The Southern French village of Sainte-Enimie is what you would call quaint, charming, typical French. Too many clichés for this lovely place. But if you visit Sainte-Enimie, you’ll find out that this little place is irresistibly beautiful and in no way a cliché.Why is Sainte-Enimie included on the official list of the most beautiful villages of France? Find the answer here!Click To Tweet
Sainte-Enimie is named after its patron saint – the Merovingian princess Énimie, who had lived in the 7th century. The Merovingian dynasty ruled a great part today’s France and Belgium, and a part of the Netherlands and Germany. Énimie was a daughter of king Clothar II and a sister of Dagobert I who inherited his farther as King of the Franks.
Fun fact: The name of the princess is with an accent above the E (É) and the name of the village is without.
Read more: Sainte-Enimie is on the official list of the Most Beautiful Villages in France, but it’s not the only lovely place along the Tarn River. Read here my post about all the charming village along the Tarn.
What about a whole road trip in this beautiful region? Here you can find my complete itinerary for a road trip in Gorges du Tarn.
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The Legend of Énimie
The legend says that the beautiful Énimie wanted to devote her life to God but her farther decided to marry her to one of the barons in his kingdom. The beautiful princess couldn’t say ‘no’ to her farther, so she prayed to God that he would take her beauty away. Her prayers were heard, and soon afterwards she got sick with leprosy.
After the princess has suffered for months, an angel appeared and told her to travel to the far lands of Gévaudan (a historical region which more or less encompasses today’s Lozère Department), where she would find cure in the waters of a spring at a place called Burlatis. So, she traveled to the south and then she arrived eventually at a place where the water coming from a fountain was getting into the river. She bathed into the spring and miraculously enough she got cured from the leprosy. This happened to be the spring of Burle.
But this didn’t last for a long time. The princess contracted the disease once again. So, she returned again to the spring of Burle. Well, as it always happens in the stories, there was a third time, as well. It was high time for the princess to realize that this was a sign from God who wanted her to devote her life to spreading the Christianity into the area. So, she remained there and founded a convent.
Sainte-Enimie through the ages
In 951 the bishop of Mende Étienne I founded a Benedictine monastery there and the little village started growing around the monastery. In 1060 they found the grave where Énimie lied buried. The monastery and the little hamlet around started attracting lots of pilgrims and the place was prospering in the Middle Ages.
Today, there are only 250 people who live permanently in the village. Although the place is quite petite, it attracts lots of tourists in the summer months. The Tarn gorge with its dramatic cliffs and the river with its calm waters are a preferred destination for the outdoorsy type of tourist. The region is literally dotted with campings and I would not exaggerate if I say that one third of the houses are rented out for the summer (the so-called gîtes).
Fun fact: During the French Revolution (1798) the village of Sainte-Enimie was renamed to Puy Roc, but this name didn’t last a long time.
The Legend of Énimie and the Dragon
Well, this is not the only legend that lingers around. One time Énimie was fighting the dragon, who actually was the Devil himself. When she realized she couldn’t catch him, she called the rocks for help. A gigantic land slide occurred and the boulders fell into the river. Through a small crevice he could escape, all bruised but still alive, and went to his Kingdom of Hell. And so was Pas de Soucy born.
Today, you can climb the Roche Sourde to the viewing platform on the top and admire the rock garden at the bottom, the rapids and the beautiful canyon around. The entrance to the viewing platform of Pas de Soucy is paid.
The Cardabelle story
When you wander the medieval streets of Sainte-Enimie you will for sure notice the large dried-up flowers pinned to the doors. These are Cardabelle thistles (carlina acanthifolia), acanthus-leaf thistles, that grow in the region. They are said to bring luck and serve as a barometer. If the petals curl up, it’s gonna rain, if they are open, it’s gonna be sunny. So watch out what the cardabelle is saying before you go hiking.
Things to see and do in Sainte-Enimie
When you are walking around, take a look at the cobbled streets. The cobblestones are laid in a special manner forming patterns and figures. This is not done to achieve a fancy look but to serve a purpose. As the stones are put with the edges up, this prevents the road from becoming slippery and actually helps with carrying loads with carriages when the terrain is hilly. This type of streets is called ‘calade‘ (rue caladée in French).
When at Sainte-Enimie, you should visit the spring of Burle. The turquoise waters and the serenity of the place are mesmerizing. We visited on a very hot day and we enjoyed the coolness of the place. The spring of Burle is a karst spring (Vauclusian spring) that supplies the village with drinking water. It’s one of the biggest of its kind in the region. Don’t get fooled by the crystal-clear water, the reservoir is about 7 m deep. The spring goes further and deep underground. Oh, and don’t follow the example of Sainte Énimie , as it’s not allowed to dive into the spring.
The church in the village, Notre-Dame-du Gourg was built in the 12th century. It has the typical architecture of the Romanesque churches in the Gévaudan region. There’s a lovely ceramic mural in the church dedicated to life the princess-saint. The church is a historical monument. ‘Gourg’ in the Occitan language means ‘whirlpool’ and might have a connection with the spring of Burle.
Most of the streets and squares in Sainte-Enimie follow the medieval tradition and are named after the trades that were settled there. For example we find the Butter Square (Place au Beurre), the Pottery Square (Place des Oules), and the Corn Market (La Halle au Blé). By the way, the region is famous for the delicate sheep-milk butter, which today is produced in a factory in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, where also the famous Roquefort cheese comes from.
Today, there isn’t much left over from the once glorious Benedictine monastery. The monastery was founded in 951 by the bishop of Mende, Étienne I, at the place where Saint Ilère built the first priory in the 6th century. The monastery was destroyed during the French Revolution. Afterwards it was abandoned and used as quarry. What has survived through the centuries are the Sainte-Madeleine Chapel and the refectory, the so-called Chapter House (Salle Capitulaire), which can be visited only in the summer months.
Just outside of the village, you can visit the hermitage (L’ Ermitage de la Roche) where Énimie spent her days in seclusion. There’s a chapel now that’s attached to the cave where she lived. From the chapel there’s a beautiful view down to the village and the Tarn River. The way to the hermitage is marked by crosses. It takes about 30 minutes to climb to the chapel from the village. The chapel, however, is closed as it has been vandalized a few times. The trail to the hermitage starts at l’Estende.
- The Church Square (Place de l’ Église)
- The Way of the Monks (Chemin des Moines)
- Rue du Terre
- The Square of the Presbytery (Place du Presbytère)
- The Butter Square (Place au Beurre)
- The Pottery Square (Place des Oules)
- The Corn Market (La Halle au Blé)
- Rue de la Privadenche
- The Chabrits Gate (Portal Chabrits)
- Place du Plô
- The Chapter House (Salle Capitulaire)
- Rue de la Combe
- Rue Basse
- Rue Principale
- The Spring of Burle (La Source de Burle)
The wrong Énimie
After the princess died in 628, her brother Dagobert went to Burlatis to bring her relics back. The nuns didn’t want to tell him where Énimie was resting and as her coffin wasn’t marked, Dagobert took the relics of the goddaughter of the princess, who was also called Énimie. So, he brought the wrong Énimie and buried her in the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris, still thinking it was his sister. The relics of the Merovingian princess were rediscovered in the 11th century and they remained in the chapel of the hermitage until 1970 when they were stolen.
Fun fact: Did you know that the Basilica of Saint-Denis (finished in 1144) is the first Gothic structure? And also that all French kings until the 18th century were buried there?
How do we know about the beautiful princess and her miracles? The story has survived thanks to the 13- century minstrel Bertran de Marseille who wrote the hagiographic poem ‘The Life of Saint Énimie’ (‘La vida de Santa Enimia’ in the Occitan language).
How to get to Sainte-Enimie
Sainte-Enimie is located in the Lozère Department, in the Causses and the Cevennes region which has been enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The best way to get to the place is by car, your own or rented. There’re buses in the summer but the schedules vary depending on where you are coming from. You can check out the Gorges du Tarn and Causses & Cevennes Tourist Office website for the latest schedules of public transportation services.
Parking in the village is not allowed. There’s one parking along the road from Florac before you enter the village, and at the bank of Tarn at the village. As Sainte-Enimie is pretty in the summer, finding a parking space can be an issue. When we visited the village the first time we had to drive through, as there were no places free. So, my advice will be to arrive earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Where to stay in Sainte-Enemie
Most likely you will be visiting Sainte-Enimie as a part of a road trip, but if the Gorges du Tarn are your destination, Sainte-Enimie could be the perfect base to explore this beautiful region in France. There are a lot of guest houses (gîtes) that can be rented in the summer, as well as a few hotels and camping sites on the river. You can research and book an accommodation here.