Monpazier sits in the Lot River valley, a beautiful area. Most Americans visiting France keep themselves to the Paris area, or maybe Nice, on the Mediterranean coast. These are big cities, and so those tourists never see and enjoy rural France. In fact, much of France is rural, and much of that rural France is beautiful. In both our Monpazier visits we’ve taken long, slow drives through the area and have found it to be a wonderful look at a France most tourists miss.
Our first trip here (eight years ago) we drove into the country-side and, at one point, saw a sign with an arrow and what appeared to be a route name. We continued to follow the arrows and entered Villareal, a town not far from Monpazier. A stop at the Office of Tourism solved the mystery: there are four routes for bikers drawn up for this area. They follow small backroads and are from 25 to 40 miles long. This trip, we went straight to that tourist office and bought two of the maps (for a whole $1.10 each) and set off. What follows are pictures from our two trips through the countryside. We finished neither route, averaged about 15 miles per hour, and loved every minute.
Every city, town, village and wide spot in the road where someone lives has a monument to the soldiers from that place who died in World War I and World War II. Both are heart-breaking, World War I also being jaw-dropping. In that war, France lost 1.4 million soldiers – almost 5% of its population, and somewhere around 30% of its men of marriageable age. (The United States lost 0.13% of its population in that war and 0.32% in World War 2.) That France recovered is, to me, a miracle. In our walks around these rural towns and villages, we always stop at the monument to pay our respects.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the World War I losses, here is the parish church for a small town; you can see how small it is. The town and area around it has maybe 50 houses and farms.
Here is the monument outside the church to losses from this area, all of whom would have been members of this parish:
There are eleven names on that monument; eleven young men from a village of maybe 200 people. The soldiers on every one of these monuments get a sharp military salute from me.
Some more countryside pictures…
We love these long, very slow drives through the French countryside. It certainly gives us a different view than the cities, a view we like very much.