SW France Regional Wonders – some of these villages may be more hidden away than others. Wherever they are, they are well worth a visit and reveal moments in history as well as incredible sights.
Designated one of the most beautiful villages in France, BEYNAC-ET-CAZENAC in Dordogne is home to a stunning château, said to be one of the most authentic and best conserved in Périgord. Carved out of rock and sitting 150 metres above the Dordogne river, the 12th-century fortress boasts an A-list of visitors including Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Simon de Montfort during the Hundred Years War. It also offers a magnificent view from the top of the medieval keep over the “valley of five châteaux”.
SAINT-JUSTIN in Gers was a place for both food and shelter during the often treacherous pilgrimage to St Jacques de Compostela in medieval times. Today the pretty little village, which sits on the top of a hill at the site of an ancient fortified abbey, is proud of its “façade occidentale” church, its natural water fountain, the 13th-century point of entry and, most of all, the fact that it still offers visitors a heartfelt Gascony welcome.
The imposing, fortified Château de Tastes, with its panoramic views and incredible oyster fossils dating back 22 million years, awaits you at SAINTE-CROIX-DU-MONT in Gironde. Or why not visit the church, best known for its curious, ornate stone entrance with its rope-like features. Recognised as an historical monument, the portail is the only part of the original Romanesque church still standing. The rest of the church was reconstructed at the end of the 19th-century in an impressive neo-Gothic style.
Here is another of the SW France regional wonders that we have come across. Well away from light pollution in the heart of the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy, in the “triangle noir de Quercy”, the nights at CARLUCET in Lot give professional and amateur astronomers the most magical view of the stars and planets. By day, pretty cream coloured medieval houses with their red roof toppings adorn tiny streets leading to a beautiful hilltop church. Nearby, why not stop and see the 15th-century windmill, Le Moulin a Vent de Lacomte.
As a “Village Fleuri”, SAINT-ETIENNE-DE-FOUGERE in Lot et Garonne is often adorned with flowers and makes for a pretty stop when travelling in and around Villeneuve Sur Lot. If needed, watering is easily taken care of with the village’s natural “source” and, whilst having a wander around, take a look at the ancient lavoir and imagine it as a fully functional laundry area. The 11th and 15th century church and the statue of Madonna and Child are also not to be missed in your travels to find the SW France regional wonders.
Created in 1250 as a bastide town by Alpohonse de Poitiers, brother of Louis IX (Saint Louis), VERFEIL-SUR-SEYE in Tarn et Garonne has been rebuilt more than once over the centuries. Today, the pillared Hall, which was reconstructed in around 1887, and the Church of Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens are definite attractions. A must see is the 17th century gilded wood altar and tabernacle from the Abbey of Beaulieu which features the arms of Abbot Pierre Anne Dionis and is dated between 1690 and 1739.
Documents can trace PLAISANCE-DU-TOUCH in Haute Garonne back to 1164, but it really made the history books when it was transformed into a Bastide in 1285 by the King Philippe III’s official “Bastide builder” for the Toulouse area, Eustache de Beaumarchais. The town has not one but two historical monuments; Eglise Saint-Barthélémy with its impressive façade and belfry, and the 18th-century brick bridge. Take a relaxing break by the Lac François Soula or, for something more “wild”, why not visit the African Safari park for a taste of modern day SW France regional wonders.
First published in the July/August issue of The Local Buzz