Pretty churches, historical monuments, walking trails and fabulous restaurants. This area of South West France has hidden treasures where you least expect to find them.
BIRON in Dordogne sits between the rivers Dropt and Lède near Monpazier and Villéreal so a day out is likely to be very well spent, travelling between the three spectacular towns. Famous for its château which combines a 12th-century keep, 16th-century living quarters, vaulted kitchens and a chapel, Biron was the home of one of Périgord’s most ancient barons. A bastide in medieval times, it now offers a plethora of winding alleys, a pretty church and a fascinating town hall, complete with walking and cycling trails.
Originally the site of a Gaul market, the mound in FRONSAC, Gironde, was blessed with an altar by the Romans and a fortified camp by the Charlemagne. An extravagant folly was also built by the Marechal of Richelieu where he was known to hold court. His reputation for having a good time spread and word of Fronsac’s wine even reached the ears of the Court of Versailles. Such was its quality that the word “cru” first appeared in the Libournais as a result. The impressive and famous tidal bore viaduct crosses right here between Fronsac and Arveyres.
If a Michelin star restaurant isn’t enough to tempt you to PUYMIROL, then how about the fact that it is the oldest of the bastide towns in Lot et Garonne? Guarded by the Porte de la Citadelle, one of the original 13th-century defences, the town was founded in 1246 and sits along the Rue Royal rather than a traditional bastide central square. Beautiful medieval stone buildings and a stunning church with a 13th-century portal and ornately carved arches await you. Interestingly, it is said that several hundred local dignitaries are interred under the floors of this impressive church.
Header: Puymirol then left to right Biron, Fronsac and Vayrac
Narrow streets, old houses and a fabulous Romanesque church dating back to the 12th-century form the backdrop to HOMPS in Gers. At the foot of the 12th-century chateau, gardeners can be inspired by the Jardin de Jeanne with its potager, herb garden, climbing roses and vibrant flowers. Not far from Condom, the ruins of the chateau can be found on a rocky outcrop which was abandoned for the comforts of a 16th-century home. Sold at the time of the French Revolution, you can still see the remnants of the tower (a converted pigeon loft), the fortified wall (enceinte) and courtyard.
Follow in the footsteps of Julius Caesar with a visit to VAYRAC in the Lot. As the place where he defeated several thousand Gaul rebels in the Siege of Uxellodunum in 51 BC, just after the Battle of Alesia, it is certainly worth visiting the town’s museum. Vayrac was also home to a number of works from the Louvre Museum, where they were hidden during World War II. A 15th-century church and walks along the banks of the Dordogne up to the plateau ensure a pleasant day for all. Why not stop off at the recreation area on the right bank for a game of petanque or join a hiking trail.
Sitting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Gimone valley, MAUBEC in Tarn et Garonne is home to old, white limestone ramparts and ancient rectangular walls. Originally owned by the Lord of Isle-Jourdain before becoming the property of Armagnac in 1421, the village became a Catholic stronghold in a seriously Protestant region in the 16th-century. Symbolic characters and animals can be found carved in the pellets of Saint-Orens, the early 16th-century church whose walls are now classified as Historic Monuments.
It may not be hidden but it is certainly interesting. MURET, just south west of Toulouse, is the birthplace of Clément Ader. In fact, this French engineer who worked on numerous projects including the first motorised aircraft, velocipèdes, the telephone and steam engines even has his own museum. The church of Saint-Jacques de Muret is of particular interest with its chapels, splendid organ, impressive nave and choir, and the unforgettable Notre Dame de Salette statues. If it’s a warm day take a swimming costume and pop into the cool new Aqualadia water park.
Left to right: Muret, Homps, Maubec
First published in the January/February 2019 issue of The Local Buzz