We make our first road trip off the beaten track to five Dordogne bastides. It is a one day round trip beginning in Sainte-Foy-La-Grande, a Girondine bastide, situated on the Dordogne river, at the crossing for the Voie de Vézelay (Chemin de Compostelle). We call Sainte-Foy our 360 degree bastide because it is the perfect springboard for backcountry exploring in the Périgord.
The bastides to visit:
- Lalinde (B)
- Molières (D)
- Beaumont-du-Périgord (E)
- Fonroque (F)
- Eymet (G)
Our road trip to the Dordogne Bastides begins. Let the river be our guide.
The route meanders along quiet country roads taking us upstream towards Bergerac and Lalinde, our first Dordogne bastide of the day. Lalinde has a striking riverside entrance which leads visitors effortlessly to the central market square. The characteristic open structure of les halles is well preserved. It is a place where people naturally gather. This is a good stopover and last opportunity to pick up some supplies for a picnic in Molières.
On route to Molières, the road passes through Cadouin. The 12th century Cistercian abbey (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is well worth the detour before taking the scenic road that climbs up through the small valley in the Bessède Forest.
For lunch in Cadouin, the Restaurant de l’Abbaye with its quintessentially Perigordian menu is a tempting option and well loved by locals. Likewise, the picnic location at the bastide of Molières will not disappoint for its tranquil setting. Enjoy a quiet stroll through the ancient passageways before driving on to Beaumont-du-Périgord, which is a larger and busier bastide perched on the hill.
What makes bastides interesting is seeing how the inhabitants have shaped these historic human settlements. While some buildings have been abandoned in favour of modern dwellings, others have been elegantly restored. The efforts to protect the cultural heritage show varying degrees of success. There is a fine line to tread between attractive restoration and careless commercialisation. Either way, bastides as they stand can become a real asset to the locality if presented well to visitors and future inhabitants.
Bastides Come in all Shapes and Sizes
Our road trip ends with two contrasting bastides in the valley of the Dropt. Fonroque is hidden away at the top of a sleepy glade which reveals a fountain (font) springing from the rock (roca), true to its Occitan name. Described as a strategic site for Edward I of England, demarcating the anglo-french frontier in 1284.
Drive down into the bustling bastide of Eymet on the day of the evening market (Marché des Producteurs) and the life of the bastide takes on a different form. Here, visitors and local people flock to Eymet’s marché nocturne in the summer months. A bastide famously known today for its British residents who have embraced the French way of life.
The pleasure of open air dining stays with us as we drive back to Sainte-Foy. The high road with its expansive views down into the Vallée de la Dordogne easily makes it onto our list of most scenic drives. This is la Belle France at its best.