Being based in Larocal in the Aquitane, for the past week has allowed us to explore a few of the surrounding towns. It’s quite a fascinating area with fortified medieval towns and villages (Bastides) set on hills overlooking the surrounding countryside. The tiny village of Larocal is situated between the Bastide towns of Beaumont-du-Périgord, Villeréal, Issigeac, and Castillonnés. The area was formerly a large tobacco growing area and many of the farms have outbuildings designed for drying tobacco. These days sunflower, corn, and plums are grown around the area. There’s also lots of Aquitane cattle herds.
It’s quite a lovely area to ride through with lots of rolling hills covered in green fields surrounded by woodlands. At this time of year most of the land is in fallow with the rich dark clay turned over and covered with lime. With the onset of winter the plums have all started dropping their leaves and the farmers are out busily pruning. On the lines of poplars, which form windbreaks around fields, the balls of mistletoe look just like fireworks.
The Bastide towns of the Aquitaine, date from the 12th -14th century. At that time this part of France was owned by England so was on the frontier. Supposedly they were developed by Eleanor of Aquitaine on the trade routes across the countryside. Unlike other medieval towns with rambling streets Bastides were laid out in a grid pattern with covered marketplaces in the centre, and defensive walls around the town . The Bastide concept was developed to provide a trading centre which provided security for the local population. The bastides were a source of wealth and featured high quality housing. They were merchant towns where merchants were keen to display their wealth by building grand houses.
Beaumont-du-Périgord is a great example with grand houses lining the streets of the heart of town. The houses built from beautifully dressed limestone blocks really are a feature.
In Villereal the medieval market square is still used on market day and the centre of the town is blocked off for the market. France is famous for its food and markets such as Villereal are a great place to find fresh regional food. As Australians we are always overwhelmed by the amount of different types of cheeses on offer in France. Even at local markets there are usually dozens of varieties and styles on sale. There are so many that it becomes confusing as to which to buy first. Around the market place medieval half timbered houses still stand. Built over dressed limestone lower floor, they feature covered patios surrounded by dressed stone archways.
At Castillonnés some of the old defensive walls are still standing and houses spanning the street are a feature in some of the smaller streets. It was in Castillonnés that were noticed how unusual the churches of a few local bastides were. The church of St Peter and Paul dates from the 13th century. With the long nave it looks like a big rectangular box. It features a large facade topped with two towers between which the church bells are housed. Inside its quite dark, unlike the gothic churches of around the same period throughout the rest of France. It also had a bit of a creepy feel about it so we didn’t linger. At Villereal the church is almost identical in design and location in regard to the marketplace.
The markets around the Aquitaine area operate on different days and we were able to visit Issigeac on its market day. Issigeac features a large 18th century chateau which is home to the museum and tourist information. The rest of the central town however is filled with old half timbered houses. On market day either side of the cobbled streets were lined with market stalls. It was just surging with people.
During our ten days in Larocal we visited the different markets around the area. With so much local produce on offer were able to sample the local cheeses, wines, bread and meats of the area. Michele was particularly fond of the semi dried plums.
After our break in the Aquitaine area we are heading towards Aix-de-Provence with a few stops along the way.