Villages, bastides and castles
Bastides and castles abound in the Haute-Garonne. What links them is the use of brick by the builders, who, in their own way, created an architectural style which has stood the test of Time.
Little country lanes dotted with typical old half-timbered farmhouses, former pigeon towers and old windmills bear witness to a past intimately linked to cultivating the land. Similarly, the history of the legendary Land of Oc is recounted in the structure of many fine buildings in the old villages and bastides founded here from the 13th C. onwards on the initiative of the Count of Toulouse. Here, the warm atmosphere, friendly, straightforward welcome and good food and drink will help you forget the trials and tribulations of daily life…
From Montgiscard to Avignonet-Lauragais, the road winds along, revealing the charming silhouettes of villages such as Villefranche-de-Lauragais, Nailloux, Montgeard, all distinguished by this characteristic architecture which delights visitors and inhabitants alike. In Montgiscard, the 16th C. church with its wall bell-tower in the typical Lauragais style vies for stardom with the Château de Roqueville, its cloister and pilgrimage chapel.
Barely 15 minutes away lies the bastide of Villefranche-de-Lauragais founded in the 13th C. by Alphonse de Poitiers. Like others, it benefited from the pastel trade in the 16th C. and its handsome aspect with covered passages, half-timbered houses with towers, a central market hall and la Pradelle square show clearly how wealthy it was at that time. The 13th C. church, restored in the 19th and 20th C., its wall bell-tower with six bays and two octagonal towers are well worth stopping off to see.
As is the Canal du Midi itself which, whatever the season, will provide you with a special, timeless moment as you follow its course… Just fifteen more kilometres and here’s Nailloux at the end of the road. This old bastide founded in 1319 has a 16th C. church and wall bell-tower with five bays between two polygonal towers, a fountain where devotion is paid to Saint Méen, the Foyer Saint-Martin — a 16th C. residence — and the former gate on the north side of the square. And then, as la Thésauque lake is nearby, why not spend a day there and enjoy some cool, fresh air ? But if the keen explorers are in a hurry to get to Montgeard only a few kilometres away... This delightful bastide founded in 1317 benefited from « the golden age » of pastel. The 16th C. church and the château of the Durand family (15th and 16th C.) are proof of this. At the château, the proprietors conduct visits of a splendid vaulted room, Renaissance fireplaces, and a wall painting representing the « Temptation of Saint Anthony »…
In Avignonet-Lauragais, the château of Gaulech, the vestiges of the 13th and 15th C. ramparts, the Ravelin Tower (1352), the church Notre-Dame des Miracles (14th C.) with an octagonal bell-tower crowned with a Gothic spire, put on a fine show between them ! Before becoming an important centre of pastel growing until the 17th C., the history of Catharism left its mark on the village. To round off your visit, as you go out of the village, a bridge over the Canal du Midi leads to the Aire de Port-Lauragais where you’ll find the Maison de la Haute-Garonne which has our regional food and wine specialities and craftwork on sale.
The Château de Laréole
Dating from the end of the 16th C., this Renaissance chef d’œuvre is a reminder of the wonderful period when the pastel trade was flourishing. « Isatis Tinctoria » (woad) produced a blue dye which was very much in vogue and ensured the prosperity of the whole region. Pierre de Cheverry (1528-1593), a “pastelier” (pastel merchant) by trade, ordered a fine residential château with all the trimmings from Dominique Bachelier, the great architect from Toulouse, in 1579. It was completed in less than 3 years ! Unique of its kind in this area because of the esthetic choices it embodies, bricks and stones alternate in the construction of the walls. An example of the 17th C. interpretation of the art of garden making, the 24 hectares of grounds are laid out « à la française » according to the rules established by Le Nôtre (1645-1700). The old-style orchard is now coming back to life thanks to about twenty types of fruit tree and six grape varieties. The estate remained in the family until 1707, then changed hands several times before finally being bought in 1984 by the Conseil général de Haute-Garonne which undertook its restoration.
Château de Laréole – 31480 Laréole – Tel. : 05 61 06 33 56 – haute-garonne.fr
The Haute-Garonne as Nature made it
The Haute-Garonne countryside harbours some real treasures of Nature. With a rich and extremely varied flora and fauna to protect, environmental protection really means something here.
The Forest of Bouconne
Another “green lung” for the Toulouse conurbation, the Bouconne forest is adapted to serve walkers, mountain-bikers and horse riders. For this purpose, five waymarked footpaths have been created : “la Tour” path (10 kms), “Saint Louis” (6,5 kms), “Azoulet” (4,5 kms), “le Charme” (5 kms) and “le Glaude” (5,5 kms). An educational path (2 km Nature path), two sports paths (Sport course with 20 pieces of apparatus and a 9 kms jogging path) and the GR653 (long-distance path open to all those on the Santiago Pilgrim Ways) constitute the possibilities for walking. Six MBK circuits totalling 110 kilometres of waymarked tracks and more than 200 kilometres of bridle paths provide the opportunity to explore the forested massif in a different way.
Tel. : 05 61 85 40 10 and bouconne.fr
The Départementale Forest of Buzet
Less than 30 minutes to the north-east of Toulouse, the Buzet oak forest offers 32 kilometres of paths. Since January 2016, this forest estate of 450 hectares, property of the Conseil départemental since 1981, has been classed as an Environmentally Sensitive Area. Its ecological role is indeed essential, as it is home to numerous species of birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects. With the aim of preserving this biodiversity, certain zones are deliberately left completely untouched.
The Haute-Garonne possesses a large number and a wide variety of pigeon-towers and dovecotes. Their architecture varies widely: square, rectangular or round towers, roofs with two slopes, four slopes in a pyramid and more, roofs with one slope divided by a vertical step, roofs with ridges...and crowned with symbolic decorations or weather-vanes. Inside, hundreds of niches for nesting are built into the walls on a series of levels and other nests may be in pottery or wickerwork. “Colombiers” (cylindrical towers) could hold up to a thousand nests with a rotating centre post equipped with a ladder to enable access to the nests all the way up to the top. “Pigeonniers” are very carefully built, sometimes sophisticated, structures which reflected the wealth of their proprietors. The right to build one was conceded by lords of the manor to rich peasants during the Middle Ages.
In reality, it is only in the South West that, by their sheer number, these foundations indicate an important stage of population growth. Let it be said that, in the present-day departements of the Ariège, Haute-Garonne, Tarn, Aveyron, Lot, Dordogne and Gironde, plus the départements of the Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne, Gers, Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques, four to five hundred bastides were founded over a period of one hundred and twenty years. We should not be surprised that this proliferation of foundations constituted the most important event in the history of the South West at that time !
- Montgiscard was a centre where Royalists banded together during the insurrection of Year VII.
- The church of Montgeard is vaulted in Gothic style, and possesses a white marble stoup made in Pisa in 1516 plus alabaster high-relief panels from the Nottingham workshops.
- The castle of Avignonet-Lauragais was the scene of the Massacre of the Inquisitors perpetrated in 1242 by Cathar knights who had come down from Montségur.