Eight years ago we came to Monpazier and have wanted to return ever since. We were able to arrange it this year and we are so glad we did. This is an amazing town, with quite a history, situated in the beautiful Lot River valley.
First, a bit of history. For centuries, England controlled quite a lot of what is now France, a result of Eleanor of Acquitaine marrying the future king of England and bringing the lands she inherited from her father. This was kind of okay until 1337 when Edward III of England got ticked off at Philip IV of France and re-asserted his claim to the French throne. The war was fought off and on until 1453 (so it really should be the One Hundred and Sixteen Year War) when France kicked England out of the country for good. (This is way simplified; French/English history buffs are invited to expand and correct in the comments section. Please keep such expansions/corrections to 20,000 words or less.)
What’s all this got to do with Monpazier? During the war, both sides built bastide towns – England more than France. These towns were built along whatever the border was at the time, and were designed and built to make them easy to defend. So at a time when most villages and towns were a hodge-podge of crooked, narrow streets, the bastide towns were rectangular, with straight, wide streets that made it easy to move troops from one side to another as a battle progressed. There are a number of these bastide towns remaining, and Monpazier is the best preserved by far.
Here’s a look down a main street of Monpazier:
Wide and straight. Take away the cars and you’ve got a bastide town of 700 years ago.
Monpazier also has about my favorite main square in the world. Here’s a panoramic view of it, showing about 2-1/2 sides of the square.
The population of Monpazier is about 500 people, though the area around it has probably another 500. An oddity is that many of the houses in town are owned by Brits, who love the whole Dordogne and Lot River valley areas. Most of the tourists here were Brits. We found that during the day Monpazier was populated by tourists – this surprised us, as memories of that first visit do not include many tourists, British or otherwise. But we found that in the evening the tourist left (there are only about 30 hotel rooms in the town and half a dozen chambre-d’hote rooms), and Monpazier returned to looking a lot as it did 500 years ago.
Some other pictures of Monpazier:
We like Monpazier, not least because the hotel we stay in here is beautiful, with a way-above-average restaurant. Here’s Laurie looking out the “tower room” of our room.