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

 

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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

The Queen Mother’s Favourite Fruit Cake

For the cake:

  • 225g dried dates chopped
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g dried walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 275g plain flour
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 75g butter

For the icing:

  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Grease and line a 23cm x 30cm tin.  Heat oven to 180ºF.

To make the cake:

Put the chopped dates in a bowl and pour over a breakfast cup of boiling water. Add the bicarbonate of soda and stir in. Set aside. Cream the butter with the sugar in another bowl. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter, sugar and egg mix, then the dates and incorporate well. Scrape the batter into the baking pan and spread it right to the edges. Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. To make the topping: In a small heavy saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and cream over a low heat. Bring the mixture to the boil and boil gently for 3 minutes, stirring all the time. Pour over warm cake. When cool, store in an airtight tin.

Credit/Source:  Julia Watson, The Bugle

 

Where to Invade Next & Crazy French Laws

French school dinners hailed, as restaurant quality Oscar-winning documentary maker Michael Moore haswhere-to-invade-next
heaped praise on French school dinners in his most recent film, “Where to Invade Next”. In the documentary, which came out in September, Moore visits countries around the world to investigate aspects of life and culture and to see where America can learn to do things better.
In the light-hearted film, Moore sits down with children at a primary school in northern France to enjoy a meal of scallops, followed by lamb and a cheese course, a menu he says would not be out of place at an upmarket American restaurant. “I entered a small village in rural Normandy and went to one of the finest kitchens in the country,” explained the film-maker during the documentary. “By my standards, it was a 3, maybe a 4-star kitchen. It was definitely the bestplace to eat in town… it was the school cafeteria!”
Watch trailer HERE
A Few Crazy French Laws: 
  • It’s illegal to name your pig Napoleon
  • Drinking alcohol at work is forbidden – unless it’s wine, cider or beer
  • Unlimited self-service ketchup is banned in school cafeterias
  • It’s illegal to kiss through the window of a train while it’s on a platform
  • You “can” marry a dead person, but you first need to get the president’s permission

Source/ Credit:  The Bugle

Festive traditions in France & Christmas Vocab List

  • L’Avent – Advent
  • Un ange – angel
  • Une chandelle – candle
  • Une carte de Noël – Christmas card
  • Un chant de Noël – Christmas carol
  • Le jour de Noël – Christmas Day
  • Le réveillon de Noël – Christmas Eve dinner
  • La veille de Noël – Christmas Eve
  • La fête de Noël – Christmas party
  • Un cadeau de Noël – Christmas present
  • L’arbre/Le sapin de Noël – Christmas tree
  • Le père Noël – Father Christmas
  • Un santon – figurine in a Nativity
  • Un jeu – game
  • Un jouet – toy
  • La crèche – manger
  • Joyeux Noël! Merry Christmas!
  • La Messe de minuit – midnight Mass
  • Le gui – mistletoe
  • Le jour de l’An – New Year’s Day
  • La Saint-Sylvestre – New Year’s Eve
  • Le réveillon du Nouvel An – New Year’s Eve dinner
  • Un cadeau – present
  • Un renne – reindeer
  • Un ruban – ribbon
  • Un traîneau – sleigh
  • La neige – snow
  • Une boule de neige – snowball
  • Un bonhomme de neige – snowman
  • Une peluche – stuffed animal
  • Noël sous la neige – white Christmas

French children traditionally leave their shoes in front of the fireplace on la veille de Noël (Christmas Eve) before they go to bed. Père Noël (Father Christmas) visits them while they sleep and if they have been good leaves presents in and around the shoes. In northern and eastern France, there is a parallel tradition which celebrates Saint Nicolas on December 6th. Adults traditionally wait until le jour de l’ An (New Year’s Day) to exchange gifts, although, increasingly, families are exchanging gifts on Christmas Day.

Festive traditions An important aspect of Christmas in France is the Nativité (Nativity) with its crèche (manger) and santons (figurines). The latter are often hand-made and passed down through the generations. Mistletoe is hung above the door and is considered to bring for good fortune. Note that it does not have the ‘kissing’ connotations of other countries! The sapin de Noël (Christmas tree) is not as important in France as, for example, in the UK, but it does still form part of the Christmas celebrations. Christmas trees are decorated a few days before Christmas and Père Noël will often leave sweets and treats on its branches in addition to the present in the children’s shoes. Unique to Lyon is the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights), where every house in the city will place a candle in their windows, producing a spectacular effect. The celebration usually lasts four days, culminating on 8th December.

Le réveillon de Noël The most important Christmas event in France is la Messe de minuit (midnight Mass) followed by the eating of a meal known as the réveillon de Noël (from the verb réveiller, to ‘wake up’ or ‘revive’). Although fewer and fewer French attend midnight Mass, it is still an important part of Christmas for many families. The ré- veillon represents a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ’s birth and is one of the most important meals of the year. Traditionally the réveillon is a family affair and the meal is eaten immediately after midnight Mass at home or in a restaurant. The meal varies from region to region, but typically will involve seafood, followed by a cooked bird and the traditional bûche de Noël (Yule log). This cake is made from chocolate and chestnuts and represents the log burned from Christmas Eve until Epiphany in parts of France. The log-burning is itself based on an ancient pagan Gaul tradition of burning a log for the duration of the winter solstice. La Saint-Sylvestre – 1st January French New Year is celebrated with a feast called the réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre.

On New Year’s Day friends and family exchange good wishes and sometimes gifts. The president also uses Saint-Sylvestre to make his annual address to the nation. L’Épiphanie – 6th January The final celebration of the festive season in France is Épiphanie (Epiphany) on 6th January. The tradition on this day revolves around the eating of a special cake known as the galette des Rois (literally ‘cake of the kings’). A small figurine or fève is placed inside the cake. The cake is cut into pieces and distributed by a child, known as le petit roi, or l’enfant soleil. Whoever receives the piece of the cake with the gift inside is declared King or Queen for the day and gets to choose a partner.

en Français

Ala veille de Noël, les petits enfants français laissent traditionnellement leurs chaussures devant la cheminée avant d’aller au lit. Le Père Noël leur rend visite pendant qu’ils dorment et s’ils ont été sages, il laisse des cadeaux dans leurs chaussures. Dans le nord et l’est de la France, il existe une tradition similaire : c’est la célébration de Saint-Nicolas le 6 décembre. Traditionnellement les adultes attendent le jour de l’An pour échanger les cadeaux, bien que les familles le fassent de plus en plus le jour de Noël.

Traditions festives En France, la Nativité est un moment important de Noël avec sa crèche et ses santons souvent faits main et transmis d’une génération à l’autre. Le gui est suspendu au-dessus de la porte afin de porter chance mais sans la tradition du baiser des autres pays! Décoré quelques jours avant Noël, le sapin tient une part importante dans les célébrations mais moins cependant que dans d’autres pays tels que le Royaume Uni. Le Père Noël laisse souvent des friandises sur les branches lorsqu’il dépose les cadeaux dans les chaussures. Célébrée uniquement à Lyon, la Fête des Lumières se tient sur 4 jours, le moment phare prenant place le 8 décembre. Les habitants dé- posent une bougie sur le rebord de leurs fenê- tres, ce qui produit un effet spectaculaire.

Le réveillon de Noël Pour les Français, la messe de minuit suivie d’un dîner appelé «le réveillon de Noël» (du verbe «réveiller») est le moment le plus important de la célébration de Noël. Bien qu’en nombre décroissant, de nombreuses familles se rendent toujours à la messe. Le réveillon permet de revivre symboliquement la naissance de Jésus et c’est l’un des repas primordiaux de l’année. Le réveillon se passe généralement en famille et le repas est consommé juste après la messe de minuit, à la maison ou au restaurant. S’il varie d’une région à l’autre, le menu typique se compose de fruits de mer, d’une volaille rôtie et de la traditionnelle bûche de Noël. A base de chocolat et de noix, le gâteau symbolise une bûche qui se consume de Noël à l’Épiphanie dans certaines régions de France. C’est l’héritage de rites païens qui consistaient à faire brûler une bûche pendant le solstice d’hiver pour garantir une bonne récole. La Saint-Sylvestre – 1er janvier La nouvelle année est fêtée lors du réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre.

Le jour de l’An, familles et amis s’échangent leurs meilleurs vœux et s’offrent parfois des cadeaux. Le président choisit ce jour pour adresser son discours annuel à la nation. L’ Épiphanie – 6 janvier La saison festive se conclut le 6 janvier, lors de la célébration de l’Épiphanie. Les familles et amis se partagent alors une galette des rois. Une fève y est dissimulée et un enfant désigné comme «le petit roi» ou «l’enfant soleil» distribue les parts. Celui qui trouve la fève devient le roi ou la reine d’un jour et doit choisir un partenaire de sexe opposé.

Credit/Source: Sophie Arsac for The Bugle

The health benefits of a bilingual brain

 

bilingual-brain

 

There are many good reasons to learn a second language, whatever your age. If you are young, studying more than one language can create job opportunities in an increasingly globalised world; if you are older and move abroad, then speaking the local tongue will enhance your experience on a social and cultural level. But there is also one added benefit that more and more studies are highlighting: speaking more than one language can stave off the effects of dementia. The brain is a complex organ and the causes of dementia are still not fully understood, but there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that polyglots will develop the disease later in life than those who only speak one language. “Being bilingual has certain cognitive benefits and boosts the performance of the brain, especially one of the most important areas known as the executive control system,” explained Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto. “We know that this system deteriorates with age but we have found that at every stage of life it functions better in bilinguals. They perform at a higher level. It won’t stop them getting Alzheimer’s disease, but they can cope with the disease for longer.”

In her research, which was originally published the journal Neurology, Bialystok looked at 211 people with probable Alzheimer’s disease, 102 of whom were bilingual and 109 monolingual. She noted the age at which the patients’ cognitive impairment had started and her results showed that bilingual patients had been diagnosed an average of 4.3 years later and had reported the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than monolingual patients. Whilst even school level language showed some benefits, the effect was greatest for people who had to use the language every day and continually choose between two sets of words. “It works best for people who speak two languages every day, like immigrants moving to a new country who speak their own language at home… but every little bit helps.” The scientist believes that the act of switching between different languages and inhibiting those that are not needed, stimulates the brain, creating a cognitive reserve. “It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank.” This last analogy is crucial, as repeated studies have shown that keeping your brain active is not a silver bullet against dementia, it will simply allow you to cope with the disease for longer, something that has been highlighted by a subsequent study by Bialystok of the brains of dementia sufferers.

A group of monolingual and bilingual dementia patients, who were the same age and functioned at the same cognitive level, were scanned using a CT machine. The results showed that the physical effects of the disease were more advanced in the bilinguals’ brains, even though their mental ability was approximately the same. “Apparently, the bilinguals’ brains are somehow compensating,” explained Bialystok. “Even though the ‘machine’ is more broken, they can function at the same level as a monolingual with less disease.” It is not just later in life that the benefits of speaking multiple languages manifest themselves. It has long been known that bilingual children will outperform their monolingual peers in certain tasks controlled by the executive control system, such as editing out irrelevant information, focusing on important details and prioritising. “We would probably refer to most of these cognitive advantages as multi-tasking,” explained Judith Kroll, a psychologist at Penn State University in the US. “Bilinguals seem to be better at this type of perspective-taking.” It had previously been assumed that speaking multiple languages “confused” the brain, but the opposite has now been shown to be the case. “The received wisdom was that bilingualism created confusion, especially in children. The belief was that people who could speak two or more languages had difficulty using either. The bottom line is that bilingualism is good for you.”

For those of us who were not lucky enough to have picked up a second language at school, there are still plenty of health benefits to learning another tongue later in life… and it is never too late to try. “Being bilingual is one way to keep your brain active – it’s part of the cognitive-reserve approach to brain fitness. The more the better and every little bit helps!” Bialystok concludes. So next time you set yourself health goals – be they losing weight, getting fit, or cutting down on your alcohol consumption – why not add a few hours of French study into the equation… it’s a lot less tiring than jogging.

Article Source/Credit: The Bugle, Sept 2016