I believe that life is a journey which will be enriched by small adventures exploring the world full of color and diversity. This series of my blog posts are observation, stories and learning that I have encountered through each adventure, with the desire for recording impressions, experiences and memories. This time, it’s about my trip to Sainte Foy la Grande.
Sitting on the South bank of the Dordogne River, Sainte Foy la Grande is a small commune in Gironde department in Southwest France where is well-known for Bastide towns founded during hundred years of war between England and France. Just more than an hour driving from Bordeaux and 20-minutes-drive from the Plum Village, this was the place I visited before heading to Plum Village shared in previous post.
This tiny pretty Bastide town is centred around a market square, with houses set in narrow streets in a chess-board layout. There’s no museum in this town, but to me, the center town itself is like a live museum with well-preserved medieval architecture and stories behind. The best way to discover Ste Foy la Grande is walking. It took me about more than two hours to walk through the town, enjoying its rustic charms via medieval architecture, boutique shops and peaceful riverside scenery.
Tourism office of Sainte Foy la Grande
The Tourism office, based in an iconic ancient building at the corner of the République street (rue de La République), is a great place for any travelers to find information to explore the town. Friendly and helpful staff here also provided me with much advice with free maps, brochures, introduction materials of nearby travel points, getting me ready for the walking tour. This fascinating 15th-century building is a photogenic attraction itself. It is the combination of half-timbered house and a turret which was added in 16th century that makes this building look so special.
I was surprised by many half-timbered houses in this town and wowed by the difference from this type of house found in Alsace where I visited before. Half-timbered house in Alsace are much colorful, with each house next to the other in a different light color, brightening the whole area up. This kind of house in Ste Foy la Grande, on the contrary, has single neutral color, bringing the feeling of peacefulness and rustic simplicity. Next door to the Tourism Office is an interesting half-timbered house with sculpture beams on the exterior featuring medieval images of people and animals.
Stone alleys and arcades
While wandering around the streets, I was totally blown away by the obsolete scene here: deep narrow alleys surrounded by rough stone walls with small old lights hung above and original stone arcades with boutique restaurants, coffee shops and bakery alongside. Those would be great inspiration for photographers to capture in their collection of rural France.
Also, it was such a great experience having a cup of hot coffee in a arcade-terrace café while enjoying a tranquil atmosphere under graceful afternoon sunshine. Coffee here is always served with a small bar of chocolate and at very small price.
Église Notre-Dame de Sainte-Foy-La-Grande
This Bastide town was named after Sainte Foy, a Roman Christian died at the age of 13 for her faith. And image of Sainte Foy is indeed found in the town’s only church – Église Notre-Dame de Sainte-Foy-La-Grande.
The church, placed at the corner of the town square (42 rue Denfert Rochereau), was built in the course of the 13th century and was partially destroyed during religious war time in 16th century. However, there’re some primitive parts remained until now including the facade, the porch, the tribune and the chapel. Inside the church, besides Gothic achitecture, stained glass windows, there are some remarkable pieces of paintings dated from 18th and 19th centuries. When I arrived, a man was playing very beautiful instrumental church music inside. Sitting for a while and just enjoying the music in a quiet space was totally a relaxing moment.
There’s a special point of Sainte Foy la Grande that rarely do other Bastide towns have: there’s a river runs through this town. It’s really pleasant to take a short stroll around the river quais and enjoy a wide view to Dordogne river banks.
A town where no rush exists
When arriving this town for a while, I felt something partly strange, partly familiar with this place. Wondering for a while, I realized it is somehow closed to Hoi An ancient town in Vietnam, my home country, in the way it lively preserves old buildings and tradition in daily life and its cozy ambiance. It’s beautiful to see same old-brown tile roof with old style antenna. Of course, each towns has its own charm, beauty and culture to uncover.
With not many people, less traffic in town, ancient building and slow pace of life, the sleepy Sainte Foy la Grande made me feel so relaxed and slowed down my steps. That might be because of my visit time during weekend and in low-travel-season. However, the peaceful and tranquil town did not bore me, but instead gave me more room to walk and to observe things slowly with care and to interact with people surrounding. There, I had a chance to talk to an local elder women on the street about restaurants in town, or spend half an hour chatting with an Irish couples, coming to look for a house to purchase, about the town’s beauty and other destinations we have known. Sometimes, trying an off-the-beatened track at an off-season time gives your travel experience a different shade of color. If you travel to Bordeaux, don’t miss the chance to explore this town in just a day.
- Travel from Bordeaux Saint Jean train station to Ste Foy la Grande by TER train takes more than an hour at less than 15 euros.
- Take a visit to Tourism office of Sainte Foy la Grande, No. 102 Rue de la République to see this beautiful house and get needed information before starting your walking tour.
- Should you plan to go to Sainte Foy la Grande for weekend, please keep in mind that restaurants and shops are opened just until 1pm; then some would re-open at 3-4pm or even at 7pm. There’re very few restaurants open for dinner. My favourite is the Restaurant Copains – Copines (78 Rue de la République) with excellent cuisine and super lovely host. I love ‘Salade de périgourdine’ there (with fois gas, gésier, magrets)
- Grand Hotel located right in the center of the town (117 Rue de la République) offers you a great view to the street. This small yet cozy hotel has just been refurbished interiorly, bringing comfortability while keeping old exterior architecture.