Its distinguishing feature is its 'chessboard' urban layout. A bastide is made up of square 'blocks' of houses accessed by roads that intersect each other at right angles, arranged around a central square.
The square is the beating heart of the town, a place where the locals gather and chat and the site of colourful markets and celebrations of food, as it has been for centuries. These are held in the covered market square or market hall, which in general is positioned in the centre of the square. Some market halls feature remarkable architecture and intricate wooden frames, such as the halls at Revel (Haute Garonne) and Cordes-sur-Ciel (Tarn), both Great Tourist Sites in Midi-Pyrénées..
The town square, square in shape as well as name, is often generously proportioned. The square in Lisle-sur-Tarn (Tarn) for example is more than 4,000 m2!
In most bastides the square is surrounded by covered walkways, or couverts, under half-timbered houses supported by timber or stone pillars. In the shade of the couverts there are shops and cafés where you can relax and enjoy a drink after following your nose around the little streets crammed with historical curiosities and full of the atmosphere of the sunny South.
Although the bastides are laid out according to the same street plan, each one is very different. Variations in the standard layout to allow for differences in terrain, couverts supported by arcades in some and pillars in other, buildings of stone, fired or unfired brick: each bastide has its own language, each is different to its neighbour, and the visitor cannot fail to be charmed by the fertile imagination that has gone into each one.