May 28, Les Plus Beaux Villages et Les Villages de Charme

It turned out that Domme was a Plus Beaux Village and compared to Lauzerte we had been disappointed by the commercialism and almost theme park atmosphere. Despite being sceptical, we coded Kate to take us to a series of villages from the brochure and set out under partly cloudy skies to explore. We passed first through a patchwork of hilly forested and cultivated land spotted with old farm houses and small charming, but undesignated villages with their old stone churches before leaving the D50 and turning onto the D53 towards Belvès, the first of our Plus Beaux Villages for the day. Passing through active forest land with dense plantation forest and small clearings with piles of logs, we again emerged into scattered woodlot and farmland. On a hill stood Belvès, waiting to exceed our expectations. In the main square stood a 15th century timber- framed, tile-roofed open market hall. Surrounding the square an eclectic mix of architec- ture dating from the 11th to the 19th cen- tury. It exuded charm and history and yet most shops served the locals. Cobblestone streets radiated off to hair dressers, barbers, vegetable shops, meat and butcher shops, patisseries, boulangeries, homes, hotels, and views of the valley. Despite the obvious tourist appeal and upscale renovations to some old buildings, the town felt like a living town rather than a tourist attraction, a gem compared to Domme. The medieval centre of Monpazier has survived nearly intact. An arcade of stone buildings surrounds the expansive, sett (brick shaped stone) paved market square. A large timber and tile roofed, open market hall occupies one corner and offers shade or shelter from the rain, but on this pleasantly warm day people dined in al fresco elegance under the  sun at the edge of the square. Belvès attracted its share of tourists but still felt like a living village. Monpazier was better preserved but seemed to cater more to tourism and less to locals. Quiet two-lane roads led us through more rolling patchworks of forest and field punctuated by châteaux, old farm houses, and ruined castles before turning back to camp. We encountered a particularly intrepid bicyclist. We passed him and, while we were stopped at an old monastery, he passed us back. We stopped at Gavaudun beside the ruin of an old castle that looked as though it had grown out of the mountain rock, withered, and then died back, slowly returning to its original form as a mountain. Our intrepid bicyclist passed us again and as he passed, I gave him a thumbs up. Another stop and as we passed him again Sheila gave him a thumbs up out the window and I tooted the horn. Finally, after doubling back from a wrong turn we ended our brief relationship with one last encounter, he smiled and nodded. A little off the main tourist track and set amidst some of the loveliest Dordogne landscapes and “Villages de Charme”1, Villefranche-du-Perigord boasted a gorgeous market square and open sided market hall, an imposing 14th century church, and 13th century buildings. Smaller and less commercial than the other Plus Beaux Villages, it could have been any small town except for its amazing square. It even had a garage-mechanic shop, with an old rusted and battered, open-topped, one-ton surplus military vehicle still in use as a tow-truck. Unfortunately it was late afternoon and we were Plus Beaux Village(d) and Village de Charme(d) out for the day. We left, not having done Villefrance justice and driving through Besse, a Village de Charm without stopping on our way back to camp. 1 Officially designated charming villages, a level below “Plus Beaux Villages”
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map
View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp.

May 28, Les Plus Beaux Villages et

Les Villages de Charme

It turned out that Domme was a Plus Beaux Village and compared to Lauzerte we had been disappointed by the commercialism and almost theme park atmosphere. Despite being scep- tical, we coded Kate to take us to a series of villages from the brochure and set out under partly cloudy skies to explore. We passed first through a patchwork of hilly for- ested and cultivated land spot- ted with old farm houses and small charming, but undesignated villages with their old stone churches before leaving the D50 and turning onto the D53 towards Belvès, the first of our Plus Beaux Villages for the day. Passing through active forest land with dense planta- tion forest and small clearings with piles of logs, we again emerged into scattered woodlot and farmland. On a hill stood Belvès, waiting to exceed our expecta- tions. In the main square stood a 15th  century timber-framed, tile-roofed open market hall. Surrounding the square an eclectic mix of architecture dating from the 11th to the 19th century. It exuded charm and history and yet most shops served the locals. Cobble- stone streets radi- ated off to hair dressers, barbers, vegetable shops, meat and butcher shops, patisseries, boulangeries, homes, hotels, and views of the valley. Despite the obvious tourist appeal and upscale renovations to some old buildings, the town felt like a living town rather than a tourist attraction, a gem com- pared to Domme. The medieval centre of Monpazier has survived nearly intact. An arcade of stone buildings sur- rounds the expansive, sett (brick shaped stone) paved market square. A large timber and tile roofed, open market hall occupies one corner and offers shade or shelter from the rain, but on this pleasantly warm day people dined in al fresco  elegance under the  sun at the edge of the square. Belvès attracted its share of tourists but still felt like a living village. Monpazier was better preserved but seemed to cater more to tourism and less to locals. Quiet two-lane roads led us through more rolling patchworks of forest and field punctu- ated by châteaux, old farm houses, and ruined castles before turning back to camp. We encountered a particularly intrepid bicyclist. We passed him and, while we were stopped at an old monastery, he passed us back. We stopped at Gavaudun beside the ruin of an old castle that looked as though it had grown out of the mountain rock, withered, and then died back, slowly returning to its original form as a mountain. Our intrepid bicyclist passed us again and as he passed, I gave him a thumbs up. Another stop and as we passed him again Sheila gave him a thumbs up out the window and I tooted the horn. Finally, after doubling back from a wrong turn we ended our brief relationship with one last encounter, he smiled and nodded. A little off the main tourist track and set amidst some of the loveliest Dordogne land- scapes and “Villages de Charme”1, Ville- franche-du-Perigord boasted a gorgeous market square and open sided market hall, an imposing 14th century church, and 13th century buildings. Smaller and less commercial than the other Plus Beaux Villages, it could have been any small town except for its amazing square. It even had a garage-mechanic shop, with an old rusted and battered, open-topped, one-ton surplus military vehicle still in use as a tow-truck. Unfortunately it was late afternoon and we were Plus Beaux Village(d) and Vil- lage de Charme(d) out for the day. We left, not having done Villefrance justice and driving through Besse, a Village de Charm without stopping on our way back to camp. 1 Officially designated charming villages, a level below “Plus Beaux Villages”
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Route Map Route Map Slideshow Slideshow
View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp.