Less well known than the Dordogne to the north, the Lot et Garonne department contains some hidden treasures in the form of the medieval bastide towns that dot the region.
Head south from Lalinde or south-east from Bergerac and you will enter the quiet countryside that typifies the region. Agriculture and small scale farming are the main business here with fruit, sunflowers and maize being among the main crops grown. The fruit includes many plum orchards that produce the fruit for the very popular (and very tasty) ‘pruneaux d’Agen’ – the prunes are only half dried, so much more most than the prunes you might be familiar with.
The bastide towns were founded in the 13th century, half by the English and half by the French, partly for administrative reasons and partly for defensive reasons. Some of them have disappeared into the history books, and others have been swallowed by larger more modern towns, but there remain plenty of these small medieval towns for you to discover in this part of France.
Three of the most popular, and placed quite close together, are Monpazier, Villereal, and Monflanquin. Each has its own appeal, and as you will see if you visit each also follows the same general design. An open central square is surrounded by arcaded medieval houses, and roads leading off at right angles lined with ancient houses.
Monpazier has a traffic free centre, and is the best preserved of the bastide towns. There is a small market hall in the central square, and the buildings around the large open square are astonishingly well preserved. This is a ‘must see’ destination if you are visiting the region.
Also very well preserved and very attractive, Monflanquin has been rather more ‘restored’ than Monpazier in recent years so doesn’t quite have the same feeling of authenticity, but is nonetheless a great pleasure to wander its steep streets.
Between the two towns above is Villereal. Cars park in the main square, and it is the only one of the villages not to be classified as a ‘most beautiful village’. But it is a more vibrant, more living town than the others and there is always something going on or people to watch going about their business. Most houses in the town are owned and occupied by French families, not as second homes by visitors. Villereal also has an important medieval market hall in the central square, where you can buy your local cheese and wine in the same market as people have used for the last 700 years (Saturday mornings).
Visit all three of these Lot-et-Garonne towns and you will have a good feel for what the towns were really like in the south of France in the 13th century. If that’s not enough you can also visit castillonnes and beaumont-du-Perigord in the vicinity! (We stayed at this Villereal holiday rental, well placed for exploring the bastide towns.)