The Bastide Villages of Dordogne

Ambling through a medieval bastide village at lunchtime, the only sound I hear is the fluttering and soft cooing of pigeons in the belfries and rooftops above. It’s a soothing murmur, and one I always associate with the quiet lunchtime villages of France and Italy. Not a soul in sight. Just as well I’ve packed a picnic lunch. Shuttered windows, some slightly ajar, block out the prying eyes of the street or the harsh glare of Autumn light. Others are fully closed, now that the summer season is over.

Noted for their grid pattern, fortified walls, archways and central market squares, bastide towns were built in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, and alternated between English and French control during the 100 years war. Handsome arched entry ‘ports’ invite the walker to explore within, where il fait bon flâner, wandering about aimlessly, is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Each village brings new surprises: medieval architecture, fantasy ruins in need of loving restoration, shadowy narrow lanes, or carreyrous, that crisscross the gridded layout, high stone benches overlooking wooded valleys below, framed views through darkened archways, doors, keyholes, miniature windows, mossy tiles, shutters, I can never get enough. After the long postprandial silence, which can last from around 12.30 to around 5pm, life returns to the village: the local bar reopens and chairs spill out once again onto the square as locals meet for a coffee or wine. The boulangerie reopens, there’s more bread to be sold. Strollers take to to the streets.

Small, quiet bastide village of Molieres

Monpazier, the village of our current rental house, is considered to be the most well-preserved bastide town in Dordogne. A 13th-century bastide town, it begun in 1285, founded and built by King Edward 1 of England, who was also Duke of Gascony. The town was also home to Eleanor of Aquitane and Richard 11 of England for a time. After the 100 years war, the town returned to the French. Today, the English are back, they love the villages of the Dordogne. They, and expats from other countries, now occupy a significant number of the local houses. The owners of our beautiful rental house, ‘Les Portes de la Bastide’ made this very clear when we arrived. It annoys them to hear English spoken by some vendors at the local markets around the Dordogne. To be able to say ‘Je viens d’Australie’ has its advantages here: we have an excuse for speaking the language so badly, unlike those who live a stone’s throw away across the channel. To be fair, most English expats speak French very well.

Monpazier
Dordogne villages
Bastide towns often have a central covered market place in the square
Carreyrou ( ruelle) in Monpazier

There are 18 bastide towns in the Dordogne region as well as all the other small villages that demand a visit: the designated ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France‘, small stone hamlets, a sea of ochre coloured stone and carmine creeping vines, towns that rise above the confluence of the Dordogne and Vezere rivers, larger towns like Bergerac, still with medieval hearts, and the occasional chateau. Every day is a feast of discovery. I swear each village is more charming than the last, and then I want to re-visit them all on market day. Two weeks will not be long enough in this region of France.

Western walls, Monpazier
Market square, Monpazier
Le Bastide de Monpazier, Dordogne

Bastide towns in Dordogne and neighbouring Lot- et Garonne

Beaumont-du-Périgord, Beauregard-et-Bassac, Bénévent, DommeEymet, Fonroque, Lalinde, Molieres, Monestier, Monpazier, Puyguilhem, Roquepine, Saint-Aulaye, Saint-Barthélemy-de-Bellegarde, Saint-Louis-en-l’Isle, Vergt, Villefranche-de-Lonchat, Villefranche-du-Périgord.

Aiguillon, Damazan, Castillonnes, Durance, Miramont-de-GuyenneMonflanquin, Montpezat, Penne-d’Agenais, Puymirol, Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot, Sérignac-sur-Garonne, Villeneuve-sur-LotVilleréal.

“Hey Mr Marie, Can I stay at your Hôtel de Ville?”my son Andrew, circa 1985.

15 thoughts on “The Bastide Villages of Dordogne”

    1. I like postprandial- reminding me how much Italian/Latin we use in English. Pranzo = lunch, one meal I love more than dinner. Prandially speaking, I love words pertaining to food.
      Now it’s my turn to look up a word.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was hoping I could place it in reply to you but it lacked relevance. Elvis Costello used it in conversation he had with Bob in his autobiography. Bob couldn’t believe he just slipped it in a casual conversation and, according to Elvis, teased him for it. I would say he was admiring his wordsmithing for which he is renowned. Your wordsmithing and photographic eye has been a joy on your journey. Thank so much for sharing. M

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        1. Thanks Michael. Bob? which Bob would that be? Ah yes, I seem to remember that Elvis Costello was known for that and I can imagine the teasing he would get for using such a word. It crossed my mind that I might open myself to a bit of bagging too, but it’s a word I kind of like. Thanks for the lovely compliments, they are really appreciated.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh, that will be a lot of ‘homework’ reading up about ‘Bastide’ towns . . . the photos must have been taken during one of those post-prandial breaks . . . . my lifelong passion for reading and more reading must be paying off: *smile* no words to look up . . . . and, please more, more and more in the letterbox . . .

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  2. Sitting in front of my work computer, under the ticking of the ceiling fan, at home in muggy, overcast Brisbane I was transported by your lovely post. I felt as if I was ambling beside you in the postprandial peacefulness of the quiet town. What lovely memories you’re storing up, Francesca. I did wonder how the local people in those villages feel about the colonisation of their towns and whether it alters their life very much. I love words and language too and feel saddened by what seems almost to be a kind of poverty of expression that seems to be prevalent now. Not, I might add, that I had much of an education myself but I think my love of language, of words, comes from a lifelong love of reading – and my views of the world come from looking over other peoples’ shoulders! Travel well, Francesca:)

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    1. I’m conjuring that muggy Northern heat and will appreciate our Melbourne version of it when we return in November. I’m glad you came for a stroll with me, nice to have some spiritual sisters joining me in my walks ( and raves). French welcome foreigners so long as they integrate well and the numbers of any one group aren’t out of balance with the whole. One village in Dordogne now has a British population at 30% which is a little too high: when I went to that village, signs in shop windows were written in English offering fish and chips and egg and bacon rolls. The Salon de The had become the Olde tea shop. These things are annoying to the French and they annoy me too. I think the english have done an excellent job in keeping these villages restored and occupied- houses are very cheap here- but sometimes they gather en masse and speak rather loudly, especially when showing their visitors around their new home and country. Its a dilemma.
      Thanks for supporting my writing efforts Jan. I always enjoy reading your comments as they are written with great feeling and expression, by someone who obviously loves language.

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