Thursday, 10 June 2010

WEEK 4, DAY 25 - 26 -27-28/29

Chateau de Castelnaud
24250 Castelnaud la Chapelle
Tel: 05 53 31 30 00

When the 100 years war broke out in 1337, Chateau de Castelnaud was already over a 100 years old. It would change hands some seven times in the next hundred or so before being finally captured by the French in 1442. Today, the semi-restored but essentially bare bones château, still privately owned, is listed as a Historic Building and it a museum of medieval warfare.
Our afternoon visit today (€7.80 each, plus a 3 euro council parking charge), coincided with that of perhaps a hundred French schoolchildren. And their chatter enlivened the visit. Besides, some practical demonstrations had been laid on for them and, as a result, we were able to see a rock throwing machine in action and also a teenage pupil being kitted out as a knight.
Not all the weapons are active of course but you could see that the likes of the crossbow and a more modern (16th century) “organ” could do severe damage, no matter what kind of armour (and there is quite a lot of that on show here) you wore. The organ had 12 gun barrels and could sweep a battlefield with lead balls.
Personally, looking at some of the older multi-bladed or multi-spiked weapons for hand to hand fighting, I think I’d have preferred to have fought in more recent times when a bullet would bring a relatively quick end, that is if I had to fight at all.
All in all, a very interesting visit and more to see now than there was the last time I came in 1993. Then I bought the kids and, obviously, you can still bring yours and they will enjoy  the visit which also includes a couple of audio visual presentations and a trek up through the narrow staircase of one of the towers which is rewarded with fine view over the Dordogne river and deadly rival Beynac  Castle not too far away.
Casino Supermarches
Sarlat le Caneda
05 53 30 84 00
With the rain pouring down in the morning, I did a wine review and noticed a few deficiencies. Rectified that to some degree with a visit to the local Casino (Supermarket!) on the way back from visit to Chateau de Castelnaud. Reinforced the Bandol and Pecharmant Red. Also bought a bottle of Vin de Pays du Perigord (Vin de Domme 2008 - Merlot and Cabernet Franc).
With the weather dodgy, we decided to stay in this evening and that Vin de Pays went well with the excellent Navarin d’Agneau (€8.34) that we bought in the traiteur. Surprisingly, the Vin de Pays was the most expensive bought today.
Starters were crevettes in pastry, also from the traiteur. Desserts were inviting strawberries followed by a pastry with the name of Religieuses, though I think the same may be referred to as a Nun’s Fart. We bought the pair of Religieuses in the supermarket but for quality in pastry you are guaranteed much better in the specialist shops.

WEEK 4, DAY 26
Sa Gouffre de Proumeyssac
Sa Gouffre de Proumeyssac
BP No 7
24260 Le Bugue

Despite the morning’s torrential rain, we were out and down today. Down in Gouffre de Proumeyssac, that is. Driving through the rain and the heavy water on the roads was all made worthwhile by a visit to this spectacular chasm in the ground near La Bugue.
The huge cave became well known after getting the nod from E.A. Martel in 1907 but its history goes back much further, the earliest mentions being in the 18th century. Early visitors went down in a cradle or basket and you can still do that today. I didn't and I’m sorry.
In fact, nobody seemed to take it up, maybe because it cost close to double the €8.60 simple entry cost. The original entry hole, once used for dumping rubbish (including animal carcases) is used for the basket but the normal tourist is guided down a sloping tunnel (photo) and into the huge chasm to start his circular trip on the balcony.
Then the lights go out and you see the basket descend. Music plays and the lights come up again reflecting off the dropping water (not too much of it!). Then you see the stalactites and stalagmites and columns and the little lake at the bottom.
We were supplied with an audio-guide (5 or 6 languages are available) and this was certainly a help but you do miss the personality of the guide.  Our helpful fellow raised a few laughs as he took us around. There are some huge crystallations, including one called the Medusa.
The facility is well equipped with car parks, picnic areas and walks and, don’t forget to go and see the original entrance, now with a small structure over it, from where the basket works.
During a break in the rain, we made our final visit of this trip to the Sarlat Market this morning. It was all rather subdued and as we don't plan to eat in anymore we weren’t really on the lookout for purchases, though I did help myself to a cheese cutter and serving tool which set me back all of five euro.
Subdued was also the operative word as we walked through the medieval centre this evening on the way to Auberge de Mirandol. The Mirandol though was quite busy with ground and second floors full.
We have praised the value available in the set menus in restaurants in Sarlat but once you go a la carte the prices creep into Irish territory.  Take this evening’s bill for example: Three courses for me and two for the advisor, along with a half bottle of a very satisfactory Julian Savignec Bergerac sec (Sauvignon and Semillon), came to €62.00.
My starter was a Hot Goats Cheese Salad, that is a couple of rounds of the local cabecou on toasted bread with loads of lettuce and other greens. I enjoyed my mains of a fillet of Hake with a lemon butter sauce and the local potatoes and veg and finished off with a favourite dessert: Iles Flottante.
The rain really put a damper on the eating business this evening and as we headed back towards the car we saw many of the restaurants with their chairs up on tables, having surrendered to the inevitable and hoping for better things tomorrow. Aren’t we all?

WEEK 4, DAY 27
Montfort, Le Roque Gageac
The day started delightfully when we saw a couple of deer crossing the gardens. 
The rain had yet to appear as we arrived at the viewing point above Montfort to have a look at the big bend on the Dordogne. And there were a few drops as we drove off towards La Roque Gageac.
The threat from above was still evident as we arrived at the riverside village, looking much sadder than a few short weeks back when we took a sunny trip on the boat. Now the gabarres are temporarily out of business because of the rise in the river which has flooded the embarkation points.

The village itself is also blocked off and most shops closed and, as it’s not due to roadworks, one can only assume that the danger may be from the rocks above. We do take a stroll around but the rain arrives as we leave to head back to the gite.
Time then to say goodbye to our gite owners, Milos, his wife Rosemary and their son George, before heading out to Sarlat for one last meal at the Mirandol. We stick with the traditional this evening.
Starters are Foie Gras with toast and relishes followed by the Duck confit cassoulet. After the goats cheese and salad we both go for Crème Brule. Our wine this evening is our favourite Pecharmant, the R du Roi and, courtesy of the house, we finish off with a local speciality, a classy Prune Eau de Vie!

DAY 28/29
The intention was to have a good night’s sleep before an early start Friday to the 500 miles plus journey from Sarlat to Roscoff. But that was knocked on the head, both by that late eau-de-vie plus the lightning from a neighbouring storm that floodlit the garden area around and about midnight.
We left the house about 45 minutes ahead of schedule and had an easy drive through the hills and valleys of the Dordogne from where the mists were rising as we headed for the motorway (A89) that would take us towards Bordeaux and the next motorway.
Joined the A89 near Thenon and soon saw our first service area but didn’t see another until about 70k from Bordeaux. It was called the Aire des Palombieres and we made it our first stop. It had a little cafe, shop, self-service hot drinks (I had a double espresso for €1.30), and all the usual facilities, including petrol of course.
We reckoned we saved ourselves some miles and time by leaving this motorway at Libourne and heading across a minor road (D670) from connection to the A10. The Sat-Nav took us through Libourne (a small town in any case) and a string of villages and soon we were on the A10 and heading north.
Facilities are excellent on the stretch from Bordeaux to Nantes and the toll costs are about 27 euro. Our first stop was at the Aire de Poitou/Charente but I know also that there are really good ones after that, including Aire de Vendee.
Back in early 80s, there was hardly a Cork driver on tour who didn’t get lost in Nantes. Roads have improved hugely since then but there is still at least one dodgy spot on the return journey. That comes on the péripherique after exit 38 and before exit 37 (which is the one you want for Rennes). After exit 38, keep to your left. Otherwise you will be in danger of going on to Paris and find yourself pleading to be let in to the correct lane!
I can’t say I noticed any decent services areas between Nantes and Rennes, so bear that in mind. Rennes has rarely posed problems for returning drivers but again there is a potential one when making your turn off the rocade (same as péripherique). You’ll be looking for St Brieuc and Brest. On seeing the sign, you’ll exit right but straightaway – and I mean straightaway - you are faced with a choice. Immediately, there is a divide in the road and you take the one on the left. If you have Sat-Nav, she’ll be shouting at you: exit right  and then stay left. One to watch out for as it happens in seconds.
Facilities on the Rennes-Morlaix road (a motorway, rather than an autoroute) have improved and, just maybe 10-15 ks out of Rennes, we stopped at a place called Aire D’Amour et D’Argoat. Shell have the petrol concession here and this is as good as any aire you’ll find on the autoroutes. It also has a Wi-Fi corner plus tourist info counter.
Didn’t see anything like this again but there are a few more basic stops along the way over to Morlaix. Also, as this is a motorway (not an autoroute),  you’ll have plenty of opportunities to pull off and fill your petrol tank in one of the nearby villages. But thus could be time-consuming, especially if your time to make the ferry is diminishing.
If anyone has any info to add to these motorway tips, please let me know.

In the event, we made the ferry with plenty of time to spare. While the loading can be a bit of a lottery, we were one of the first to get on board. We were hungry so headed for the self-service restaurant, the Angele. Tow steaks with potatoes (chips or gratin) and all the vegetables you wanted, plus two desserts and 50cl of Rhone valley wine came to €29.00. They didn’t last long.
Enjoyed a point after that in the bar. Kronenberg 1664 was the choice and a pint and a glass came to €6.20. The journey home, started at 9.30 French time on Friday, arrived 10.00am Irish time Saturday, was smooth and uneventful and the sun was out at Ringaskiddy as we berthed!

Saturday, 5 June 2010


WEEK 4, DAY 22
Twenty three degrees in the pool, thirty three outside of it, so we enjoyed a welcome dip at noon after a short visit to the bustling Saturday market in Sarlat.
With the weather so warm, we had decided to stick with the barbecue and take a couple of steaks out of the freezer in the garage. Bought a few bits of fruit and veg to make up the meal – no need to buy wine, though I was tempted by some Rosette moelluex from the Bergerac AOC area.
The wine eventually used with the steak was a Bandol rouge 2002, a smashing wine, made mainly from the Mourvedre grape. Cost €7.00.
Wasn’t all that keen on heading to the market but should have known better as there is always something different. And, this morning,  that something different was provided by a ten foot dancing bear who came to the market on his bike, advertising a day long Fete.
Surprised then to see the actor get off the bike and stroll around among the market customers. Everyone was keen to take a break and have a look. The stallholders were just as keen as anyone else and even stopped serving while the “bear” slowly made his way through the centre.
Les Cabanes du Breuil
St Andres – Allas
06 80 72 38 59
A shorter trip was needed this hot afternoon and Les Cabanes du Breuil fitted the bill to perfection. Following a “mysterious origin” (typical French brochurese), these huts, not dis-similar to the beehive huts seen in Kerry, were the rural residence of the Sarlat Benedictines 'til the middle of the 15th century. In the 18th and 19th, they were used by craftsmen and, since 1950, this remarkable heritage has been preserved within a working family farm.
This is a pretty genuine farm as goose and ducks wander around with their young and are indeed housed in the cabanes themselves. The old barn is now the video room and there is a collection of old farm machinery including tractors, movers and harrows.
The huts are apparently the traditional dry stone buildings of the area but this original preservation and presentation is certainly well worth the four euro entry fee. Indeed, the display by the farm’s pea-cock was worth that much.

Pics, from top: Sarlat Bear, Duckling at Breuil and Ancients Huts

WEEK 4, DAY 23

Very dull morning here in Sarlat, livened up by a solitary peal of thunder and a short shower and more pleasingly by the purchase of some Bandol Rose from the local Casino where we’d gone to dump the bottles of the previous week and stock up on essentials such as bread and milk. The Bandol cost €6.50. Was on the lookout for a red and white from the area but no joy here.
In the lazy afternoon, walked through a different part of Sarlat, including the public park, and came back through the town centre, checking the restaurants for this evening. The weather is dull and there are few people out and about even though the temperatures feel as if they are in the low 20s.
Despite checking out a few “new” venues, we ended up at our “old” favourite Auberge de Mirandol. And what a meal we had for €18.00 each. Their suggested wine was a Percharmant, a 2004 R du Roi for €16.00. It was absolutely excellent and perhaps our favourite wine of the three weeks so far.
We started the meal with Foie Gras mis-cuit with three different relishes, including a Monbazillac jelly. Second starter for me was the Marinated Salmon (with Salad) while the other one was a well presented half Melon with a fair dash of that Monbazillac wine in the centre.
We agreed on the main course, not very substantial but gorgeous: Breast of Duck in a  truffle sauce with Sarlandais potatoes and haricot vert. Then followed he usual cheese course though this time it was cabecou (with salad) rather than Rocamadour.
There was an extra in the dessert line-up and I went for it. It was the melt in the mouth French classic Isles Flottantes. We also had Crème Brule and that too was excellent. A big crowd in to the Mirandol on this unpromising Sunday night and that is a good sign of an excellent restaurant where the food and the service is always top class, always friendly, despite the odd language mix-up.

WEEK 4, DAY 24
Chateau de Hautefort
24390 Hautefort
05 53 50 51 23
Chateau de Hautefort is best seen from the near distance. This imposing fortress is seen clear above the village for miles around.

From Roman times, there has been a fortress here and today the oldest part is the 14/15th century Tower of Brittany. On paying the admission of €8.50, you undertake a self-guiding tour though various parts of the often restored castle, seeing many of the rooms with their furniture and wall hangings.
In the immediate area around the castle, you have quite impressive French style gardens, mainly trimmed box with, here and there, a few concessions to colour with the use of flowers. Another attraction is supposed to be the English style gardens but this has been better days as you will see from the empty water-garden and other missing bits.
The Chateau, now run under the rules of a foundation, obviously rents out its facilities to pay the huge costs. On the day we visited, we saw vans and cars at the entrance making deliveries for a reception that evening. A marquee had been set up in the main courtyard, a drinks reception was being arranged under the hedge tunnel and an “orchestra” was also being set up.
You could come a long way and pay your money and then find the close-up views you wanted of the castle spoiled by the parking of the tradesmen and suppliers. But don’t worry, the best views are from the near distance. Of course, if you are interested in the gardens, the tapestries, ornaments and furniture, and many of you are, by all means come and do the tour. Otherwise, take your photo down the road and carry on.
The sunshine helped today which started with a walk into Sarlat to our traiteurs but disappointingly, and you often find this in France, they were closed on Mondays. Should have known better. Still all was not lost. Called to a corner shop Epicerie on the way back as we knew they also do prepared dishes and here we picked up some pork in a Madeira sauce.
Returning from Hautefort, we called to the Carrefour supermarket in town and bought some other bits and pieces. Now, with a bottle of excellent Buzet just opened, we are all set for a fine easy going meal in the sun. Must make the best of it. A petrol-lady, close to Hautefort, when I remarked in basic French that today was fine, told me: “Ajourdoui oui. Bad Demain!”
Photos from top: Walnut trees, Hautefort and Box hedges at Hautefort.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

WEEK 3, DAY 15

WEEK 3, DAY 15
Golden Beef, 10 Av. Aristide Briand, 24200 Sarlat
This morning’s early mission was to get some bread. No problem. Strolled down to the nearby butchers who have a Depot de Pain. Back in less than ten minutes with a baguette that cost 78 cents.
Pavillion de la Marée, Martine Fredieu, rue Henri Rebiere, ZI la Serve, 24110 St Astter
It took much longer to work our way through the huge market that takes over most of Sarlat’s streets on a Saturday morning. After the beef excesses of the previous night, decided on some fish from our “regular” stall: Pavillion de la Marée. Selection didn’t include Julienne but we did buy some panga, despite the fact that neither of us knew what it was and not one of our books had a translation!
Picked up a few other bits and pieces and also ticked off another one of our wines with a 7 euro purchase of a 2002 Bandol rouge.
Still on the lookout for Julienne (ling), we were disappointed not to see a second fish stall that we had previously used. Called to the Fishmongers on the main street but their selection was very limited and we gave up waiting on the queue at the local traiteur as it was out the door. Out of luck also at a small store who had sold out of prepared dishes but we did buy a jar of Soupe de Poissons (always handy for lunch).
That meant a return visit to the Golden Beef. The queue here was also big enough but eventually we got our turn and turned down stuffed cabbage in favour of a carton of freshly prepared paella which contained enough for two and cost us €6.36.
With the food safely in the gite, it was time to head out for the bastide town of Montpazier, another of France’s most beautiful villages. This little town has remained almost unchanged for 800 years and has been used as a location for quite a few medieval period films.
No films today but some of the old games for kids, including stilt-walking, were on display and being put to use. Much the same, though not exactly so, as those seen in Sarlat a few days ago. Certainly the old Market Hall and the archways of the town, where many of the houses have balconies, was a most unusual setting and well worth a visit.
Sat down under the brollies in one of the square’s restaurants for a cup of coffee (€3.00 for double espresso). Enjoyed that before moving on to the nearby hilltop village of Belves where there is a 15th century Covered Market and some medieval remains. A picturesque spot and another of France’s most beautiful places and that is official!
Back then to the gite for that paella and Bergerac Sec but first a bottle or two of Hoegaarden! (The bottles are small!).

Photos from top: Sarlat Market, poppy field and Monpazier

WEEK 3, DAY 16
Rainy Day Sarlat
J Grolier Foie Gras
24260 Le Bugue
05 53 07 22 64

If all the restaurants in the centre of Sarlat are serving up Foie Gras, then all the shops seem to be selling it. But are they? You need to read the labels carefully, otherwise you could well be presenting Aunt Mary with a Terrine du Canard.
We had an idea of what we wanted by the time we called to Groliere Foie Gras on rue de la Liberté and met a helpful person who had once visited Ballina and had happy memories of eating salmon there. She pointed us in the direction of a special offer that meant we left the store having bought three jars of the real thing for the price of two.
The previous Sunday in Sarlat had been a scorcher but this was what we Irish like to call “a soft day”. We’d thought we’d take advantage of the lack of crowds to do the Sarlat tour, a tour we had neglected since arriving, a bit like the Corkman not ringing the bells of Shandon.
We have been using the excellent DK Eyewitness Travel Guide for the area since we arrived and followed its street by street guide here, seeing some medieval streets and buildings we had not seen before or had half-seen with a bunch of market stalls up against them.

Sunday, though, we more or less had the place to ourselves and, at our leisure, as the mist came and went, we strolled through the narrow streets of Siege and Rousseau, past the Chapel of the White Penitents (right)before coming to the familiar rue des Consuls and our favourite Mirandol restaurant. Then on to Place de la Liberté, around the back of the Cathedral, into the huge church , where an organist was playing, and out again.
Just in front of us was the famous Maison de La Boétie (left) which was hosting an exhibition of photos showing Sarlat before and after its reconstruction.
Enjoyed the walk and the sights. Then called to the tourist office for the latest leaflets before doing that little bit of shopping that saw us meet the lady who must have loved the Moy salmon!

WEEK 3, DAY 18
Bergerac Museums

There was always going to be a trip to the Maison de Vins in Bergerac and we took the opportunity today, a dull day with temperatures at 22 degrees, fine for a 70 km drive. Our Sat-Nav took us right to the door but the parking was full, though there was ample within walking distance.
The facility though was closed from 12.30 to 14.00, so we lunched in a nearby outdoor (and indoor) restaurant:  Le Croq Magnon, Pl Pelissiere, 24100 Bergerac. Here we had a massive omelette with potatoes for €10.00.
The house of Bergerac wines is in an old religious building, the Cloitre des Recollets and, if you enter from the back, you will be in the old courtyard. A long panel tells the story of wine through the ages in French and English and then you go downstairs.
Here you may take in a video, again in English or French, on the season in a vineyard. Then you must do your sniffing test. All the parfums are in little glasses. Check how good your nose is. Mine was dire.
The next stop is the shop. There was no real buzz here, maybe because the visit was free. I think most of the tourists who make their way here really want a bit of help with their purchasing. There is a huge stock, all of the AOCs, and many of the producers represented. It is a bit much to take in unless you have some guidance, even a leaflet.
There was also a tasting facility but that didn’t seem to be operating. It was however, very well laid out with the bottles numbered and priced around a centre stand.  Already pretty well off in some of the AOCs, I concentrated today on Montravel and went to choose a few bottles.
The assistant was very helpful at this point and even offered to change one of my larger notes for me, which is pretty unusual in France.
Later, on way back to gite, called to supermarket where I added to collection with a bottle Cotes de Duras, a lively little white that didn't last very long, polished off that evening with some Julienne (white fish).
From there, we made the short trip to the Museum of Tobacco (there is also a Museum of Wine but we gave that a skip). The Tobacco story is told in another old building, Maison Peyradede. It is rather unexciting, consisting of the most part of old smoking devices (mainly pipes) and bits of machinery along with much written information.
Tobacco, as most of you know, came from the New World and one of the more amusing exhibits was a pipe used by the Native Americans, it’s like seen in many westerns over the decades. Tobacco is still grown in the Dordogne.
Had my camera ready and eye peeled but failed to find a Fumer Interdit sign here. Disappointed not to find one but at only four euro and boasting a badly needed toilet (the one in the House of Wine was closed and a Pay and P facility nearby was out of order), the visit passed pleasantly enough.

Pics from top: Cyrano has a better nose than me, old Bergerac and the House of Wine.

WEEK 3, DAY 19
Les Jardins de L’Imaginaire
Rue Jean Rouby, Terrasson
05 53 50 37 56

A short few years back, the people of Terrasson put their heads together and came up with the idea of a Garden area of Imagination as an attraction for their small town.
Visited it today and, despite a touch of hype in the brochures and also from the guide, it was a very enjoyable hour and a quarter. Water is perhaps the main feature of the garden and all the water is recycled right down to the fountain at the entrance.
There are moss terraces and a rose garden and other distinct areas. All are well laid out and there is also a belvedere where there is a brilliant view of the area of the town below dominated by the church.
Dry stone walls feature in the gardens and also in a living breathing structure at the end of the walk, a structure that contains an exhibition of the Japanese art of Niwaki, not to be confused with Bonsai.  The trees are allowed to grow bigger and into more natural shapes.
We followed the tour with a walk around the town and enjoyed its many water features and vistas, particularly those around and about the 12th century bridge which spans the Vezere here.
This morning saw us visit the medieval quarter of Sarlat for our 3rd Wednesday market in a row. People ask us if we get fed up of the markets. The answer is no. For always there is some variation. This morning, for instance, there were two new musical acts.
We did get a few bits and pieces in the stalls but our big call today was to the traiteur called Charcuterie de Campange, SAS Vaux, 24200 Sarlat. I’m surprised at the amount of Irish people  who visit France who do not even know of the value of the traiteur.
Here, you can get many French classic dishes and other lesser known classy ones for a very good price. That means your dinner is sorted. Heat in the oven or microwave as required and voila you get a terrific meal.
We spent just over 15 euro there this morning. Top purchase, at €4.99, was Jambon with sauce medere (ham with Madeira sauce); Sarlat potatoes; tomatoes farci (stuffed tomatoes) and Boudin Noir with onions which cost €1.37.
Having returned from Terrasson, we had that ham along with the potatoes and it turned out to be excellent, going down well with a bottle of Fronton. Dessert was a few very tasty macaroons (at €1.50 each) which came from an artisan producer in the market.
Just to give you a comparison, the meal costs were as follows: Melon starter 2.60, mains 9.89, dessert 4.50, wine c 2.00. Total for two: €18.99.

Pics from top left: Sarlat market, Terrasson Town and Garden

WEEK 3, DAY 20
 Chateau de Beynac

A bit wary as we headed up to Beynac to view yet another château but we needn’t have worried as this turned out to be an excellent visit which cost €7.50 per adult.
This is a most impressive building, dating from 12/13th centuries. You pass the 12th century keep just after the entrance. Richard the Lionhearted was here in 1189. As you go on, you see the parts from the 14th and 17th centuries.
From the 14th century keep, you step onto the southern terrace. Here you are some 450 feet above the Dordogne and overlooking a beautiful panorama of river, villages and fields. The reconstruction goes on and will be completed until 2130.
Then, in the hot sun, we walked down the narrow streets to the river and enjoyed a lunch at one of the riverside cafes where a Steak Haché and chips cost €8.50. Back to the gite and a dip in the pool.
Late, in the afternoon, strolled back to the old quarter of Sarlat where we enjoyed a drink (Stella Artois, 3 euro for 25cl) at one of the square side cafes, Le Festival. Here we enjoyed watching the world go by before heading to the gite again and a dinner based around Stuffed Tomatoes and Black Pudding.

Photos: Detail from 14th cent oratory, Castle stables, Dordogne at Beynac and view from the Chateau

WEEK 3, DAY 21
Cadouin, Limeuil
Cloitre de Cadouin, 221 bis, rte ‘dAngouleme, 24000 Perigeux

Woke to a lovely morning here in Sarlat, made even lovelier when a small deer skipped its way around the garden shrubbery. Just in case you think it was dawn, it was far from it as it was  just before ten.
Headed out then to visit the World Heritage site of Cloitre de Cadouin, a decent drive away. Here the good mood continued when the receptionist, who enjoyed here three months in UCC improving her English, presented us with a smashing bottle of Bergerac Molleaux (from the Caves de Monbazillac) as a reward for being persistent tourists.
We had clocked up four visits to such sites and so earned the wine. As it was, we had visited almost twice that number but didn’t realise that such a scheme was in force until well into our holiday.
The complex boasts a fine church but is it the 15th century cloisters in the Flamboyant Gothic Style, and sponsored by Louis X1, that are the highlight here. Fine doors at the four corners, the abbot’s throne and the restored chapterhouse are the features, though there are many more. A short but quite impressive visit.
We weren’t too far from Limeuil so we headed there for lunch, to the bar brasserie A L’Ancre de Salut (05 53 63 39 29) that we had visited earlier. They were very busy but we got a table where I enjoyed a Galette Complet (more or less a sturdy crepe with fried egg, ham and cheese). A fine plateful for €8.50. A 25 cl jug of Bergerac Rose, a delightful drink on the hot day, cost €3.50.
Then walked over the two nearby bridges, one over the Dordogne and one, its last, over the Vezere. This is the meeting of the waters and two now flow as the Dordogne. Under the trees, close to the restaurant, there are quite a few tables and here small groups were enjoying a do it yourself meal or just a rest from the hot sun.
Drove up then to the nearby Cave of the Vins de Perigord producers only to find it closed. This was a very warm day so we drove back to the gite and a welcome dip in the pool.
But not before a needed call to the neighbouring Casino Supermarket. Here we picked up a pack of lamb chops (about 7) for €7.15, some freshly made ratatouille from the deli counter, also some prawns (with Provencal sauce), fresh strawberries and a pair of millefeuillie, all for tonight’s barbecued meal.
Enjoyed the meal and also the wine: a Montagne Saint-Emilion, a Grand Vin de Bordeaux, which cost us €6.99. This is apparently a wine from a Bordeaux satellite but if I’m on the last spaceship out of here, I’ll be happy to stock it up with this one.

·         A tip. Some French restaurants, particularly in tourist areas, are spread across a road. You will usually find that the tables across the road from the main building are for drinks only.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


For more eating out in the Dordogne see


This is planned as an easy day: marche, pool, lunch at gite, visit wine merchants nearby, dinner at gite (barbecue), Champions League final.
The Saturday market in Sarlat is huge: food, crafts, clothes, footwear.... two streets and connecting lanes, plus a square, all  full of stalls and people. We meet some very nice people: a young man that helps us choose melons for today, tomorrow and Monday; another young man in a shop where we get “strings” for my glasses and quite a few others, including a lady in a Tabac who doesn’t charge for a box of matches (for the barbecue).
We did pick up a souvenir or two but it was mainly food: strawberries (from a choice of three varieties), a pain complet, melons, mussels, and a couple of gorgeous pastries. Also spotted a traiteur with potential and we’ll be calling there after the weekend.
Back to the gite then for a dip in the pool followed by a lunch of mussels (we bought too many of them) followed by some of that bread with a local cows cheese.
Valette Foie Gras, 16 avenue Aristide Briand, 24200 Sarlat, 05 53 30 25 63.
Early in the afternoon found some handy shops within a few hundred yards of the gite, including a Lidl where German Pilsner was on sale for less than €3.00 for six 50cl bottles. Next door was a butcher with a huge selection and also a variety of readymade meals.
The gem though was Valette Foie Gras which, in addition to a massive selection of Foie Gras and related products, including chutneys and Cassoulets, has quite a range of local wines. I took the opportunity to make some progress on my list:
Madiran Cuvee de L’Ange 2005 €5.75;
Saussignac Chateau Tourmentine 50cl €13.30;
Cahors St Didier Parnac Prestige 2006 €6.00;
Pecharmant Chateau Tiregand 2007 €9.90;
Montravel Blanc Sec 2007 €6.70;
And, for this evening’s barbie, a Bergerac Blanc Sec Chateau Theulet 2008, €5.30.
Got their brochure on the way out, studying it at present and we’ll be calling there again.

By the way, that Bergerac Blanc went very well with the barbie and later still the introduction of a previously purchased Jurancon (Moelleux) went down very well with the dessert. It is a lovely medium sweet wine from the Basque country, also recommended as an aperitif or with the local foie gras and certain cheeses. Certainly, worth a look.

Photos: above pig roast, right band plays, below contestant trys to ring goose and bottom local dialect (umbrellas)

Walked in to the centre of Sarlat around noon today. They were getting ready for the start of La Ringueta, Fete des Jeux Traditionnels: all kinds of games, climbing greasy poles, a type of table football played with wooden “hitters” and a round piece of timber as the ball, spinning tops and many more.

Pigs were roasting on the huge barbecues, to become part of a 13 euro meal. But we didn’t wait, headed for L’Orangerie in the shade of hits huge “awning” to take their 14 euro four course menu. With duck confit for the main course, we had an enjoyable meal and headed back to the fun and games which were starting officially at two o’clock.
The crowds were now well up, all fed, and the fun had started. We enjoyed walking around and looking at all the pre-computer activities and we especially enjoyed the lively efforts of a noisy band that didn’t confine themselves to the one spot but moved through the length of the fete.
Later, in the afternoon we headed back to the gite to take a break and cool down in the pool. Later, we enjoyed a pork chop barbecue

DAY 10
Chateau de Monbazillac
24240 Monbazillac
05 53 61 52 52 and 05 53 63 65 00
An afternoon visit to the Chateau de Monbazillac was the highlight today.

Photos from top: the Chateau, Monbazzilac vineyards with Bergerac in background and bottles of the golden nectar at rest.

But first, some housework: rubbish to be taken to the communal collection point a few yards up the road and then all the empty bottles to be deposited in the “banks” at the nearby Casino Supermarket.
Today being a bank holiday, not on the usual calendars, many places were closed but Casino was opened and I took the opportunity to add to our collection by purchasing a Chateau Larroque Bordeaux Sec 2009, a Chateau Peyrettaille Pecharmant 2007 and also a Chateau Menate Sauternes 2005.
From one sweet wine to another as we arrived at the Chateau de Monbazillac after a 70 km trip. Built around 1550, the chateau stands today almost exactly as when built by the AYDIE family more than four centuries ago. This was a very interesting visit indeed, highlights including the Grand Salon, the Mouney-Sully Hall, the Grand Staircase and the Hall of Bottles.

The world renowned vineyard was first cultivated in the 11th century and is famous for using “the noble rot” method to make its sweet wines which draw thousands of visitors every year. We availed of the tasting service, naturally, and purchased some of the golden nectar along with some Bergerac Rouge and Bergerac Sec.
“In entering this place, you are entering a part of the History of France”. So says one of the chateau’s leaflets. Today, the Wine Cooperative of Monbazillac owns the chateau and makes every effort to look after the monument and open it as much as possible to visitors. For €6.40, we thought it was very good value indeed.

DAY 11 Gouffre de Padirac, Rocamadour

Photos:  Three views of Rocamadour and one of the hole in the ground by which you enter Padirac.
Gouffre de Padirac is one of the most visited places in France and takes your breath away. Via stairs and lifts, you descend almost 1000 feet before being taken on a boat trip through the magnificent galleries of this chasm.

Here you see the “Great Pendant” a 60 metre stalactite. After the boat, a circular tour, that includes some 84 steps, takes you  into and around the “Great Dome Room”. This is 94 metres high and here you see gorgeous lakes and more odd shapes of nature, including groups of beautiful stalagmites.
The visit costs about €9.20 for an adult and takes about ninety minutes. There is plenty of car parking in the area and also a share of restaurants which seem a euro or two dearer than elsewhere, maybe dearer even than those on the outskirts of the attraction.
It was in the middle of lunch time when we emerged and we sat down at the close at hand Restaurant Les Visiteurs where we each enjoyed Moules Frites (€11.50) and a Breton cider (€3.20). A thunderclap went off in the distance but the sun stayed shining in the area.
And it was still shining as we reached L’Hospitalet, the hamlet from which there is a great view, many say the best, of the medieval town, on three levels, of Rocamadour. The Chateau is on top, then the religious area and at the bottom, the housing of the workers, nowadays used as souvenir shops and artists’ workshops.
The Bunch of chapels that make up the middle area is quite impressive. Among others, we visited Chapelle Notre-Dame where, on the altar, sits the statue of the miraculous Black Virgin and Child.
It is tough on the legs around here but you may get refreshments along the way and some restaurants and bars have terraces overlooking the valley. Life is also made easier by the lifts that link the middle area with the bottom (€3.00 return) and with the Chateau.
Quite a tiring day! Now to hit Sarlat and see what the restaurants are serving. Most in the medieval centre are serving traditional fare – for the sake of variety we’ll have to get out of town one of these nights. In the end, settle for the Auberge Lys Or in place Andre Malruax (06 87 30 37 07).

From the 14 euro menu, we start with two salads, one a Maigret de Canard, and the other smoked salmon with a lemon sauce. Both okay, nothing special. Main course were Coq au Vin (house style) and Bavette de Boeuf with shallots. Again, each was fine without being outstanding (after all, this is the 14 euro menu).
Dessert was probably the best we’ve come across in this category menu. It was a lovely fresh fruit salad, mainly exotic fruits. A pichet (50cl) of Bordeaux rouge and an Espresso bought the total bill to €38.50.

DAY 12 Chateau Milandes
24250 Castelnaud-la-Chapelle
05 53 59 31 21

After a thunderstorm last night and the exertions of yesterday, a short trip was called for and, after lunch, we headed for Chateau des Milandes, the former residence of song and dance star Josephine Baker who died suddenly in 1975 during the run of a show celebrating her fifty years in show biz.
The American was a huge success sin Paris for much of the first half of the 20th century but never forgot her American roots and the discrimination against her fellow African Americans. She sacrificed contracts in the fight which saw her famously march in Washington in August 1963 with Dr Martin Luther King. Already she had made the Chateau a home for 10 boys and 2 girls of different nationalities.
The rooms in the Chateau, including her bedroom and bathroom, are among those on the tour and, in the Grand Salon, you see many of her famous costumes, also many photos and original drawings of her in the Folie Bergere.
A popular part of any visit to Milandes is the Birds of Prey Display under the charge of falconers Patrick and Steve. Birds put through their paces include a Kestrel Falcon, a Harris Hawk, a Barn Owl, an eagle owl, a falcons and an American fish eagle. Don’t miss the show, usually on twice in the afternoons, not always in the mornings.
No visit to France is complete without a call to Leclerc and no visit to a branch of that supermarket chain is complete without a call to the wine corner.  Further filled my shopping list by adding a Bergerac Moelluex, a few bottles of Buzet, some Fronsac, one Fronton (by error, maybe  a happy one) and finally a bottle of Banyul, the sweet fortified wine, like port, from the deep south.
The morning visit to the market, where purchases included a big lump of delicious Tomme de Perigord, a lovely cows cheese, ended with a call to a branch of the Valette chain where a purchase of Sarlanoix (liquor) ticked another box. Primary use is as an aperitif but we tend to use it with barbecued banana. Do your banana, quickly lay it on a layer of ice-cream and quickly add a tablespoon or two of Sarlanoix and then quickly eat it!


Today made the trip down to the Cahors Vineyards. Started by visiting a couple of sleepy villages. In the bastide town of Montcabrier, pigeons cooed while children babbled contentedly in the school. More sounds of contentment in Duravel where the local café was doing quite a lunch-time trade.
Then onto the River Lot and the quayside of Puy-L’Eveque, once a river port. Fine views here of the river and the old town and vineyards in the near distance. Views kept getting better. High up in Belaye, we had stunning views of both the Lot and Cahors Valley.
And even that was outdone when we called to nearby Albas which overlooks the Lot from a cliff. A few kilometres outside the town we got a magnificent view as the river formed a huge shape in the valley below.
Then passed through the ancient Cathar fiefdom of Luzech and its imposing 12th century keep before getting down to business in the little village of Parnac. Here the Cave Cooperative du Vignoble de Cahors (you see Les Cotes d’Olt on the signs) have a massive cave with a fine shop.
After a few tastings we settled on a Château Les Bouysses 2002 (€7.40 a bottle) and a Cotes D’OIt Malbec 2005 (€4.00), some rewards for a hard slog in the car. As was an excellent dinner of Poulet Basque from the local traiteur, something of a welcome change from the local cuisine to which, let me hasten to add, we’ll return.

La Roque Saint Christophe, 24620 Peyzac Le Moustier
05 53 50 70 45
“The guide is in Irish”, joked the receptionist as he handed us a returnable trail leaflet as we entered La Roque St Christophe, a must visit site if you are in this area. This sheer rock face, some five terraces high, has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

It was such a secure place, above the Vezere river, that man made it a troglodytic fort in the 10th century and that these early efforts were added to throughout the middle ages when the fort, really by then a high rise town,  often held as many as 1000 people.
A little reconstruction has taken place and one can easily imagine how the medieval town worked, how it continued to supply itself – full size working models of big lifting machines have been constructed here - and how it defended itself against attackers. A marvellous and worthwhile experience.
Not too far away, hidden in a wood and also on the bank of Vezere, is the La Madeleine site. Findings here were and are of such an importance to the understanding of the Upper Palaeolithic period that the Magdalenian culture forms part of such studies.
Physically, the site is not as impressive as Christophe but the collection of underground rock shelters, where remains of a chapel, walls and shelters and workshops are visible, and the site above the Vezere, all combine to give one a feeling how life was lived here for century after century. Many of the ancient buildings outlived the castle that was built above them.
Next visit was to a much more modern establishment, for dinner. We had been recommended Le Bar Code, just outside Sarlat on the Josephine Baker Road. Newly opened on this site, it had brought with it from its former Sarlat centre site, a reputation for Meat on the Rock, rather appropriate given the day that was in it.
At present, it opens for lunch every day but for dinner only on Fridays and Saturdays. Our first courses were Charcuterie (€6.00) for me and Salad with Gizzards (€4.00) for herself. Both were substantial and it took us a while to polish them off.
They were big but nothing prepared us for the size of the main course. Both of us had chosen Beef on the Rock. The hot rocks were served smoking, the beef sizzling, all accompanied by a salad and chips and a couple of dips. All you had to do then was “cook” the beef to your taste: rare, medium or well done!
The size of the piece of meat was astonishing. In each case it was at least three times the size of the normal fillet steak served in Cork! All for 15 euro.
A good while later, we were asked, with no real expectation of an affirmative answer, if we wanted dessert. We just said we'd stick with the wine and finish it off, a very enjoyable Bergerac rouge which cost us €10.00 for the bottle.
Full. You could say that. Tel: 05 53 28 56 14. C.C. Pre de Cordy (face au lycee) 24200 Sarlat.

Pics. Model of La Roque (top) and then Church at La Madeleine