Moulins, drowsing quietly on the banks of the Allier river, is capital of the Bourbonnais, a land of rich green pastures, greatly favoured by the Bourbon kings who once ruled much of Europe. It is a relaxed and pleasant town with most of the sights within easy walking distance of the centre. On Friday a huge market takes over the streets. At its heart is the flamboyant gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame which has incredible stained glass windows dating from the 15th and 16th century. The cathedral houses a rich treasury of crucifixes, reliquaries and paintings, the most celebrated of which is the Triptyque of the Maitre de Moulins. This 15th century Gothic masterpiece painted on wood and beautifully preserved, depicts the Vierge de l’Apocalypse, Mary and Jesus, against a glowing background of sun and rainbow.
Moulins is also famous for its 13th century belfry, the Jacquemart, a pink sandstone tower with wooden roof from which there is an excellent view over the rooftops of the town. The bronze figures of the Jacquemart family, father, mother and two children, have been sounding the hour, half hour and quarter hour respectively since the 15th century. The tower has burned down twice, most recently in 1946 on the first anniversary of the end of World War II, but such is its place in the affections of the town that it was rebuilt by public subscription.
Little remains of the original chateau of Moulins other than the keep, recently restored after many years as a prison, and a substantial section of the Ducal palace, a fine example of Renaissance architecture which houses the Musée d’Anne de Beaujeu with its collection of archaeology, including locally discovered Gallo-Roman statuettes, fine medieval altar paintings and faience. The Musée Bourbonnais, a row of 15th –17th century houses, has a collection of religious art, gorgeous gold and silver plate and antique dolls. Best of all are examples of craft workshops and an entire farmhouse interior to illustrate regional life in the past. Another intriguing museum is the Musée du Batiment on rue du Pont-Guinguet, a collection of building materials and old fixtures and fittings saved from destruction by local architects, It is housed in a 18th century colombage house, donated by the town, and located in the quartier where the river bargemen traditionally lived.
Moulins’ latest attraction is the Centre National du Costume du Scène et de la Scènographie, the first national museum of theatre costumes, located in the huge old 18th century cavalry barracks on the banks of the river. The collection of 10,000 costumes includes donations from the Comédie Francaise and the Opera de Paris. South of the town on both sides of the river is the Val d’Allier Nature Reserve with an information point about local nature walks and bird observation. Secluded paths follow the river and lead you through the quiet surrounding woodland to local country auberges where you can eat meals featuring Charolais beef and Saint-Pourcain wines.
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