Arriving from the flat, fertile valley of the Tarn & Garonne, dotted with trees heavy with fruit under wispy white veils that protect from the, often violent hail storms, the countryside starts changing to gently undulating, chalky hills.
We are now entering the Â Quercy Blanc, where hilltops are dominated by villages and hamlets, clawing onto their defensive positions, overlooking the valley, with views from Toulouse and Agen and the Pyrenees mountains on a clear day.Â
Lauzerte is in the Tarn & Garonne (82) departement, although at one time it was in the Lot (46) before 1808, when the Tarn & Garonne was created as a department by Napoleon 1st.
Today was a bright, sunny, clear day where the views were breathtaking; even the cotton-wool billows of steamy smoke from the distant Golfech nuclear power station looked somehow natural.
Lauzerte is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France – this is of no surprise for visitors who wander the medieval streets.
The village is on the pilgrim’s route of St Jacques de Compostelle and there are lots of clues around if you ever doubted this – look at the street names and the “Pilgrim’s garden”.
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Indeed there are signs on many houses stating that Pilgrims are welcome, and there are ceramics and crests of other ‘stations’ on the pilgrimage route on the Belvedere of the village, as well as a game to discover more about the pilgrimage available from the Tourist’s office in the village square.
The region is famous for the sweet and juicy dessert grape, Chasselas, melons de Quercy and lavendar, which is more notably linked with Provence.
Today, 23 October, was a great day to visit Lauzerte – down the hill, on the road up to the village, there was a Vide Grenier, anyone who has read this blog will know that I love these, and it was a special one as there were old French cars and parts on sale in one section of the Vide Grenier. Shiny, lovingly cared-for and renovated CitroÃ«n 2cvs, DS and Traction Avants were huddled around a still. The right to distill alcohol is still legally passed down from father to son, which gives the right to go from village to village, distilling grape juice for the inhabitants into eau de vie.
Among the unmissable bargains on sale on the tables and benches in the vide grenier were home dried prunes – the famously delicious Pruneaux d’Agen (just up the road too); apples, plums, grapes and honeys of a thousand perfumes.
The village – further up the hill is superb, and out of season, it is so nice to walk the narrow streets, hearing only one’s footfalls echoing back off of the sturdily built, overhanging houses, huddled around the main square, Place des CorniÃ¨res and the church of St Barthelemy.
The Belvedere is where the old ramparts once were put to good use, defending the village against the English – which didn’t appear to work, judging by the accents and voices I heard around the vide grenier – and later by the English against the French during the 100 years war.Â
Pause for a coffe or a cool drink in the cafÃ©s in the Place des CorniÃ¨res and contemplate the activities that the place has served through the centuries – a place of judgement, markets and commerces, executions, punishments and a meeting place for the villagers. It is quite difficult to imagine some of the more macabre acts, given the peace and quiet that reigns in the village today.
The church of St Barthelemy dates back to the 13th century, although it has been restored and renovated extensively, there are some magnificent paintings and stained glass windows to be seen.
The Barbacane, the gate tower that once protected the fortified village has been immortalised in a poem by Pierre SourbiÃ© and it goes like this, in English:
From the old ramparts that dominate the plain
Where the long green ribbon of the Ledou runs
One can see every evening, rising from every roof,
Little puffs of smoke that make a breath …
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Lauzerte is a peaceful place today, but has been the scene of a turbulent past, due mainly to its strategic, defensive position; of the English occupation between 1259 and 1291, the massacre of the Jews in 1320, Â attack and overunning of the village by the Protestants causing 567 deaths – including 194 priests. It was also the site of a hospital for lepers in the 13th century.
It’s a great place to discover and explore, along with the surrounding countryside which is steeped in history and natural beauty – oh, and the food and wine here isn’t bad either.