Coming from a two week vacation in France, my body is still trying to decide which time zone it’s in and attempting to regulate post-red-wine-infused days. One of my favorite places anywhere, the area known as Dordogne in southwest France offers much – whether your interests lie with history, architecture, shopping, dining, or just sampling the local goods. I could spend a week there just trying different cheeses, or breads, or the local Bordeaux (which is cheap, cheap, cheap!). There just isn’t enough time to do it all.
On this trip, our third time in Dordogne, we visited Chateau de Bonaguil (beautiful on the outside, a ruin on the inside), the town of Pujols that has murals in the church dating from the 1400s, the market in the bastide town of Beaumont-du-Perigord, the medieval town of Issigeac where the narrow streets coil around its central church like a snail, and we floated along the River Dordogne at La Roque Gageac. We took unexpected side trips that stumbled upon a castle and a 12th-century church, and I found a new Favorite Thing in cassis glacé. The ubiquitous blue shutters and doors, usually associated with Provence, rallied for best color alongside fields of sunflowers and geraniums spilling out of windowboxes.
A mystery was solved on this trip, too. We’d been puzzled by the scores of white-barked, lined-up trees on the sides of many roads – lined up to the point of precision. What were they, and why were they planted this way? When we asked the locals they seemed to have no idea what we were talking about. We’d come across one answer in a book – they are poplars planted in orderly quincunxes, the fashion during the Middle Ages. But there still seemed to be way too many of these little forests. Finally someone told us that the trees are planted for the production of Camembert boxes; they grow for 20 years before they are harvested. I suppose it still doesn’t explain the perfectly ordered rows, but both explanations captured our imaginations enough that we were happy.
In this land of châteaux, foie gras, and pre-history, where the red wine flows like water, there is never a lack of things to see, do and learn. Words like confit de canard, Knights Templar, pigeonnier, and the Compostela pilgrim route creep into your vocabulary. Even if you knew nothing about the Hundred Years War, it comes into sharp focus here. Prehistoric caves can be seen just by driving along a river, and hulking ruins of castles are encountered in unexpected places. The road to Dordogne is a secret door that opens up a part of France where the roots of life are rich and deep – beautiful, captivating, and always surprising. Who knows … with a little luck, some day I may even go back for trip #4.