It is impossible (almost) to get away from the fortified towns or ‘Bastides’ that seem to breed in this area. There are about 300 of them in the southwest part of France, and the Dordogne boasts some of the prettiest and best maintained. I mentioned before that they are all very similar and yet different in their own way. The design followed a rigid formula starting with the surrounding walls and a garrison and often a castle. The narrow streets all led to the main square and market place. The church was also usually constructed to the side of the square, often being fortified as well to provide a place of refuge and a safe store for relics. Around the main square would be arched walkways, a feature that now provides many towns with a restaurant, bar or café along with smaller shops. They also provide very welcome relief from the searing heat or the torrential storms. Fortunately no rain for me, but oh, the heat reflecting from the stones was rather unbearable at times.
Seeing as the campsite was within spitting distance of Monpazier it seems the best place to start our tour of some of these mediaeval towns. Monpazier is considered one of the better examples of a complete bastide and is yet another listed as one of the plus beaux villages de France. Founded by King Edward I of England in 1284 it certainly attracts the tourists even if my pictures make it look rather deserted! I bet that England would love to have this still in their possession! But it isn’t my favourite because I feel it could be a Disney set. It is as if it is there just for the tourist.
Monpazier – place des Cornières.
Monpazier – place des Cornières.
Monpazier – old market hall.
Monpazier – typical archways.
Monpazier – one of the fortified gateways and typical street scene.
I headed to my next stop through some really beautiful countryside of rolling green hills, fields of maize and golden sunflowers, orchards with hundreds of walnut trees (the Dordogne Valley is the biggest producer of walnuts in France), and lazy, empty roads that almost lull you into driving slowly. This is the joy of taking the road less travelled. And why hurry when there is so much beauty? Here we are in the bastide of Monflanquin. Unlike Monpazier, this was built by the French. (Actually we are now in the department of the Lot and Garonne, but they all join up)! The church bells were clanging wildly, announcing midday for all to hear, the small shops were closing up, and the restaurants were enticing me with their smells of cooking; garlic and onions, meat and fish, sauces and fruit. I sometimes think they must have a vent that wafts the smells into the path of the visitor! It was another wonderful 3-course lunch for Euro 13.50 and wine included.
Monflanquin – Place des Arcades
It’s always hard to get going again after a lazy lunch and even more so when you exit the cool of the restaurant courtyard and are blasted with 33c of furnace-like heat. Life’s so hard, isn’t it?
Villeréal is also in the Lot-et-Garonne and is in my opinion, one of the loveliest of the towns I visited. The very grand and imposing 13th century fortified church (complete with arrow slits) is equalled by the magnificent and rare 14th century market hall. Apparently it is very unusual to have a floor above the market hall. The nice thing about Villeréal is that the shops tend to be local stores and not just tourist traps, and the whole place is busy all year round. I got the feeling that this was a ‘proper’ town and not another pretty showpiece.
Villeréal – Church of Notre-Dame
Villeréal – the half-timbered market hall
Are you getting the idea that these bastides are similar but certainly have their own personality? Heaven forbid that I bore you with any more…after all, there really are just so many that you can take in one sitting! But I am going to leave you with just one more which I also liked a lot, mainly because it felt lived-in and less touristy. We’re back in the Dordogne and I’ll finish with Beaumont-du-Périgord, another one founded by King Edward I of England.
Beaumont-du-Périgord – Porte de Luzier
Beaumont-du-Périgord – main square
Well done for sticking with me on my little tour. Go and pour yourself a glass of whatever you fancy, put your feet up and relax. You deserve it 🙂