A few years back on a trip to the Netherlands, I also made a side trip to France, and saw the Dordogne, the river, and the Lot, also a river. Friends of mine have a so-called Gite, a vacation house in the region of LOT, the region bordering the DORDOGNE region. The property is a renovated 18th century farm house with two separate sides whose occupants do not need to interfere with each other, as each can go their own way on this acreage, except when you both want to use the natural self-cleaning pool: then you just have to make do! The whole house can be rented if my friends are not using it, or only one side, which my friends keep for rentals. The word gite indicates a vacation house for rent.
The location is about a ten minute drive from the village of Degagnac-Lot, and the closest larger city is Gourdon, 14 clicks away. One can fly in from the airport of Bergerac. It is the region bordering the Dordogne region. I was not before then in this part of France, although I visited Sarlat-le-Caneda and Souillac before, where the home of the author of Le Petit Prince is located, Alexandre de Saint Exupery. The A-20 gets you quite close. The home can house 12 people and it’s just lovely. The site can be checked out on its website. Unfortunately, the link cannot be established. It is searchable by its name Gite Fourcaries-Lot, France. It is a website in Dutch but Google will translate it for you.
The old farms in France did not do so well and agriculture not so much a money maker any more for the smaller farms, when the European Community became a reality. People left the country side for the cities to find industrial type jobs, while richer farms consolidated smaller farms and became large scale operations. Many farms could be bought for a song, relatively speaking. Northern Europeans who live in wetter and colder nations bought these dreamy homes and renovated them to their modern standards for a second home and get away from the cold in this balmy French region.
One can observe different nations’ citizens in their renovations: the British convert their vacation properties to typical cottage style, not so much respecting the original French style, while Germans make them often more ostentatious, while the Dutch try to not change too much of the original, medieval buildings.
The sheep cavern is built a few hundred yards across the path from the main farm building, with a gate that would be closing off the roughly built shelter, to protect the sheep at night from predators. These sheep shelters are typical for the area. Locals hunt for pheasants, rabbits, and other fowl and a type of small wild boar that also roam around the fields and bushes. The farm house is located on a hill in the middle of fields that are leased out to farmers for growing grass for hay.
At the back of the house one can see the bulge of the built-in wood burning oven. The oven’s opening is inside the kitchen. The enclosure around the oven is meant to keep the goats in that are kept close to the house overnight and milked for the precious goat cheese. The goats are grazing during the day somewhere else, but at night again kept in the enclosure. The region produces many different goat cheeses and is an area where one can indulge in other kinds of gourmet foods as well, for the more adventurous eater. The warmth from the oven will keep the goats from getting too cold in the cooler winters.
The entry to the goat corral.
This is the main entry from the road with a small patio, which catches the morning sun. We sit there after getting up and drink our espresso coffee, enjoying the first sun rays of the day.
The tower on the farm is the pigeon coop, kept for fertilizing the gardens around the house (non existent now) and for keeping the insect population down; the pigeons also are a tasty bite to eat in the fall. The French have historically eaten song birds as well, although that practice has been discontinued, as far as I know. I do remember observing a scene where a customer haggled with skill and patience over the purchase of one little finch at the market, about thirty years ago.
We had a scrumptious meal in the larger town of Salviac, 7 clicks down the road. Also some friends of my hosts visited the area and we had a great meal at home with my hosts as chefs, in French style: drinking and chatting for hours at the dinner table in the kitchen.
We shared the cooking and here is Hans serving up a delicious roast leg of lamb for the guests. Behind him is the hearth with the former wood burning oven visible, although that part is modified and the opening for the oven is now bricked in and not functional any more: the hearth has been changed to be more useful with more modern appliances, an elaborate espresso machine and an electric oven.
My room in the lower part of the building was large and cool in this all-stone building, with a double door to the yard to possibly allow a nightly escapade, if so desired, or maybe a night-time skinny dip in the pool.
This is an all natural pool with a self cleaning system. Although the basic cement pool is like other pools and a pump circulates the water, the plant materials on the left that grow on a shallow ledge separate from the main pool filters the water and allows for a non-chemical environment. The water is lovely and clear and occasionally we shared the pool with a frog or two.
The indoor photos did not turn out well. You will just have to travel there and see it for yourself. I did manage to shoot the kitchen.
The closest town is Degagnac, an old village 4 kilometres from the farm, with little alleys and pavement just like it was four centuries ago with a gutter in the middle of the street to let the rain and grey water flow down the road.
City Hall, or Hotel de Ville.
Next blog post I will show more of the region with plenty of middle-age buildings and castles.