‘Terroir’ and Bastides
French vignerons (winemakers) have a concept of ‘terroir’. It has no exact translation but it is the unspecified alchemy between soil, climate, grapes, sunlight etc that gives each vignoble (vineyard) its unique flavour and characteristics.
Pedalling along today, I was struck by the thought of a cyclist’s own version of ‘terroir’ - their ideal combination of road type (straight/ winding; bumpy/ smooth); hills (undulating/ challenging/ none); landscapes (vineyards/ countryside/ forests/ cities); and places to stop (cafés/ pubs/ landmarks).
As luck would have it, in this little corner of southwest France making our way from one Bastidetown to the next, passing vineyards and sunflower fields on undulating quiet country roads, I think we found our perfect ‘terroir’.
Making our way from the Bastide of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in the morning, through the very pretty Eymet and Villeréal, we finally arrived at the jewel of them all, Monpazier.
Often cited as the best-preserved and most beautiful of all the Bastides in France, it is known as 'La Perle de l'Angleterre', as it was founded by the English king, Edward 1 in 1284. In 1991 it was awarded National Treasure status and if that’s not enough to tickle your interest, it’s also had a fair view famous visitors.
Among them are Lawrence of Arabia (he’s not fictional), Igor Stravinsky (musician, not tennis player) and now us, two clueless cyclists that stumbled upon this gem of a place by chance.
It’s certainly worth any detour, and not only because of the perfect cycle pathways that got us here.
Ps. As a bonus, we also learned today where Bastides originated from. Essentially fortified towns, they were originally developed in the 13th and 14th centuries in the English lands of Aquitaine and the surrounding French countryside as a precursor to the Hundred Years War. The idea was to create a series of strongholds, so each king set about building and then incentivising local peasants to live in them, where in return for loyalty they were incentivised with land and the chance to make a bit of money selling their goods at the market each week (which is why market squares are at the heart of every Bastide). For other such historical gems, such as why the French drive on the left and how medieval builders created perfectly angled grids for towns, check out this site which our friendly B&B owner pointed us to: http://www.michaeldelahaye.com/monpazier.html