Photography

Buddhas, Brandy and Wild Horses: Beautiful Photos of the Deserted French Countryside

Photographer Mathieu Mouillet spent 18 months documenting life in France's 900-mile-long stretch of empty land.

by VICE Staff; photos by Mathieu Mouillet
26 June 2018, 10:19am

A restaurant in the Cantal, south-central France. All images by Mathieu Mouillet

This article originally appeared on VICE France.

For decades, residents of small towns across Europe have been leaving the countryside in their droves and moving to cities for jobs, more resources and better opportunities. The countryside, therefore, is emptying out. Few places represent this better than the least populated area in France – the so-called "diagonale du vide" (the empty diagonal).

The 900-mile-long region stretches across France, from the Meuse river in the north-east to the Pyrenees in the south-west, and only has a population density of 78 people per square mile. For comparison, Paris has a population density of around 54,000 people per square mile.

After living in Paris for a decade, photographer Mathieu Mouillet decided it was time to explore the rest of the country. So, in May of 2015, he began an 18-month-long trip across the empty diagonal on foot, bicycle and even hot-air balloon, documenting his journey along the way.

Mouillet has now turned his project into a book, La Diagonale Du Vide - Un Voyage Exotique en France, which he hopes captures the people and views that make up this deserted space.

Scroll down to see more photos from Mouillet's book.

An old Roman road in the Aube.
Gilles, an Armagnac brandy distiller from the Gers.
A Buddhist temple in the town of Noyant-d'Allier, built by the Vietnamese community living there. The town was abandoned in the 1950s after the local mines shut down. After France retreated from Vietnam at the end of the First Indochina War in 1954, many French and French-Indochinese troops and families were brought over to France and housed in this village in the Allier.
The Vassivière lake between the Creuse and the Corrèze, situated in the middle of the Millevaches national park in central France. There's a contemporary art centre on the island in the middle of the lake, while a Russian artist – a former soldier and sailor – installed the submarine.
Horses in the Lozère, the least populated department in France.
An open-air museum in the Meuse, with works by artists from all over the world.
The ridges of the GR10 trail, which runs the length of the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. On one side is France, on the other is Spain.
A farm guest house in Basque Country.
A sunrise over the Morvan massif, with the sun lighting up the morning mist.