The Bastide Villages
The History of the Bastide Villages
The Dordogne region is famous for its historic fortified towns, known as bastides. The "Bastide" towns of southwest France are a growing tourist attraction, and comprise one of the largest collections of well-preserved mediaeval townscapes to be found anywhere in Europe.
They were mostly built during the reigns of King Henry III of England and his son Edward I. They were founded by the English kings and by local feudal landlords such as Raymond, Count of Toulouse, as part of the continual challenges to the authority of the descendants of Henry II, following his marriage in 1152 to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Aquitaine was at the time one of the wealthiest regions in Europe, and therefore a substantial asset to the kings of England for the next three hundred years until the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453. Being a predominantly rural economy the majority of houses in the Dordogne were located in or close to these bastide towns around a market square for commerce and were set up to bring stability to the area.
These towns were built around a strict and yet straightforward grid layout (also usually fortified), and aimed at bringing a bit of stability and security to the inhabitants while also adding to the strength of the respective sides (English and French) in the region. The layout of a typical bastide town includes a central square, and a series of arched passages around the edges, several large streets running from the square to the edge of the town, and a grid pattern of narrow passages between these main streets. The towns were typically centred around a market square, often with a covered section for market days, a sheltered hall known as les halles – a number of towns still retain these most attractive structures.
Obviously, the built environment of the more important bastides has been significantly modified since medieval times, but in many of the more rurally sited bastides, the layout of streets and buildings has remained virtually unchanged for over six centuries, if not longer, and many of today's buildings have walls, if not much more, that date back to the early days of the town.
Bastide villages nearby Les Belles Granges
Les Belles Granges is situated in the area nicknamed the Golden Triangle. This area is so called for several reasons, but mainly as it is at the centre of the most iconic bastide villages of France, all which are recognisable by the golden hue of the local stone. Of the several bastide towns which Edward I founded in Aquitaine, Monpazier is arguably the finest specimen today. Its arcaded central square is still in existence, along with four listed gateways through its walls. Classified among the most beautiful villages of France, Monpazier has preserved almost intact its original aspect and dimensions. Eight centuries after its foundation, it presents itself to visitors as an authentic jewel of medieval architecture.
At the centre of Monpazier is its gorgeous main square. At one end is the wooden halle and is used to house stalls during the weekly Thursday market. Surrounding the square are 23 beautiful stone houses, each built with its open arcaded base making commerce possible whatever the weather.
As well as being a beautiful village Monpazier has a few excellent restaurants and has become an excellent choice if you wish to dine out - particularly in the evening when you can sit outside and enjoy the stunning architecture.
Equidistant from Les Belles Granges are the bastide towns of Beaumont-du-Perigord and Cadouin both with their own unique charms. Cadouin is a beautiful little town, famous for its abbey. Founded in 1115 by Robert d'Arbrissel and taken over by Cistercian monks in 1119 it became one of the most important in the area. It became a pilgrim centre due to a piece of cloth said to be part of Christ's shroud. Pilgrims flocked to the Abbey which became part of the pilgrim route to Saint Jacques de Compostelle in Spain. Important pilgrims welcomed by the abbey included Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lion Heart. The audio-guide tour of the abbey cloisters is not to be missed. Around the halle and wandering through the streets there are lots of lovely buildings and there are some very interesting shops with furniture, pottery, pictures etc made by local artists.
Cadouin is also a good place to eat and its weekly market is on Wednesdays.
Beaumont-du-Perigord is one of the largest bastides in the Perigord region; lively and active, and not too touristy. Beaumont has a lot to offer in terms of architecture, boutiques, market (Tuesday and Saturday) as well as brocante and the every-household-item-you-could-wish-for shop can be found in the "quincaillerie" hardware store of Monsieur Bariat.
Walking around Beaumont, head to the street parallel to the main road where you will find several nice little shops, from the parfumiere selling perfumes made by the owner of the shop, to a wonderful collection of carved wood and some really very good pictures made from a kind of collage of photos taken in the area. There is also a wonderful jewellery shop, Jarry des Loges, with fabulous jewellery.
The Intermarche on Avenue de Monpazier sells a good variety of provisions and household items. The Invitation au Delice is a well known pastry shop located just outside the town on the road to Monpazier. Other stores include the Delpech Daniel Butchery and La Cave du Clo for good wines.
Activities and outings around Les Belles Granges
There is a multitude of outings and activities that you can do in the area. From walks, cycling, horse-riding and kayaking for the active to micro-lighting, hot-airballooning, zip-lining and wine-tasting for the more adventurous.
Over and above the historic and architectural significance of the area, there is natural beauty too. There are stunning prehistoric art works, old troglodyte homes built into cliff faces and caves with eccentric concretions, stalagmites and stalactites.
Local tour operators offer a great deal in terms of variety, from truffle tours, 4x4 tours to cave and chateau tours plus barging, canoeing, cruising, kayaking or even surfing on the Dordogne River.
Restaurants within 10kms of Les Belles Granges
Wanting to eat out in the local area leaves one spoiled for choice! Locally in Montferrand-du-Perigord, there is Lou Peyrol, family run and well known for tasty local dishes and great hospitality. Only in the next village is the Michelin rated Table d'Leo, offering excellent value French food. Make reservations in advance. Nearby is La Source de Peyssou an authentic local gem, rarely do people depart unsatisfied. Within Beaumont there are quite a few restaurants to choose from, namely: Chez Claudette, cosy and casual French bistro and La Braise, good Italian cuisine as an alternative. For something very reasonably priced and a little different try the farmhouse local, Lesplate; one set menu and everyone in the restaurant all sitting at one table the atmosphere is convivial and the food unpretentious.
In Monpazier for consistently good, reasonably priced authentic cuisine and on-the-street setting, give La Bastide a try. Alternatively for a fine-dining experience Restaurant Eleonore at the Hotel Edward 1er, and eating on the terrace is recommended. Bistro 2 on the Foirail Nord, is very reliable, a really good menu at a reasonable price and pride themselves on reliable service. On the outskirts of the village, Chez Minou, is a pizzeria and often has groups playing on Friday nights which makes for a fun night out.
Alternatively pick Cadouin as your site of gourmet exploration where you will find Restaurant de L’Abbaye, a local favourite, authentic French food and value for money (and manage to do good service and good food throughout busy season). Booking highly advised. Le Manoir de Bellerive, in nearby Le Buisson-de-Cadouin, is a four-star restaurant offering authentic local culinary delights in an historic manor. Otherwise for a village local with good food, good service, around the corner off the main square, go to Un Air de Champagne (we recommend their regional duck dish). Belvès' Wednesday night summer supper market is also something different and fun.