Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Last Few Days of Our Trip

      It's now Tuesday, and I'm back home, but I decided to write up the last few days of our trip while on our flight back to the United States.

     On Saturday morning we packed up and left our gite in the Dordogne to head towards the Loire Valley, where we were staying for one night. It was a long drive to the house in Montrésor where we were spending the night, and we arrived a little after 3:00 p.m. and were met by Brigitte, the house manager. The place we were staying at was small but absolutely beautiful, with stunning views of the Chateau de Montrésor from several windows. Brigitte left us a bottle of local wine, a baguette and some macarons from a bakery in town, and a jar of pork rilette.

Views of Chateau de Montresor from our House
      Shortly after checking into the house, we drove off towards the village of Monthou-sur-Cher, where we had an appointment to visit Vignoble Dinocheau, a small family-run winery. The wines of Dinocheau are imported into the U.S. by Laurent Bonnois, a small importer who grew up in the Paris area, moved to New York and ran a wine store there for awhile, then left the retail business and started importing French wine into the U.S., first distributing only in New York, and then in Maine. Laurent, who moved back to France several years ago and now lives in Paris, set up our appointment at Dinocheau. Although I had the address, finding the winery was difficult, even after we called Laurence Dinocheau and she gave us directions. Eventually she drove out to look for us and directed us to the winery, which she runs with her brother with some help from their father. Despite being late for our appointment, Laurence gave us a two hour tour and tasting, showing us first their small winemaking, aging and bottling facility, then taking us for a drive through some of their vineyards, and finally letting us taste the entire range of their wines. The wines were impressive, and we bought what little we could, given that our vacation was nearly over and we had little room to pack any more into our luggage. But at least I should be able to get some of the wines in Maine, hopefully including the 2015 rosé, which we particularly liked.
Dinocheau Wines Safely Home
      After leaving Dinocheau we drove back to our house in Montrésor and almost immediately headed out to the next village, where we were having dinner with two Americans, Ken and Walt, who have been living in the Loire Valley for over a decade after leaving their jobs in the San Francisco area and moving to France. Ken and Walt both write blogs, and it was through reading Ken's blog, Living the Life in St. Aignan, that I first communicated with them several years ago. Since we were going to be in the area, we agreed to meet for dinner, at Le Moulin de Chaudé in Chemillé-sur-Indrois. It was a very pleasant evening, and the dinner was outstanding, with several Loire wines to complement the great food. It was a classic country French restaurant, with refined but not weird food, lovely but not stuffy décor, excellent but not pretentious service, and reasonable prices. What more could one ask for in a restaurant?

      On Sunday morning, before leaving our house we took a walk around Montrésor  and along the Indrois River, which runs through the middle of Montrésor. There's a walking path along the river, and among other things it affords great views of Chateau de Montrésor from a different angle than we had from our house.
Old Market Hall in Montrésor

      After leaving Montrésor we drove towards the Loire River, and thought about stopping in or around Amboise to have a picnic. However, as we drove through Amboise we saw that there was a huge fair and a market in the center of town, and clearly no parking anywhere in the area, so we continued on. We finally stopped in Chaumont, along the Loire, right by the Chateau de Chaumont. We had a picnic along the river, then took a brief walk in Chaumont before continuing towards Senlis, our final stop on the trip.

Chateau de Chaumont

      Senlis is about 20-25 minutes from Charles de Gaulle Airport, making it a good place to stay the last night before flying out. We had stayed in Senlis twice before for that reason, and found it to be a lovely town. It's a moderately large old town with an imposing cathedral right in the center, and also lots of places to stay and to dine. We had stayed at a small hotel the 2 previous times, but this time I had booked a room at a newly opened small B&B, Fab House. It turned out to be a fantastic place to stay. Fabien, the young man who owns it (hence, Fab House), had converted an old farm and stables into a lovely B&B with just a few rooms. Fabien told us that he's a native of Senlis, and lives right across from the B&B. Our room was beautifully decorated and comfortable, and there was a kitchen for guests to use and an excellent breakfast. Because it was Sunday, not many restaurants were open for dinner, but we found a creperie that served excellent crepes. We also spent some time walking around the old part of Senlis both before and after dinner.
Senlis Cathedral

Senlis Cat

Old Ramparts in Senlis

       Monday morning we took another walk around Senlis before leaving for the airport, and bought some bread and pastries at a boulangerie. The drive to the airport was uneventful except for the fact that I got on the A1 highway (equivalent to an American interstate) going the wrong way, and had to drive to the next exit to reverse direction and head towards the airport. But we had plenty of time to spare, and arrived far earlier than necessary. The rest of the return trip was uneventful, and no more miserable than usual. And our cat was very surprised, and happy, to see us again.

Friday, April 15, 2016

End of the Week in the Dordogne

         When I woke up Thursday morning and looked out of the dining room window, it appeared that the Dordogne River had disappeared during the night. Eventually the fog burned off and the sun slowly appeared. By the time we headed off for the morning, the weather was beautiful. We first drove to the village of La Roque Gageac, another of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. La Roque Gageac is located on the Dordogne, and the village stretches up several levels from the river up to the cliffs. In fact, several houses are built right into the cliff walls. We parked by the Dordogne and walked up into and around the village, and past a privately owned chateau just outside the center. We made one stop in town, at an artist's gallery on an upper level of the village. The artist paints watercolors, mostly of scenes of the region, and he said he works in isolation in the woods all winter painting, then opens his shop in La Roque Gageac during the tourist season to try and sell what he painted. His paintings were beautiful, and we bought one depicting La Roque Gageac from the river.

Dordogne from Upper La Roque Gageac

La Roque Gageac from Outskirts of Town

         After leaving La Roque Gageac we headed back in the direction of our gite, then decided to take a detour to Chateau de Marqueyssac, whose grounds have basically been turned into a botanical garden. A striking peacock greeted us at the entrance to the grounds, and we spent about 1 ½ hours strolling through the park. A lot of the park runs along the Dordogne, and there are some amazing views of the river and nearby chateaus. At one point you can get a great view of the chateaus of Beynac, Castelnaud and Feyrac.
The Greeter at Chateau de Marqueyssac

Castelnaud as seen from Marqueyssac

       We then returned to our gite and had a late lunch on the terrace. While the weather forecast most of the week had been iffy and the weather was often variable, we had managed to eat almost all of our lunches and dinners out on the terrace.

         Late in the afternoon we drove to Sarlat again. Without a market, parking in the center was quite easy. Ann wanted to visit the Manoir de Gisson, a magnificent medieval house dating from the 13th Century, and I just wanted to stroll around the center of town, so we split up for an hour. Although Sarlat is quite touristy, the buildings in the center of the town are spectacular. Many of them now house restaurants and shops of all kinds catering to tourists.
Manoir de Gisson

Buildings in Sarlat

           After leaving Sarlat, we headed back to our gite for dinner. It was still quite mild, and the rain held off, so we again had an aperitif and dinner on the terrace. We were joined for aperitifs by the gite owners' cat, who was happy to eat some of the leftover pintade from early in\the week. We finished the Cahors-area Malbec rosé that we had opened at lunch, then had foie gras with the Domaine Lapeyre sweet Jurancon we had purchased the prior week. With dinner we had a bottle of Chateau Bouscassé Madiran.
Cat Joining us for Rose
          Friday morning we drove to Chateau dePuymartin to visit the chateau. There was a 1 hour tour, principally devoted to touring several rooms located throughout the North Tower of the chateau (the round tower below). The chateau was first built in the 13th century, was pretty much destroyed during the Hundred Years War, then eventually rebuilt around 1450, and has been in the same family line since then. The current owners live in the South Tower today.

North and South Towers from Two Persepctives
        After leaving Puymartin we came back to the gite for lunch. Since we only have a few days of our vacation left, and won't be at a house after today, we've been trying to work our way through a lot of the food and wine we bought earlier in the trip. In particular, we're trying to reduce our cheese and wine supply. With lunch, we had most of a bottle of the Domaine de Cause Viognier we bought a few days ago, and once again it was superb.

        After lunch we decided to take a leisurely walk along the Dordogne. At the edge of the village there's a walking path that goes along the river, and we walked along it for awhile. It was the same route as the boat tour we had taken, and we saw some of the same sights, albeit from a slightly different perspective.

Views from along the Dordogne
         After our walk we got in the car and drove to the nearby village of Domme, a little past La Roque Gageac. Domme is another of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (there are a lot in this part of the Dordogne), and is situated high above the Dordogne River where it makes a curve below the town. We parked below the village, and walked up to the top. Some of the towns we've visited this week were impressive because of their architecture and historical buildings, and some because of the views from the town, but Domme has both spectacular views and lovely old stone buildings. And a great ice cream shop where we stopped for a break.
Entrance to the Village

The Dordogne from Domme

Old Gate in Domme

Ice Cream Shop in Domme
         We left Domme in the late afternoon and drove back to our gite through some small villages. We had aperitifs on the terrace (without the cat this time), finishing off the bottle of Domaine Lapeyre Jurancon, then had veal chops, asparagus and a baked eggplant dish for dinner, with a bottle of the Domaine de Cause Cahors. And a cheese board with several goat cheeses from the past 2 weeks. After dinner we took a late night walk up towards the chateau. The path was well-lit, and two cats that we had seen earlier in the week were roaming around the grounds just outside the chateau. All in all, it was a great finish to a terrific week.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Day Out in the Dordogne

        Wednesday morning we drove to Sarlat, the largest town in the eastern part of the Dordogne, to go to the twice-weekly outdoor market. The market is quite substantial, stretching all over the center of the town and also encompassing the daily indoor market. We walked throughout the center of town, picking up a number of food items from various market stall vendors. When we were in the middle of doing our marketing, a thunderstorm hit, and we took shelter for awhile in a large church. Because of the crowds at the market and the weather, it wasn't conducive to taking photos of the town, and we planned to come back later in the week to see the town when it's quieter. Once again we had visited a place we had stayed at 30 years ago, but very little seemed familiar.

        After we left Sarlat we came back to our gite to drop off what we had bought at the market, then headed off to have lunch in the nearby town of St. Cyprien, where we had gone early in the week for their market. When we were at the market there, I had noticed a fishmonger with a restaurant attached which, not surprisingly, served almost exclusively seafood, and we decided to go back to the town to have lunch at that restaurant. The restaurant, Le Cro Marin, was quite charming, small, and simple. And the seafood dishes we had were superb. Ann had a plate of oysters, followed by assorted seafood with aoili (a type of garlic mayonnaise). I had their house-made soupe de poissons (fish soup), followed by grilled whole bar, a type of spiny ocean fish. I had had bar in France in the past, but it had been quite awhile since I eaten it; the bar at Le Cro Marin was incredibly delicious. With the meal I ordered a bottle of a white Bergerac wine from a producer I knew nothing about, and it turned out to be outstanding. Bergerac wines, both white and red, use the same grape varieties as the nearby Bordeaux appellation wines: principally Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the reds, and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the whites. The wine we had was a blend of the two principal white grapes plus Muscadelle.

          After lunch we decided to take a walk to the upper part of the village of St. Cyprien. When we had gone to the market in the village earlier in the week we had only seen the lower part, and even then the buildings were mostly obscured by the market stalls. This time we headed up to the top of the village, and walked through narrow streets and viewed several beautiful old buildings.

           We then took a short drive on a back road out of Saint Cyprien to the village of Campagne. On the day we arrived in the Dordogne we had passed through Campagne, and spied a lovely chateau there. We discovered that the chateau is located in a park that is open to the public, and we parked nearby and walked into the park and strolled all around the grounds. The chateau is right in the middle of the park, so you can walk around it and get views from all sides. Below are some photos we took of the chateau from different angles.

          After leaving Campagne we headed back towards our gite, making a couple of stops at tiny villages on the way. The first stop was St. Victor de Cosse, which we took a brief drive through. We then took a turn off the main road up to Cazenac, which is the other half of the village of Beynac et Cazenac where we were staying. Cazenac didn't have much more than an old church, a couple of small farms, a few houses, and great views. We then returned the back way to Beynac and our gite, where we again had dinner on the terrace overlooking the Dordogne. With dinner we decided to have a foreign wine; the red Madiran from Chateau Viella from early in our trip. After a brief rain shower passed it was a beautiful clear evening, and we sat outside until it got dark and the birds stopped singing. The only thing that marred the evening was an annoying drone that buzzed overhead several times early on, sounding like a giant mosquito.
House in Cazenac

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

More from the Dordogne

      Monday morning we spent visiting Chateau de Beynac, a medieval chateau at the top of the village high above the Dordogne. We had stopped here 30 years ago, but a lot of restoration had been done since then. The chateau dates from the 13th century, and was owned by the same family for around 7 centuries. It had fallen into disrepair in the mid-1900's, when it was bought by the current owner, who has been restoring it since then and has a restoration plan that goes until 2060. We started our walk through the chateau by ourselves, but eventually joined up with a tour of French families. The chateau itself is amazing, and the views down to the village and across the Dordogne are incredible.

      We had lunch on our terrace, then in the afternoon we took a one hour boat tour from Beynac along the Dordogne. The principal feature of the tour were the 5 chateaus along the Dordogne in and around Beynac. These fortified chateaus were divided between England and France during the Hundred Years War (which I believe lasted about 300 years). Beynac was the principal French chateau, while Castelnaud, across the river, was the principal English chateau. Each side also had some secondary fortifications, including the English Chateau Feyrac, which we had a great view of from our terrace. Interestingly, Chateau Feyrac is now owned by a family from San Antonio, Texas. The views of the chateaus from the boat were amazing, and we took a huge number of photos. Some of them are shown below.
Chateau de Feyrac from our Terrace

Chateau de Feyrac from the Dordogne

Chateau de Beynac in the Distance

Approaching Beynac from the Dordogne

Tuesday morning we headed off to Chateau Bonaguil, in the Lot department. On the way, we stopped to take a stroll around the village of Belves, another of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. We had stopped there 30 years ago, but nothing looked familiar.

                                    SOME VIEWS OF BELVES

       After leaving Belves we drove to the Chateau de Bonaguil, which we had viewed from a distance 30 years ago but didn't stop to visit. This time we stopped and took a self-guided tour of the chateau. It's a pretty spectacular place, but I'm not sure which is more amazing, the chateau seen from its grounds or the chateau seen from the road.

Bonaguil from a Distance

        When we left Bonaguil it was lunchtime, so we stopped at a picnic spot and had a picnic of some things we had brought. In the afternoon we had planned to visit one or more Cahors wineries in the area, but when we finished lunch it was a little too early to visit them, so we first drove to the charming nearby town of Puy l'Eveque, on the Lot River.
View of Puy l'Eveque

Church in Puy l'Eveque

         After taking a stroll around Puy l'Eveque, we drove back to the area we had been in the morning, and stopped at Domaine de Cause in the village of Soturac, which is at the outer edge of the Cahors appellation. We were given a tasting of their wines by Martine, who, with her husband Serge, had taken over her family's vineyards in 1994. We first tried a Viognier, and a Malbec rose, which were both Vin de Pays wines; both were excellent, dry but fruity. We then moved on to their Cahors AOC wines, which they make several cuvees of. Although the Cahors AOC now allows some Merlot in the blend, Martine said that her husband prefers to make all 100% Malbec wines for their Cahors AOC, since that's the way it was traditionally done in the region. The Cahors wines were outstanding, and we bought several bottles of the 2012 “La Lande de Cavagnac” Cahors that was recently ranked #2 in the world by The Wine Enthusiast magazine, as well as some of the Viognier and the rosé. Having bought a half case of wine at Domaine de Cause, we decided to skip visiting any more Cahors producers, and headed back to our gite.