THE LOCALITY AND ACTIVITIES
VILLEREAL AND ISSIGEAC
The South West of France is a land of vineyards and plum trees, sunflowers and soft rolling landscape with wonderful views. It is peppered with medieval villages and ancient towns, many of them among ‘the most beautiful villages of France’, a national appellation not easily obtained. Getting to your destination is often a lengthy affair because of the constant visual surprise and beckoning detours.
Villeréal in the Lot-et-Garonne is a great example of a ‘bastide’ town, one of the new towns of the 13th. century built for security and commerce by both the English and the French during the Hundred Years War and subject to many changes of ownership! The English involvement is not new here! The immediate area boasts many wonderful ‘bastides’ such as Monpazier, Monflanquin, Beaumont, Domme, all worth visiting, all very original and each unique.
Issigeac in the Dordogne, with its narrow medieval streets and well preserved houses with overhangs, surmounted by the summer palace of the Bishop of Sarlat, is like a small film set and a great stepping stone to the more northerly parts of the department. It is particularly lovely on Sunday when it hosts an excellent market.
Binou and Peyregras Bas are on the borders of the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne departments making the great rivers of the Dordogne, Lot and their tributaries and the country they encompass accessible within a day. The Dordogne is more hilly and wooded than the Lot-et-Garonne and more touristy in the high season being very well known to travellers. The locals in Villeréal have always given ‘tranquillité’ as their great attraction and this less-known Lot-et-Garonne offers similar beautiful villages, churches, abbeys, frescoes, undulating open countryside with vast panoramas, exquisite old houses nestling in the landscape and friendly people who are always proud of what they can offer the visitor. Here you can really get off the beaten track in ‘la douce France’.
Villeréal, the local village, was founded in 1269 by Alphonse de Poitiers for the king of France. It is renowned for its fortified church, the covered market square ‘Les Halles’ and the state of preservation of the ‘cornières’ or covered walkways around the square.
Villeréal offers all the amenities of a small town, including banks, a post office, butchers’ shops, a pottery, supermarkets, hardware stores, hairdressers, pharmacies, hotels and restaurants, a church, library and a computer centre. It is the location of a national ‘haras’ or horse-breeding stable and jockey school and has a horse-racing track with regular events, many by night in the summer.
Throughout the year there are special events such as the ‘Bodega’ in July with street music, food and dancing throughout the centre of the village, the parade and blessing of the horses, the annual garlic soup competition, the antique fair, the antique vehicle exhibition and weekly night markets in the summer at which you can hear traditional music and sample local foods buying your supper to eat under the covered market where tables are laid out.
The ‘maison de tourisme’ is on site to give you all the information you need and there is also a comprehensive collection of tourist information in the gites.
Festivals of film, music, dance, theatre, folklore, jazz, pottery and local themes such as truffles, garlic, wine, prunes, occur throughout the year. Every town and village has their annual celebration usually lasting 1-2 days and showcasing the locale, the history, the traditions, and the cuisine. Most involve a communal meal and dancing in the main square and are open to all visitors. Usually reservations are needed for specific events such as a banquet at a medieval festival or a concert in a church.
The area is also full of small interesting museums dedicated to specific themes or artists, such as Zadkine, history of the bastides, the prune industry in the Agenais, foie gras, truffles, local history, old agricultural implements and techniques, miniatures, pre-history, Roman remains. There are always many art exhibitions.
The history of the region goes back millennia to Neolithic times with troglodytic villages and houses to visit and caves with Neolithic paintings and impressive rock formations. Visits to caves with original paintings may need to be booked ahead of time as there is a limit on the number of visitors allowed per day at Font de Gaume (Dordogne) or Pech Merle (Lot). We would be happy to do the booking for you.
Activities include wine tasting in the chateaux of Bergerac and Pecharmant (a special sub-appellation of Bergerac producing a rich wine not well-known as the terroir is small and not able to be marketed in large quantity) Duras and Cahors.
Sports-lovers can indulge themselves in every way in the locality which offers horse-riding, canoeing, caving, cycling (bikes are available for hire locally), walking, swimming in lakes and rivers, fishing with a short-term permit, hot-air ballooning, golf and tennis. We can put you in touch with organisations if you wish to fix things up before you come.
Children are easily entertained in the area. Local farmers will allow them to visit their animals and the local goat farm is always happy to show people their production. There is a donkey farm that offers rides. ‘Parc en Ciel’ is a theme park for young children and adolescents and there are acrobatic woodland courses in the area as well as a water park ‘Walibi’ at Agen. Children and adults can often practise old artisan skills such as calligraphy, archery, stone cutting, fresco painting or observe artisans at work on festival days. The problem is often reaching a family consensus for a day with so many options to choose from.
In all of our houses you will find a helpful house book explaining what you need to know to make yourselves fully at home and a comprehensive selection of information for tourism.