Sarlat-la-Canéda: an insider’s guide

PUBLISHED: 09:42 30 June 2017 | UPDATED: 17:33 10 July 2017

Sarlat-la-Canéda is one of Dordogne's most popular destinations © Jonathan Barbot

Sarlat-la-Canéda is one of Dordogne’s most popular destinations (Credit: Jonathan Barbot)

Sarlat-la-Canéda is a Dordogne favourite, where visitors never fail to be captivated by the town’s fine medieval architecture and gastronomic delights. Here’s our insider’s guide to the main attractions, restaurants and hotels and buying property in Sarlat-la-Canéda

 Sarlat-la-Canéda is unsurprisingly one of the most popular towns in Dordogne. Located just a few kilometres from the River Dordogne in south-west France, the town has retained much of its 14th-century charm and its medieval architecture is still a main pull for its thousands of yearly visitors. A popular base for exploring the Vèzére valley, you could easily spend all of your time discovering Sarlat’s quaint medieval buildings, twisting alleyways and picture-postcard squares.

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Sarlat-la-Canéda has lots of impressive manor houses © Dan Courtice
Sarlat-la-Canéda has lots of impressive manor houses (Credit: Dan Courtice)

What to see and do in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Originally an abbey church dating from the 11th century, the Cathédrale St-Sacerdos is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The organ in the church is said to be one of the best preserved from the 18th century. Pop inside to hear it being played as part of a special concert or simply soak up the peace and quiet away from Sarlat’s busy squares. Nearby you can spot the a rocket-like structure called ‘lanterne des morts’, a 12th-century stone monument that is said to honour Saint Bernard, who is believed to have cured the sick by blessing their bread.

House-hunters to Sarlat should stroll along Rue des Consuls, which has a number of impressive mansion houses that are testament to Sarlat’s growth during the Middle Ages. From being a small community controlled by the church, it had, by the mid-1500s, evolved into a prosperous market town popular with wealthy merchants. Further on you’ll see elegant buildings including the 16th-century Hôtel de Mirandol with its imposing doorway; the 14th-century Hôtel Plamon with its mullion windows; and the 15th-century Hôtel de Vassal with its double turret.

You can’t go to Sarlat-la-Canéda and miss the buzzing Saturday food market in the city centre. You might have to jostle for space among the crowds of eagle-eyed locals but it’s well worth it. Trestle tables are laden with farmers’ produce: fleshy red tomatoes, brightly coloured carrots, farm-fresh plums and twisted cucumbers sit alongside seemingly bottomless boxes of garlic, truffles, and trays of foie gras.

 Another market well worth a visit is the indoor market at Église Sainte-Marie. Enter through the gigantic steel doors, and you’ll see stalls piled high with everything from spicy saucisson to local St-Nectaire cheese. Don’t forget to look out for the church’s main attraction; a glass lift that rises up through bell tower to reveal breathtaking views over the rooftops of Sarlat and beyond.

Place des Oies is where you can see the life-size bronze statue of three geese that seems to appear on every postcard of Sarlat; birds that have served as a delicacy for many Salardais over the centuries. Meanwhile, on Place de la Liberté, many visitors might experience a feeling of déjà vu, as this iconic square has often served as a backdrop for films.

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Macarons | The history and endurability of Macarons

Written by Janine Marsh in French Cuisine for The Good Life France

macarons

Macarons or macaroons are those timeless little desert biscuits… fads may come and fads may go says Janine Marsh who knows a good macaron when she eats one – but macarons, those little aristocrats of the patisserie world, will always be in fashion.

Popular myth has it that macarons, the pretty little crunchy, soft biscuit cakes, came to France in 1533 when Catherine de Medici arrived from Italy to marry Henry II of France.

macaronsMacarons are certainly of Italian origin, possibly dating back as far as the 8th Century after almonds started to be imported to Venice.

They seem though to have become archetypically French over the centuries ensuing.

One of the legendary stories of macarons dates back to the 18th century in the city of Nancy in eastern France. At the Convent of the Dames du Saint Sacrement, the nuns baked macarons because meat was forbidden and the sweet little cakes were nutritious – and of course delicious.

In 1792, two of the nuns, Sisters Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth, began selling macarons commercially to the general public after losing their home in the days of French Revolutionary chaos and anti-religious fervour.

Their little crispy rustic looking macaron biscuits became instantly popular and the secret recipe has been passed on from one generation to another. Today Maison des Soeurs Macaron in Nancy continues to produce the macarons to the same centuries old recipe, a single biscuit with a rough, cracked top and a scrumptiously soft and chewy inside.

Elsewhere in France there are other legends, more stories of the making and popularity of macarons including that of one of the most famous macaron outlets in Paris – Ladurée.

macarons

In 1862, Louis Ernest Ladurée created a bakery at 16 rue Royale in the heart of Paris. When it burned down, Ladurée rebuilt it and employed Jules Cheret, notable painter of the century, to redecorate the new bakery. Inspired by the techniques used to paint the ceilings of the Opera Garnier, he adorned the ceilings and walls. Over the years the bakery became well known for its beautiful interior and superior pastries, becoming one of the largest tea rooms in Paris. In the early 20th Century the grand-son of Louis Ernest Ladurée, came up with an idea to assemble the little macaron biscuits sandwiched by cream and it became a best-selling idea which made the macarons of Laduree their flagship product and famous all over the world.

macarons

Today in Paris there is one man who epitomises the making of a perfect macaron – Pierre Hermé  of Paris is generally acknowledged to be the master . Described as a couturier of pastry, “the Picasso of Pastry” (Vogue) – his macarons are in a league of its own. For the last 15 years he has dominated the macaron market for enthusiastic  gourmets.

So beloved are macarons in France that there is even a museum dedicated to them! The Musée de l’Amande et du Macaron in Montmorillon, Vienne, Poituo-Charente where you can learn about the history of this fascinating and enduring little cake and even have a tasting in the museum’s Winter Garden.

Eclairs may come and go, Cronuts (half croissant and half doughnut) may be the darling du jour, but the macaron will keep on going, changing flavours, sweet… savoury, vive la macaron!

More about cakes of France:
Opera Cake – inspired by the Paris Opera
Eclairs – the lip-smacking sweet finger cake!
Stohrer – the oldest cake shop in Paris

Source/Credit:  thegoodlifefrance.com

 

Easy Recipe: Provençal Vegetable Casserole

This easy recipe can be served simply with a crusty baguette.  It can also be enjoyed by vegetarians and vegans!

You will need 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 large onions sliced thinly, 3 red bell peppers seeded and thinly sliced, 2 medium eggplants peeled and diagonally sliced, 3 medium zucchinis peeled and thinly sliced diagonally, 3 thinly sliced medium tomatoes, 6 minced garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons chopped basil and Eggplant. Photo courtesy of www.vegan-magazine.com1/2 teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet on moderate heat and cook onions until soft. Add the peppers, and reduce the heat to low, cooking until vegetables are soft ~  about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400°F.

Layer a 9×13-inch ovenproof baking dish with 3/4 of the onion mixture.  Follow with a layer of the eggplant slices, then layer on half the zucchini and the remaining onion mixture.  The next layer is the remaining eggplant, then the remaining zucchini and finally the tomato slices.  In a small bowl, mix together the rest of the olive oil, garlic, basil, salt and pepper and sprinkle over the top.

Bake for an hour and let it rest for 5 minutes.  Pour off any excess olive oil.  Cut into serving pieces and serve hot.  Serves six.

Bon appétit!

[Photo credit:  http://www.vegan-magazine.com]

SOURCE:  Au Chateau News

From Socca to Foie Gras

My article written for FRANCE ON YOUR OWN newsletter:  

When thinking of the French Riviera, Nice in particular, the senses become engaged: the sight of the azure Mediterranean Sea, the sound of the waves softly lapping the shoreline, the feel of the pebbles underfoot as you walk on the beach, the smell of the salty sea mist in the air, and mostly, the taste of local specialties, such as salade niçoise and socca (a pancake made from chickpea flour and served warm with black pepper). With a Mediterranean climate and average of 300 days of sunshine, the area is indeed attractive and booming.

When thinking of the Dordogne region, Sarlat in particular, the senses become equally engaged: the sight of medieval architecture and castles, the sound of market vendors selling their wares, the feel of cobblestones underfoot as you walk through the historical center, the smell of countryside air, and mostly, the taste of local specialties such as foie gras (duck liver that originated in ancient Egypt around 2500 BC and now is emblematic of French gastronomy) and black truffles (an edible fungus that averages 500-1000€ per kg). With the variety of four distinct climatic seasons, the area is a kaleidoscope of landscape colors.

Both places are famous for their cultural activities that attract tourists from far and wide, especially the outdoor markets promoting local produce and regional specialties: Cours Saleya in Old Nice and Place de la Mairie in the historical center of Sarlat.  Tourism is vital to both: Nice has a population of approximately 340,000 and attracts an average of 5,000,000 visitors a year, while Sarlat’s population is around 10,000 with an average of 1,500,000 visitors per year.  Due to its smaller size, the town of Sarlat has a more drastic decline in visitors than the city of Nice during the winter months, not to mention overall colder temperatures, yet both host cultural events to attract tourists during the low season.

Nice WikipediaTrivia & Tidbits:

Nice

  • the meaning of Nice (Nikaia in Greek) is the Goddess of victory; it became part of France in 1860
  • the original name of the Promenade des Anglais was “La Strada del Littorale” and it was originally made of marble
  • Albert 1st park is named after a Belgian king and is the oldest garden in Nice
  • the Carnaval has been a tradition for 700 years
  • the name “Côte d’Azur” was coined by the writer and poet, Stephen Liegeard, in 1888
  • the destruction of the castle on Castle Hill was ordered in 1706 by Louis XIV, but this resulted in the city’s growth
  • Nice’s traditional flower is the carnation; Nice’s specialty olive is the “caillette”, and tapenade is called the “caviar of Nice”
  • candied fruit was a favorite delicacy of Queen Victoria
  • Cours Saleya market was named after the sun “soleil” and has been Nice’s main market since the Middle Ages
  • Architecturally: Italian colors are ochre and yellow; French colors are beige and white – as seen in Place Massena

Sarlat Market. Copyright Kim Defforge. All rights reserved.Sarlat

  • Sarlat-la-Canéda (or simply Sarlat) is located in the Dordogne département of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France
  • Inhabited since Gallo-Roman times, Sarlat became prosperous at the end of the 8th century
  • The town suffered from the Norman invasions and then from the Hundred Years War, owing to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England
  • Sarlat, one of the most popular of the Dordogne villages, developed around a large Benedictine abbey of Carolingian origin
  • Most of the town has been preserved and is representative of 14th century France with authentic restoration work
  • Sarlat’s weekly market has been in existence since the Middle Ages
  • Known for its regional specialties of foie gras, duck confit, walnuts, & truffles
  • Sarlat’s emblem is the salamander, due to its S shape and also because it once was featured on the coat of arms of the French monarchy
  • Host to an annual film festival since 1991

For traveling, you can’t beat the accessibility of the Nice airport and the city’s extensive bus system (except when there is a strike, bien sûr!).  By contrast, the Dordogne’s rural setting and its smaller airports significantly increases overall travel time, resulting in difficulty in getting to and from international destinations, except perhaps to the U.K.

As for ambiance, while living in Nice, I woke up to the cacophony of cars, buses, and pedestrians, inherent with city living and its hustle and bustle of activity.  Compare that setting to Sarlat, where morning birdsong and the sound of an occasional car passing by is the norm – a matter of urban vs. rural setting, each with its pros/cons & sounds:  Chacun à son gout (to each his own)!

After living nine years on the French Riviera, Kim now resides in the Dordogne.
Owner of Manoir Fontaine de l’Amour with its fully-equipped, holiday rental apartment,
she is ready to welcome you to the medieval town of Sarlat.
Visit her 24/7 in France blog  at https://twentyfourseveninfrance.com/

What is a chocolatine?

It is a debate that has raged across France for decades, if not centuries… what do you call the chocolate-filled
pastries so common in the country’s bakeries? Most expats will probably answer pain au chocolat, the term we tend to hear when first learning the language.  Much of the country would disagree, however, and vocally insist that the pastry is in fact a chocolatine.  A website has even been created to try to settle the argument once and for all and the results are in: of the 110,000 people surveyed 59.8% say pain au chocolat and 40.2% say chocolatine, but which you choose will most likely be decided by where you live. Those in the south-west of France almost all use chocolatine, with the remainder of the country opting for pain au chocolat
(see map).
The chocolatine camp feel they should no longer be overlooked and one group of pupils from the southwestern town of Montauban recently penned a letter to France’s president in a bid to get the word chocolatine added to the French dictionary. “It’s a word of our region, where a lot of people live, and there’s no reason why the rest of the country shouldn’t know it. We’re proud to be from the south,” one pupil told La Dépêche du Midi newspaper.  With linguistic battle lines drawn up, Bugle readers find themselves on the front line. In the Dordogne it is most definitely a chocolatine, a fact that pastry lovers in neighbouring Charente and Corrèze would agree with. Travel a short distance to the north, however, and your request may be met with blank stares in other departments of Nouvelle Aquitaine (see
table below). ■

Pain au chocolat (%) Chocolatine (%)

Dordogne              5              95
Corrèze                  6              94
Charente             10              90
Haute-Vienne    57              43
Creuse                 82              18

 

map

Source/Credit: The Bugle

Our new holiday/vacation rental apartment in Sarlat

WAOH – it certainly has been an interesting and very busy process these past few months, moving into our 200-year old ‘new’ character house, let alone prepping the private/independent fully-equipped apartment for the upcoming rental season.  We proudly announce that you can now book the apartment through our site OR through AirBnB !

The apartment has all the modern comforts while preserving the authentic look of wooden beams and stone walls. Of course, as with any residence, there is always work to do, as we continue to improve the landscaping and garden areas and get the Zodiac pool ready for the summer months.

So, come enjoy our country-like setting (within walking distance to the historic center), and perhaps a glass of wine on the private summer kitchen or outdoor terrace after a long day of sightseeing in Sarlat and the surrounding area.

Nous vous souhaitons le bienvenue

at Manoir Fontaine de l’Amour

A bientot!

 

 

The wines of Bergerac: non-AOC wines

We have been so accustomed to look for the phrase appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) on a wine label, to signify that it comes from a recognized wine area, that we often overlook good wines without it. In fact, many growers who could use the AOC mark choose not to do so because the requirements can be burdensome. Winemakers in an AOC district are limited to the types of grapes than can be used, how much wine may be produced per hectare and so on. And then there are the good wines that come from outside the 300 or so AOC areas in France.

About a quarter of French wine production is listed as vin de pays and is entitled to carry the letters IGP on the label for Indication Géographique Protégée. There is yet another category below this, vin de France, which tends, with some exceptions, to be cheap plonk. We have several IGP wines in this region, including some from well-known vineyards that also produce AOC wines, like Château de la Jaubertie and Château Tirecul La Gravière, for each of whom I have a deep respect.

Tirecul’s Monbazillac was the first Bergerac wine to get the maximum 100 points in a Robert Parker tasting. And if you come across a wine called Le Haut Païs made by Vignerons de Sigoulès, it is very much worth trying. They make a red and a white, and I find them to be a cut above most bottles of generic Bordeaux or Bergerac, although much of this wine goes for export to Holland and Germany (where I came across it on a book tour).

Other winemakers are reviving vineyards that recall the centuries before the phylloxera plague struck in the 1860s, when the Périgord and Dordogne regions were major wine producers. Then came the new wonder crop of tobacco and the tradition of wine production was almost lost – almost, but not quite. Individual farmers continued to grow vines for their own household and the skills remained.

I have long enjoyed the wines of Domaine de la Vitrolle in the Vézère valley between Limeuil and Le Bugue. I was initially attracted by the château itself, the secret HQ of the Resistance in World War Two and for some crucial months around D-Day in 1944, it was the base of André Malraux and ‘Captain Jack’ Poirier. They have been making wine there for three decades and in recent years the English winemaker John Anderson has produced some fine sparkling wines and very drinkable reds and whites. For less than 5 euros a bottle, his Demoiselle de Limeuil are very good value. (They also grow excellent apples and have some stylish gîtes available for rental.)

The other day, a friend in Bordeaux served at dinner a bottle of a wine I had not known before, a Périgord wine called Le Petit Manoir. Once back in the Périgord, I made a beeline for the vineyard, between St-Cyprien and Le Bugue. It is close to the home at Péchalifour of my chum Edouard Ayrou, the legendary truffle expert, whose guided tours of his truffle lands are strongly recommended. On the D35 road from Le Bugue to St-Cyprien, just before the turn-off to Meyrals, look for the sign to Péchalifour and Domaine de la Voie Blanche and you come to the vineyard, where Natalie Dalbavie can arrange tastings (between October and April). She and her husband Marc are self-taught winemakers who were inspired by finding the remains of a 2,000-year-old winery on their land. They are great believers in organic wines and even tried using horses to work the vines. They also use giant terracotta jars to age their wine, just as their predecessors did in Roman times. Natalie reckons that one year in terracotta gives as much ageing as two years in oak barrels – but she loses 13% a year through evaporation. They make two wines at this vineyard, Les Joualles and Le Petit Manoir, where the terroir is clay and limestone. Les Joualles comes from an old Occitan term for the traditional practice of growing rows of vines amid apples and other fruit trees.

The wine I had tasted in Bordeaux was a 2012 Petit Manoir made of Merlot, which is now sold out. So I tried the 2014, which because of the vagaries of that year’s weather is made entirely from Cabernet Franc. It is very good indeed, and at 23 euros it is worth laying down for three years or more. They have a second vineyard about twenty miles to the north-west at La Bachellerie, further up the Vézère valley, with a mineralrich terroir terraced with river pebbles where they make red and white wines named La Source. These are serious wines, between 12 and 16 euros a bottle, and I bought several of a very remarkable red that was made without sulfites.

There is a pleasing sense of history about drinking these wines made in a vineyard that dates back to Roman times, and where the wine is grown and made in the age-old way. And there could be no better proof that the AOC label need not be a pre-requisite for making very good and distinctive wines..

■ Credit/Source:  Martin Walker, The Bugle

Martin Walker is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac.  He and his wife have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.