part in the biennial Vélocipédia organised in spring. The Les Amis de Tonton Vélo association carefully plans this event. On offer: a temporary museum with superb rare collectors’ items, a parade, a conference and a swap shop.
In Moulins, artists and craftspeople have a strong presence. Sculptors, wood engravers, skilled metalworkers and ceramicists continue to show ever more creativity and talent. The town has a multitude of workshops and galleries where their works can be admired. La Galerie La Grange showcases regional and modern creations in several areas: painting, sculpture, pottery and photography. In the historic neighbourhood of Souvigny there is the Terres en Bourbonnais workshop, dedicated to ceramics. The potter uses local materials to create everyday items such as crockery and furniture. There are options to be introduced to this art on Wednesday afternoons!
Here is some information to create a bespoke stay in Moulins and its region. Charming hotels, guestrooms, gourmet restaurants and brasseries reserve you a royal welcome. There is something for all tastes and all budgets. Enjoy a local cuisine made with love from local produce like Charolais beef or Bourbonnaise poultry.
Where to sleep
More accommodation at www.moulins-tourisme.com.
Where to eat
More restaurants at www.moulins-tourisme.com.
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