Dramatically balanced on a wooded outcrop overlooking the valleys of La Theze and La Lemance, Bonaguil’s spectacular fifteenth century medieval castle ringed by double walls with 5 massive towers and keep designed to withstand artillery, is a marvel of defensive castle-building using techniques from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Let your imagination run riot as you explore its massive rooms, intact but with ceilings now open to the elements.
Open Feb-30 Dec annually. Tel: (00 33) 5 53 71 90 33 for 2010 events and opening hours as they can vary.
Check with the local tourist office for date of the music and firework display in summer (usually end of July) - memorable enough to organise your visit around it!
Agen, capital of Lot-et-Garonne, has a history going back to Roman times and was in the front line of battle during the Middle Ages in wars between English and French, Catholic and Protestant.
Pre-Revolution, Agen made its wealth as a port on the Garonne and from the cloth trade, but today it is an important agricultural centre. Be sure to try the delicious plums (‘prunes’) to which Agen gives its name - said to have been introduced here from Damascus by Crusaders.
Although much of the town is modern, Agen’s setting on the banks of the River Garonne offers delightful riverside walks and there are well preserved medieval houses and interesting churches, including the Romanesque church of St Caprais.
Be sure to visit Agen’s ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’ to see 5 masterpieces by Goya and treasures from the Gallo-Roman period - including a statue discovered in a field beside the Garonne. Make for Place des Laiters nearby to relax in a café, browse interesting shops and find bargains in the outdoor Wednesday market.
A Saturday morning market is held in the public gardens of Le Gravier near a footbridge across the river. You can hire canoes and take cruises by the hour or day on the Canal Lateral which flows parallel to the Garonne.
30km north of Villeneuve-sur-Lot is the perfectly preserved Bastide town of Monflanquin, impressively positioned on a conical hilltop between the Lot and Dordogne rivers.
Founded in 1252 by Alphonse de Poitiers in this wonderfully scenic location, you can explore Monflanquin’s narrow streets and alleys with their ancient buildings and Gothic houses and relax with a traditional meal in the cafes and restaurants of the beautiful Places des Arcades.
Do visit Monflanquin’s Musee des Bastides if you want to learn more about these fascinating fortified ‘Bastide’ settlements on strategic hilltop sites built in south west France during the Middle Ages to protect the rural population during the Hundred Years War. English and French both created these ‘new towns’ to a grid plan around a central market square, with land and privileges given to locals prepared to live in and defend the town.
Those lucky enough to visit on one of Monflanquin’s ‘medieval days’ in summer will be treated all sorts of festivities, such as falconry exhibitions, with everyone in medieval clothes. Contact local tourist office for this year’s dates.
The word ‘penn’ in Celtic means hillcrest, and visitors to the old fortress ‘village perche’ of Penne d’Agenais seeing its position on a steep hillside above the River Lot will understand how it got its name.
The remains of a twelfth century castle fortified by Richard the Lionheart seem to balance precariously on the cliff edge. Together with other towns in the region, Penne d’Agenais suffered much during the religious wars of the Middle Ages, and during the Hundred Years War changed sides between French and English several times.
Attractively restored, the town is a popular spot with tourists who enjoy the excellent weekly markets, summer cultural events and choice of excellent restaurants. Many come to see the huge neo-Byzantine Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-Peyragude - an important stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela and with a chequered history of rebuilding. The town’s best preserved building from the Middle Ages is La Tour d’Alaric.
The tourist spa town of Casteljaloux relies on 2 mineral springs bubbling up from 1,200 m below the earth at 42.5 ºC for its baths and pool complex. Strong in chloro-sulphates, bicarbonated soda and magnesium, it attracts many water-cure seekers with all types of rheumatism as well as those wanting post-operative therapy.
The spa complex has a hotel and restaurant and also offers a full range of beauty and relaxation therapies like mud and spring water baths, compresses and massages. In the past, the influential Albret family helped Franciscan monks to set up a convent in Casteljaloux and visitors today can see some of the town’s fifteenth and sixteenth century stone and brick colombage (half-timbered) houses with Saint Andrew’s crosses set into the upper floors.
The leisure lake of Clarens nearby has a range of water activities, from pedalos to windsurfing, and golf and horse riding are close at hand.
Beauville is an attractive medieval bastide town 25km north east of Agen, set in the ‘Pays de Serres’ between the Lot and Garonne rivers.
One of a group of hilltop villages perched on grey limestone crags with jagged outlines cut by small streams over millions of years and now resembling the claws of a bird of prey, Beauville has a typical Bastide village square framed by beautiful arcaded shops.
With amenities including a creperie and restaurant, it is a popular centre for summer tourism close to many of the important sites in Lot-et-Garonne. There is a swimming lake nearby with canoe hire.