“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.
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…]
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.
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).
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.
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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