One of my all-time favourite Guitar Retreats was to La Perdrix last year. La Perdrix is a private property on the edge of the village of St Martin de Riberac in the beautiful Dordogne area of south west France. Originally built as a 13th Century Monastery, it’s undergone many transformations over the years and is now a magical, rambling maze of a building.
I left Fresnay-Sur-Sarthe on Saturday morning after breakfast and took the N10 toll road south towards Le Mans. The journey to St Martin de Riberac was just over 400 km and would take me around 4 hours. The last part of my journey was along the French “D” roads through some beautiful countryside. Despite having air-conditioning I drove with all the windows open and enjoyed the wonderful smell of freshly cut grass and linden trees. The French back roads are great usually in far better condition than most of our roads here in Scotland and always quiet. They take you through small villages and towns which often look deserted.
I arrived at La Perdrix to find that some of my Guitar Retreat friends had already arrived. Brian (my friend who lived Paignton – more of that in part 3) had arrived the previous evening with Colin and Stu, our tutors for the week, and Sharon, Stu’s wife. There had been a problem with some flight delays from Southampton and some of the others wouldn’t be arriving until later. This had caused a knock on effect with the transportation arrangements and I offered to pick up a player from the airport and another at a nearby railway station on the way back. Last year the weather had been absolutely glorious, to be honest, a bit too hot for me, but this year it was a bit more unsettled and on the drive to the airport went through the most tremendous downpour, so much so that I was reduced to travelling at walking pace as I just couldn’t see!
The week followed much the same format as last year which was leading up to a performance in a local café in Riberac itself. Being a Guitar Retreat, the emphasis is on playing and practising for the Friday evening performance, but there is still plenty of time to relax around the beautiful grounds of La Perdrix and one of the days is set aside as a rest day when a trip is planned to a local town or attraction. This year the planned trip was to Brantôme a few kilometres NE of Riberac. I had decided not to go as I would be passing the town later on my road trip so I stayed at La Perdrix with Jim, Colin and a couple of others. We played some tunes, read our books, sat by the pool, chewed the fat and generally relaxed with a few beers.
This year with the weather looking a bit more unpredictable, Johnny had a plan to use his barn for the gig and invite a few of his friends from the village and surrounding area, but in the end this wasn’t needed as the owner of the café had bought a new PA system so there was no repeat of last year when we were trying to cobble together a PA from a variety of amps and speakers.
On Friday morning we went into Riberac to check out the venue and visit the weekly market. The market takes place right in the centre and is probably the largest in the area. It’s a mixture of local produce, crafts, artisan beer, preserves, cheese as well as the usual sort of touristy tat you find at a lot of markets. I thought it looked a little smaller than last year and speaking to some of the stall-holders (in my poor French) I was told that it was down to the recession. There were also a number of second hand clothes stalls. Earlier in the year, Brian, Stu and I had decided we were going to perform a couple of Bee Gees numbers. Sharon had been on the lookout for suitable costumes for us and found some outrageous shirts for us to wear.
The café was quite busy on the Friday night, lots of British people (the owners are from the UK) and a sprinkling of locals. The gig went well and we all had a great time. We returned to La Perdrix just after midnight and many made for the bar to continue the party. However, I decided to give it a miss as I was driving the next day to Sarlat.
I had an absolutely fantastic week and it was great to meet up with old friends and make some new and I have already decided that I will be returning next year.
Update September 2018: It was with much sadness that I read the news of the passing of one of the “La Perdrix” group. Carl was an enthusiastic, fun loving player who I first met on a retreat in Wales. The last time I saw Carl he was stuffing his clothes into his suitcase, late for his flight back home and already talking about his next retreat. A great guy who will be missed.