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  • the original name of the Promenade des Anglais was “La Strada del Littorale” and it was originally made of marble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/
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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.

 

Feed your foodie in holiday heaven – A food lover’s paradise

Ready to indulge yourself with some of the finest food Europe has to offer? It has to be Destination Dordogne!

Think of fine cuisine, mouthwatering dishes and Michelin star creations, and it’s hard to imagine a menu thatdoesn’t include a taste of France. French cuisine is famed the world over. But it’s one particular area of France – Dordogne – which is at the heart of the finest food on the planet. A food lovers’ paradise, it’s the home of the rich, dark, musky Perigord truffle. That alone puts Dordogne at the top of the food chain. From foie gras to morel mushrooms, dozens of local cheeses, the finest wines and traditional rustic duck cheeseand goose dishes washed down with local walnut laced liquour – plus romantic Michelin star restaurants – Dordogne is a food lovers’ heaven. And its stunning scenery means there are plenty of opportunities to work it off, with a cycle ride or romantic stroll alongside chateaux that look like they’ve come straight from a child’s storybook. Feeling tempted?

Here’s our foodie guide to enjoying one of the world’s most mouthwatering destinations.

Head to marketfood stand

Usually in the middle of town, among cobbled lanes and pretty plazas, Dordogne’s markets are a sensory delight. Visit Sarlat-la-Canéda, one of the busiest markets in Dordogne or the pretty medieval village of Issigeac. Head undercover to the market hall at the historic fortified village of Monpazier, voted one of France’s most beautiful village. Buy some Cabecou de Rocamadour – a small local goat’s cheese – a freshly baked loaf and find a spot to sit back and watch.

Dine at the top tables

All that wonderful produce means Dordogne has some of the world’s best and most romantic restaurants. There’s the finest Michelin star dining, to quaint corner bistros and chefs who are pushing the foodie boundaries. Indulge at the beautiful chateau at the Michelin starred Chateau des Vigiers which also boasts a golf course and a spa, or nip into Les Petit Paris in Daglan which specialises in seasonal local produce. The choices are endless.

Top up your glass

Some areas of France might be better known, but there’s no mistaking the quality of wine produced in

wine with rainbow

Dordogne. The Bergerac area has more than 1200 wine-growers, producing excellent reds, whites and rosés to wash down all that gourmet food. Visiting a vineyard is a ‘must’. Head to Château de Tiregand and explore its Pécharmant wines. Or visit Château Montdoyen, where the art of winemaking has been passed through generations.

Tuck into truffles

Dordogne is famed for its black Périgord truffle, or black diamond. You’ll discover truffles on the menus and even special truffle markets in Périgueux, Brantôme and Sarlat-la-Canéda. Or hunt for your own – join a truffle hunting tour and at Truffière de Péchalifour.

Take it outside

A picnic amid stunning scenery is hard to beat. Just stock up at the market and head to La Roque Gageac, one of exteriorthe country’s prettiest villages or in the grounds of the Walnut Museum near Castlenaud. The chateau there is a national monument.

Take a boat trip on the river Dordogne at La Roque-Gageac, picnic by the banks and round it off with a walk to Chateau de la Malartie. Wherever your tastebuds take you, a break in Dordogne is bound to leave you hungry for more. Discover delightful Dordogne for yourself.

Source/Credit: written by Sandra Dick for The Scotsman

Dordogne region – a place to linger

Market Day in Monpazier. Philip Gardner
Market Day in Monpazier. Philip Gardner

For anyone dreaming of meandering amongst the chateaus and ancient villages of pastoral Southwest France, the valleys of the Dordogne River and its tributaries provide the perfect destination.

There is almost a surreal feeling as you drive along the winding roads and lanes, past the rolling fields and vineyards that stretch to the horizon.  Then, almost magically, you find yourself passing through an ancient gateway into one of the quaint gray stone villages that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.

En route to a chosen destination, your GPS might send you down a delightful one-way country lane, just wide enough for one car.  However, that does not preclude the possibility of encountering a farm tractor happily coming towards you, as the driver heads back to one of his fields.  He will no doubt wave you back, and sure enough, after you have reversed for a short distance, there will be a section with a grass bank where the two vehicles can squeeze past. 

Looking across the Dordogne river valley from the village of Domme. Philip Gardner
Looking across the Dordogne river valley from the village of Domme. Philip Gardner

The French are mad about cycling – particularly on holidays (of which the French have plenty).  It is always wise, whenever you round a corner, to be prepared for a group of spandex clad figures bent over their bikes as they hurtle along with dreams of the Tour de France peloton.

Give a good-natured wave for those that you meet and perhaps you will see them again at the market, or bistro in the next village.

Getting around is pretty straightforward, since main roads and back roads are all well signposted, and it is difficult to get lost, even without a GPS.  The towns and villages that have been identified as tourist destinations have nearly all adjusted to their newfound popularity, by providing spacious car parks on the edge of town.  Since the towns are quite compact, this is convenient starting point to start exploring their amazing historic squares, buildings, and quiet back lanes.

The Medieval Bastide towns of the Dordogne region are unique for having been built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to a specific pattern. They all have a central market square, with an adjacent church, and with the streets set out in a grid format from that central square. To simplify access from one street to the next, the builders connected them with inviting alleys and passageways interspersed with small courtyards just waiting to be explored.

Many Dordogne villages have been formally recognized in France’s listing of its most Beautiful Villages. To be recorded as a Beautiful Village, a village must also have a population of less than two thousand, plus have some historical significance. The selected villages all proudly display a sign at their entrance to inform visitors of their inclusion in the prestigious list.

Although there are regional similarities, each town and village in the Dordogne has developed its own unique personality and charm. Indeed some differences are quite striking. The beautiful village of La Roque Gageac is nestled beside the Dordogne River with houses built way up and carved into the side of the cliff, as a measure of protection from enemies.

It is quite distinct from that of its picturesque Bastide neighbour, Domme, perched on a hilltop, a mere ten minutes drive away.

A typical Bastide village. Philip Gardner
A typical Bastide village. Philip Gardner

Each town in the Dordogne valleys has wonderful, colourful market days, with stalls selling an extensive range of local produce and crafts. Market Day is a social event, and its party atmosphere certainly transcends the mundane chore of purchasing supplies. Visitors mingle with locals as they check out what the local farms, cheese makers and wineries are offering, and strike up conversations with neighbours and friends who have all come to the weekly gathering.

If the atmosphere of the market becomes a little overwhelming, the market square is  ringed with small cafes, bistros and boulangeries, all offering the opportunity to sit back and watch the show over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and an amazing pastry.

For the more active, there are numerous identified paths for hiking and cycling, and places for swimming, and horseback riding. If you fancy taking to the river, when it is low in the summer, just look for one of the clusters of colourful kayaks for rent on the riverbanks.

If your interest is attuned to the really ancient, you will discover that the valleys of the Dordogne river and its tributary, the Vezere, have been home to humans for over half a million years. With its temperate climate and lush vegetation, it is not that surprising that some of the very earliest humans migrated to this region to settle amongst its abundance of food, and the readily available shelter in the caves of the limestone hills.

The natural composition of the rock eventually resulted in slides that completely sealed those prehistoric cave homes, until they were discovered during the past century. Resulting in amazing dwellings with incredibly preserved artifacts and paintings that date back to the dawn of prehistory. Visitors are no longer permitted to enter the original caves themselves, because of the damage their expelled carbon dioxide would do to the rock faces with its paintings. However, there is a remarkable prehistory museum built right into the cliffs at Les Eyzies in the dramatic Vezere valley, with the troglodyte village of La Madeleine just to the North.

Of course, no Dordogne town or village would consider itself respectably French, if it did not offer a selection of small restaurants and bistros, where one can soak up the local atmosphere at an outdoor table overlooking the main square.

French meals are an integral part of their culture, and establishments offer a daily set meal, posted on a board outside.  With lunch in the Dordogne being a leisurely two-hour affair, there is no pressure to eat and leave, and some of the most enduring memories are of sitting at a table  finishing a glass of wine, and soaking up the local ambience.

 SOURCE/CREDIT: Vancouver Sun, by PHILIP GARDNER