Hors Course stage 7: The legend of la Planche des Belles Filles

As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been is taking us off the race route for some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.

After a time trial, some sprint stages and cobbles, we arrive at the first summit finish in the Tour de France: the Super Planche des Belles Filles. While the etymology of the name actually means lieu peuplé de belles fahys or a “place inhabited with nice beech trees” in the local language that later morphed into Belles Filles in French, there is also a legend attached to the place.

This is that legend as written by the tourist board of the region Haute-Saone. This story is set during the 30-Years-War between 1618 and 1648. This was one of the many wars between Catholics and Protestants in those days. The intervention of the Swedish army in France took place between 1630 and 1635 and so does our legend.

A long time ago, not far from the Château de Passavant, lived an old family of farmers whose daughter, Inès, was remarkably beautiful. “She looks like a queen” said some and “she is virtuous like a saint” added others.

She also excelled in the humblest of jobs and spun wool like no other. That morning, the village was in great turmoil. The Swedes who had invaded the lands of Lorraine were approaching Plancher-Bas by spreading terror.

The soldiers had a horrible reputation: looting, massacres, rape, fire, nothing was spared to the inhabitants in its path. “They can pierce my body with a sword but they will not touch my wife nor my daughter,” said Inès’ father when the Swedish soldiers approached their little village. All the men in the village affirmed their resolution to resist as long as possible.

Inès listened in silence to everyone’s words and admired everyone’s courage. She felt the best way to escape the barbarians was to hide. Up the mountain, much higher than the village, was a pond surrounded by centuries old great oaks. The Swedes would never discover that hiding place, Inès thought. She gathered all the young women and said to them: “Come, my sisters, we will be safe in this refuge while waiting for the soldiers to move on.”

The young girls followed Inès. They knew her as a wise girl. They put on their prettiest white dresses and braided their hair. They went up the mountain, to the pond, holding hands and singing a hymn.

Suddenly the bells tolled in the village. The Swedish soldiers were coming. Cries, howls, the whinnying of horses and dull shocks could be heard while the soldiers attacked the farms.

Inès remained hopeful that the soldiers would not come to the pond high in the mountains, but sadly the noises drew closer and closer until she saw a troop of soldiers on horseback appear through the trees.

The Swedish captain was captivated by the beauty of Inès. She thought he looked like a god. The captain halted and gazed at the young girl. He was speechless with wonder. In that brief look there were a moment of love between the two. The captain gestured his company to stop and pardon the young women, but it was too late. The screaming soldiers were already rushing wildly towards their prey. The distraught young girls had crowded around Inès, who, setting an example, threw herself into the dark waters of the pond to escape the unleashed brutes. The other girls imitated her without hesitation.

The captain immediately rushed to save Inès but when he managed to pull her out of the water, she was just a lifeless body. He took her in his arms like a frail child and laid her on a bed of moss. In despair, he placed a kiss on Inès’ forehead, picked a white forest flower and laid it in her hands.

Finally, he took a piece of wood and his dagger. Carved in the wood was an epitaph for Inès and her unfortunate companions.

Nowadays, there is a statue on the top of La Planche des Belles Filles as a memory to the legend.

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