This getaway into Medieval times will definitely spark your curiosity about the period which made the Kingdom of France tremble. During the 13th and 14th centuries, castles no longer really managed to ward off external aggressions and so bastides were created. They were built based on an orthogonal plan which made them strongholds as well as public places. They also illustrated the burning desire for renewal and even innovation. As well as protecting their inhabitants from outside attacks, they also provided an opportunity for their populations to host fairs and markets and to develop economic activities.
There are some 400 bastides dotted around the South-West of France. Here is a selection of the finest in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, finest because they are particularly well preserved and/or are listed as the "Plus Beaux Villages de France". We begin our adventure in the Dordogne Valley.
1- In the Dordogne Valley
Between Sarlat and Agen, stop off at Villefranche du Périgord, the oldest bastide in Périgord. It has kept its magnificent covered market built on stone columns and noble historic dwellings. Take your time to stroll through the medieval side streets infused with peaceful joy.
Villefranche du Périgord
L'instant évasion ! Un petit aperçu de la richesse de notre beau Périgord ! Connaissez-vous la plus ancienne bastide de Dordogne : Villefranche du Périgord ? L'avez-vous déjà visitée ? Merci beaucoup à Crédit Agricole Charente-Périgord de nous faire voyager en imagesPubliée par Office de Tourisme Périgord Noir - Vallée Dordogne sur Mardi 19 mai 2020
20 km further west, the bastide of Monpazier, founded in 1284 by Edward I, Duke of Aquitaine, King of England, continues to be a model of its kind. This English bastide, listed as one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” (most beautiful villages of France), is deemed one of the most perfect and best preserved in the South-West. In the covered market, where the wooden framework dates back to the 16th century, grain measures used back then during market days are still on show.
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2- In the Lot and Garonne Valleys
A little more than 22 km south of Monpazier, Monflanquin, jewel of the destination, is a bastide created in 1252. It’s the most iconic and best preserved of all the bastides in the area. Monflanquin is listed as one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” (most beautiful villages of France). Stroll through its narrow backstreets to feel the medieval charm which reigned throughout the bastide. Monflanquin hosts the bastide museum and narrates, through modern, attractive scenography, the phenomenon of these new towns which corresponded to the demographic and commercial explosion in the countryside during the Middle Ages.
Close by, a stop-off is called for in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, built based on a checkerboard plan. It’s the biggest bastide in the Lot Valley. It’s also the capital of the Ente plum from which the famous Agen prune is made.
Around Villeneuve, a must-visit is Pujols, listed amongst the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” (most beautiful villages of France), to discover the host of artists who come to exhibit their work every summer next to the half-timbered houses.
Find out more about the Lot-et-Garonne bastides
In the Landes, Armagnac and in the Basque Country
La Bastide d’Armagnac, located in the eastern part of the Landes, at 30 km from Mont-de-Marsan, and founded in 1291, is one of the finest bastides in the South-West, nestling right at the heart of Bas-Armagnac. Many Armagnac producers open their wineries for travellers passing through who wish to visit and/or enjoy a tasting session.
20 km east of Bayonne, La Bastide Clairence, founded in 1314 by Louis I, King of Navarre and future King of France, a Navarre bastide with white-painted half-timbered houses with their shutters painted in deep red or vibrant green, hosts a myriad of artists and craftspeople. The village organizes a potters’ market every year in autumn.
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