Our first year has been interesting and we have met lovely people; the most dramatic was when there was a kitten stuck up under the wheel well of our client’s Porsche and we had to phone the Fire Dept. to come access from underneath via pneumatic pillows to lift the car to rescue the kitten!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Perigord walnut is an extremely healthy and versatile nut grown in southwestern France. Perigord is the old name for this region, which is now usually referred to in English as the Dordogne. Most of the Perigord walnut production area is located in the Dordogne department, but there are also significant amounts produced in the neighboring Corrèze and Lot departments and small areas of other neighboring ones.
It has benefited from a Protected Designation of Origin status since 2002, but the walnut has had a history in the region that dates back thousands of years. While the walnuts grown today aren’t quite the same, walnuts themselves have been found at 17,000-year-old prehistorical Cro-Magnon sites in the Périgord walnut-producing region.
The Périgord walnut production area is located in and around the départment of Dordogne in southwestern France.
Walnuts continued to play a major role in the culture of the area ever since then and are inextricably linked to the region’s history. During the early Middle Ages, peasants would often pay off their debts with Perigord walnuts and by the 13th century, tithes to local churches were paid in walnut oil. The oil was at one time considered to be worth its weight in gold and contributed greatly to the wealth of the region due to its widespread and many varied uses. In 1730, it was found that more than three fourths of the national peasant population used nothing but Perigord walnut oil for cooking. Besides culinary uses, the oil can also be used as body oil or in painting.
The Périgord walnut can be used in so many ways in cuisine that the list of culinary dishes it can’t be used in is probably a lot shorter than the list of dishes it is included in. The possibilities are almost endless: Salads, mousses, covered in chocolate, baked in breads, used in cheeses, roasted or used as oil – the Périgord walnut is a versatile nut that has thousands of applications. It’s even used to make a type of liqueur, Eau-de-vie de Noix du Périgord, and a type of wine in the region (vin de noix – “walnut wine”), bringing a subtle, nutty flavor to the drinks.
There are numerous health benefits of consuming this walnut. The Périgord region of France has one of the lowest rates of heart disease – by some estimates it has the second-lowest rate in the world. The cholesterol-lowering properties of the walnut, which play a large role in local cuisine, certainly help to play a part in this. The walnut is also rich in fiber and antioxidants, high in protein, and filled with healthy minerals like magnesium, iron, and potassium.
The Dordogne is France’s third largest department, and as well as numerous picturesque villages, it also boasts an incredible 4,000 chateaux, 10% of all the chateaux in France. Like many French departments, the Dordogne is named after the river that flows through it. Foie gras, duck and goose are regional specialities.
The department has four distinct territories. In the north you will find ‘Green Périgord’ which derives its name from its many green valleys and woodland, covered with trickling streams, and houses the Périgord-Limousin Regional Natural Park. The major towns in the area are Brantome (the “Venice” of the Dordogne), Nontron and Riberac. In the center of the department is ‘White Périgord’, so called because of its limestone plateaux. It contains the capital of the Dordogne, Périgueux, with attractive shopping centre and marvellous winding old town. The ‘Purple Périgord’, in the South West of the department, is named from the area’s grapes, which are put to good use in Bergerac, the capital of this wine producing region. The area was of great strategic significance during the hundred years war, and visitors will find a number of fortified villages, castles and chateaux built by both the English and the French here. In the south-east you’ll find ‘Black Périgord’, with deep valleys and ancient forests. It contains the towns of Saint-Cyprien and Sarlat-la-Caneda, which are both popular with foreign buyers. It houses numerous prehistoric caves with some 30,000 year old cave paintings.
Sarlat is the capital town of the Perigold Noir – a beautiful area of deep valleys and ancient fortresses, in the South East of the Dordogne. The town is a great example of 14th century France as many of its buildings from this era remain in tact. The nearest airport is Bergerac.
The area surrounding Sarlat has history reaching back as far as ‘Primitive Man.’ Prehistoric caves with paintings for example have been found and the Vezere Valley is now classified by UNESCO as being a world heritage site.
The town center meanwhile began to makes its mark in the 9th century, eventually developing around a Benedictine abbey built in the 12th century. The wars then struck, and the town suffered greatly due to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England. In 1360, Sarlat became English and remained so until 1370 when the Connétable du Guesclin took over.
From the 14th to the 17th centuries, Sarlat was prosperous and displayed this through its architecture; new and grand dwellings were built as symbols of nobility, using Gothic and Renaissance styles.
Sights to see include:
the medieval sector centred around ‘Place de la Liberté’
the curious architecture of the St Bernard tower, also known as the ‘Lanterne des Morts’ (Lantern of the Dead)
the St Sacerdos Cathedral
‘Les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac’
the house of Etienne de la Boétie, a great philosopher
Château of Castelnaud with its medieval warfare museum
Château du Temniac, which overlooks Sarlat
There is a twice-weekly market, overflowing with fresh produce, including local specialities such as foie gras, walnuts, black truffles, wild mushrooms and pork delicacies. Annual fairs and festivals include: ‘Les marches;’ different types of markets throughout the year, ‘Festival des Jeux de Théâtre,’ mid July to the beginning of August, ‘Festival du Cinéma’ every November, which unites big screen stars, directors and producers, as well as students studying film and ‘Les Hivernales;’ exhibitions of local artists every Christmas. Cycling, horseriding, swimming, canoeing, fishing, hot air balooning, and golf are also popular activities.
Food and Drink A typical ‘Perigordin’ meal consists of: ‘tourin blanchi’ a garlic and onion soup mixed with goose fat and eggs and topped with sorrel, foie gras, a ceps or truffle omelette, goose preserved in fat with sarladaises potatoes, a salad with nut oil, cabécou (goats cheese), walnut cake and a bowl of strawberries.
Sarlat-la-Canéda, or simply Sarlat, is a town in the Dordogne department, in Aquitaine in southwestern France.
The region is known in France as the Périgord Noir (the Black Périgord) – known for foie gras, truffles, and walnuts.
It is one of the most appealing, and popular, of the Dordogne villages, (or towns). It developed around a large Benedictine abbey of Carolingian origin. The medieval Sarlat Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Sacerdos.
Because Sarlat has been ignored by the events of recent centuries most of the town has been preserved and is representative of 14th century France. Restoration work has been impeccable and authentic.