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Fantastical French pebble palace among 10 most-Googled cultural sites

The building, which was built by hand from pebbles over 33 years, has taken on ‘an international dimension’ this year, and was listed alongside the Louvre and Buckingham Palace

The Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval came at number 9 on the top 10 global Google list Pic: milosk50 / Shutterstock

The unique stone building in south-east France, le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval (‘Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace’), has been listed as one of the top 10 most-searched cultural sites on Google in 2022.

The building in Hauterives (Drôme, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) appears in the newly-released list of the cultural sites most searched on the global search engine worldwide this year.

Frédéric Legros, director of the site, said: “My jaw dropped in front of my computer when I saw the ranking.”

Le Palais Idéal is in ninth position on the top 10 list, behind sites including Buckingham Palace and Big Ben in London, and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Mr Legros said that the ranking was likely due to the new programme of international events that were held at the site this year,

He said: "We took on a new international dimension this year. The exhibition of the artist Othoniel, for example, generated enormous press coverage. We welcomed 70 journalists and the exhibition was even ranked among the ten must-see exhibitions of the year in the world by an American magazine. 

“For the Mika concert, people came from [as far as] Japan. This has never happened before. It's unbelievable, but I'm enjoying it.”

Hauterives is a small commune, home to just under 2,000 people. And yet, it has gained worldwide fame due to the Palais attraction. The site has a 4.5 out of 5 rating on travel site Tripadvisor, and 1,752 reviews.

What is the Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval?

Le Palais is not, strictly speaking, an actual palace. It is an extraordinary, somewhat fantastical building made of stones and carvings collected and created by former postman Ferdinand Cheval, who was born in 1836 and lived in Hauterives. He became a postman, and started building the site at age 43.

On his 18km daily postal rounds over 33 years, he collected pebbles and stones, and used them to build, inspired by picture postcards and his own life philosophy.

It includes turrets, stairways, terraces, balconies, hidden doorways, and windows, plus fruit and flowers, shells and pebbles, and sculptures of ‘real’ and imaginary animals. There are also sayings and mottos everywhere.

The site was finished in 1912, when Mr Cheval was 76 (although he retired aged 60). He then went on to build a tomb in Hauterives cemetery, which took 10 years and was only completed in 1922, two years before he died at the age of 88.

When Mr Cheval died, he left the palace to his two granddaughters. It was abandoned for years and some came to laugh at it, saying it was a “monument to madness”. However, in 1969 it was protected as a historical monument, and in 1983 it was restored. 

In 1994, the local council took ownership, and has been hailed as an example of ‘art naïf’. Mr Cheval’s story was then turned into a film directed by Nils Tavernier.

Le Palais was not the only site in France to make the 2022 top 10 list – the Louvre pyramid in Paris was also included.

The full top 10 list

  1. Buckingham Palace, London
  2. Big Ben, London
  3. Giza pyramids, Giza, Egypt
  4. Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  5. Brussels royal palace, Brussels, Belgium
  6. Chiang Kai-Shek memorial, Taipei, Taiwan
  7. Songshan Geopark, Taipei, Taiwan
  8. Louvre pyramid, Paris, France
  9. Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace, Hauterives, France
  10. Gyeongbokgung palace, Seoul, South Korea

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