Hidden away in the Burgundy region of France, just north of Lyon, is the beautiful village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain where the movie Chocolat was filmed. Sitting on a hill overlooking the picturesque Ozerain valley, its narrow winding streets, stone houses, and historic buildings takes you back to the winter of 1959 when the movie was set.
Directed by Lasse Hallström and released in 2000, the film is based on the novel of the same name by Joanne Harris. It perfectly captures the essence of small-town life here in rural France, the trials and tribulations, and how it can sometimes be hard to fit in as an outsider.
Set in the fictional village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the story follows Vianne Rocher (played by Juliette Binoche) and her young daughter Annouk. They arrive in their red capes ready to take on the village. However, setting up a chocolate shop, ‘chocolaterie’, during Lent, when the whole town has given up sweets, doesn’t go down well.
It’s an inspiring story of survival in a traditional and conservative town whose residents aren’t particularly welcoming to newcomers. The film follows their journey of ups and downs, challenges and eventual success.
I’ve loved this movie ever since my daughter’s figure skating coach chose the music from Chocolat for her to skate to. The score was written by Rachel Portman and completely captures the essence of the movie, the village and the characters.
Summer, my daughter, was an accomplished figure skater representing Britain at an international level, and the music suited her perfectly. Movie music has a way of drawing you in, and as you listen you can imagine the scenes playing out in your mind.
Flavigny-sur-Ozerain was the perfect setting for Chocolat
With its winding streets and rustic charm the village provided an idyllic backdrop for the story. The film showcased the town’s architecture and landscapes to create a sense of authenticity, completely immersing you in the story.
One of the standout locations in the film is Vianne’s chocolate shop, which was created from scratch for the movie. The filmmakers transformed an old abandoned building into a cosy and inviting space. It isn’t a real place you can visit and buy chocolate from I’m afraid.
Another notable location in the film is the church, which plays a significant role in the story. The church used in the movie is the Eglise Saint-Genest, a beautiful Romanesque church dating back to the 12th century. They used the church’s interior and exterior to really show a contrast between the austere religious setting and the vibrant world of Vianne’s chocolate shop.
The Benedictine Abbey in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain
The earliest known settlement in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain dates back to the 1st century BC, when the Gauls established a hill fort on the site. Sitting as it does high on a hill overlooking the Ozerain valley, made it an important centre of trade and commerce in the region.
In 719 the Benedictine Abbey was founded by a wealthy landowner named Widerard and was established on the site of an earlier Gallo-Roman villa.
During the early Middle Ages it was a thriving centre of monastic life and the monks who lived there were known for their piety, scholarship, and artistic creativity. They produced illuminated manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures.
Unfortunately, the abbey’s fortunes began to decline in the 14th century, due in part to the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death. Many of the monks died, and the abbey’s buildings and lands were damaged or destroyed by invading armies.
During the Revolution, the abbey was seized by the state and its lands and properties were sold off. The abbey church was converted into a secular building, and many of the monastery’s treasures were dispersed or destroyed. However, the abbey’s legacy lived on, and in the 19th and 20th centuries, there were several efforts to restore and preserve the historic buildings.
Today the abbey is partly used as a factory to produce a special type of sweet or pastel known as Anis de Flavigny.
The history of Anis de Flavigny
Dating back to the 9th century when aniseed was first cultivated in the Mediterranean region it was often used to flavour liqueurs, sweets and baked goods. It was produced in the fields surrounding Flavigny-sur-Ozerain and in the early 17th century, a local apothecary began making small pastels flavoured with aniseed and sugar as a digestive aid. It grew and grew in popularity and is still made today in the village.
The traditional recipe, one that has been used for centuries, sees the sweet coated with aniseed and layers of sugar syrup. They’re then left to dry and harden over several days. The result is a small, round candy that has a hard outer shell and a soft, chewy interior. I’ve tasted them and they are yummy.
Unfortunately, chocolate is not the mainstay of the village, despite the movie Chocolat being filmed in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain.
The history of the village that was the setting for the movie Chocolat
During the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), Flavigny-sur-Ozerain was repeatedly besieged and occupied by English forces. The village was heavily fortified during this period, and its strategic location on the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire made it a key target for military campaigns.
But despite the challenges of war it continued to thrive, and by the 16th century, had become a prosperous and wealthy town.
The Renaissance was a great cultural period for the town as wealthy merchants and nobles commissioned works of art and architecture. Many of the town’s most beautiful buildings, such as the Église Saint-Genest (the church used in the movie), were built during this period.
In the 18th century, Flavigny-sur-Ozerain was caught up in the turmoil of the French Revolution. During the Reign of Terror, which began in 1793 and saw the widespread use of the guillotine, many citizens were arrested and executed. The town’s mayor at the time, Jean-Baptiste Lecreux, was among those who were put to death.
Despite the violence, the town survived, and like many others managed to flourish again. The ancient buildings, still visible, offer a glimpse into the past, reminding us of the turbulent times that shaped the history of this charming Burgundian village.
What you’ll find in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain
When you visit Flavigny-sur-Ozerain you almost wouldn’t know that the movie Chocolat was filmed there. You’d never know it was the scene of a Hollywood movie.
The church, the square, and the path leading to the chocolate shop are very recognisable. They look the same in real life as they did in the movie, but that’s as far as it goes. You won’t see any tourist shops selling ”Chocolat” chocolate. You can’t buy souvenirs and there are no tours of the film locations.
But that doesn’t matter because the village, with all its wonderful history, has managed to maintain its unspoilt charm.
I love the fact that Flavigny-sur-Ozerain has held onto its isolated, rural French life. Its not been spoilt by having hundreds of tourists doing the pilgrimage of the movie.