Surprised in Réalville, in More Ways Than One

C’est beau notre village, non ?

I jumped. A man had appeared at my elbow without my noticing, but I was concentrating on taking photos of the village square. I agreed and explained that, although I had lived in the area for nearly 25 years, I had never stopped in his village.

After further chat about the place and its history, he politely wished me “Bonne journée” and went on his way. I don’t know who he was, but he was pleased to see a stranger taking the time to look at the place in the winter.

I’m always interested in spots that are off the beaten tourist trail. If you take the time to look, you usually find something interesting or unexpected.

I had to present myself in Nègrepelisse again last week for my third Covid jab. This small town is about 45 minutes’ drive away, but it always has vaccination slots available. Not having set foot in it during all the time we have lived here, the place has become like a second home this year.

Nègrepelisse

However, I have exhausted the interesting but limited attractions of Nègrepelisse. So I resolved to take advantage of a day when it wasn’t raining for a change to visit another place that has so far been only a dot on the map: Réalville.

I drove the few kilometres from Nègrepelisse in watery winter sunshine through the flat flood plain of the River Aveyron. Réalville stands above it on a knoll, the last of les Coteaux du Quercy, the Quercy slopes where wine is produced.

[Apologies for the odd colours in some of the images: I was fiddling around with the exposure on my phone’s camera. I have not yet mastered it…]

The church tower, which is a landmark for some distance around.

Before the A20 motorway was built, the principal route to Montauban sliced through the Western side of Réalville. We saw a lot of that road, since we both travelled extensively for work, and took that route to and from Toulouse Airport. Réalville to us was simply a place you had to get through. Away from the main road, though, the village is surprisingly attractive.

Royal bastide

The name gives away something of its history: Réalville – the Royal Town. King Philippe IV le Bel founded it in 1310 as a royal bastide, of which there are many in Southwest France. Their function was to offer protection to inhabitants, stimulate economic development and in particular to concentrate the local population where it could be easily controlled.

Réalville replaced the nearby village of Almont, which was partially demolished. The materials were used to build the bastide. The town was laid out in the typical grid pattern enclosing a large central square, which, along with its façades, is now a historic monument (see this aerial photo).

The square from one end
…and from the other end. The round structure in the middle could be a well. It is blocked with a glass cover, but it was obscured by condensation.

Most of the arcaded buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries, but a few medieval buildings remain in the alleyways. Brick and colombage (half-timbering) were the main materials: quite different from our own area in the foothills of the Massif Central, where stone is predominant.

The Mairie with arcades beneath.

  

An eventful early history

Réalville has always been situated on an important highway. Like many such places, it was coveted for its strategic position, and also for the fertile lands surrounding it.

The English occupied the town twice during the Hundred Years War. They gave it up only after a long siege, during which the population dwindled from several thousand to a few hundred. During the Wars of Religion, which caused considerable upheaval in the region, Réalville became a Protestant stronghold. The plague was a frequent visitor.

After the upheavals of previous eras, the 17th and 18th centuries were periods of comparative prosperity when agriculture developed. Today, the area is known for its abundant orchards of apples, peaches, cherries and plums and for melons and Chasselas grapes.

I wandered around the alleys, meeting hardly a soul, and imagining the village at its peak, when no doubt it was a bustling hive of activity. The traffic noise from the motorway and the main road is constant but not too intrusive.

I came across several of these caged stones outside the church. I thought they were Réalville’s answer to the pile of bricks that masqueraded as art in the Tate Gallery, but my husband suggested they were simply an artistic way of preventing people from parking there.

I won’t pretend there is a lot in Réalville to detain you, but it’s worth a look if you pass that way.

In other news

The weather is appalling, as it seems to have been for most of the year. My husband, the Statistics Freak, tells me that in 24 years, only two Novembers were worse. We give every day a subjective plus, minus or zero (can’t decide) for weather. And December has started in the same vein with a lot of rain and more to come this week. After that, fingers crossed, it’s forecast to improve.

On a lighter note, I have already started work on the highlight of your Festive Season: the Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz. This will be the 11th edition, which will appear just before Christmas. Sharpen your pencils and your brain cells.

In the meantime, I’ll be back with more snippets from French life, somewhat constrained by the 5th wave of Covid.

Stay safe and well.

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10 comments

  1. We are following in your footsteps, not literally, but combining our third jab in Trebes with a visit to Carcassonne. It’s a two hour round trip but otherwise we had a long wait. Demand is high, which is good. Carcassonne under grey skies is not the same as our previous sunny day trips, but it was surprisingly busy, mostly Spanish visitors from the voices around us. A bit too busy, so we left earlier than expected and now sit in a car park waiting for our turn to have a needle stuck in our arm. Happy days. MaryJane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good luck with jab no. 3. I had a sore arm for a day but no other obvious side-effects. All these places look so much better in sunshine. It really has been gloomy and horrible, but the forecast is for it to improve over the weekend and to stay dry for a while. Touche du bois !

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  2. Vanessa,your recent post regarding Realville rang a distant chord in my memory.I have also visited that very pleasant small town.I was encouraged to do so after firstly coming across a small roadside memorial to Jacques Rodriguez ( as you know better than me,there are far too many of these in parts of France as a reminder of how many suffered and died).Entering the town,I found myself in the Boulevard Jacques Rodriguez, so good to know the name lives on.Further research uncovered a story of a major attack on a train,I believe around the 18/19th of August 1944.As a consequence,2 Maquisards were captured and subsequently executed.I say Maquisards,but the two victims were so young aged 17 (Jacques) & 18.To add further sadness to this story,the liberation of this area happened within hours afterwards.I know stories from WW2 and the occupation aren’t for everyone and understandably people want to look forward not back,however I firmly believe that the people should be remembered.Might be an incident that you may wish to research further Vanessa?
    Always interested to read your posts,I keep telling myself that I will get chance to visit this lovely region of France again hopefully very soon.
    Best wishes and keep safe
    Stuart

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Stuart, thank you for alerting me to this incident. In fact, I saw the Boulevard Jacques Rodriguez but didn’t follow up who he was. There was a great deal of activity in that area in the run-up to and following the Normandy Landings, as you know. And Réalville was, of course, on a major highway as well as a mainline railway. (as it still is). I will have to follow up this story, and perhaps a follow-up visit to the area is in order (once the weather improves…) I am actually looking into something that might interest you, which is a convent about 15 km away, where a number of Jewish children were hidden during WWII. I haven’t had time to do much about that, but I am thinking in terms of fiction, as well as putting it on the blog.
      With numbers going up, travelling remains difficult and complicated, but hopefully next year you might be able to return.
      I hope you and yours are keeping well.
      Vanessa

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  3. That was a great read. I like how you always find something interesting to present and how you light also the background history, the knowledge you display – it’s never ‘just’ a village or such. We feel to know something about your visited places. Thank you – the weather par contre has been much better in Switzerland it seems – we had two ‘events’ of winter already and my new surroundings glittered for days in fairytale white and precious stones on twigs and branches.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kiki. I am always on the lookout for the lesser known places to visit, and I am rarely disappointed. There is usually something interesting to see.

      We have had so much rain this year. The house has felt damp even over the summer. It’s never had a chance to dry out properly. This is the first time we have really felt that. I wouldn’t mind if it were colder as long as it could be dry and sunny. Maybe it will improve in time for Christmas. 🙂

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  4. The vignette of your brief conversation with the Réalville resident was lovely. Thank you for sharing these places and people.

    The caged stones are called a gabion or gabion basket. Our former hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, US, built a huge gabion wall to fix a landslide from the limestone bluff (falaise) onto a busy street. Excellent pics in this article: https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/public-works/projects/wabasha-bluff

    Liked by 1 person

    • The interaction with local people is when you often learn the most about a place. Sadly, Covid has been curtailing that kind of contact.

      Thank you for the link. The caged stones I saw were quite small, not more than 1.5 m x 50 cm x 25 cm, and I believe they were installed simply to stop illegal parking, but maybe they got the idea from the gabions.

      I was interested to see how St. Paul had approached the problem of rockfalls. We have a similar issue in our region, which is composed of limestone hills with cliffs that have a habit of crumbling. Here, the solution is either to pin nets of steel mesh in place on the cliffs with metal stanchions or to build up layers of boulders to catch landslides and prevent rockfalls dropping onto the roads. I wouldn’t be surprised if gabions were in use in other parts of France. I must find out.

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