Monday, June 28, 2010

GREAT DORDOGNE BASE

LES CEDRES
Rue Marc Delbreil
Sarlat 24200


http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk?p85865



If you are thinking of exploring the Dordogne, land of wine, ducks, geese, caves, walnuts, chateaus and rivers, then you need a place like Les Cedres.
We spent a month there this summer and it was brilliant. The situation is perfect. Sarlat is the centre of many of the area’s attractions. It is an engaging town itself and the accommodation is just 15 minutes walk from the mediaeval centre. And that 15 minutes is accurate, believe me. Beside, the apartment is very close to the main roads to places like Bergerac and Cahors and three supermarkets are within a couple of minutes drive.
There is a bigger villa in the grounds but we stayed in the one bedroom apartment which is attached to the owners’ house. Milos and his Waterford wife Rosemary, along with son George, are great and friendly hosts, very helpful with all kinds of hints as regard where to go and where to eat. They even supply charcoal for the barbecue.
The gardens are lovely and from time to time you will see deer wander through and squirrels dart from tree to tree. There is also a smashing pool away in its own corner, a veritable sun trap, and a very welcome retreat after a few hours driving in the hot sun. Beside, you have your own barbecue area under the trees but still warmed by the evening sun.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

WEEK 4, DAY 25 - 26 -27-28/29

Chateau de Castelnaud
24250 Castelnaud la Chapelle
Tel: 05 53 31 30 00




When the 100 years war broke out in 1337, Chateau de Castelnaud was already over a 100 years old. It would change hands some seven times in the next hundred or so before being finally captured by the French in 1442. Today, the semi-restored but essentially bare bones château, still privately owned, is listed as a Historic Building and it a museum of medieval warfare.
Our afternoon visit today (€7.80 each, plus a 3 euro council parking charge), coincided with that of perhaps a hundred French schoolchildren. And their chatter enlivened the visit. Besides, some practical demonstrations had been laid on for them and, as a result, we were able to see a rock throwing machine in action and also a teenage pupil being kitted out as a knight.
Not all the weapons are active of course but you could see that the likes of the crossbow and a more modern (16th century) “organ” could do severe damage, no matter what kind of armour (and there is quite a lot of that on show here) you wore. The organ had 12 gun barrels and could sweep a battlefield with lead balls.
Personally, looking at some of the older multi-bladed or multi-spiked weapons for hand to hand fighting, I think I’d have preferred to have fought in more recent times when a bullet would bring a relatively quick end, that is if I had to fight at all.
All in all, a very interesting visit and more to see now than there was the last time I came in 1993. Then I bought the kids and, obviously, you can still bring yours and they will enjoy  the visit which also includes a couple of audio visual presentations and a trek up through the narrow staircase of one of the towers which is rewarded with fine view over the Dordogne river and deadly rival Beynac  Castle not too far away.
Casino Supermarches
Sarlat le Caneda
05 53 30 84 00
With the rain pouring down in the morning, I did a wine review and noticed a few deficiencies. Rectified that to some degree with a visit to the local Casino (Supermarket!) on the way back from visit to Chateau de Castelnaud. Reinforced the Bandol and Pecharmant Red. Also bought a bottle of Vin de Pays du Perigord (Vin de Domme 2008 - Merlot and Cabernet Franc).
With the weather dodgy, we decided to stay in this evening and that Vin de Pays went well with the excellent Navarin d’Agneau (€8.34) that we bought in the traiteur. Surprisingly, the Vin de Pays was the most expensive bought today.
Starters were crevettes in pastry, also from the traiteur. Desserts were inviting strawberries followed by a pastry with the name of Religieuses, though I think the same may be referred to as a Nun’s Fart. We bought the pair of Religieuses in the supermarket but for quality in pastry you are guaranteed much better in the specialist shops.


WEEK 4, DAY 26
Sa Gouffre de Proumeyssac
Sa Gouffre de Proumeyssac
BP No 7
24260 Le Bugue

Despite the morning’s torrential rain, we were out and down today. Down in Gouffre de Proumeyssac, that is. Driving through the rain and the heavy water on the roads was all made worthwhile by a visit to this spectacular chasm in the ground near La Bugue.
The huge cave became well known after getting the nod from E.A. Martel in 1907 but its history goes back much further, the earliest mentions being in the 18th century. Early visitors went down in a cradle or basket and you can still do that today. I didn't and I’m sorry.
In fact, nobody seemed to take it up, maybe because it cost close to double the €8.60 simple entry cost. The original entry hole, once used for dumping rubbish (including animal carcases) is used for the basket but the normal tourist is guided down a sloping tunnel (photo) and into the huge chasm to start his circular trip on the balcony.
Then the lights go out and you see the basket descend. Music plays and the lights come up again reflecting off the dropping water (not too much of it!). Then you see the stalactites and stalagmites and columns and the little lake at the bottom.
We were supplied with an audio-guide (5 or 6 languages are available) and this was certainly a help but you do miss the personality of the guide.  Our helpful fellow raised a few laughs as he took us around. There are some huge crystallations, including one called the Medusa.
The facility is well equipped with car parks, picnic areas and walks and, don’t forget to go and see the original entrance, now with a small structure over it, from where the basket works.
During a break in the rain, we made our final visit of this trip to the Sarlat Market this morning. It was all rather subdued and as we don't plan to eat in anymore we weren’t really on the lookout for purchases, though I did help myself to a cheese cutter and serving tool which set me back all of five euro.
Subdued was also the operative word as we walked through the medieval centre this evening on the way to Auberge de Mirandol. The Mirandol though was quite busy with ground and second floors full.
We have praised the value available in the set menus in restaurants in Sarlat but once you go a la carte the prices creep into Irish territory.  Take this evening’s bill for example: Three courses for me and two for the advisor, along with a half bottle of a very satisfactory Julian Savignec Bergerac sec (Sauvignon and Semillon), came to €62.00.
My starter was a Hot Goats Cheese Salad, that is a couple of rounds of the local cabecou on toasted bread with loads of lettuce and other greens. I enjoyed my mains of a fillet of Hake with a lemon butter sauce and the local potatoes and veg and finished off with a favourite dessert: Iles Flottante.
The rain really put a damper on the eating business this evening and as we headed back towards the car we saw many of the restaurants with their chairs up on tables, having surrendered to the inevitable and hoping for better things tomorrow. Aren’t we all?

WEEK 4, DAY 27
Montfort, Le Roque Gageac
The day started delightfully when we saw a couple of deer crossing the gardens. 
The rain had yet to appear as we arrived at the viewing point above Montfort to have a look at the big bend on the Dordogne. And there were a few drops as we drove off towards La Roque Gageac.
The threat from above was still evident as we arrived at the riverside village, looking much sadder than a few short weeks back when we took a sunny trip on the boat. Now the gabarres are temporarily out of business because of the rise in the river which has flooded the embarkation points.

The village itself is also blocked off and most shops closed and, as it’s not due to roadworks, one can only assume that the danger may be from the rocks above. We do take a stroll around but the rain arrives as we leave to head back to the gite.
Time then to say goodbye to our gite owners, Milos, his wife Rosemary and their son George, before heading out to Sarlat for one last meal at the Mirandol. We stick with the traditional this evening.
Starters are Foie Gras with toast and relishes followed by the Duck confit cassoulet. After the goats cheese and salad we both go for Crème Brule. Our wine this evening is our favourite Pecharmant, the R du Roi and, courtesy of the house, we finish off with a local speciality, a classy Prune Eau de Vie!




DAY 28/29
The intention was to have a good night’s sleep before an early start Friday to the 500 miles plus journey from Sarlat to Roscoff. But that was knocked on the head, both by that late eau-de-vie plus the lightning from a neighbouring storm that floodlit the garden area around and about midnight.
We left the house about 45 minutes ahead of schedule and had an easy drive through the hills and valleys of the Dordogne from where the mists were rising as we headed for the motorway (A89) that would take us towards Bordeaux and the next motorway.
Joined the A89 near Thenon and soon saw our first service area but didn’t see another until about 70k from Bordeaux. It was called the Aire des Palombieres and we made it our first stop. It had a little cafe, shop, self-service hot drinks (I had a double espresso for €1.30), and all the usual facilities, including petrol of course.
We reckoned we saved ourselves some miles and time by leaving this motorway at Libourne and heading across a minor road (D670) from connection to the A10. The Sat-Nav took us through Libourne (a small town in any case) and a string of villages and soon we were on the A10 and heading north.
Facilities are excellent on the stretch from Bordeaux to Nantes and the toll costs are about 27 euro. Our first stop was at the Aire de Poitou/Charente but I know also that there are really good ones after that, including Aire de Vendee.
Back in early 80s, there was hardly a Cork driver on tour who didn’t get lost in Nantes. Roads have improved hugely since then but there is still at least one dodgy spot on the return journey. That comes on the péripherique after exit 38 and before exit 37 (which is the one you want for Rennes). After exit 38, keep to your left. Otherwise you will be in danger of going on to Paris and find yourself pleading to be let in to the correct lane!
I can’t say I noticed any decent services areas between Nantes and Rennes, so bear that in mind. Rennes has rarely posed problems for returning drivers but again there is a potential one when making your turn off the rocade (same as péripherique). You’ll be looking for St Brieuc and Brest. On seeing the sign, you’ll exit right but straightaway – and I mean straightaway - you are faced with a choice. Immediately, there is a divide in the road and you take the one on the left. If you have Sat-Nav, she’ll be shouting at you: exit right  and then stay left. One to watch out for as it happens in seconds.
Facilities on the Rennes-Morlaix road (a motorway, rather than an autoroute) have improved and, just maybe 10-15 ks out of Rennes, we stopped at a place called Aire D’Amour et D’Argoat. Shell have the petrol concession here and this is as good as any aire you’ll find on the autoroutes. It also has a Wi-Fi corner plus tourist info counter.
Didn’t see anything like this again but there are a few more basic stops along the way over to Morlaix. Also, as this is a motorway (not an autoroute),  you’ll have plenty of opportunities to pull off and fill your petrol tank in one of the nearby villages. But thus could be time-consuming, especially if your time to make the ferry is diminishing.
If anyone has any info to add to these motorway tips, please let me know.

In the event, we made the ferry with plenty of time to spare. While the loading can be a bit of a lottery, we were one of the first to get on board. We were hungry so headed for the self-service restaurant, the Angele. Tow steaks with potatoes (chips or gratin) and all the vegetables you wanted, plus two desserts and 50cl of Rhone valley wine came to €29.00. They didn’t last long.
Enjoyed a point after that in the bar. Kronenberg 1664 was the choice and a pint and a glass came to €6.20. The journey home, started at 9.30 French time on Friday, arrived 10.00am Irish time Saturday, was smooth and uneventful and the sun was out at Ringaskiddy as we berthed!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

WEEK 4 DAY 22



WEEK 4, DAY 22
Twenty three degrees in the pool, thirty three outside of it, so we enjoyed a welcome dip at noon after a short visit to the bustling Saturday market in Sarlat.
With the weather so warm, we had decided to stick with the barbecue and take a couple of steaks out of the freezer in the garage. Bought a few bits of fruit and veg to make up the meal – no need to buy wine, though I was tempted by some Rosette moelluex from the Bergerac AOC area.
The wine eventually used with the steak was a Bandol rouge 2002, a smashing wine, made mainly from the Mourvedre grape. Cost €7.00.
Wasn’t all that keen on heading to the market but should have known better as there is always something different. And, this morning,  that something different was provided by a ten foot dancing bear who came to the market on his bike, advertising a day long Fete.
Surprised then to see the actor get off the bike and stroll around among the market customers. Everyone was keen to take a break and have a look. The stallholders were just as keen as anyone else and even stopped serving while the “bear” slowly made his way through the centre.
Les Cabanes du Breuil
St Andres – Allas
06 80 72 38 59
Cabanes-du-breuil.com
A shorter trip was needed this hot afternoon and Les Cabanes du Breuil fitted the bill to perfection. Following a “mysterious origin” (typical French brochurese), these huts, not dis-similar to the beehive huts seen in Kerry, were the rural residence of the Sarlat Benedictines 'til the middle of the 15th century. In the 18th and 19th, they were used by craftsmen and, since 1950, this remarkable heritage has been preserved within a working family farm.
This is a pretty genuine farm as goose and ducks wander around with their young and are indeed housed in the cabanes themselves. The old barn is now the video room and there is a collection of old farm machinery including tractors, movers and harrows.
The huts are apparently the traditional dry stone buildings of the area but this original preservation and presentation is certainly well worth the four euro entry fee. Indeed, the display by the farm’s pea-cock was worth that much.

Pics, from top: Sarlat Bear, Duckling at Breuil and Ancients Huts


WEEK 4, DAY 23

Very dull morning here in Sarlat, livened up by a solitary peal of thunder and a short shower and more pleasingly by the purchase of some Bandol Rose from the local Casino where we’d gone to dump the bottles of the previous week and stock up on essentials such as bread and milk. The Bandol cost €6.50. Was on the lookout for a red and white from the area but no joy here.
In the lazy afternoon, walked through a different part of Sarlat, including the public park, and came back through the town centre, checking the restaurants for this evening. The weather is dull and there are few people out and about even though the temperatures feel as if they are in the low 20s.
Despite checking out a few “new” venues, we ended up at our “old” favourite Auberge de Mirandol. And what a meal we had for €18.00 each. Their suggested wine was a Percharmant, a 2004 R du Roi for €16.00. It was absolutely excellent and perhaps our favourite wine of the three weeks so far.
We started the meal with Foie Gras mis-cuit with three different relishes, including a Monbazillac jelly. Second starter for me was the Marinated Salmon (with Salad) while the other one was a well presented half Melon with a fair dash of that Monbazillac wine in the centre.
We agreed on the main course, not very substantial but gorgeous: Breast of Duck in a  truffle sauce with Sarlandais potatoes and haricot vert. Then followed he usual cheese course though this time it was cabecou (with salad) rather than Rocamadour.
There was an extra in the dessert line-up and I went for it. It was the melt in the mouth French classic Isles Flottantes. We also had Crème Brule and that too was excellent. A big crowd in to the Mirandol on this unpromising Sunday night and that is a good sign of an excellent restaurant where the food and the service is always top class, always friendly, despite the odd language mix-up.

WEEK 4, DAY 24
Chateau de Hautefort
24390 Hautefort
05 53 50 51 23
Chateau de Hautefort is best seen from the near distance. This imposing fortress is seen clear above the village for miles around.



From Roman times, there has been a fortress here and today the oldest part is the 14/15th century Tower of Brittany. On paying the admission of €8.50, you undertake a self-guiding tour though various parts of the often restored castle, seeing many of the rooms with their furniture and wall hangings.
In the immediate area around the castle, you have quite impressive French style gardens, mainly trimmed box with, here and there, a few concessions to colour with the use of flowers. Another attraction is supposed to be the English style gardens but this has been better days as you will see from the empty water-garden and other missing bits.
The Chateau, now run under the rules of a foundation, obviously rents out its facilities to pay the huge costs. On the day we visited, we saw vans and cars at the entrance making deliveries for a reception that evening. A marquee had been set up in the main courtyard, a drinks reception was being arranged under the hedge tunnel and an “orchestra” was also being set up.
You could come a long way and pay your money and then find the close-up views you wanted of the castle spoiled by the parking of the tradesmen and suppliers. But don’t worry, the best views are from the near distance. Of course, if you are interested in the gardens, the tapestries, ornaments and furniture, and many of you are, by all means come and do the tour. Otherwise, take your photo down the road and carry on.
The sunshine helped today which started with a walk into Sarlat to our traiteurs but disappointingly, and you often find this in France, they were closed on Mondays. Should have known better. Still all was not lost. Called to a corner shop Epicerie on the way back as we knew they also do prepared dishes and here we picked up some pork in a Madeira sauce.
Returning from Hautefort, we called to the Carrefour supermarket in town and bought some other bits and pieces. Now, with a bottle of excellent Buzet just opened, we are all set for a fine easy going meal in the sun. Must make the best of it. A petrol-lady, close to Hautefort, when I remarked in basic French that today was fine, told me: “Ajourdoui oui. Bad Demain!”
Photos from top: Walnut trees, Hautefort and Box hedges at Hautefort.