Rue du Sergent-Bories and rue de la République, the main commercial street, are both very attractive, but they are no preparation for place Notre-Dame, the loveliest bastide central square in the region. It's built on a slope, so the uphill houses are much higher than the downhill, and you enter at the corners underneath the buildings. All the houses are arcaded at ground-floor level, providing for a market (Thurs morning) where local merchants and farmers spread out their weekly produce the quintessential Villefranche experience. The houses are unusually tall and some are very elaborately decorated, notably the so-called Maison du Président Raynal on the lower side at the top of rue de la République.
The east side of the square is dominated by the church of Notre-Dame with its colossal porch and bell tower, nearly 60m high. The interior has some fine late fifteenth-century stained glass, carved choir stalls and misericords.
On the boulevard that forms the northern limit of the old town, the seventeenth-century Chapelle des Pénitents-Noirs (JulySept daily 10amnoon & 26pm; €3.50) boasts a splendidly Baroque painted ceiling and an enormous gilded retable. Another ecclesiastical building worth the slight detour is the Chartreuse St-Sauveur (same hours; €3.50), about 1km out of town on the Gaillac road. It was completed in the space of ten years from 1450, giving it a singular architectural harmony, and has a very beautiful cloister and choir stalls by the same master as Notre-Dame in Villefranche, which, by contrast, took nearly 300 years to complete.
Aside from the pleasing details of many of the houses you notice as you explore the side streets, the town reserves one other most unexpected surprise. The Médiathèque, on rue Sénéchal (tel 05.65.45.59.45), includes an amazing collection of jazz records, books, papers, recordings and documents belonging to the late Hugues Panassié, famous French jazz critic and one of the founders of the Hot Club de France. Much of the material is unrecorded or unobtainable elsewhere and is open to perusal by members. CD selections are on sale both here and at the tourist office.
Pages in section ‘Villefranche-de-Rouergue’: Practicalities.
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