From Hilltop to Riverside in the Dordogne

From Hilltop to Riverside in the Dordogne

Friday, June 6, 2014
The Dordogne, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on our newest tour, a Fall Musical Houseparty in France! 

Where oh where will we find just the right hotel for our fall tour? How about another Plus Beaux Village, the hilltop charmer of Belvés?

Our devious GPS winds us up the hill, higher and higher until the street turns into a path – no room for cars here! And absolutely no room to turn around, so we back carefully down until we can head in another direction, and find a parking spot in the market square.

The Hotel Clement V is just what we’ve been looking for, so we reserve rooms for late September, ask the friendly and helpful owner for nearby restaurant recommendations, and wander around the narrow lanes, taking in the views,

admiring the half-timbered homes

checking out whom the locals have honored with their maypole this year. The flower-bedecked totems used to be erected in the spring as a symbol of youth and fertility, but now celebrate elected officials, bosses, newly-married couples or even new home -owners – fête whom you wish! We’ve seen several with “à nos élus”  – to those we’ve elected – as we’ve driven through Dordogne villages.

According to Madame le proprietaire of the Clement V, the best restaurant around is at the base of the village – Auberge de la Nauze. We’ve called for lunch reservations, and it’s a good thing since even on a weekday the tables fill quickly. The Auberge is mentioned in the France Michelin Guide, and as we taste one delicious dish after another we can certainly understand why! An amuse bouche of cream of asparagus garnished with salmon toasts comes first, then a Crumble de Poisson for Kirk (crumbles are usually desserts, but not this one!)

and a Roulade of Farm Raised Chicken for me, both topped with summer truffle slices.

The Louis XV dessert has caught our eye, so we share this decadent confection of chocolate mousse, praline chocolate cookie, dark chocolate dacquois, and a scoop of tart sweet passion fruit sorbet.

Yes, it’s as good as it looks!
One of the resources for our trip research has been a list of suggestions from local author Martin Walker. His Bruno, Chief of Police mysteries, set in the Dordogne, were referred to me by a blog follower (thanks, Helen!) and are a delight to read… but they always make me hungry, with tempting descriptions of food and wine. The author has graciously provided a Week in the Dordogne document for his readers, and, using his recommendations this afternoon, we’re heading north to the Vezere valley, site of several Bruno adventures. Tiny St. Leon sur Vezere, dozing beside the river, is truly  a charmer. A rosy church takes center stage,

with a general store/café tucked into a lazy curve of rippling water,

and one flower-bedecked home after another lining the few still lanes.

So peaceful and lovely…makes us want to just sit and relax!
But we’ve got to reach Montignac, where the ticket office for the prehistoric Lascaux caves are located. We’ll include a visit to one of the many caves on our fall trip.
R & D done, we pause for a refreshing drink – it’s another steamy hot day – and are served our choices with individually designed glasses. Yes, one MUST have the Coca Cola glass for that sip, and the Orangina glass for the other 😉

One more stop, for a wander around Sarlat…seeking out the Place des Oies (Goose Square) which we recall from decades ago, reminding all of the importance of geese (and their livers, of course) which were sold right here in the past,

finding pretty new corners to appreciate,

and trying a new place for dinner. The setting is beautiful, in the garden of the Presidial, an historic goverment palace, but the cuisine doesn’t meet our high Music and Markets standards – too bad, this would be such a lovely place for our tours! Perhaps we can stop for a drink in the garden??

And then goodnight,

with a twilight wink from the castle we pass each time we drive back to Castillonés – wonder who lives there??

One Plus Beaux Village after Another!

One Plus Beaux Village after Another!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Dordogne Villages, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on our newest tour, a Fall Musical Houseparty in France! 

What do you find at a Dordogne market? Foie gras and duck in every imagineable preparation, walnuts – whether liqueur, chocolate covered, candied, local wines…table after table of delicacies, even on a rainy day. Yes, Wednesday is market day in Sarlat, rain or shine. The massive iron doors of the ancient market hall are open – come on in and look around!

The day began with rain, but by the time we arrive at our first Plus Beaux Village of the day, Beynac, the sun’s out.

This special designation of villages began not too far from here in 1982, when the mayor of Collanges-la-Rouge (truly a beauty with its rosy cluster of buildings) was inspired by a Reader’s Digest book about the 100 most beautiful villages in France. He noted the many charming old villages that were falling into decay, many nearly uninhabited, and did not want to lose this valuable and beautiful patrimony of France. So Les Plus Beaux Villages de France was founded, beginning as an association of 66 rural villages, and has since become a hallmark by which visitors can discover some of the most beautiful and off-the-beaten-path sites in France.
In addition to stopping by some of these lovelies, we’re on the hunt for just the right hotel and village for our newest tour.

Isn’t this a pretty one?

But there’s a railroad track just across the parking lot from the hotel, and the village is so sleepy we can’t find an open restaurant or even a bakery!
Outside of town we finally find a restaurant serving lunch – and a delicious one it is! No doubt we’re in duck country….my salad’s loaded with foie gras, duck breast, and duck gizzards – yum!

Following the curves of the river, we pause time and again for a photo – such lush countryside!

Next stop, the historic Château des Milandes, built in the 1400s, and purchased in 1947 by the legendary entertainer Josephine Baker, who provided shelter for Resistance fighters during the war, then used the property as a home for a “Rainbow Tribe”of orphans of various races.

Towering on a nearby hill is the fortress-chateau of Castelnaud, the English strongold of the 100 year war glowering across the river to the French-held chateau of Beynac.

Tucked beside the river, our next Plus Beaux Village is La Roque Gageac,

with church, houses, and even a fort built right into the cliff.

From the riverside, we zigzag up, up and around to Domme, another of the listed beauties of the Dordogne – the region’s FILLED with them! With its ancient market hall in the center,

it’s a short walk to views off every side.

Still in search of just the right hotel, we head south west, and pass a little no-name village that we think would make a good candidate for yet another Plus Beaux Village.

Dozing in the warm afternoon, the lanes are quiet, not a peep or a sight of a soul.

No hotels for us around here…so it’s time to return to our home for the next few days.

We’ve got so much running around to do that we’ve scarcely had time to appreciate this lovely apartment! Such an inviting living room…let’s just sit and enjoy!

Goodbye Venice, Hello France

Goodbye Venice, Hello France

Monday and Tuesday, June 2-3, 2014
To France!

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on our newest tour, a Fall Musical Houseparty in France! 

We wave goodbye to fish-shaped Venice (just like all the maps we’ve perused on the ground) far below as we wing our way to France. Can you see the squiggle of the Grand Canal snaking through the city, to the left? The “tail” on the right is beyond where most tourists spend their time, the far reaches of the Castello Sestiere (neighborhood) The big square of water on the upper part of the tail is the Arsenale, where super-power Venice built a ship a day at the height of its power.

Our next couple of days will quickly accustom us to driving rather than floating, with hours on the road on our schedule. We’ve landed at Marseilles, but our first task is two hours southwest, where the jasmine is threatening to take over the courtyard of La Belle Cour!

Kirk finds his garden tools and tames the jasmine (what a difference!), as I clean the house and greet our guests, Peter and Susan. We’ve traded houses with them, and tomorrow will drive to their Dordogne apartment about 4 hours north.

Our favorite Vias restaurant, L’Amandine, is closed tonight, but Peter and Susan have found a new little place right across from the church, and greet the owner like old friends. She quickly prepares some delicious open-face toasted sandwiches and salads, and we enjoy getting to know this interesting couple as we eat. Peter and Susan are Australian, but spend half of the year in France, and often swap their home. They’ve recently been in Sausalito, California, and Spain, and have come to Vias from the St. Remy area of Provence.  Eager to see their little village, we listen as we eat to tales of how they’ve restored their home over the years.

Tuesday morning finds us on the road again, keys to the apartment in hand, and we whiz by the turreted walls of Carcassonne as we make our way north.

We get just a quick look at the pretty village of Castillonnés, since we’ve got to meet some fellow Slow Travel Tours partners for dinner tonight. We unpack enough to pack AGAIN, and hit the road.

Next stop, Sarlat, one of the highlights of the Dordogne region, a golden-stone beauty whose warm colors remind us of Aix.

Instead of driving yet 1 1/2 hours more BACK to Casti (as Peter and Susan call their village) we’ve decided it’d be wiser to spend the night in this dreamy town, and check into a hotel that is rather the epitome of an old French auberge – no air conditioning (don’t need it today, fortunately), quirky stairs heading this way and that, creaky floors, a bit shabby, but full of character – reminds us of places we stayed decades ago when we first started traveling to France.Our top floor room has great views out over the lauze – stone roofs of town.

The evening flies by, as we meet Steve and Judi of Caves and Castles, who live north of Sarlat near Montignac, not far from the famous prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux. Their tour focus and expertise is in the fascinating prehistory of the region, as well as the beautiful fortress castles that dot the area. This is an absolutely gorgeous part of France, and it’s been over a decade since we’ve spent time here, so we’re eager to explore for the next few days in preparation for a special tour in September. 
Walking back to the hotel, we feel as if we’re in a fairytale,

walking between towers and quiet lanes, mullioned windows and ancient doors. We’ll be back!