10 | Travel
12 - 18 February 2013
e c n a m o r e d i s y r t n u o c A In France
By Clare Boyd-Macrae
It’s such a luxury, when you’re travelling, to have an entire week in one place. When the week is in the south of France, it’s not just a luxury, it’s a foretaste of heaven. Although not far from some busy little towns, with such useful amenities as banks, petrol stations and supermarkets, our village of La Teuliere is so tiny it’s not on any maps that we can find.
There is a letter box, but the nearest store, which is minute and sells a weird collection of stamps, local wine and second hand clothes, is nearly four kms down the mountain. There are half a dozen houses in this hamlet and sunshine filters from a sky of purest blue through the almost-autumnal leaves of the birch and chestnut trees in the woods that surround it. It’s pinch yourself territory. We can’t believe we are here: in the south of France, in a converted 19th century barn that epitomizes tasteful rustic charm, smack down in the middle of territory which includes several of what are officially the loveliest French villages in existence. Living here, maybe you could become blasé about such places. To us, from a land where the culture goes back tens of thousands of years but the oldest buildings are 200 years old, we are like kids in a lolly shop. We run out of superlatives on the first morning. I wish I could think of something more original to say than ‘wow!’ But that’s what keeps popping out of my mouth; I am rendered barely articulate by the beauty, both natural and made by humans, by which we are surrounded. We divvie up our days. One day we go sight-seeing by car; the next we explore on foot. This works well for us; it doesn’t take long to get to saturation point when you drive and stop at more than two villages, no matter how quaint. We need the soothing balance of long walks through the forests, where we stumble upon ruins; of mills, of cottages and sheds, of ancients stone walls softened by a complete covering of thick, damp moss. Everywhere is hilly, and I feel my thighs and lungs get stronger by the day as I power up and down the steep slopes. To describe the villages as charming is the understatement of our trip thus far. Apart from the odd satellite dish, and the disconcerting presence of modern cars,
they look exactly as they have done for a couple of hundred years. Most of these hamlets are medieval. Each has a tiny church, some of which date from the 12th and 13th centuries, surrounded by the graves of the faithful. They are built of the local stone and are beautifully maintained. The houses front straight onto the narrow streets, and window boxes burst with bright geraniums. There are wooden balconies and windows with shutters. It is hard not to feel like a voyeur - we are voyeurs, we are tourists after all - it is also hard not to feel as though we have landed in a fairy tale or a picture postcard or Narnia, whisked back in time and plonked down in a world of yesteryear. But although I love driving to the villages (particularly eating crepes with a bowl of cider in the village square), it is our three days out of the car that I love the best. Those easy, if sometimes very steep trails through the forest - leaves just becoming golden, bracken just starting to turn to copper - I never want them to end. Most days the sun shone, but on my favourite afternoon it rained gently and persistently, giving us the enchantment of walking through the gently dripping woods, surrounded by fresh smells, in the profoundest hush. The memories I will treasure most of our week in the south of France will not be of the fabulous, four course lunches for 12 euros (about $15) or even the picture postcard perfect villages. It is the rambles deep in the birch forests that I will return to when I want a deep sense of happiness and calm. Clare Boyd-Macrae stayed in the village of La Teuliere, near the town of Gagnacsur-Cere in the district of Lot. This area is south of the Dordogne in southern France. Clare Boyd-Macrae’s travel writing can be found at www.clareboydmacrae.com or you can follow her on twitter at @clareboydmacrae.
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Image by Cappellacci
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