As summer kicks into high gear here in the Lakes Region – with hordes of out-of-state visitors tying up downtown traffic, ice cream stands doing booming business, and thunderstorms rattling the windows – thoughts are starting to turn to my own vacation plans. In not-too-many weeks we will again make the now-familiar journey to southwestern France, an area in the Aquitaine region known as the Dordogne.
A little confusingly, it is also known as Périgord – in ancient times it was home to four tribes, and in their language the word for “four tribes” was “petrocore”. The word eventually morphed into Périgord, of which there are still four in the Dordogne: Périgord Vert (Green Périgord) is an area of green valleys with many rivers and streams; Périgord Blanc (White Périgord) boasts limestone plateaus; Périgord Pourpre (Purple Périgord) is a wine region; and Périgord Noir (Black Périgord) takes its name from its woods of oak and pine. Our home base is in the Périgord Noir.
I cannot get enough of this place. It is a photographer’s paradise and a step back in time … waaay back. A favorite town is Issigeac, a medieval village enclosed by circular walls and explored via narrow roads that wind, snail-like, to a central square. In the heart of this labyrinth are wonderfully preserved 14th- and 15th-century houses, some with architecture that is peculiar to this town.
Another town high on my list is Monpazier; in contrast, this town’s streets are perfectly quadrilateral. Originally all of its houses were exactly the same size and separated from each other by narrow alleys to prevent the spread of fire. The 700-year-old market hall is still in daily use. I am a big fan of the stone archways here.
I wonder if the locals ever get tired of looking at all this ancient beauty? I suppose we’re all guilty, somewhat, of taking our surroundings for granted, wherever we may be. This must be especially hard to do, though, in Périgord Noir!
So while tourists reign in Wolfeboro (and this is not a bad thing) and locals know to take back roads if they want to get anywhere quickly, my own vacation planning is starting to take shape. I enjoy being a tourist, although I try not to look (or, in some cases, act) like one – rather, we try to experience each place as if we lived there. Local food and wines … outdoor markets … slowing down enough to enjoy the scenery. It’s easy to get used to laid-back, sun-baked medieval France. The harder part is choosing what little piece of it to bring back home with you.