The day started with a mission: sight-seeing pigeons. Or at least scouring the French countryside for the structures built to house them. The tour guides say these pigeonniers are strewn across the Tarn et Garonne department, so we know they're around, but we can't find a map denoting where they're located. No problem, we decided, we'll find them ourselves. So armed with a road map, a camera, and a sense of adventure, Chris and I set off on a pigeonnier scavenger hunt.
The pigeonnier is a slender tower that was built in the middle ages in southwest France. It is essentially a dovecote, a structure first built by the Egyptians and brought to France by the Romans. Pigeonniers are roughly the size of a garage and are usually two stories or one story built on stilts. They come in all shapes and sizes, from square to round to octagonal. One can recognize a pigeonniers by it's pigeonholes, usually located just below the roof of the building.
Pigeonniers were built, as one might guess, to house pigeons. Why would they do this? It was an easy way to raise meat on the farm without taking up a lot of space. The droppings were also collected for fertilizer and were sometimes saved for a dowry. The pigeonnier was a privilege of the rich and only they could build the structures. The pigeons fed on local produce, creating a nuisance for peasant farmers in the area and was one more source of tension between the lord and his vassals. Shortly after the French revolution, the privilege was abolished and the pigeonnier dropped from a practical chateau building to a picturesque roadside curiosity.
By winding down quiet farm roads and scouting from ridges, we were able to spot more than a few pigeonniers. Many have been turned into British vacation houses, offering a small retreat that is part historical, part charming, and part kitchy. The name "Pigeonnier" has been used for wine labels, hotels, neighborhoods, and restaurants, emphasizing that they are a staple of the region and give the area some of its character. For us, they were a great way to see the landscape in a different way and pay closer attention to our beautiful surroundings.