Many regions of France have attractive medieval villages to discover and explore, frequently with an 'old town' that is astonishingly well preserved given the age of these medieval towns - and the wars that have ravaged the country at various points in the last 600 years.
Two of the most well known (and most attractive) 'groups' of medieval villages are the bastide towns of south-west France, and the perched Luberon villages (see separate feature) of south-east France.
Bastide towns - a medieval life
The bastide towns were founded in the 13th century in south-west France, typically in the areas to the south of the Dropt valley, and there are many fine examples that remain from that time. The towns were built as medieval new towns, and had various functions, including improving security and safety of the residents and promoting trade.
The bastide towns were usually built to a strict grid layout, with equal space allocated to each house. The grid centred on a square, which often contained a market hall and sheltered arcades around the edges. There was usually a church, often fortified, built adjacent to the main square.
Although not primarily fortified towns, the bastides often acquired fortifications later, especially during the Hundred Years War that raged in the region between the English and the French.
People were encouraged to settle in the bastide towns and work on the surrounding land - incentives were offered to those who moved in, including various freedoms from the local lords, and exemptions from certain taxes.
It is astonishing that even now, 750 years later, many of the bastide towns still exist in approximately their original layout, and with straight streets lined with medieval houses. Some bastide towns, however, have virtually disappeared completely or become absorbed into much larger urban centres.
Some were destroyed during the Hundred Years War, while others found that they were not on the main transport routes as they developed.
Further decline continued for some during the period of rural depopulation in the 19th and 20th centuries, as people found work in cities and abandoned the countryside.
Visiting the bastide towns of France
Many of the bastide towns are now listed among the 'most beautiful villages in France'.
Although a good number of the bastide towns most popular with visitors are found in the departments of Lot-et-Garonne, Dordogne, Gers and Haute-Garonne, many are also found in several other departments of the south-west of France.
The original layout of these towns is sometimes very obvious as you explore but sometimes less so - usually a glance at the street map of the town you are visiting will make the original town plan easier to understand and add to your enjoyment of a visit.
French bastide towns listed by French department
Campagne-sur-Arize, La Bastide-de-Bousignac, La Bastide-de-Sérou, Mazères, Mirepoix, Rimont.
Beaumont-du-Périgord, Beauregard-et-Bassac, Bénévent, Domme, Eymet, Fonroque, Lalinde, Molieres, Monestier, Monpazier, Puyguilhem, Roquepine, Saint-Aulaye, Saint-Barthélemy-de-Bellegarde, Saint-Louis-en-l'Isle, Vergt, Villefranche-de-Lonchat, Villefranche-du-Périgord.
Aignes, Alan, Beauchalot, Blajan, Bouloc, Boulogne-sur-Gesse, Boussens, Calmont, Carbonne, Cazeres, Fonsorbes, Gaillac-Toulza, Grenade-sur-Garonne, Labastide-Beauvoir - Labastide-Clermont, Lavelanet-de-Comminges, Lestelle-de-Saint-Martory, Le Burgaud, Le Fousseret, Nailloux, Montastruc-la-Conseillère, Montréjeau, Palaminy, Plaisance-du-Touch, Revel, Rieumes, Saint-Félix-Lauragais, Saint-Lys, Saint-Sulpice-sur-Lèze, Villefranche-de-Lauragais.
Avensac, Barcelonne-du-Gers, Barran, Bassoues, Beaumarchés, Bretagne-d'Armagnac, Castéra-Verduzan, Cologne, Fleurance, Fourcès, Gimont, Jegun, Labastide-Savès, Lannepax, Marciac, Masseube, Mauvezin, Miélan, Mirande, Monguilhem, Montréal-du-Gers, Pavie, Plaisance, Saint-Clar, Sarrant, Seissan, Solomiac, Valence-sur-Baïse.
Arouille, Baigts, Betbezer-d'Armagnac, Bonnegarde, Cazères-sur-l'Adour, Coudures, Duhort-Bachen, Geaune, Grenade-sur-l'Adour, Hastingues, Labastide-Chalosse, Labastide-d'Armagnac, Miramont-Sensacq, Montégut, Montfort-en-Chalosse, Pimbo, Port-de-Lanne, Rondebœuf, Roquefort, Saint-Gein, Saint-Geours-d'Auribat, Saint-Justin, Saint-Sever, Sarron, Sorde-l'Abbaye, Souprosse, Toulouzette, Villenave, Villeneuve-de-Marsan.
Beauregard, Bretenoux, Castelfranc, Castelnau-Montratier, Cazals, Fons, Labastide-du-Haut-Mont, Labastide-du-Vert, Labastide-Marnhac, Labastide-Murat, Les Vitarelles, Montcabrier, Montfaucon, Orgueil, Puybrun, Rudelle.
Avezac-Prat-Lahitte, Castelbajac, Galan, Lannemezan, Lubret-Saint-Luc, Montgaillard, Peyrouse, Rabastens-de-Bigorre, Saint-Martin, Sère-Rustaing, Saint-Sever-de-Rustan, Tournay, Trie-sur-Baïse, Vidalos.
Arthès, Castelnau-de-Lévis, Cordes, Lisle-sur-Tarn, Pampelonne, Réalmont, Saint-Urcisse, Técou, Valence-d'Albigeois.
Angeville, Beaumont-de-Lomagne, Castelsarrasin, Montauban, Monclar-de-Quercy, Montech, Négrepelisse, Valence d'Agen, Verdun-sur-Garonne.