Going Medieval in a Beau Village of Tarn and Garonne

Originally posted on & updated on 28th May, 2024

Here is the monthly story from Beth and friends enjoying living and exploring the many beaux villages de France in the heart of Occitanie. This week we follow her adventures in the medieval village of Lauzerte in the Tarn et Garonne.

“Here’s a place that might interest you. This morning, a buying session took me close to the historic village of Lauzerte. Mission accomplished, I looked at the famous ancient settlement built on a rock, and that was that. I couldn’t resist a visit.

First impressions are of a gloriously well-preserved medieval village, though, as I learned, its origins go way back to the year 1,000. Attracted by the commanding rocky outcrop, the Celts created an oppidum, a fortified settlement under Roman rule. Its name, Lucerna, is derived from the Latin word for lamp, which refers to its high position and visibility from afar.

In the 12th century, Lauzerte enjoyed special attention. With aid from the Count of Toulouse, two noblemen planned a castelnau (an Occitan word which roughly translates as a castle town). The castle was built with two hundred lots, surrounding walls, towers and six fortified gates. The ‘suburbs’ formed the lower part of the settlement. Lauzerte quickly became a popular place to live and an important regional hub.

For years, Lauzerte served as a defensive stronghold, where glorious homes were created and business flourished. It was the seat of a Sénéchaussé (a local jurisdiction) and the economic control centre for surrounding villages. The area also provided much of the wheat for Cahors in the Lot, and Lauzerte benefitted from the town being a stopping point on a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. Life was good. For a while.

Despite its stout defences, Lauzerte was occupied by the English during the Hundred Years War and impacted by the Religious Wars. Remarkably, it survived the periods of upheaval largely unscathed. Today, there are invasions of a happier kind. Visitors love Lauzerte.

In 1990, Lauzerte was classified as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France. The more I saw, the more I understood why. I explored gorgeous skinny cobbled streets imbued with scents of honeysuckle flourishing against ancient walls. I passed quaint homes with shutters, different shades, different designs, and quirky shops with fun signs, many of which had cheerful floral decorations outside. It was enchanting.  

The main square sits at the highest point of the village. Surrounded on three sides by stone arcades supporting magnificent buildings – stone and half-timbered, its Eglise Saint Barthélemy is set at an angle perpendicular to the square. Another unique feature caught my eye. One corner of the square is partially raised like the leaf of a book.

In 1988, the world-renowned ceramist Jacques Buchholtz, whose extraordinary work is exhibited throughout the village, created a piece using cobblestones with limestone edging and industrial tiles. Its expression:

A square of light, in the middle of a bastide, a square of stones and earth assembled in a grid pattern of cobblestone.
A mineral square - raised in an angle as under a gust of wind showing underneath a shimmer of colours, to better illuminate the sight - raised in an angle as a climb to the sky. A call to other dreams, a springboard to the supernatural. An invitation to let you carry and just feel the emotion.

For all its splendid architecture dating from the Middle Ages, the square has a cosy, intimate feel. For centuries, it hosted festivals and community events; it was the place where people mooched around the shops or stopped for a natter and a coffee at one of the cafés. It’s the same today.

There’s a nook by the aptly named Le Puits de Jour café with a collection of plants melding delightfully with similar arrangements in the adjacent property. Admiring its characteristic stunning shutters, window boxes and stonework, I decided that Lauzerte is definitely a place where you need to stop, look up and admire.

Art, ancient and modern, so evident throughout the village gives it a sense of timelessness. You’ll see lots of wrought iron pieces here. Master craftsman Sylvain Soligon created fifteen signs: a bar for cafés, a cat and cockerel for the vet, a scribe for the solicitor and more. These contrast with the baroque altarpiece panels Joseph Ingres and his students painted.

My route back to the car took me to the Jardin du Pèlerin and a different reminder of Lauzerte’s rich history. The garden’s extraordinary landscaping traces the pilgrimage to Saint Jacques de Compostela. Visitors are invited to discover the route’s history by playing a game that follows a path over different levels and tells the story of pilgrims’ daily lives. But if that doesn’t interest you, the plants and outstanding views over the surrounding countryside certainly will.  

The outlooks over the Quercy countryside with its limestone plateaus are breathtaking, whatever the season. Though not currently showing, this area is especially famed for its Chasselas grapes, Quercy melons and those quintessentially French sunflowers. For me, gazing at endless fields, woodland, isolated farmhouses, and undulating contours was equally satisfying.

As I drove back down the hill, I knew I’d barely scratched the surface of Lauzerte’s rich history. I’ll be back again soon with friends. If you’re in the area, I’d honestly consider having a visit, too. This small, perfectly formed timeless treasure deserves to be shared.”

For more real-life stories in rural France, check out Beth’s books on Amazon. They’re free on Kindle and highly recommended for anyone who loves animals, nature, and France! Are you and your family aspiring to start a new lifestyle in the French countryside? Explore our selection of rural properties and countryside houses for sale in southwest France.

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