When you enter the walled castle village of Larressingle in the Gers, which some call Gascony, you’d be forgiven for looking around to see if a knight in shining armour is lurking nearby. Or maybe a Princess hanging out of a window at the ruined chateau. This place doesn’t just look like it has somehow stayed as it was in the middle ages, it has a really authentic feel to it.
Larressingle is the smallest fortified village in France – it has a circumference of just 270m and it’s nicknamed “little Carcassonne”. It’s also a listed Plus Beaux Village de France, officially one of the prettiest villages in the country. And, it’s entrance bridge, called Lartigue, is UNESCO listed as a significant monument on the pilgrimage route of Compostela (The Way of St James).
It might be small but it’s an extraordinary place. I went on an overcast autumn day and had the place to myself almost. It is incredibly atmospheric and it made me feel like I’d stepped through a time tunnel to the past…
The history of Larressingle
The 13th century fortified village is on a hill overlooking beautiful countryside. In the middle ages, as many as 300 people would be crammed inside its walls in houses attached to the ramparts. Today there are just seven people living within the inner fortified town.
The church of Saint Sigismund dates to the 12th century, built before the town got its castle and fortifications. It’s a very unusual church with the entrance on the first floor (you can’t get in there) so that invaders couldn’t easily storm it. There is though a tiny door on the ground floor which you can visit. The door is seriously fit for Hobbits, and conceals a staircase to a tower, a sort of medieval escape room.
The chateau, now privately owned and inaccessible, was the residence of the Bishops of Condom in the 13th century. Watch towers and fortified walls were also built then. The ruins are a listed historic monument and there are plans to restore the roof and open it to the public.
After the French Revolution when the church and Chateau were damaged, the residents abandoned Larressingle despite the houses remaining intact. The little town was left to rot and became overgrown with so many trees and bushes that you could hardly even see it.
A sleeping beauty village bought back to life
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Larressingle was finally rediscovered. Eduoard Mortier, the last of the Dukes of Treviso, was a man on a mission. He led a movement to prevent the export of French art and heritage and had been on the US talk circuit to raise awareness. While there he made good contacts in Boston.
In 1920 he discovered Larressingle while on a bike ride and it was love at first sight. He gave up his previous mission and instead worked to restore the church at Larressingle. Smitten with the beauty of the place, he decided to try to preserve the entire town. In 1926 he asked his wealthy Boston friends for help and their generosity meant the village was saved from further destruction.
What to see and do in Larressingle
Inside the great stone walls, Larressingle is incredibly quaint and beautiful. Plants grow alongside astonishing architecture – it’s the only time I’ve ever seen green roses. And, you can’t help but whip out your camera to capture the idyllic scenes within and surrounding the town. It’s very easy to wander around and see it all and take a stroll around the outskirts too. A walk will take around 45 minutes. Leave time to take a break in a café or restaurant or one of the quirky shops in the restored and preserved medieval houses – simply sublime.
There is a tourist office on site at Larressingle. There’s plenty of parking available but no public transport to the town.
Some shops and cafes are closed from late autumn through to spring. You can take a guided tour in the summer (group tours all year round by reservation): www.tourisme-condom.com