“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost
We’ve just left southwest France after almost four weeks in the beautiful Dordogne, focused on the area known as the Périgord Noir (the black Périgord). The Périgord Experience was a new trip for us this year, and we had a wonderful time introducing three groups of travelers to this very special area.
There is so much to see and do in the Périgord, especially at this time of year: two major rivers, more than 1000 castles, over 150 prehistoric sites and decorated caves, beautiful villages and towns, busy outdoor markets, and incredible natural beauty. There’s also so much to eat, since the Périgord is one of France’s major gastronomic regions. The unique Périgordian cuisine features local products such as duck, goose, walnuts, truffles, and strawberries.
When we designed this trip we had a difficult time narrowing down what we would include in Experience week… there were so many possibilities within 30-45 minutes of our base in Montignac.
We love our visits to medieval Sarlat, Beynac Castle, the gardens at Eyrignac, the Dordogne river, and Lascaux II. I recommend these places to anyone traveling to the Dordogne. We especially enjoyed our archaeology day with local expert Steve Burman of Caves and Castles, also a member of our Slow Travel Tours group. Our village base in Montignac, our lovely hotel, and the warm welcome and excellent service from our hotel owners Thierry and Katia truly enhanced our week. But for me, the most special moments of our weeks involved the less-discovered places and the unexpected interactions with local people… the kind of memorable experiences that happen when you seek out the “roads less traveled.”
Here are a few examples from “the roads less traveled” during our recent weeks in the Périgord:
The family-owned restaurant in the tiny village of Fanlac (population 140), in the hills above Montignac, opened for lunch for all three of our groups. The Roger family owns a farm a few kilometers away and much of what we ate was from their farm. (The one-day old fresh cow cheese with homemade jam was a special treat.) Odile was our chef and Alain or their daughter Anne served our meal. The first week three village dogs joined us at the table, much to the delight of our group.
A hiking trail circles the beautiful privately-owned chateau Le Grand Filolie (built from the 15th to the 17th century), located down a narrow country road a few miles from Montignac. The trail takes you right past the back door of the chateau! During one of our weeks, several members of the group encountered the owner of the chateau… he invited them to take a look at the courtyard, introduced them to his American-born wife, and chatted for several minutes.
The 16th century Chateau de Lacypierre is tucked away in a small valley in the old village of St Crépin. The owner is an architect who has been restoring the chateau for over 40 years. They open the gate for visitors to come into the front and back garden of the chateau and to visit a small museum about the restoration. We met up with the owner on two of our weeks and learned more about his work at this very special place. The third week we also encountered a cycle race passing by!
Another special meal for our Périgord Experience groups was our dinner at the ferme-auberge Lou Peyrol in the beautiful countryside just outside the tiny village of Sergeac in the Vézère valley. A “ferme-auberge” is a casual restaurant at a farm that uses many of the farm’s products in their cooking. This restaurant also opened just for our group, and we enjoyed a six-course meal in the beautiful red and white dining room. (Our six courses: soup, foie gras, omelette with wild mushrooms, duck with potatoes and salad, cheese, and dessert.) At the end of our second dinner, the owner Jeannine (also the cook) told me that there would be something special the next week… it was “La fête de la Saint-Jean,” a summer holiday celebrated in some parts of France in honor of John the Baptist. So after dinner our third week, our group was invited outside with about 30 local people for a big bonfire. What an unexpected surprise!
You never know who you’ll meet or what will happen when you slow down to enjoy the roads less traveled. We’re already looking forward to returning to the Périgord in 2014!
Kathy and Charley Wood lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Luberon Experience in Provence, France. National Geographic Traveler magazine named The Luberon Experience one of their top 50 tours in the world in 2012.
Kathy and Charley host Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. They also offer two longer tours: The European Christmas Experience (12 days) and The Cornwall Experience in southwest England (10 days).
Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for almost 30 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. They've hosted 120 Experience groups since they launched in 2006. They have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.