Friday, July 20, 2012

Château de Mélac and Field of Beautiful Coquelicots

We, cousin Jean Marc and his son Matthias and I were driving to La Métairie Neuve, the small family farm near Viane in the Tarn to say bonjour to the aunts and uncles and meet the insurance experts coming to report their findings about Tonton René's burnt out house.

It was a pretty day and our road took us within sight of the Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world. As Matthias sped down D999 toward Saint-Rome-de-Cernon where we turn and go toward Roquefort-sur-Soulzon where blue cheese is created in local caves, I spotted a large field of coquelicots off to the right.

Now the family was waiting for us to eat lunch at La Métairie Neuve so we couldn't stop. However, I was hoping that during my sojourn in the South of France, I would see purple lavender fields, sunflowers in bloom and if possible, it was late June, coquelicots (red poppies), Shirley's favorite.

We arrived and after la bise with the aunts and uncles, we sat down for a family lunch. As the day passed, I kept thinking that every time we go to La Métairie Neuve, the family is waiting for us and we are either in a hurry to get there or we are in a hurry to get home to Sablet so we have never visited Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

I figured that even though we were going back to Clapiers that evening, I was at least 90 minutes closer to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon from Clapiers than I would be if we made a special trip from our house in Sablet. So I decided I would head back up the next day to Roquefort and visit a cheese maker.

While I was on the way, I would try to get close to that field of coquelicots I had seen in the morning near Saint-Rome-de-Cernon. The next morning as I got close, I slowed the car and soon spotted a sign on the side of the road pointing the way to Mélac and a Château de Mélac and that big field of red coquelicots.

I turned and drove down the narrow road into Mélac, a small hameau (hamlet) with a church, a handful of stone houses, several sheep farms, a fountain and the aforementioned Château de Mélac.

Château de Mélac was built by the Gozon family between the 14th and 16th century. At the time it was built, there were four towers which connected four buildings with an interior courtyard. The Château is now privately owned but is open to the public for tours during July and August.

Another view of Mélac with the Butte de Sargels in the background.

The field of coquelicots in the distance; I still had not figured out how to get closer.

More coquelicots. These coquelicots are so thick you might think they had been planted as a crop. But the only poppy grown as a field crop is the opium poppy. Coquelicots are annuals that form a long-lived soil seed bank that can germinate when the soil is disturbed.

The coquelicot flower is large and showy with four petals that are vivid red with a black spot at the center. Coquelicots inspired impressionist painters including Claude Monet who painted "Les Coquelicots" or "Poppies Blooming" in 1873 and remain a favorite subject of painters today.

I finally asked a sheep farmer how to get close to that field of coquelicots which looked like a red carpet close up. Due to the extent of ground disturbance during World War I, coquelicots bloomed between the trench lines and no man's land on the Western front.

"In Flanders Fields," a poem written during World War I by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, he referenced the poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulting in poppies becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

After admiring and taking pictures of the field of coquelicots, I headed back to my car and saw this pretty view of Château de Mélac through the trees.

It was just pure luck that we drove past that field of coquelicots that day. Without question, that was the prettiest field of coquelicots that I have ever seen up close, not in a painting or photograph. Who knows if the coquelicots will bloom there next summer, but if you are headed to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon by way of Saint-Rome-de-Cernon, keep an eye out for Mélac and maybe you will be lucky too.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great day, chat soon!


  1. Beautiful post! Scrolling down it was like someone turned on a lightbulb such was the impact of those poppies on me!It looked like someone had brushed in the red colour to your photos in the first photos of the poppy field.That poem is also so moving,as you may know the poppy is worn in England during November to commemorate the war dead.

  2. Those are gorgeous photos Michel, and you were lucky to see those fields of coquelicots. I've only seen the occasional few here, mixed in with wildflowers... still very beautiful. Bon weekend to you.

  3. Your pictures are stunning…
    It was, in fact a Frenchwoman, Madame E. Guérin, who suggested to the British maréchal Douglas Haig that the women and children of the devasted regions in France would procure the Coquolicots in rememberance of the fallen British soldiers and their efforts in France during WWI. After recolting the coquelicots, they donated the money from the sales to the fallen/hospitalized soldiers beginning in 1921. This is how the tradition began :)

  4. very pretty! It is a pretty flower, I just wish it had a scent.

  5. Love this post, the photos and the verse are both beautiful. My new header is of poppies that I saw out cycling. Have a good day. Diane

  6. Talesfromagarden - I am happy to hear you enjoyed the pictures of the poppy field. I think they are one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen.

    Tuula - That's been our experience too, just a few poppies here and there among our plants.

    Labergerebasque - Thanks for the kind feedback. Thanks esspecially for the additional information about the use of poppies as remembrance of fallen British soldiers during WWI.

    Megan - Yes, they are very pretty and it would be nice if they had a nice scent. I guess we can't everything we want.

    Diane - I saw your post and figured you would like these pictures. Thanks for the nice feedback.