In our exploration of Aquitaine we headed north from Agen and the Garonne towards Bergerac and the Dordogne, which is both a river and a department.
This is rich farming country, not just for the famed Bordeaux wines. It’s not surprising then that it’s been much fought over, particularly during the 100-years war between France and England.
To stake their claim to the land, both sides established “bastide” towns – semi-militarised towns, usually on a hill, laid out on a regular grid pattern and surrounded by defensive walls. The concept reminded us of something we couldn’t put a finger on until Chris realised it was the Israeli settlements in Palestine, created in the memorable phrase of one of his old colleagues at AUB, Rashid Khalidi, to make ‘facts on the ground’. Normally, there’s a central market place surrounded by arcades where goods could be sold even in bad weather. We visited quite a number of such towns and we’re glad we labelled our photos, as seeing too many can cause them to blur a bit in the mind.
Montflanquin, with typical straight streets, a central market place and arcades. The church on the right in the street photo is, or was, a Protestant ‘temple’
One characteristic of many towns in the Dordogne area is the houses which have stone walls on the ground floor, and an overhanging wooden first floor with walls of a wooden framework filled in with brick or plaster and a roof with wide eaves.
Large churches also seemed to be characteristic, much lighter inside than the ones we’re used to in our part of France, although many also had obviously formed part of their town’s original defences.
As you can probably gather, we found this part of the Dordogne both pleasant and stimulating. It’s a very different world to Provence, where the conflicts, such as they were, were between Italy and France rather than England and France, and where the farming and settlement pattern was and is totally different. It’s a useful reminder of the variety and riches of France.