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

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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

 

6 specialties from Nouvelle-Aquitaines Dordogne

6-specialties-from-nouvelle-aquitaines-dordogne.jpg

NOUVELLE-AQUITANE, FRANCE – This region might be best known for its quality Bordeaux wines, but its food is an epicurean’s paradise. To the east of Bordeaux, the department of Dordogne (historically known as Périgord) is best known for its gourmet foods. With more than 2,000 years of history and numerous regionally protected products, there’s a plethora of choices to keep any food lover happy.

Truffles: Native to the Dordogne, the black Périgord truffle is coveted by gourmands worldwide for its complex aroma. From November to March, the expensive delicacy can be purchased for a fair price from Perigueux’s Place St-Louis market and Sarlat’s Saturday market. Connoisseurs of the black diamond are known to visit Sorges, about 19 kilometres northeast of Perigueux, to learn about the fungus at its charming truffle ecomuseum and area truffle farms. Or attend Sarlat’s truffle festival on the third weekend of January.

Foie gras: Despite its controversy, the traditional skill of force-feeding geese and ducks is still practised in Périgord and remains part of the department’s identity. Foie gras, a.k.a., fattened goose or duck liver, is served at most restaurants and found in specialty shops in Sarlat. There’s even a Route de Foie Gras for those wishing to meet the more than 60 producers of the specialty. Look for products labelled “Indication géographique protégée” (IGP) which guarantees the high quality product is strictly from Périgord.

Dordogne strawberries: Delicate, candy-sweet and a treasure of the region, the excellent, large-fleshed Dordogne strawberries are the only strawberries protected by the IGP geographic status. Thanks to ideal temperatures and soils, the region enjoys a long season that lasts from April to October. The main strawberry varieties, including Gariguette and Darselect in the spring, and Mara des Bois and Charlotte in the fall, can be found at most markets.

Traditional macarons: Ursuline nuns brought the traditional macaron to Saint-Émilion in the early 17th century. Although they’re made with the same ingredients — egg whites, sugar and almond flour — as their gussied-up sandwiched Parisian cousins, the rustic confection is chewier, straddling a soft biscotti and almond cake. Many shops sell traditional macarons, but the original recipe (a carefully guarded secret that’s only passed down to the business’ successor) is only available at Les Macarons de Saint-Emilion.

Caviar: A pioneer in river sturgeon breeding in Aquitaine, Domaine Huso in Neuvic sur I’Isle is one of three production sites in the Dordogne that specialize in high-quality caviar. Using methods that create minimal environmental impact, the prestigious products are processed and packaged, then marketed as Caviar de Neuvic. The 7.6-hecatre farm is open to visitors seven days a week. Tours of the facilities (that concludes with a caviar tasting) are available, but pre-booking is required.

Walnuts: Since the Paleolithic era (with evidence found in Cro-Magnon habitations from 17,000 years ago), walnuts have been widely celebrated for its many uses. At area ecomuseums or walnut-oil mills including Moulin de la Veyssière, you’ll find products such as vin de noix, a sweet and rich liqueur made from the green nuts, walnut flour, and walnut oil that’s been pressed from cooked nutmeal. For quality and authenticity, look for appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)-certified Périgord walnuts.

Credit/Source: Info-Europa.com

Brand Spanking New: The Gare de Nice Gets a Makeover

The Gare de Nice
The Gare de Nice. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

If you’ve travelled to or from Nice on the train, you may remember the train station there as a rather dismal and somewhat confusing place. People crowding together to get through to the platforms, bumping elbows and closely guarding pockets and purses. Always a “traffic jam” by the entrance to the platform as a horde of travelers tried to navigate through the crowd to stamp their tickets, as required, in the little yellow machines.

The ticket office stood off to one side, awkwardly designed so as to require queuing up in a long line to wait for an agent.

Outside and below this office, a lone and uninviting restaurant with few other options nearby.

In fact, I think many would agree that the whole area in and surrounding the Gare de Nice was one to simply get away from as quickly as possible.

Now, dear past and future visitors to Nice, all that has wonderfully changed! This once disheveled building and its environs has had a major facelift.

Gare de Nice
The main hall with a beautifully restored ceiling. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

The building itself has been lovingly restored. The ornate grillwork over the main entrance has been polished up, and the lovely set of arched doors now enter into a spacious, open and light-filled room. The large square ceiling has been painted like a chapel and the platform doors to the trains are now opened up, giving travellers the freedom to come and go. No more crowds squeezing through a limited area.

The train schedules are projected onto the side of one wall giving it all a clean updated feel, and there are other bright new schedule signs throughout.

And those little yellow machines to stamp the tickets now sit rather sheepishly by the platform doors, still pretty but humbled.

To the left of the main waiting room is a new Relay store for your magazines newspapers and candy; to the right, a shiny new sandwich shop where you can stock up before boarding your train to Paris or Avignon.

Gare de Nice
The new deli inside the station. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

The far end of the station is now the ticket office, complete with a ‘take-a-number’ machine and bright décor – purple and yellow chairs for waiting and tables where you can plug in a laptop.

All these changes are refreshing and welcome! But there’s more. The exterior of the station has also had a makeover. The huge open plaza in front is now home to a modern tourist office and a Paul boulangerie/patisserie.

These changes to the station have had a larger impact on the entire area near the Gare, with people relaxing at restaurants across the street. From super sketchy to stylish, it is a remarkable transformation!

The overhaul of the Nice Gare is not complete; the work goes on. But already the new look and feel of this busy station on the Côte d’Azur will make landing in this charming city a treat.

Gare de Nice
The exterior of the Gare de Nice. Photo: Mary Kay Seales

CREDIT/SOURCE: By Mary Kay Seales – FRANCE TODAY