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Music and more in chateau and ruined abbey

FestiVillars is an association which aims to make more of the incredibly rich heritage of a small village in the Périgord Vert, Dordogne by using its beautiful buildings for cultural events.

Villars has an 11th-century church, the ruins of a Cistercian abbey and a Renaissance masterpiece, the Château de Puyguilhem. Seven years ago, British resident Kevin Saunders, who owns the local chambre d’hôtes and restaurant, got together with four local residents to put on concerts in these wonderful settings. Since then the group has gone from strength to strength and puts on at least four major cultural events a year.

This year there has been a trumpet and organ recital in the church, a jazz event combined with a picnic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary played in English but with a résumé in French, and a world music event featuring the tango, all at the Abbaye de Boschaud. This month the season will close with a French play put on in the Salle des Fêtes.

Mr Saunders, who is responsible for publicity says that they attract audiences, which are generally about 50% French and 50% Dutch and British.

“It is lovely to have that international feel to events,” he says. “There are two British residents on the committee and for me it was a very good way to integrate into village life.

“The mayor is very supportive of what we do and as we gain funds in our non-profit-making association we hope to put some money back into the commune to help with restoration projects such as replacing some of the glass in the church windows and repairing a cross on the road to Puyguilhem. We have already helped to clean out one of the old lavoirs, communal washing areas, on the outskirts of the village.”

He says the biggest challenge is attracting audiences to their events: “Reaching people is not easy in the countryside but we have a valiant team of volunteers who place boards on the roadsides. Over the years, word of mouth has become a valuable means of publicity as we become recognised for putting on concerts of high quality.

“We are lucky to have the director of a local conservatoire living in our village and he is able to attract performers through his personal contacts who would normally be outside the scope and budget of FestiVillars.”

The association is always keen to attract new members. Membership costs €15 per person and gives a reduction of €2 for all performances. 

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