5 Cheeses to try while discovering the Dordogne
By Stewart Creasey
23 April 2015
For many, France is synonymous with fromage. Don’t miss these five regional cheeses when travelling on your holidays to France by train.Read more
The beautiful town of Martel, close to the Dordogne River in the Lot province of southern France, is instantly recognisable even from a distance. Seven medieval towers provide punctuate the town's skyline; these and a wealth of beautiful architecture dating from the twelfth century onward bear testimony to Martel's affluent history.
Martel's location accounts for the town's survival and prosperity. Situated at the crossroads of two important trading routes the town flourished and expanded in the thirteenth century, during which many merchants' houses were built. Martel also provided a valued resting place for pilgrims journeying to the nearby cliff-side village of Rocamadour which was believed to be the burial site of the biblical St. Zaccheus.
The Hundred Years War, a conflict between England and France for
control of the French throne which raged from 1337 until 1453 posed
a threat to many provincial French towns; the construction of stout
defensive walls protected Martel and the town became prosperous
again in the fifteenth century.
Today, visitors to Martel will find a beautifully-preserved and bustling medieval town where narrow alleyways wind between buildings of varied architecture. Martel's central square contains a roofed marketplace which hosts the town's market each Wednesday and Saturday and is an excellent place to find local produce including bread, cheeses, honey, fresh fruit and vegetables, smoked meats, sausages and paté.
Dating from the thirteenth century and built in Romanesque Gothic style, the Church Saint-Maur possesses the tallest of the seven towers which dominate the town's skyline. The fort-eight metre high bell tower was of strategic importance to the town's defences, and doubled as a watchtower.
During the thirteenth century Martel was the site of a Franciscan monastery. The impressive Cordeliers Tower, built in 1230, is all that remains of this historic building.
This distinctive building located in the southeast corner of Martel's Place des Consuls - the central square - was where the eldest son of England's King Henry II, also called Henry, died prematurely having become severely ill following the ransacking of many churches and monasteries in the Lot region for their treasures.
Historically, Martel is situated in a region prized for its rare black truffles and these were transported by rail on the Bordeaux-Aurillac line built in the early nineteenth century. The line became disused in 1980 but was restored by steam rail enthusiasts and reopened in 1997. Today visitors can travel by steam train the thirteen kilometres between Martel and the neighbouring town of Saint Denis Lès Martel, a journey which provides stunning views of the Dordogne Valley.