There may be prettier villages in France, but Castillonnès in Lot-et-Garonne draws me back year in, year out. There is something special about this corner of the south west that has helped to rekindle my love affair with France.
I’m thinking of Castillonnès in particular today because it’s my friend Keeley’s birthday and we’re taking her out for lunch. It is her house (pictured) that we stay in each time we go.
The village was founded in 1259. Its name means château neuf, or new castle.
Like nearby Eymet, Monflanquin and Villeréal, it is a French bastide, built under the direction of Alphonse de Poitiers. It is a typical bastide, with straight roads set at right angles to each other emanating from a central square.
Today, the stone arcades around that square echo with chatter as people enjoy the day’s specials outside one of the village’s restaurants. There are all types of cuisine available in the village – from fine dining in the walled garden of Les Remparts to a takeaway pizza parlour, and everything in between.
“The arcades around the square echo with chatter as people enjoy the day’s specials outside one of the restaurants”
Its appeal is that it is a working village. A quick glance around reveals a shopkeeper advising a customer or a builder sucking air through his teeth as he discusses a roof. There’s a market every Tuesday, where the smell of cheeses and flavoured olives fills the air, but you can also buy essentials such as a mop or a spade.
The mairie has been adept at supporting activities – from moules frites nights to concerts in the square. Villagers and tourists clamour for a seat at the open-air shows each week during the summer.
Damon and I will raise a glass to Keeley on her birthday today and be reminded just how much we owe her for introducing us to Castillonnès.