If you’re looking for a picture-perfect village in south-west France, step this way. Monpazier is sometimes said to be the most architecturally perfect bastide village in the Dordogne – and not just by its PR people.
Built by the English in 1284, the village bears all the hallmarks of a bastide. Its streets are set out in a grid of straight lines, with a central square which served as the commercial and administrative hub of the town. Most villages like it had covered market halls in their centre. Some have gone, but some remain, as is the case in Monpazier.
The village was declared one of the first of France’s plus beaux villages back in 1982.
I first set eyes on it on a bitterly cold winter’s day. The streets were deserted as we wandered round, admiring its fortified gates and the arcades that line the Place des Cornières. Unable to keep out the cold, we soon headed for the warmth of a nearby restaurant.
“These days, the only competition the villages faces is from other bastides in the area – and that’s for the tourist euro”
We weren’t the only people to have enjoyed the village’s hospitality over the years. Most famously, during the Wars of Religion in the 1500s, the village’s menfolk raided nearby Villefranche-du-Périgord – on the very same night that the villagers of Villefranche chose to attack Monpazier. Both sets were surprised to be able to walk into an unguarded village and loot it. When they realised what had happened, it’s said they each gave back what they had taken.
These days, the only competition the villages faces is from other bastides in the area – and that’s for the tourist euro. But if it comes down to a beauty contest, Monpazier is sure to win.