A House with a Difference

House with a difference

The building above is just an ordinary ruined house, right? Wrong. It’s a very rare example of a maison rucher, a hive house, in which beehives were built into the walls. People inhabited the rest of the small house, which is on two floors. It’s therefore an unusual instance of cohabitation between humans and the animal kingdom.

I was in my element this weekend. Saturday and Sunday were Journées du Patrimoine du Pays et des Moulins (heritage days, celebrating mills of all descriptions). Throughout our region, mills and other examples of cultural heritage were open to the public. We decided to go to Promilhanes, just over the border in the Lot Département, where there were several interesting things to be seen. What we saw is worth two blog posts, so I’ll concentrate in this one on the maison rucher.

A smiling man greeted us as we drove up. He turned out to be the maire of Promilhanes, a Breton himself but married to a woman from the village. He moved there in 1974, became maire in 1983 and has been so ever since. He explained that the maison rucher was formerly in private ownership but the owner was unable to carry out the necessary repairs and ceded it to the commune for a small sum. The commune is now raising money for its restoration.

Until fairly recently no one knew the maison rucher was there and its origins are shrouded in mystery. Everyone thought it was just another ruined building, which pepper the countryside around here. It was only when the vegetation was cleared away that its function was revealed. The roof was in a sorry state and a temporary replacement keeps out the rain. Originally it was roofed with lauzes, or stone slabs. They were placed in an overlapping pattern on top of the laths and required no nails or other fixing device. Old photos show that the house also had a dormer window.

Bees’ front door

The house contains 14 wooden hives, which the bees were able to access through special holes in the walls. The bees would swarm into the hives and set up home. Each hole had a small flat stone underneath it so the bees could take off and land easily. The hives were sealed on the inside so that the bees did not bother the occupants. The wooden hives had different-shaped entrance holes but it’s not clear why. 

Hives inside the house

The house is complete with fireplace and chimney. The former performed two functions. It kept the people warm, obviously. But it also kept the bees warm in winter, the maire told us. This meant that they did not eat so much of their honey for energy, leaving more honey to be harvested the following summer. However, as you’ll see from Emily’s comment below, not all beekeepers agree that warmth makes the bees eat less. In fact, it might make them more active and therefore hungrier. So maybe the house was built on a false premise? 

Inside a hive

The last known occupant of the house was a priest who used it as a sort of maison sécondaire (summer house). L’abbé des abeilles, I suppose. After that, it fell into disuse.

The house has a number of interesting features. M. le Maire pointed out to us a band of cement running around the walls about two-thirds of the way up. I have seen this on other old houses in the region. Now I know what it’s for: to prevent the mice from getting up into the roof. They were unable to get a foothold (or pawhold, I suppose) on it.    

The Mayor said that they will have restored the building by this time next year. I will definitely return to see it brought back to its former glory. See update below.

If anyone knows of other examples in France, please leave a comment below. I have done some research on the Internet both in French and English but can’t find references to any others. It seems they were not uncommon in ancient Persia but humans didn’t occupy the houses along with the bees: it was simply a way of grouping the hives.

Another entrance for the bees


The maison rucher has now been completely restored.

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Nous sommes les anciens propriétaire de la maison rucher à Promilhanes au mas de méric (maison aux volets bleu) Nous avons donné à la commune (pour 2 £ symbolique ) la maison rucher,le pigeonnier,+l’accès d’une servitude qui dessert les deux bâtisses à la condition que se soit restauré et entretenu par la commune ,les travaux ont êtes très bien réalises . Et Nôtre satisfaction à été de retrouver ce petit patrimoine de famille dans son état d’origine .En 1930 il y avait encore des abeilles entretenues par l’abbé COURTES curé de Saillac.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merci de votre commentaire et de ces précisions. Nous avons visité la maison rucher en 2012, avant la realisation des travaux, mais nous n’avons pas eu la possibilité de revenir, quoique nous habitions pas loin. J’ai entendu que les travaux ont été realisés, donc il me tarde de voir cet example de petit patrimoine dans son état d’origine.


    • Thanks for taking the trouble to find the link. We haven’t had a chance to go back since I wrote that post several years ago, but someone who lives nearby mentioned that it had been restored. And I can see from the photo in your link that they have restored the lauzes and rebuilt the chien-assis. When we visited, the roof was covered with rather sad corrugated stuff. A visit is clearly on the cards.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aren’t bees wonderful! We watched a swarm gathering round a hole in next-door’s wall – on the outside. We didn’t point it out knowing the bees wouldn’t bother them and worrying in case, like the last lot, they were ‘removed’. In fairness to our neighbours, who are lovely, we think it was the builders who decided to do it. Some of the bees come into our courtyard and enjoy the flowers. We pray the authorities and those who spray pesticides, will hurry up waking up to the fact they’re killing off the bee population, which would not only be tragedy but disastrous.


    • I try to plant shrubs etc that bees like. They are under such a threat here in the countryside. Paradoxically, they fare better in towns where they have access to municipal gardens that are not so heavily drenched in pesticides. And the mites and hornets are less evident in an urban environment.


    • Thanks very much for the link – interesting post. I know very little about bees and this is what the mayor told us when we visited the hive house, but I’m not sure if he is a beekeeper, either! Time for some concerted scientific research on this, perhaps. I’ve added a note in the post to indicate that there is some disagreement on this issue.


  3. Fascinating! Could you please let me know where exactly it is…I must walk by it frequently but didn’t know its history (we have house nearby). Hope to see you next time we’re in France!


    • I thought of you when I wrote this since I know you have a house near there. The place is not easy to find and we followed the special signs that were up for the day. However, as far as I can remember, you take a left turn just before entering the village (i.e. as if you had come from Vidaillac direction and then turned right where it’s signposted Promilhanes). You end up at a place called Mas de Méric and the maison rucher itself is along a track just past there. I don’t know if you can get into the house normally and there isn’t a lot to see from the outside – most things of interest are in it. If you’re acquainted with the maire, I suggest you have a word with him – I’m sure he’d be delighted to open it up for you. I am looking forward to seeing it again once it’s restored.


      • Thanks! The maire and his wife are extremely nice, I’ll certainly ask. I think I know where this house is, that track is my very favourite walking route. Mas de Meric is owned by another very sympa guy. I really wish I were able to be there in June or Sept during the patrimoine days….maybe another year


        • The maire seemed very sympa. We also met the owner of Mas de Méric, who was exhibiting his walnut oil mill, housed in the barn at his property. I’m about to write a post on that – when I can get away from our fête preparations!


      • PS FYI, the Promilhanes village fete is the 2nd weekend in July. Last year they had a great program on patrimoine, mainly for children, but also for adults.


        • Thanks for letting me know – sounds interesting. There are a lot of competing events but I’d like to find out more about the patrimoine around there.


  4. You find the most interesting things to write about! So I’m assuming that the hive boxes had some sort of cover on the inside that could be taken off to remove the honey?


    • Yes, the honey would have been removed from the inside of the house but the covers no longer remain, although the wooden hive boxes built into the walls are still there. You should go and take a look. It’s not that far from you – just the other side of Limogne. Mind you, I don’t know if you can look inside on an ordinary day – it might be locked – and it’s not so interesting from the outside.


    • As far as I can tell from my limited researches there seem to be very few examples, except in ancient Persia, where no doubt they were somewhat different. I had never heard of it, either, until our visit this weekend. But it is fascinating and I will be very pleased to see the house restored.


    • On several occasions, but thankfully several years ago, we have had bee swarms in the house. They are not easy to get rid of. I found the house we saw absolutely fascinating and would love to know if there are more along the same lines in France. It can’t be the only one.


      • Just see your reply now! I don’t think so although the Dutch are pretty keen beekeepers. There is even a special allotmenteers’ association for beekeepers. It’s just over the road from where my husband and I have our garden so we benefit from the bee visitors!


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