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Monpazier: French village offers history, art and culture

For the annual spring flower and garden show in Monpazier, horticulturists and florists cram Place des Cornères with all manner of glorious blossoms and plants.

GAYLE SMITH PADGETT/SPECIAL TO STARS AND STRIPES

By GAYLE SMITH PADGETT | SPECIAL TO STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 20, 2010

Some very generous friends handed over the keys to their stone cottage in Monpazier, a small village deep in the Dordogne department in southwestern France, and told us, “Go — Monpazier is waiting for you!”

And we did. The drive took the better part of two days from central Germany, but multifaceted Monpazier proved worth the trip.

Perched on a verdant hillside with spectacular views over the rolling countryside, the tiny village is a superb example of medieval architecture, with a long, rich history oozing out of every nook and cranny. It’s a history kept alive by artisans who have set up shop amid the old buildings to produce crafts much like their predecessors did.

Edward I, king of England and duke of Aquitaine, founded Monpazier in 1284 to protect the region from French forces and to promote commerce.

The defenses were not completely successful. While the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) raged around Monpazier, control of the area changed repeatedly between the French and English.

Later, during the Wars of Religion (1562-1598), the village faced devastating poverty. Legend has it that the destitute residents executed a surprise attack on the rival town of Villefranche-du-Perigord. Meeting with no resistance, the villagers plundered the town and returned to Monpazier loaded with loot. Their exuberance dissolved once they realized why Villefranche was so empty: Its villagers were busy sacking unprotected Monpazier.

Possessions were restored to the rightful owners, and life for both villages resumed.

Modern-day residents relish recounting the tale, one of many from the village’s 700-year history. The current mayor, Fabrice Duppi, a Monpazier native, says with a twinkle in his eye, “Villagers learned peace is better than war.”

Like most bastides — fortified villages constructed in the 13th and early 14th centuries — Monpazier was laid out according to a strict rectangular grid with a center square. The well-preserved village, named a National Heritage Site by the French government, has retained much of its original look. Wide streets funnel into the town’s main hub, Place des Cornières. Pedestrian alleyways wind past stone and timber buildings. A 16th-century covered market hall, displaying original grain measures, stretches out along the south side. Gracefully arched arcades encircle the perimeter, providing a safe respite from the elements. Three of the original six gates, a tower and some of the ramparts remain intact, quietly defying the ravages of time.

The village is home to many upscale artisans. Among those who have come under its spell: Pascal Guernic, a glassblower from Lorraine; Stéphane Migliérina, a potter from Charente-Maritime in western France; Marc Beaubatie, an antique clock restorer from Paris; and Patric Allaert, an ostrich egg engraver from Creuse in central France.

Christophe Planchon, who produces stunning marqueterie — intricate wood inlays — also was taken by the village and its visitors.

“I just happened to visit Monpazier. I rented for the summer and then stayed on,” he said. “I love Monpazier’s charm, heritage and the pretty stones. Also, there are tourists and they let me live my art.”

Though the population is less than 600, the village boasts the commerce and cultural activities of a much larger town. There are two grocery stores, a variety of bakeries, butchers, restaurants and shops, as well as two hotels, two chambres d’hôtes (bed-and-breakfasts), with a third on the way. In addition to the busy market held every Thursday, there is a mushroom market in the fall and a winter truffle market.

Throughout spring and summer, festivities heat up with music, dance, sporting events and special festivals such as the July 14 Bastille Day ball, culminating in fireworks, and a medieval festival in July featuring knights on horseback.

For those who want to get out of town and explore the area, monumental Biron Castle is nearby and the Cahors wineries, Domaine du Peyrie and Domaine du Cause, are practically around the corner. In less than an hour you can reach the world-renowned Lascaux caves or the pretty towns of Sarlat and Domme. And there are nearly 60 miles of walking trails at Monpazier’s doorstep.

Gayle Smith Padgett, who formerly lived in Heidelberg, Germany, has moved to the States. E-mail her at padgettgayle@yahoo.com.

 KNOW & GO

*Please note some details such as prices might have changed since publication.

 Where to stay

• Hotel-Restaurant Edward 1er, 5 rue Saint-Pierre, 24540 Monpazier; a mini-château with a lovely pool, owned by charming Dutch couple Arjan & Marije Capelle. Includes gourmet restaurant. Prices for a twin room start at 68 euros; a three-course menu is 29.50 euros. www.hoteledward1er.com; (+33) (0)5-53-22-44-00; infor@hoteledward1er.com.

• La Maison du Charron, La rue de la Porte du Paradis, 24540 Monpazier; owner Alma Downs maintains a lovely property with stunning views. Rates for the gîte (apartment) start at 400 euros per week; the bed-and-breakfast is 60 euros a day, including breakfast. (+33) (0)5-53-74-84-50.

Where to eat

• Restaurant Bistrot 2, Foirail Nord, 24540 Monpazier; focus on local products, ingeniously prepared and artfully presented. Two-course lunch menus from 15.75 euros. www.bistrot2.fr; (+33) (0)5-53-22-60-64.

• Chez Minou, 55 rue Notre Dame, 24540 Monpazier; A local favorite with a casual atmosphere and terrific pizzas; (+33) (0)5-53-22-46-59.

Things to do

Discover the bastide’s 15 prime architectural features and hike the area’s extensive walking paths. Maps available at the Office de Tourisme, Place des Cornières; (+33) (0) 5-53-22-68-59, www.pays-des-bastides.com.

Monpazier’s artisan showrooms:

• Verrerie d’Art de Monpazier, Pascal Guernic, glass-blower, 13 rue Saint Andre; (+33) (0) 5-53-74-30-82, www.artisans-d-art.com/guernic.

• Oeufs-de-Lumière, Patric Allaert, ostrich egg engraver, 38 rue Notre-Dame; (+33) (0) 5-53-23 35 76, www.oeufs-de-lumière.com.

• Atelier Terre et Bois, Stéphane Migliérina, potter, Foirail Sud; (+33) (0) 6-83-47-98-81, www.terrebois.fr.tc

• Horlogerie Ancienne, Marc Beaubatie, antique clock restorer, 6 Place Centrale; (+33) (0) 5-53-23-98-56, marc.beaubatie@wanadoo.fr.

• Atelier Marqueterie, Christophe Planchon, marqueterie artisan, Place Centrale; (+33) (0) 5-53-23-20-74, www.marqueterieplanchon.com.

Nearby

• Château de Biron, www.semitour.com. Domaine du Peyrié, Earl du Domaine du Peyrié, 46700 Soturac; (+33) (0)5-65-24-66-32, domaine.peyrie@wanadoo.fr.

• Domaine de Cause, Cavagnac, 46700 Soturac: (+33) (0) 5-65-36-41-96, www.domainedecause.winealley.com

On a brilliant day in Monpazier, France, waiters prepare tables in anticipation of a sun-seeking lunch crowd on Place des Cornières.
GAYLE SMITH PADGETT/SPECIAL TO STARS AND STRIPES

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