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Villefranche de Lonchat is a bastide which was founded circa 1280 by Edward I of England.
Villefranche, the chief town of a canton that borders the Gironde département, is situated 38km from Bergerac, 25km from St Emilion and 10km from the famous Montaigne Tower, between the Isle and Dordogne rivers,. The bastide sits high above a rolling landscape of hillsides planted with Bergerac and Montravel appellation vineyards.
The commune numbers 960 inhabitants
(official population on January 1, 2017).

   
       
 

A brief history of Villefranche de Lonchat and its surrounds :
Situated in the Périgord, there is a pretty canton which goes largely un-visited by tourists and is relatively unknown even to many Périgourdins. It is called Villefranche de Lonchat and is situated between the Isle and Dordogne rivers on the edges of the Bordeaux region. It forms a natural link between two different areas with different cultures : to the west, its stony hillsides are planted with vines whereas to the east the landscape is drawn of fields and pastures. Here and there emerge small areas of woodland - descendants of a distant ancestor, the Double forest. The woodland areas are larger towards the Périgourdin side of the canton. Streams run through the valleys joining the neighbouring Isle or the gentle Lidoire. The latter is a small river with an important historical past. It runs through or around the canton before joining the Dordogne at Castillon-la-Bataille in the Gironde. The canton boasts rustic, hilly landscapes where villages, perched on rocky outcrops, have magnificent views over a broad horizon.

Prehistoric man has left a wealth of evidence of his presence in this area and the plough regularly digs up remains of Gallo-Roman buildings, while it is clear that medieval life took place predominantly on the summits or slopes of the region’s many hills. Priories at Lopchac, Montpeyroux, St Méard de Gurson and Carsac led to the creation of parishes. There remain, from this era of constructive faith (despite so much earlier destruction), three Romanesque churches particularly worthy of visit : Montpeyroux for its apse, St Martin de Gurson for its richly carved facade and Carsac whose overall, beautifully conserved, architecture, is of a quiet but striking beauty.

Villefranche, a late 13th century bastide built by Edward I of England, succeeded the original parish of Lopchac whose church was rebuilt in the 14th century at the same time as the chapel inside the bastide. These two Gothic sanctuaries with their simple, robust appearance devoid of any carvings or sculpture, bear witness to an era where both counsel and inhabitants of the new township had very limited means at their disposal but where all worked with one heart towards the creation of a new church. The medieval example of collective labour inspired the villagers to do the same in the 1960s and work together to renovate their chapel. Today it is powerfully evocative as it stands in its original nudity. Visitors to the church will not go away disappointed.

It may appear surprising that, unlike many bastide towns, Villefranche has not conserved its walls, gates and other historic features but it must be remembered that this border region was more thoroughly devastated than many others by the English wars and later the religious ones. The construction of several roads during the 19th century destroyed any last remaining aspects of these historical features. The Lidoire, which first separated Seigneuries from one another and then English Aquitaine from the Périgord, has not always flowed in the gentle shade of the forests. Fortresses, such as the neighbouring Puynormand and Puy-Chalus, or the Château de Gurson dominating the parish of Carsac from its110m vantage point, regularly sent out troops to battle, destroying farms and crops in the process. The famous battle of Castillon where Jean Bureau’s artillery with its back to the Lidoire conducted such a marvellous battle must have made the entire canton tremble. Devastated once again by the bloody battles of the 16th century, the priories were all destroyed. In the 17th century, the Count of Gurson, Fréderic de Foix, founded a new one in the parish of St Martin de Gurson but it did not survive the torment of the Revolution.

These times of trial and tribulation were followed by periods of patient, hard work and intense activity thanks to which life took hold again in the countryside. Rural activity reached its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries when many varied and skilled trades grew up alongside existing farms. Water-mills and tile-works sprung up along the banks of the Isle and, particularly, the non-navigable Lidoire. A pottery-works established at Montpeyroux absolutely thrived circa 1820. A wide variety of crops were added to the existing vines whose high-quality wines were much valued and to a certain extent exported to Holland.

However, putting aside the centuries with the saddest history, let us remember instead that King Henry of Navarre frequently rode along our paths and through our woods on his way to visit his de Gurson cousins, or his friend Montaigne or simply from his château at Puynormand towards St Foy or Bergerac through his Villefranche Seigneurie. It is a little known fact that the fervently Catholic Seigneurs of Gurson devoted themselves entirely to the royal cause and to the Huguenot King of Navarre. Four of them were killed at the end of the 16th century fighting under the Béarnais banner. On the other hand, everyone remembers Suzanne-Henriette de Foix de Candale, Lady of Gurson during the late 17th century and famous for her piety and her care of the poor. She founded a hospital for the poor on her land at Montpon.

Like most of the French countryside the canton of Villefranche de Lonchat has fallen victim to modern life and industrialisation. Increasing difficulties in farming inevitably lead to a rural exodus. The nicely established wine co operatives of Villefranche-Minzac and Carsac-St Martin de Gurson are suffering from a fall in market prices and stiff competition from foreign wines when vines account for a majority of the canton’s agricultural output and produce excellent red and white wines.

The region is, however, entirely suitable to the development of tourism with its healthy, fresh air, excellent road network, delightful walks to pretty, Romanesque churches, along the Lidoire river, around interesting sites or to the Matecoulon manor house at Montpeyroux. Some might prefer fishing in the Isle at Moulin Neuf or in the shady tranquillity of the Lidoire while others will rather go on trips to Montaigne’s Château, to Montcaret, St Emilion and Bordeaux or towards Montpon and the Double Forest or along the Isle valley and into the Périgord. Visitors will find good, honest hotels, hearty meals and local wines at Villefranche, St Martin de Gurson, St Méard de Gurson or Moulin Neuf.

An interesting museum in Villefranche Town Hall will give visitors an idea of the history and trades of this part of the Périgord. Armed with this knowledge he or she will better appreciate the magnificent view to be had from the natural panoramic viewpoint of Villefranche over a vast and harmonious area dominated by the ivy-covered ruins of Gurson. There was a château at Gurson from the 11th century which served as a lookout post from the high middle ages. The English seized it in the 13th century whereupon it was given to the faithful vassals of the English crown, the Grailiy and to their descendants, the Foix-Gurson from the 15th century. No longer lived in from approximately 1630 it fell into disrepair and was in ruins long before the Revolution. Despite its dilapidated condition it still proudly suggests a medieval castle watching over the countryside which it once protected.

Beautiful landscapes and a great and moving history make this area particularly appealing.

   

 

 

Text translated by Pays du Grand Bergeracois (professional translator).