Colourful local events fill the summer days and nights in the idyllic hill villages and bastides of South West France. Ever wonder what happens out-of-season?
This Saturday in the picturesque village of Beauville, you’ll find a vibrant Christmas Market. Kids can enjoy a bouncy castle, face-painting, carriage rides around the village and a chat with Santa. For adults, there will be hot mulled wine, hot chocolate and coffee. The market takes place in heated, decorated tents in the central square. It always has a warm, friendly, lively atmosphere. Come along if you’re in the area.
A seasonal market in a quaint town doesn’t sound very remarkable, but Beauville’s Christmas Market is a bit special: it sells only original crafts and local produce. There are no resellers of mass produced goods. As it turns out, being special is, paradoxically, not unusual for Beauville. Here are six quirky facts about it.
Shouldn’t Beauville be Belleville?
You probably know from French class that the word ‘ville‘ is feminine. If you wanted to compliment the village on how beautiful it was, you’d say ‘belle ville‘. So why Beauville? As it happens, the ‘beau‘ in Beauville has nothing to do with its beauty and everything to do with cows – bovines. In Roman times, the settlement was called Bovis Villa, which you might translate as Cow Town.
Today, you’ll find many French towns called Villeneuve but only two Beauvilles. The other Beauville is not far away, on the other side of Toulouse towards the Pyrenees, and is also probably named after cows. So be careful how you set your satnav. The Beauville near Kingfisher holiday rentals is in Lot-et-Garonne (Department 47).
Why Beauville looks like a bastide but is not one
Beauville sits in a commanding position on a promontory more than 200 metres above the Petite Seoune river valley. In the 13th century, competition for population from the new bastides being built all around Beauville inspired the local lord to renovate Beauville and arrange it like a bastide. However, unlike Puymirol, Montpazier or Montflanquin, Beauville had no charter, so it is not a true bastide. Although the village has grown since the 1200’s, it has not been comprehensively rebuilt again. As a result, charming medieval stone and half-timbered houses and shops still surround the central place.
Why the church tower doesn’t line up with the church door
In common with most renovations, Beauville ended up with its own medieval version of a DIY disaster. On first sight, the tower in front of the church, which today houses the clock and church bells, looks like it was built as the church tower. In fact, when the church was built, it was erected outside the old village wall, just behind an existing stone tower with a porte. Study it, and you’ll see that they didn’t get the marriage quite right. For reasons we suppose were known to the builders, the tower opening and church doors don’t line up.
How Beauville avoided being invaded by the English (or was it the other way around?)
Beauville has a history of keeping bad things at bay. During the Hundred Years’ War it was on the front line dividing the French and English. The English laid siege, but the locals paid them off, the English lifted the seige and Beauville never fell. Some accounts have the roles of the English and French the other way around. In either case, a mural depicts this event in the council chamber of the town hall.
How avoiding Plague earned a blessing for your pet
During a wave of Black Death spreading from Agen, the Beauvillois escaped disaster by praying to St Roch. Why St Roch? In an earlier epidemic, St Roch had managed to recover from Plague. According to the legend (known all over Europe), he had been nursed back to health by a dog who stole his master’s bread every day and brought it to St Roch, enabling him to remain strong enough to recover.
A couple of centuries later, in praying to him, the Beauvillois summoned St Roch’s protection. Plague didn’t come to Beauville and in gratitude the locals constructed a chapel dedicated to St Roch which lasted for centuries at the corner of Le Carré in Beauville. But what has that got to do with blessing pets?
As it happens, St Roch was known not only for his miraculous recovery, but also for his subsequent devotion to animals. Every August, Beauville still remembers St Roch’s protection with a festival including a mass, followed by a ceremony in the Carré to bless animals. You’re invited to bring your pets. It being France, food, drink and pétanque also figure in the festivities.
Why does a local park belong to the Osage ‘Indians’?
If you stroll down to the end of the village and wander into the street behind the Chateau, you’ll come to a small park, intriguingly named Le Jardin des Indiens, with splendid views over the surrounding countryside. The Indiens refers to the Native American Osage tribe from Oklahoma. What do they have to do with Beauville? The answer is a story involving a small group of Osages who were abandoned and lost in France in the mid-19th century. And since the early 1990’s, the park belongs (in spirit only, the local council hastens to add) to the Osages. A sign in the garden explains the whole tale in French and English.
With its breathtaking views and ancient architecture, Beauville has a remarkable character. It’s a fascinating place and Kingfisher has a number of rentals near Beauville. Kingfisher also has a wide selection of holiday gites, farmhouses, cottages and villa elsewhere in South West France.