For if nothing else, southwest France is indeed a fine place to hear yourself think. The great wine helps, of course, and the delicious regional cuisine puts your digestion in harmony with the universe.Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls, authors of Dordogne & Lot: the Bradt Guide
If southwest France could croon a tune, it would have to be that old Inkspots hit ‘I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire’. Endowed with the soft, gentle beauty of rolling vine-clad hills and valleys and oak and chestnut forests, the region rarely demands your awe and homage. But, like all true lovers, it magically opens your eyes to the grace and charm in little things, in everyday life.
Of course, like any place it has its superlatives, its bragging rights. This is river country par excellence, where waterways born in the Pyrenees and Massif Central – the Dordogne, Lot, Aveyron, Tarn, Garonne and their countless tributaries – put on their brakes to weave gracefully down to the broad estuary of the Gironde and the Atlantic, flowing past a thousand châteaux and as many medieval villages, the world’s foremost wine region and some of its very first great art in the cave paintings of Lascaux, Font-de-Gaume, Pech Merle and a score of others.
Apart from Bordeaux and Toulouse, the two great cities that form the limits of this book, nothing much has happened here since the Hundred Years’ War. Out of history, out of mind, this region retains something that most of the industrialised world has lost in its mad rush towards modernity. The Occitan word is èime, similar to the Catalan seny – the intangible spirit of the nation, its good sense, its spirit of measure and moderation, homeland of France’s most reasonable thinkers, of Montaigne, Fénelon, La Boétie and Montesquieu.
For if nothing else, southwest France is indeed a fine place to hear yourself think. The great wine helps, of course, and the delicious regional cuisine puts your digestion in harmony with the universe. The pace of life is slow, and there’s time to contemplate that old stone farm on the next hill, blending into the environment naturally and effortlessly. The sun-soaked wall by your chair is covered with eglantine and honeysuckle; the fragrance, the flitting butterflies and the blackbirds trilling away make you delightfully drowsy and once again all plans and outings are postponed. You can’t put it off forever, of course – there’s a full whack of sights and surprises for you in this region – but the true purpose of this corner of the world is in teaching us all to pause and regain a bit of perspective. Or, as in the words of Michel de Montaigne:
‘The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long, yet get little from life. Whether you find satisfaction in life depends not on your tale of years, but on your will.’