Villedieu-les-Poêles in Normandy is known as the 'city of copper', because of it's talented copper artisans, and is a beautifully preserved medieval town.
Founded in the 12th century by the Knights Hospitaller, Villedieu-les-Poêles was originally a religious town that played host to the Grand Sacre, or great rite procession. Although the tradition stopped for a long time, it was brought back in 1955 and is now performed every 4 years, attracting religious dignitaries from around the world. However, the town's main fame is garnered by its production of copper objects, an industry that led the men of the town to form a professional brotherhood of copper pan-makers in 1328. By the 19th century the pan-making industry employed 700 families in the town and the town's name was changed from Villedieu-les-Saultcheveuil to Villedieu-les-Poêles, meaning Villedieu 'the pans'. Whilst the men in the town worked the copper, the women found their own work in lacemaking which brought Villedieu-les-Poêles even more wealth. The copper left over by the artisans was used by the bell-makers at the foundry who produced bronze bells with around a 70% copper content. A place of tradition and artisanal skills, Villedieu-les-Poêles is also wonderfully preserved with many medieval buildings that went undamaged in WW2.
There are many places to explore the traditional processes and watch the craftsmanship of coppersmiths. Watch the modern and traditional modes of craftsmanship in the workshops of the Atelier du Cuivre (copper workshop), and Fonderie des Cloches (bell foundry). At the end of your visit to the foundry you can ring the bells and metalworks from its shop at factory prices. The Maison de l'Etain (house of pewter) showcases how this metal has been used since medieval times for medical instruments and tableware with workshops showing how it is forged. You can also admire the beautiful crafts produced in Villedieu-les-Poêles at the Museum of Copper Pots and Pans and the House of Lace located in a medieval courtyard. Admire typical and unique pices of copperware as well as watching demonstrations of lacemaking. There is also a Museum of Norman Furniture, containing an exceptional collection of traditional Norman furniture, including some 18th century pieces. Now a centre for all kinds of arts and crafts, including leatherwork, pottery, jewellery, tapestries, woodcarving, glassblowing and more, you can also enjoy factory visits and workshops to see a number of different crafts in the making.
Villedieu-les-Poêles has a large Tuesday market, selling cream, cheese, honey, poultry and seafood at the Place des Halles; and fresh fruit and vegetables, clothes, linen and gifts on the Place de la République and Place du Presbytère. There is also a fresh food market on Friday at the Place des Halles. Be sure to pick up some andouille (a smoked sausage), pré-salé lamb reared on the salt flats of the bay of Mont St Michel, some local cider and Calvados apple brandy.
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