Vote Hérisson for Le Village Préféré des Français 2021

[Note: Voting has ended. The winner will be announced on the show on June 30, 2021!]

Congratulations to the French village of Hérisson, which has been named one of 14 finalists in the 2021 edition of Le Village Préféré des Français, the FRANCE 3 show hosted by historian, Stéphane Bern!

Since the program is called France’s Favorite Village, it sounds like only residents of France and France’s overseas territories are allowed to vote by phone.

But… there’s also a link to the ballot, so it appears everyone can vote! See below:

✅ Vote here: Le village préféré des Français (Note: voting ended on March 25, 2021.)

If everyone can vote, then I’d absolutely cast my vote from California for Hérisson, the charming medieval village in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It’s located in the heart of France, which is fitting because when you visit the tiny village, it will simply win your heart! ❤️

That’s what happened to me after I spent a month there while I participated in an international volunteer project, where we did light landscape work in the area, including the Châteloy lavoir!

Château d’Hérisson (1995)

Fun facts about Hérisson 🦔

  • About 600 people currently live in Hérisson
  • The feudal Château d’Hérisson (above) was built between the 11th – 13th centuries and restored by Louis II of Bourbon in 1380
  • The Aumance river calmly meanders through it
  • Hérisson is a popular summer vacation spot, especially among families, hikers, and bicyclists
  • The oak trees from nearby Tronçais Forest are used to make wine barrels

How to get there: Hérisson can be reached by car or by connecting bus from the Montluçon rail station.

The winning village will be announced during the broadcast of the show on June 30, 2021.

Bon chance, Hérisson!

Have you been to Hérisson? Tell me in the comments below!

Bein’ Green in 2020: the Châteloy Lavoir in Hérisson, France

🌿Bein’ green: respecting the environment, keeping it clean, and free of trash

In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project. I went to Hérisson, a charming commune with about 600 residents, located in the Allier department in central France. We were tasked with simple landscaping projects, like clearing brush from the castle’s garden. One of my group’s other project sites was the Châteloy lavoir.

What’s a lavoir?

Starting in the 17th century, many towns in rural areas built communal wash-houses, or lavoirs, for the purpose of improving hygiene. The washing would be done exclusively by women. The three-part process called the “big wash” would take place only a few times a year.

First, linens and clothing would be soaked in a wooden tub in the home. Then they would be laid flat and covered with ash. Next, hot water would be poured over the layer of ash. After this process, the washerwomen would bring the linens and clothing to the lavoir for rinsing, beating, rinsing again, and then brought back home to dry on a clothesline. To protect their knees, the washerwomen would kneel in a box that was open on one side. The lavoir became a social gathering place as it provided women the opportunity to visit with their friends.

Lavoirs can be found in countries, like Italy, Spain, Finland, Portugal, Switzerland, Costa Rica, India, Côte d’Ivoire, Laos, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

With the invention of washing machines, lavoirs were eventually abandoned. Some were vandalized or destroyed. However, many places in France still have the structures intact, like the one in Châteloy (pictured below).



Madonna and Child statue guarding the Châteloy lavoir (photo taken August 6, 1995)


🌿Bein’ green: to be of the color between yellow and blue; color of grass, plants, duckweed

While we did not touch the lavoir itself, we cleared the lavoir area of weeds and we trimmed the grass. We also painted the rusted gate a dark shade of green.


Châteloy lavoir gate “Before” we began work (1995):



Signs welcoming us and describing our work plan were posted around Hérisson:


“After” we finished working at Châteloy lavoir (1995):

Notice the gate hinges painted dark green!


Fast-forward 25 years


In January 2020, French public television channel, France 3, filmed a segment on Hérisson for their Hors Sentiers series.

Host Stéphanie Vinot and tour guide Chrystelle Blanchard went on a short hike (8 km/ 5 miles) through the picturesque medieval Bourbonnais village.

They featured the 10th century château and its towers and dungeons, as well as l’Aumance, the river that runs through Hérisson.

Before proceeding to the Église St-Pierre in Châteloy, they made a quick stop at the Châteloy lavoir.



© France 3 TV (2020)


As the lavoir appeared on my screen, it was instantly familiar: a rectangular cement structure in the ground filled with stagnant water covered in bright green duckweed.

The statue of the Madonna and Child (installed in the late 1970s) was still standing protectively over it.

Even the gate we painted makes a brief appearance in the video:

© France 3 TV (2020)


🌿Bein’ green: to be gullible, naive

Perhaps other volunteer groups have come to repaint the gate over the years. But if you told me that right there is my group’s original green paint on the gate, I’d believe you!

I couldn’t help but get misty-eyed and gush: The gate is still there! And it’s still green! How it warmed my heart to see it. Sentimental me.

Take a virtual tour

For a less sentimental and more practical view of Hérisson in 2020, watch the video by France 3 TV ▶️

(Video) Randonnée : dans l’Allier, à la découverte du sentier de l’Aumance | © France 3 TV | All rights reserved.

For more information:

🌿 🦔 Hérisson means hedgehog!

Volunteering in Hérisson, France

In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project in Hérisson, France through CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange (who partnered with Concordia in France).

As soon as I got home, I wrote an article about my experience and it was published in the Spring 1997 issue of CIEE’s Student Travels magazine.

My article had to be edited for length for the magazine, but here is my original article:

I spent last summer on a group volunteer project in Hérisson, a tiny medieval village in central France. Our goal was to spruce up the town’s 10th-century castle.

Three weeks is a perfect length of time for a workcamp, the commonly used term for international volunteer projects like the one I participated in. There was no time to be bored. We all made the effort not to waste a single moment we had together.

Our projects included cutting acacia trees lined up along the road that were blocking the view of the castle, pulling weeds, repainting an old rusted gate, erecting a bench, clearing dead branches from the castle’s rose garden, and clearing ivy from the garden walls.

We worked Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (8h à 13h), with a half-hour break in the middle.

There were ten volunteers (ranging in age from 18 to 31) working on the project from, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, and the United States.

There were two group leaders (animateurs): one leader was from Québec, Canada, and the other leader was from Riom, France. She brought along her dog, Mireille, who became our mascot!

Accommodations were simple, but adequate. We slept in sleeping bags on cots or mats on the floor in a school cafeteria, where we also cooked and prepared meals.

We did grocery shopping in nearby Cosne-d’Allier. Each day, two of us took turns cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning the shared living areas.

In our spare time, my new friends and I played cards and sports, like soccer, and a bowling game called pétanque. We taught each other curse words, tongue twisters, and jokes in our respective languages, sang acapella, and frequented pubs.

While we usually spoke English (since we were all at different levels of French), I did try speaking French as much as possible with the two group leaders. My French vocabulary improved significantly.

Weekends were especially great. We visited two other workcamps in Vieure and Néris-les-Bains, went swimming and kayaking in a lake, and attended the annual Bourbonnais gospel concert.

At a festival in nearby Venas, we saw people folk dancing in traditional Bourbonnais costumes! We saw rope-making demonstrations and how they bake brioche in a brick oven.

There were also animals wandering freely among us in the plaza. At another festival, we danced in the streets to live music.

We spent the night inside the Chapelle Saint-Mayeul in Le Brethon after our hike through the Tronçais Forest, which is the largest oak tree forest in Europe!

When we got back to Hérisson, we helped out with a flea market (antiquités brocante) and I helped direct traffic! It was so much fun helping out with the community event.

The local community in Hérisson was warm and welcoming. Residents would greet us and ask how we were and how our work was progressing.

After work each day, some of the residents would give us tours of Hérisson. We visited the town museum, an old mill, and the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Chateloy. We also visited the home of an older woman who made hats and she let us try them on!

Several community members gave us lots of bottles of wine, homemade baked goods, and jam. Their friendliness made me feel more like a neighbor than a tourist.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but everyone at my workcamp shared the same hopes, dreams, and fears! We all wanted to have a better understanding of different people and cultures. It was the common goal that brought us all together.

©1995 by Darlene 🦔 << Hérisson means hedgehog!


Note: It appears that CIEE does not offer the international volunteer project program at this time.
To learn more about other educational exchange programs that they offer, visit their website here. (This post is not sponsored.)