Discovering Pretty Villages with our Seven Wonders of the Region series
Originally developed around a 10th-century monastery, the remains of which are now a gothic church, EXCIDEUIL in Dordogne sits peacefully in the River Loue valley. With a pretty town square, 16, 17 and 18th-century houses with an abundance of architectural features and different styles, plus a château perched high on a rocky hillside, and the imposing Commanderie des Templiers. It is also home to one of the oldest buildings in the department, the imposing Couvent des Cordeliers which dates back to around the 12th-century and whose altar now rests in the church.
The beautiful cathedral at LOMBEZ in Gers shares similarities with the Church of the Jacobins of Toulouse in that both were built in the 14th-century and have tapering steeples, Toulouse floors and two parallel naves separated by a central row of columns. An historic monument, this brick church has an ornate, five-tiered pink and white octagonal bell tower dating back to 1346. Don’t miss the three stunningly coloured panels of 15th and 16th-century glass in the chevet depicting scenes from the Life of Christ and the Passion.
Images l to r: Excideuil, Lombez, the glass panels at Lombez
With six châteaux, an ancient tower and a 12th-century church, there’s plenty to see at MOMBRIER in Gironde. Various tools found on the hills around the Moulin de Puybarbe date the village back to prehistoric times but most of the architecture is now Gallo-roman and medieval. Originally five-sided, the church was made more symmetrical in 1864 with the addition of an apse to the south and sacristy to the west. The 12th-century part is now a historic monument and includes geometric, plant and animal modillions in the north apse.
If you have an interest in archaeology as well as discovering pretty villages, then a visit to LALBENQUE in Lot will certainly not disappoint. With several ancient dolmen, it also features Merovingian tombs dating back to 1010. A magnificent carved stone cross can be found at the entrance to the village, and make sure you see the round dovecote complete with skylight. The 15th-century Saint-Quintin church features a decorative altar, a single nave with side chapels and a triumphal arch with carved capitals on either side depicting Saint John’s eagle and Saint Mark’s lion.
Images l to r: Mombrier, Mombrier church, Lalbenque
As the only village in France with this name, picturesque SAINT MAURIN in Lot et Garonne welcomes you with half-timbered houses and 11th-century abbey. Built by Benedictine monks, the original abbey was destroyed during the Abigeois war, before being rebuilt then destroyed again in the Hundred Years War. Another rebuild followed a century later but it was then attacked by the Huguenots. Parts of the abbey, with its stone relief art, still stand by the village square and are being restored. Other sights include the 17th-century hall, the old well and the castle tower with battlements.
A realistic, painted soldier marks the site of the war memorial in ROQUECOR in Tarn et Garonne, a tiny village perched on top of a hill that is virtually built around one street. With great views over the countryside and pretty houses, it is an ideal location for a stroll, taking in the church with its rose window. Many of the houses still have their original arcades, whilst others show pictures of how they used to look. Don’t be fooled by the Mairie with its “medieval tower” though, it was actually built in the 19th-century.
Famous for its wines, FRONTON in Haute Garonne is home to some of the oldest vineyards, with the first vines being planted by the Romans, with the typical Fronton grape, the Négrette, appearing in the 12th-century. Originally known as the Mavro and brought back from Cyprus, the grapes were owned by the order of St John of Jerusalem (Order of Malta), hence you can expect to see a Maltese Cross or two. Today, there’s a huge selection of randonnées to be enjoyed as well as Géocoaching (a GPS treasure hunt) and, of course, whilst you are discovering pretty villages, the odd dégustation.
Images l to r: Saint Maurin, Roquecor, Fronton
First published in the March and April 2020 issue of The Local Buzz