Diversions in the Dordogne
After our excellent dinner at Lou Peyrol, in St. Marcel du Perigord, and reunion with our friends, we drove the 2 miles down the narrow road to our house (for a week)
Although we bid and won a week at the house at a Silent Auction, all arrangements were made through SIMPLY PERIGORD.
(Googling that site will give you a long list of great looking large villas to rent in this part of France, which is the Western Dordogne, and come to think of it, probably more central Dordogne also)
We had no problems at all with the house, made only a couple of minor phone calls about how to lock some of the doors, had a nice cleaner come mid-week, and basically had everything we needed provided for us, including lists of places nearby to eat, shop, sight-see etc.
It is a large (4 bedroom, three bath) 17th century stone country manor in a tiny village called Pressignac-Vicq, about 8 miles north of Lalinde and the Dordogne river, in the Perigord Pourpre, about half an hour from Bergerac.
The house had a great kitchen-dining room where we spent most of our time. Then there were two wings, each with two bedrooms. There was a large sitting room, a TV room, plus two other small sitting rooms, office-like, out in the wings.
Our room was huge with a king bed, a brand new bathroom, with giant shower, a fireplace, and a lovely view out on the apple orchard.
There was a large pool, with several outdoor sitting areas, so nothing was missing.
I’m going to give you my impressions, and suggestions, not a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the week, partly since it would just take too long, and I am over wordy, but also, despite diary jottings, my memories are becoming a blur.
So this will be impressionistic…. Commencing with SARLAT TO THE MAX: MARKET DAY, followed by: BREATHTAKING JARDINS D’ EYRIGNAC
The grounds at our rental house are also lovely as is the pool. We all woke up happy on the first morning, as we wandered around investigating all the rooms, and all the outdoor spaces. There is an apple orchard, where we picked apples, as well as a fig tree, laden with delicious figs! We made good use of them too!
The house was in a very small village, and pretty far from the usual desirable sites of the Dordogne, but we all fell in love with it, and have many happy memories of our week. We ALL felt we should have planned two weeks there, so we wouldn’t be torn between wanting to stay around the pool, take walks, and just chill – AND the pull of all the delights of the Dordogne.
Others have written much about spending time in this area, and I was able to use so many Fodorite suggestions of places to go, but there is so much to see, that even though we had been in the general area 15 years ago, we hardly scratched the surface!
On the first morning, we sent the two Johns out to the supermarket, and they aquitted themselves very well. We planned to pick up more food at the Sarlat market, so we left as early as possible for that venue.
Sarlat was very crowded, but we managed to find parking places, and walked only a short way to where the action was, and there was a lot of action!
The only problem was that we had split up and gone in two cars and we hadn’t quite planned who would buy what or where we might meet!!
By sheer luck, we four ran in to the other four in the midst of the crowds, at just the right moment. We picked up chickens for dinner and Sarladaise potatoes, and the sweetest tomatoes I have ever tasted!! They are called “coeur de boeuf,” and have ridges at the top (sort of like pumpkins, but only at the top) so they are not like our beefsteak tomatoes.
I know that others have said that the best chickens are at another market (St.Cyprien) and that could be true, because although good, it was not the best chicken ever. a few bottles of wine made it better and better (and we got great red wines at the supermarket in Lalinde for very good prices!)
The market is crowded, but great fun, and well worth visiting. We were mostly interested in the food, but there were lots of other things being sold: clothing, gifts, candles, fun to see and chat with the sellers, and pick up souvenirs!
We took the advice of Stu Dudley (I think it was) who said to go early to Sarlet, then leave for Eyrignac garden, and eat lunch at the garden.
The town itself is quite lovely, and you will see later, if I remember to say it, that we went back on a non-Market day, just to see the lovely buildings, and to figure out why it is so well-regarded and known.
I could even consider staying in Sarlat, as long as I had a way to get out of town rapidement! (probably easy to find a rental or a hotel that would allow that) Mostly because there is plenty to do there, and lots of restaurants, so one would not want for diversion.
There is at least one big hotel: Hotel Montaigne, right in the center of town, and several others. Also many good rentals I’m sure. (I thought Le Presidial had some good looking apartments)
We all left around 12 and drove on up to Les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac, which is in Salignac, not far to the north east of Sarlat.
This was a huge highlight for all of us, as we are, au fond, a group of garden lovers (and their long suffering husbands!) However, I think I would say that this and Les Jardins de Marqueyssac (another day) were absolute highlights of this trip, and for more reasons than just the gardens themselves.
Here is French garden history at its best. This is an ancestral home, with the centerpiece a stunning 17th century manor house, rebuilt then after its earlier destruction. This has been a family property for 500 years, with 22 generations living here, without a break. It is the epitome of French gardening: lines, vistas and repetition. This was the style developed by Le Notre at Vaux le Vicomte and Versailles.
It is topiary heaven, with a stunning hornbeam walk, and so many vistas I couldn’t count. Everywhere one looks there are incredible HAND-clipped box, hornbeam, yew, cypress, even apple trees. There are 10 acres of impeccable lawns and almost 10 miles of hedges!
I could go on and on, but I’ll try to stop, and just give you some good info about a visit there. But please do not miss it, if you even just think you like gardens.
We had a very nice lunch in the cafe at the garden, delicious salads, but of course duck confit for the lovers thereof. It is a lovely spot where one can sit on the terrace and contemplate the views of the gardens.
I must also tell you that I discovered that one can rent a house on this property. You can find the details on the website and we, with permission, went and peeked in all the windows of the smaller stone cottage. I would NOT hesitate to spend a week there. (We once did that with friends at Powys Castle gardens in Wales, thru the National Trust, and it was heaven!)
You can camp there, park free, and/so or picnic, there’s a nice gift shop, good cafeteria, so this place is really a winner. Take a look at the web site for photos of it all, and much more info. www.eyrignac.com
The afternoon was almost over, so we did what I think I might like best: we wandered back “home” taking a meandering route on back roads, but stopping in Saint-Genies to walk around this lovely medieval town, thanks to a tip from a recent visitor to the area. It was quiet and it was lovely, and most worthwhile. Nobody ever writes about this one, so our meandering was rewarded. It always is! I recommend it highly, as have others on this board, especially in this part of France.
WOW! I just looked at the Eyrignac website which I haven’t done in a few months, and I see that people can now have drinks and/ or dinner with the owners!
I’m not sure if I’d like that much commercialism, but don’t let it put you off. As a matter of fact, knowing my garden travel group, I think we would all go for the whole thing, because we are all so curious and would love to see the house. (My husband says I am on an “eternal house & garden tour” – which is true)
also there is a lovely chapel near the manor house, with contemporary stained glass windows, sort of Matisse-like.
We found that one definitely should have reservations for Sunday lunch (probably almost anywhere) in France. We messed up on our Sunday in the Dordogne, and ended up in a cafe where we had good enough food, but not as good as we might have done. While we all know and love really good food, none of us is a complainer, which is part of why this group works so well!
Sunday was our drive to Les Eyzies and the marvelous Prehistory Museum. We debated calling for reservations for two days, since all eight of us have fairly strong opinions, and we range from the “plan each hour” to the “let’s wing it” schools of travel. It was a challenge for me, the lawyer/mediator!
But I was in vacation mode, the result of which was, either out of inaction, or too much wine, (the previous evening) we set off for Les Eyzies and the museum on Sunday morning with NO RESERVATIONS (with apologies to Anthony Bourdain.
On this trip, we mostly all went to see the same sites, trading people around, so each couple had a chance to join one of the others for the day’s drive, and we lunched together. Except for one day, when DH and I didn’t want to go to Rocamadour but the others did. We’ve been there, we were staying near it later in trip, and it was a 2 hour drive, so we went on our own to Montpazier, Moliere, and wandered around that area.
When we went to Tuscany a year and a half ago, each couple had a car, went their own way, sometimes met for lunch, sometimes didn’t.
It worked well both ways, but this is a very laid back group, despite all the “knowledgeable tour directors” among the women!
The Musee de la Prehistoire, in Les Eyzies was our Sunday morning destination, (the last Sunday in September.) We went without reservations, and had no problem at all, walked right in. We parked on the main street where there were at least two easy parking lots, and walked about a quarter mile to the entrance.
This is a most impressive museum, way beyond what I thought it would be. And of course, the topic is mind-boggling.
“Humans have only been living in Perigord for 450,000 years.”
“Homo sapiens arrived in France only 35,000 years ago. This was Cro-Magnon man, responsible for the cave paintings in Lascaux, 17,000 to 18,000 years ago. Quite recently, in fact.”
Do these quotes not boggle the mind?
So here, my friends, in this perfectly gorgeous part of the earth, beneath the earth lie treasure troves of the history of mankind.
We spent two or three hours at the museum, where the information is very well organized, and displayed, so that it was pretty easy to learn some basic facts, and towhet the appetite for more. I brought home a book, called “Perigord Prehistory” which is going to be a continuing winter read.
Jim and I have been to Peche-Merle many years ago, and were impressed, but I think it took this trip, and our visit to this museum (plus finally, a visit to Lascaux II) to realize the vastness of the history in this region — and the history goes on and on!
It is situated up high against the rock outcropping, so one can see how the cave people lived, even from the inside of this contemporary building, with almost all glass walls.
You must just go and see for yourself. I don’t remember the entrance fees, but you can easily garner most of that information on the web. I apologize for not having some hot links here, (I always so appreciate them from others, so mea culpa)
Our lunch that day was a mish-mash of unplannedness. But as usual, we had fun. We sent out scouting parties all over the town, to see what restaurants were open and had room, gathering up at the tourist wine shop every now and then to discuss options. Meanwhile, those of us who opted out of the search shopped for wine in the aforementioned place, which also had some nice little gifts and clothing in a corner in the back. This was a very accessible tourist information center that was about the only place open on Sunday afternoon.
The searching became more frantic as time went by, so, knowing that restaurants close by mid-afternoon, we went to the Cafe Brasserie de la Mairie, which had ONE open table, and there were 8 of us! OY! But the folks there were more than nice to us, we had passable food, in my estimation, just OK, but I see that it is the #1 place to eat in Les Eyzies according to TripAdvisor. I would not denigrate it however, since we were hungry and happy to be there. Chacun a son gout.
I must confess that we all decided to go back to our house after lunch, and contemplate the delicious looking pool, (in the 86 degree weather) and try to figure out how to use the pool when no one brought a bathing suit……
Next: A MORNING IN LALINDE, THEN BEYNAC CASTLE, JARDINS DE MARQUEYSSAC, LA ROQUE GAGEAC, DOMME – VIEWS BEYOND VIEWS
Lucky me, I got sent in to town with one of the “John’s” early the next morning to get groceries and croissants. I just happened to come down stairs early, and I was more than happy to go, not having been in Lalinde before.
We arrived at the supermarket half an hour before it opened, so of course we went to the town square to find a cafe!! First we went to the proper boulangerie (we were told to go to the one with the red awning!) and had purchased a delicious looking bunch of croissants and pains chocolat.
We went in to the cafe, ordered our coffees from a very friendly lady, who was deep in conversation with some ‘regulars.’
When we asked if she had croissants, she said “Non, mais, ….un moment….” and she called to a young boy nearby, and was ready to send him to the boulangerie to get us croissants.
We quickly told her that we had our own, but that we did not want to insult her premises by bringing in our own food. “Pourquoi pas?” said she, “bien sur!” A very welcoming gesture, which led us to sit out front for a long time munching away, and drinking in not only our coffee, but the entire morning ‘scene.’ Just people watching is a great pleasure in a town square.
We almost forgot our original destination, the supermarche!
This was a day of more sites in the Dordogne, after our return from the InterMarche.
We started at Beynac and its castle, a charming town on the river, topped by a magnificent castle, with most all buildings in the same honey colored stone. There’s fairly easy parking down by the river and most of us couldn’t resist hiking up to the castle, only to find out later that we could have driven to the top.
Our next stop was the amazing “suspended” gardens of Marqueyssac. Yep, that’s what they call them on the brochure. Don’t think for a moment that this is some kind of vaudeville act, or a hokey touristy place.
Far from it. Here is a former private chateau with elegant gardens, again topiary, in the style of LeNotre, which spread all along the crest of a butte that is perhaps two miles long. It is called : “Les Plus Beaux Panoramas du Perigord.”
I don’t see much written about this place, but we went on the suggestion of friends who had been in the Dordogne in August.
The topiaried (is that a word?) gardens are intriguing, the lovely trees made the pathways shady on this very hot day, and the views back to Beynac, over to Castelnaud, and further along, La Roque Gageac, and the meandering valley of the river itself, left a very strong impression.
It is worth spending time here: there are several ways to walk the paths to the far end, and all are lovely. There is a grand allee, a promenade des hauteurs, and a promenade des falaises. All offer magnificent views, and we all fell in love with the place.
So wasn’t it nice that they also have a most attractive terrace for lunch! We sat drinking in the view and enjoying some wine and salads (well, at least for me, a delicious large green salad with those sweet tomatoes and warm cabecou cheese.) While we ate the peacocks were wandering around, but not too terribly close, just sharing the view. And a little ways away, one of the many gardeners was hard at work, clipping the topiaries by hand, as they do twice a year. No electric clippers allowed here!!
Since it was such a gorgeous day for views, we tore ourselves away, to get a look at what Domme had to offer. And though, I confess, the word “nap” kept popping in to my mind, I couldn’t resist a walk up thru the center of that equally charming town, to the very top where the Esplanade Hotel sits, and seeing yet another magnificent view of this enchanting country.
Even if you have no time, go to Domme, as another poster has suggested, you will not be sorry when you see the view.
I think the Esplanade must be a great place to stay, and I can confirm that the ladies’ room is very up-market and comfortable.
This perfect day had a perfect ending, when John the gourmet/gourmand made us a most delicious pasta dinner with a tomato, garlic, basil and goat cheese sauce, along with a perfect salad from the market made by dear G. Also from the market was a walnut cake that we topped with fresh strawberries. These are some of the joys of having a house to stay in.
And by the way, walnuts are a huge crop in the Perigord, and we passed many a grove of walnut trees.
The rest of our group really wanted to go to Rocamadour, but Jim and I had been there 15 years ago, and basically we belong to the group that thinks it is a ‘drive by’ – plus we were going to be near there when staying at Domaine de la Rhue after our week together. (Oh, and it was almost a two hour drive!!)
So, we decided to follow a different drummer for the day, though I confess it is hard to leave these wonderful friends. It would be difficult for me to express what a congenial and loving group these friends are. They are all so different, so wise, so funny, so inclusive, so adventuresome, well, you get my drift.
We had wanted to do some wandering south of the Dordogne, and Montpazier had been touted by some Fodorites, so we headed in that direction.
On our way, we decided to go through Molieres, a tiny town, not much mentioned anywhere, but I had heard of it, can’t remember exactly where.
This is a delightful, mostly unspoiled village on high ground overlooking a valley. Hardly anyone was there. I think we were only the second car in the village square. This is a small version of a ‘bastide’ town, with just one bar/restaurant. Around the corner down the street the only vestige of a commercial enterprise was a pottery studio, with some of the potter’s work in the windows. Sadly, it was not very good.
In the corner of the square, was an arcaded square two storey tower. I could see some placards on the walls of the tower, so I assumed they would tell the history of the town.
Lo and behold, the placard was titled ‘A louer’ Yes, this medieval tower was for rent: two bedrooms, bath, sitting room/kitchen combo; a walk-up with stained glass windows!! The price was exceedingly low, so if anyone is interested…. It’s a quiet unfinishd English bastide town, according to the Green Michelin guide. It was built by Henry II of England, who also built Beaumont, Lalinde, and Montpazier.
We meandered on thru the lovely countryside, with no where to go, but arrived at Montpazier by some route or other.
The middle of that day was spent in Montpazier, which is a much larger bastide town, than Molieres, and busier.
I think it is worth seeing, but it was noon-ish, it was hot, and it looked overrun with tourists compared to Molieres, where we were the ONLY tourists – (so we must always think of “point of view” when we read each other’s reports.) There were really only a few people at the patio restaurants in the square.
We had lunch, not in the chic place near the edge of town (called Bistro 2) because, frankly, the menu did not appeal.(I was beginning to think that every menu in this part of the world consisted of maigret, confit, and foie gras.)
Anyhow, we thought there was another restaurant down the street, which indeed there was. We had a passable meal, and wandered around the shops. I very much liked the buildings in the square, and I think would have like it much more, had we sat down in that square and had our lunch there, rather than inside.
They say that this is one of the best-preserved bastide towns, also built by Henry II. Definitely worth a few hours walk around.
On our way back to our home-base, we stopped in Beaumont, partly because Jim has a colleague by that name, and to buy batteries for the camera. It’s a pleasant place, probably worth a stop, as are most of these towns. You will always find a garden, or a building that you love, especially if you are a photographer.
We passed Chateau de Bannes above Beaumont, a fairytale castle, which would probably be worth a visit. This 16th Century building sits perched on a rock spur and is flanked by round towers with pepper pot roofs. (That’s more of less direct quote from the Green Guide.)
I’d say just wandering around this part of the world is rewarding, no matter whether you have any planned route or not, there is always something wonderful and rewarding to see.
We spent a fun evening at home, hearing about the 330 (or whatever number) of steps the others had climbed in Rocamadour, running, in the case of John, who has hiked the world over, and much more slowly by the other John, who has eaten the world over.
I must report that my friend, C, brought me back a gift from Rocamadour, to show that I was missed. I would suggest that all who go to this pilgrimage town stop at La Chic Echappe, on rue de la Couronnerie to get some chocolate soap!!
I never want to use it, because I love the smell, and it is no-cal!
Next up: LASCAUX II, after a frightening disappearance of keys!!
Here’s the story: September 28 was the day we all wanted to go to Lascaux II.
Jim and I had a chance to go there 15 years ago, but I, the un-knowledgeable snob, said NO, we only want the authentic “real things.”
So, being older and smarter, I readily agreed to this joint venture.
After breakfast, and filling the washing machine with clothes, etc., decisions were made as to which couples would go in which cars, et cetera. After some discussion, out the door went the first foursome. The second foursome, including moi, took a while to lock all the outside doors, and as we went out the last door, our driver looked in the key tray (where we all left our keys each night) (don’t get any cute ideas here!) and he picked up the one set of car keys left, and said: “These are not the keys to our car!” I knew immediately that he was correct, because the locking/beeping device on “our” Renault Scenic was a unique one (sort of like a slim iPhone.)
However, that was the only set of keys in the tray.
He said: “Sacre Bleu!!” or a reasonable facsimile thereof. We looked at each other for a while, then we looked at the cars left in the drive. There were two. One was our Renault, but we had no keys. The other car matched the remaining set of keys. So maybe someone took our keys last night by mistake. We decided it would be OK to take a look in the other bedrooms, which we did.
No keys anywhere.
We were then left with a sort of Hobson’s choice.
Do we stay here all day, and pick apples and figs? Maybe go swimming? Drink all the wine?
Or do we drive a car in which none of us is an authorized legal driver? Woe is us, (or whatever Peanuts would say.)
I did not like this much. No one liked this much.
Apparently one of us grabbed a set of keys, thinking he would be driving that day, stuck them in his pocket and forgot about it, when the other guy decided he’d drive that day. All unbeknownst to us inside the house, locking doors all over the place.
Finally, and of course, you can’t tell anybody this, somebody in our foursome decided we would drive to the appointed meeting spot (the parking lot of Lascaux II) AND that that somebody would drive VERY, VERY CAREFULLY.
Which is what we did, practically inching along back roads all the way, and we arrived before the others did. The culprit still had no idea what he had done.
Such is life, and we lived through it. Maybe a lot of you have driven a rental car when you were not an authorized driver. In fact, I have probably done it myself in past trips to Europe, when I was young and more adventurous. But in these days of abundance of caution, we were a bit skitterish.
Soon enough, everyone forgot about it, as we had arrived at Lascaux II with no reservations, hoping either to get tickets for an immediate tour, or for one right after lunch.
As it happened, we were all there in time for the last tour before lunch, and there were a few spots left. And it was an English tour! In fact, all 8 of us were able to join this group.
Only a limited number are allowed in the cave at one time. I soon learned why. Unlike Peche Merle where DH and I had been years ago, this one is really quite small.
I have to say, NO ONE should miss seeing this. It is “absolument incroyable!” I was totally speechless and I truly felt that I was in the presence of greatness. I have rarely had such a feeling. To think that these remarkable images were created in darkness or semi-darkness, and so magically alive, is almost too much to believe.
The tour is a short 40 minutes, but full of information, including the remarkable story of how two young boys found the cave very much by accident.
No need to say any more except: Go there.
Well, as you who are reading can see, we are a group who is happy eating at home, but some of us are foodies who like to try the restaurants we’ve all read about.
Such was the idea of booking a table at Bistro d’en Face, the bistro of the chef at Le Vieux Logis, which is in picture perfect Tremolat. any of you would love this town and the Vieux Logis, “il vaut la peine” as they say, worth a trip just for the movie-set ambiance of the village. The Logis has beautiful gardens, and the town has a charming square.
Many Fodorites have enjoyed Le Bistro, so we stopped by and made a reservation for dinner for 8. When we arrived, we were greeted by a waitress, who did not seem happy to see us, and who was, FWIW, English, not French.
Now I will be the first to admit that the sight of 8 friendly Americans in a small bistro would not make me jump for joy, but this poor gal looked as though it was the end of a 48 hour shift. She looked exhausted and overworked, and was, shall we say, brusque. In addition, every table was taken; the place was full.
We were given an unappealing table with very bright lights that could not be turned down, but when one of our very gentlemanly guys asked about a possible change, she mention that we could sit by the kitchen, but we’d be crowded and in the dark! Naturally, we chose to stay where we were.
In addition to this rough start, I have to say that the food should have been much better.
I started with a salad with goat’s cheese and walnuts that was very good. Then I had grilled dorade with spinach and fennel confit. There did not seem to be any fennel taste at all, but it was certainly edible, just nothing to write home about. My dessert of fresh figs and ice cream was good, not great.
I might have ordered more challenging food, but there probably wasn’t much on the menu, or I was not in the mood for a challenge! So, I hate to do it, but I have to give it a B or a B minus. (Oh, and we all agreed that the house wine was “n.g.”)
The decor is charming, but definitely done with the upscale (American?) tourist in mind. And as I said, the town is perfect.
The next day made up for it all — great weather, diverse experiences, a fabulous lunch and a great discovery!
Just to add some more facts about these two restaurants, about which I write tonight, both are Relais & Chateaux, with excellent reputations.
Our meal at Lou Peyrol, in St. Marcel du Perigord, the non- Relais & Chaeaux, was so much better than Bistro d’en Face, and eaten right in the family dining room, (the child’s potty chair was in the charming rest room! – so no airs there!) (But there was consummate professionalism in the rendering and delivery of the meal.)
And our meal at Le Moulin de L’Abbaye in Brantome, was at lunchtime and was not planned, so all of that “expectation” stuff does make a difference.
Just to set it all in as much context and to be as fair as possible.
On Thursday, really our last day for a full day outing, the consensus was to drive to Brantome. We had all been mesmerized by what we had read and seen photos of, so off we went, even though it was a long drive.
I will spare you the wrong turns and the arguments with our GPS, and just tell you that we got there in the late morning, and all took off in different directions, wandering this Venice-like (well, on a small scale) town, enjoying the waterways, and the bridges, photographing away, and then of course, the massive Benedictine Abbey, which has dominated the town since it was founded by Charlemagne in 769!
As you can imagine there is a lot of history here, complete with Wars of Religion, between the Protestants and the Catholics, sacking by the Normans, rebuilding in the 11th, 14th, and 18th centuries, so I guess the abbey looks pretty 18th century, but still!!
It was a beautifully sunny, hot day, and none of us thought much about lunch, until it was a bit too late to decide anything ahead of time.
As we were walking down a shady street by the Dronne, we noticed the picturesque Moulin de L’Abbaye sitting at the confluence of a waterfall and an “elbow” bridge. This too is a Relais & Chateaux.
Intrigued of course, some of us wandered in to the hotel’s patio restaurant on the river. We immediately thought it would be a superb place for lunch, but we had all decided to go back to Lou Peyrol for a nice dinner that evening. And this looked very good, but expensive.
Turning to one of the John’s (the one who decides about all things food related) we asked for a reading.
He read the menu for a while, then said, “Let’s eat here, if they can take us, but first I will call to cancel dinner, and we will eat leftovers at home this evening.”
Sounded like a good plan, and we went for it, to everyone’s delight.
I would have to say that for the location and the food, this would be a MUST for anyone going in the direction of Brantome.
The setting was magnificent, the service was flawless, and the food marvelous. The staff was exceedingly accommodating in every way, much different than at Bistro d’en Face. And we were rather late for the usual lunch time. I must add, there was plenty of staff, not like the poor harried waitress at Bistro d’en Face.
I had two starters: a foie gras napoleon, with toasted brioche, and a lovely small salad, then ravioli with pumpkin and sage. We were served several kinds of bread, and we drank two bottles of a delicious Bergerac wine: a white and a red, so there was a choice. Wish I could remember the name, because both were excellent. For dessert, I had an array of raspberries, ice cream, and pastries with creme anglaise. (can’t remember the name.) Jim had a more substantial lunch of duck breast, asparagus and roasted potatoes, all quite delicious.
After our desserts, we had coffee and many little truffles were passed around, along with the tiniest “danish” pastries. Oh my, what a lovely experience.
For a long time, we enjoyed the view out along the river, as we sat under the trees, realizing how very lucky we all are.
On the drive home, our driver requested that we go on very small roads, and maybe get lost. So the two living GPS-persons obliged.
Now here is where the great discovery of the day occurred. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered hearing about a village called Bourdeilles, which one reached by walking over a bridge, and our small road seemed to lead in that direction.
It is truly a gem of a small town, with a medieval castle, and lots of history of the wars between the French and the English. They even started a Renaissance re-building because of a promised visit by Catherine de Medici, which was halted when she cancelled the visit.
Just off the walking bridge, we spotted a charming house on a little island in the Dronne river, with a garden all around and a lovely terrace. What a place to live.
We also discovered that there is a good looking inn at the end of the bridge.
I checked it on the Internet and sure enough, it’s a three star hotel and restaurant, called Hostellerie des Griffons. www.griffons.fr
If you look it up, you will see how lovely this setting is. We didn’t go in, but I would take a chance on spending a night there, if I ever go back.
After that we got lost a little, and it took us a long time to get home, but it was so much fun, wandering through little villages, finding spectacular views, and just drinking in the beauty.
At home at last, our reward was “leftovers de la maison,” omelettes put together in professional fashion by the other John, which together with the leftover wine, made a pretty darn good meal.
Next morning, off to other various adventures…..
Friday was our last day at the house in Pressignac Vicq. After a pretty hilarious breakfast, (we ladies-in-charge gave orders that we had to eat up all the leftovers for breakfast, before we left.)
So the table was laid, by the guys, with all sorts of oddments, includiing Coke Zero, bits of cake, various yogurts, heels of bread, etc.
The laughter masked our sadness at leaving each other, but we were all also headed on to other adventures: two couples to Paris for the weekend, one couple driving to Geneva, training to Lausanne, then hiking south of Lac Leman into Italy, and ending with a week in Venice!
Jim and I were headed to the eastern part of the Dordogne, to spend a few days, once again, at Domaine de la Rhue. Many of you know about this charming B & B, an elegant stone stable conversion, owned and operated by a most elegant couple, whom we met 15 years ago, on our first stay in the region.
On our way, we drove thru Sarlat again, to see the town without the flood of market-goers. It was a good idea, as we really saw some of the ancient and unusual buildings.
Lucky for us who visit there, Sarlat was the subject of a major restoration around 1964, so that the ancient charm is intact. It is also the birthplace of many of the values of the French that became part of the value system of the United States.
I just read that Etienne de la Boetie, a Sarlat native and a magistrate in the Bordeaux parliament (in the 16th C.) was also an impassioned writer, who, when he was only 18, wrote a compelling appeal for liberty. That, in turn, inspired Jean-Jacques Rousseau when he wrote the Social Contract. He was also a friend of Montaigne. AND I just learned that M. de la Boetie was the subject of Montaigne’s famous Essay on Friendship. I love this quote from that essay: “If I am pressed to explain why I was fond of him, I feel I can only reply because he was himself and I was myself.”
You can probably tell that I majored in French Language and Literature! Or is everyone fascinated by bringing these familiar names to life in our travels??
The Lanterne des Morts was finally visible. It’s a rather strange building with a conical roof. I had to go look up some of these buildings to see what they really were, as I’d packed the guide book, and my iPad didn’t work with no WiFi.
Suffice it to say, there is a lot to see here, besides the two weekly markets, and as I think I said on another thread, I would definitely stay in this town on another trip. I’d find one of the several very nice apartments to rent, which have good prices compared to Paris, and I would probably leave town on market days.
We had lunch at Le Presidial, in the covered garden, which wasn’t very pretty.(Well, the garden, itself was, it was just the decor in the canopied area reserved for outdoor dining. We enjoyed the food, but the service was pretty slow, only one server for the fairly large crowd. I enjoyed what had become one of my “regular” dishes for lunch, a salad of those incredibly sweet local tomatoes with goat’s cheese, while DH had a marvelous foie gras. My dessert was good enough to take a picture of: called “Chocolate Emotion.” It was the correct name!!
We had an early evening, after arriving at Domaine de la Rhue. At Madame Jooris’ suggestioin, we had buckwheat crepes at L’Esplanade, in Hospitalet, with magical views of Rocamadour, all lit up!
Now, with Madame telling us to arrive at Autoire from the South, we went off on our circular day trip.
Starting east on the D673. we drove thru Alvignac and Padirac to the Cirque d’Autoire, and down this great mountain drive seeing Autoire way down below us. This might be the best view I’ve had in years!
We wandered around the almost deserted village, and then drove on to Loubressac through some back road, (maybe the GR 652?)
I realized we’d been there 15 years ago, and the views are still fabulous!. Luckily I checked my watch and it was about 3 minutes before noon, so I ran in to the little local “7-11” (called “Les Courses du Jour,”) and quickly bought a couple of sandwiches.
We sat for a long while in the center of this gem of a village, enjoying the use of one of the picnic benches located there, and even enjoyed the VERY clean public restrooms.
Backtracking thru Autoire, on another back road, we headed for Montal and St. Cere, then drove to Castelnau on a tiny one way bridge, then back over the bridge and up to Carennac where we also got the “deja vu” experience.
Funny how I remember the places when I see them, but 15 years is apparently too long (now) to remember some of the names.
That evening, Mme. Jooris made a reservation for us at Saveurs des Halles, a restaurant in the center of Martel. This is quite a lovely town, and the restaurant was partially successful, e.g. – my entree was foie gras wrapped in a rather tasteless beef concoction, but the small accompanying salad was a glorious garnish of batons of beet, carrot, jicama and sprouts! Yum! My main was a boned quail in puff pastry, with a lovely red wine sauce and root veggies. Dessert was a quince creme brulee. (more like a “membrillo” covered flan) but I’m being a bit picky. Service was good, it’s a nice country town with welcoming people, and well worth a visit.
Next day, we left Domaine de la Rhue, and started north toward Bourges, but detoured a bit to see some more of these lovely towns, including Meyssac, Collonges le Rouge (so different from all the other towns!) and the magestic Turenne.
Our drive through Turenne was marred by large groups of French tourists, piling off of tour buses, on this Sunday morning, so we quickly got away, but vowed to come back.
NEXT UP: BOURGES CATHEDRAL and then, at last, BARBIZON!
Why don’t more people go to see Bourges Cathedral? Jim wanted to do this, as he had read Pillars of The Earth ages ago, and he had read somewhere (also ages ago) that Bourges was one of the cathedrals that Ken Follett studied before writing the book (though it was about a cathedral in England(!)
So, we decided to spend a night there en route back to Paris, and also because some friends had recently done the same and loved it.
Entering the city on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and with quite good directions, we expected it to be a breeze to arrive in the medieval center at our overnight stop, Hotel d’Angleterre.
As we got closer, the streets, bien sur, got narrower and narrower, and suddenly I noticed the streets were swarming with pedestrians! I mean SWARMING. I decided we were driving on a pedestrian only street, so I closed my eyes as Jim carried on inching along.
Luckily we arrived at our destination hotel a few minutes later, and exited the car rapidement!! – ran inside and learned that we had arrived on the day of the once a YEAR Sunday shopping event for the city!
The staff (consisting of one young lady) was more than excellent. She manoevered our car into a parking spot, showed us our very nice room, with superb bathroom (shower for 6 at least) and put us at ease.
We waded through the crowds of shoppers, but couldn’t get much of a look at anything that evening, except the massive outside of the cathedral, and settled on a pleasant dinner at the only restaurant open on Sunday, called Au Senat. Here we had steak frites, delicious, and Ile Flottante, a childhood favorite of mine.
I gather there are several very good restaurants in Bourges, but never on Sunday!!
Bourges Cathedral is a magnificent unity of design: simple and spare, more to my liking. There is a very, VERY beautiful bishop’s garden, also much to my liking.
The Cathedral is smack dab in middle of the old town. It just suddenly looms up in front of you. Lovely 5 bay porch, really simple inside, VERY old mostly original stained glass windows, so different, just superb.
We loved the old part of town: nice mixture of old and new in parts. Wish I could post my photo of the TOPIARY iconic Perrier bottle at the square in front of the tourist office near the cathedral.
Our hotel is in tiny square next to Jacques Coeur house, and we had a delightful, large room, we had great service, and would have spent much more time, if we could. In fact, the new city looked quite nice and prosperous as well.
After a thorough look around the cathedral, we drove the next day out on the D940 thru Gien to Montargis to Nemours, and to Fontainebleau, finally to Barbizon thru the apple country of the Haut Berry. We stopped and bought picnic supplies from the InterMarche supermarket near Argent, a small attractive town south of Montargis.
Our arrival at Barbizon was late, due to getting lost in Fontainebleau, (which has mushroomed since I was there 25 or more years ago!!)
We had an easy day, driving from Bourges to Barbizon. I was remembering Barbizon from 25 or 30 years ago, my last trip there, and was anxious to spend 24 hours in the bucolic countryside south of Paris, perhaps walk in the forest, getting in to the memories of the many artists and writers who were inspired here, et cetera.
We headed for Fontainbleau, and by the time I broke out my more local map (by now I decided I was much smarter than the GPS, so didn’t use it.) I realized that this area was like Westchester County: one suburb morphing into another undetectably, making for an easy disappearance into a morass.
Which is exactly what happened. Now when Jim is driving, and I am navigating, I probably don’t have to describe the attendant possibilities for disastrous exchanges in unfamiliar territory.
After what seemed like hours of DH driving aimlessly toward what he thought I was directing him, and me trying to look ahead and read the map at the same time, I suddenly looked up and realized we were in smack-dab in FRONT of Fontainbleau castle! OY! There was also what the French so lovingly call “beaucoup de monde” — cars, buses, people, in all directions!
“Which way,” says he. “I don’t know” say I — and so it goes, sweat beginning to cover the brows, bad words emerging in the frontal lobe, tongues being bitten so as not to utter same, doubt and fear filling the front seat.
“Keep going straight” I say, “until I can check where we are and figure out where to go next.”
We kept driving and by now I didn’t even know in what direction, but sort of north, and it was a one-way street for what seemed like miles, so there was no turning around.
Well, it actually was miles! Eventually I saw a railroad station, with parking lot. I asked (probably screamed) at Jim to stop there. I went inside and told the clerk in my halting French that I wanted “Barbizon.”
NON, she said, “Non, non, non” – she looked very pained, sort of making me wonder how far off track I had really gotten us!!
After a minute I realized that she was saying, in effect, that there was no TRAIN to Barbizon!!
She then gave me two or three paragraphs of directions to Barbizon, which was of course in totally the opposite direction of where we were, and of course I understood only about every fifth word of what she was telling me. But she was so kind and so worried about us, that I just meekly thanked her, and got back in the car.
I figured I had located us on the map, and we would just go back the way we came. There must be a parallel one way street the other way, I presumed. to my detriment. There was a one way street, but it meandered and was by no means parallel to the other.
Eventually, and two gas station stops later for directions, we zeroed in on Barbizon, and promptly got lost again! Once more the victims of one-way streets.
So, long story short, my exhaustion at the time of our final arrival at Les Pleiades, the charming spa hotel on Barbizon’s main street, led me, not for a walk in the elegant and beautiful forest, but to go directly to the spa for a massage!!
IMPRESSIONS AND EXPERIENCES IN BARBIZON IS NEXT
The Pleaides hotel spa in Barbizon is wonderful, and would make a great stop on the way in or out of Paris. It is very contemporary, with lovely rooms and bathrooms, a great spa. (and boy, oh, boy, did I need that massage. It was almost not even a luxury!)
We had a nice dinner in their bistro type restaurant, though there is a more elegant one also. The location is great for wandering the lovely small famous artists’ town.
There is a quality of nostalgia in the names posted on the buildings of famous artists and writers who have lived in Barbizon, and you can almost feel the turn of the century ambience when you walk around and see the elegant houses, the war memorial, the little shops, et cetera. Further, you can wander directly into the magnificent forest which has made the area so famous. It’s a very special place indeed.
We enjoyed a stroll around town the next morning, bought croissants, and then stopped for a coffee – instead of pricey hotel breakfast.
This town just calls you to walk around, and we had nice beckoning views from our room.
Our drive in to Paris was much easier than I expected. The rental car return was quite stressful, as we went to the wrong place, on bad information from a friend. Suffice it to say, I needed another massage, but there was none to be had at the time!!
All’s well that ends well, and here we were – on the verge of a whole week in Paris, all to ourselves…