Dordogne (Or just on the edge, we're really in Charente - Villabois Lavalette)
October - 1st
We leave Najac by 9.00am and drive to Limoges to pick-up Ian Binks, our friend from the UK, who is flying in on Ryan Air. The flight is 15 minutes late and as soon as he comes through, we immediately leave for Villabois Lavalette arriving at around 2.45pm. As we approach the town it is very reminiscent of a Petit Carcassonne with a walled chateau sitting on a hill. The house we are staying in is big and a work in progress, bedrooms sorted, the afternoon is spent catching-up. In the evening, it's dinner at the the restaurant in town that has been highly recommended “Le Lavalette”. It's a winner, and our three course meal is accompanied by the inevitable house red wine.
The following day, a Friday a drive to St Emilion, followed by Bergerac region for wine tasting, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Ian has arranged the afternoon session in the Bergerac region, which turns out to be around a 35 minute drive. Caroline accompanies us for the first tasting and goes for coffee
A tribute to Foie Gras!
in a Chateau Hotel and after completeing the tasting, it's a quick sandwich in St Emillion and then Bergerac. Caroline stays in St Emillion to browse the “shops”. Unfortunately, all these shops sell is wine and when we find her at 4.30pm sitting on the steps of the church she is slightly dejected. A 1hr.45 minute drive back to the house, and the big question is, where shall we eat this evening? The Petit Restaurant in Combiers is approximately 20 minutes away, so off we go. Yes, its small, only has seating for twenty people and it's run by an English couple. The food is good and worth the drive. We later find out that this area on the edge of the Dordogne is often referred to as “Little Britain”
The next day, Saturday, Caroline stays in bed as she has been coughing all night long. Ian and I take to the highway's and drive the immediate area before ending up in Angouleme. The day is gloomy, and eventually it starts to rain. We abandon our walk around the city and make for the covered produce market arriving just before closing time and purchase champagne, sweet wine and foie
gras . The remainder of the day is spent drinking and eating, before the two of us finally walk up to the street to “Le Lavalette” to complete the evening with a pichet of red wine and a three course meal. The diet and under 100 kilos is a thing of the past!!
Sunday comes around too fast and time to take Ian back to Limoges for his flight back to the UK. Along the way we stop in Chalus, the town where Richard the Lionheart was killed. Richard and his troops were laying siege to the town and while staying out of range of normal cross bows, it seems there was a new secret weapon, cross-bow. Richard was hit in the shoulder and refused to have the wound cleaned, anyway he died three days later. Retribution was total, with all the inhabitants of Chalus being killed and the man who fired the cross-bow, he was flayed alive. Today, all that is left of the castle is a single tower, supposedly from where the fatal shot was fired. Of course, the tower is closed for the winter. Back on-course for Limoges, we walk the old town and have a
final meal by the river. It's been three days of wine and food and a whole lot of fun.
On the Monday, our host John appears, he has been to Belgium on business. A very interesting character and an all round good guy, he retired from the Metropolitan Police Force in London, where he worked at “Scotland Yard”. Anyway, he loves Villabois Lavalette and spends around six months of the year working on his house.
The remainder of the week is spend exploring villages and towns in the surrounding area.
On one particular day, we had planned to drive down to Sarlat, but along the way spot the charming little town of Brantome. It is situated on the Dome river and dominated by a large Abbey. What makes this particularly interesting is the monks lived in caves behind the Abbey, where there are a number of carvings in the rock face that date back to the 14th
century. Again, it's one of France's pretty villages and I for one am glad that we are visiting in the off season, as it must be hell in summer. Near by, is Grotte Villars, which has cave paintings, and whenever
there's cave paintings it's a “must visit” However, this visit is disappointing, the natural formations in the cave are stunning, but the cave drawings are underwhelming. Finally, to round out the day, a visit a Foie Gras Museum in the town of Thiviers. I don't agree with force feeding ducks and geese, but I love Foi Gras andpurchase a 200gm jar. However, we never made it to Sarlat!
On our return to Villabois Lavallette, John has made an enormous paella, filled with, fish, chicken, scallops and mussels. I have purchased more wine to accompany the meal and I definitely give this a thumbs up!
Another day, another excursion, this time to Abbalette per the suggestion of our host, John. Again, one of the Pleaus Beaux Villages of France, this is unique, as there is an underground church hewn out of the limestone cliff. Caroline informs me this was designed by the same person that did one in St Emillion. We round out the day with another visit to Angouleme, this time on a sunny day, so we get to walk around the historical city.
Piegut-Pluviers has a street market on a Wednesday, and we are not ones
to pass up a street market. The town has been decorated for the event, but it's not one of the best markets we have seen on this trip. What is interesting is the number of British voices that can be heard as you walk the streets. And it is not just the customers but also stall holders. After walking through town, and purchasing a couple of items we leave and do a quick detour to a field of Foie Gras on the hoof. A few photos before proceeding to the Foie Gras farm to buy a can of the pate. And as we are so close to the city of Perigaux we complete the journey and explore the historic old town.
Bordeaux - Aquitaine
On Thursday, 1st
November we say our goodbyes and leave John and Villabois Lavallete. The drive to Bordeaux is only 1hr 30 minutes to catch up with our friends Raymond and Francoise. We say our “Bonjours” and catch up as we have an afternoon snack of Magret de Canard and wine. This is followed by an evening meal a couple of hours later. Anyway, we move into the guest house and make ourselves comfortable.
Francoise and Raymond leave for Paris the following morning.
November, a drive into Bordeaux and a walking tour around the city. Again, as with all French cities there are an abundance of Churches. The river Garonne meanders through the center of the city and a promenade of houses line its banks. The city is 5/6 largest city in France and appears to have a great public transport system; the futuristic light rail winds itself along the waterfront and through the city center..
Saturday, a street market in Cadillac about 20 km away and then Chateau Malrome, the Chateau where Toulouse Lautrec passed away in 1901. Over the years he had fried his brain on absenthe, but finally succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. This is followed by a quest to find his grave in a nearby village, and lunch in flash Nord Sud restaurant. An attempt to have the 16 Euro Prix Fixe is quickly foiled as this is Saturday. I ended up with a steak at 25 Euro accompanied by two carrots and piece of pineapple on a skewer, while Caroline went for a ravioli entree and a dessert.
On Sunday, a drive into
Bordeaux for the fresh produce market, and then the Brocante fair. I'm secretly looking for a ceramic rooster. Unfortunately, the stall-holders were all starting to put their goods away as rain is on the horizon. So, I didn't find a rooster! Sundays, in France offer very poor restaurant selections, they are mostly closed. Luckily, we manage to find one near the covered produce market where I indulge in “Tartar Italian”, that's steak tartar with slices of Parmesan cheese, and all washed down by a pichet of rose. Caroline had pasta with chevre. Good food, but after we got home and I indulged in a two hour nap. I think it must have been the cheese!!
Francoise and Raymond have returned on the Sunday evening and on Monday morning, we say our “Bonjours”. Today, we are attempting another trip into the Dordogne to see Sarlat. I have been before, but this will be Caroline's first. However, it's a rainy day and just happens to be dumping on Sarlat. So what to do? Lunch of course, another restaurant and hole up waiting for the rain to stop; just what I need, more food and wine. The rain does stop after we
leave Sarlat and then avisit the medieval castle at Beynac which is positioned across the valley from another famous castle, Castelnaud. The latter was held by the English and the former, mostly by the French. Of course, this was during the One Hundred Year War. At one time English held most of the west coast of France and throughout history have constantly been battling the French. Today, they're back in droves buying property.
Later in the week we again go into the city of Bordeaux, but with Francoise and Raymond. It's much more fun walking the city with the “natives”. We stop to pass time with a well known Bordeaux Sculpturer who is busy making busts of Bordeaux historical literary figures for a new hotel. Views of the new bridge that is being built to span the Garonne, and the middle section will raise to allow cruise ships to enter. A tour of the Bordeaux museum and it's back home to get ready for another restaurant experience. A gastronomic delight, “Le Cape” it's just outside of Bordeaux and located in what looks like a normal suburban dwelling. However, the décor, service and food are exquisite!
On the Road
On Thursday, 8th
November, we fill up the Peugeot Partner one last time and point the car north. There are two stops to make on the way an overnight in Nohant-Vic. Just down the road from the residence of 19th
century bohemian writer, George Sand. And Chateau Vaux le Vicomte. Or Nicholas Foquet's folly! The Chateau was built before Versailles, by the Minister of Finance for France, Nicholas Foquet, He was imprisoned and spent the rest of his life incarcerated, after throwing a party to show off the lavish Chateau. The principal guest was French King, Louis XIV, who immediately cried embezzlement, a quick trial ensued, and Foquet was sentenced to banishment. However, this wasn't good enough for Louis who wanted him imprisoned. Today, theories abound, that Foquet was setup by a jealous rival, and that Foquet was in fact the “Man in the Iron Mask”.
The final 40 kilometers to our Paris Airport hotel takes about 40 minutes. We've done about 9000 kilometers of driving in the two months in France and this is about to end. Friday night we take the train into Paris to redeem a Groupon Coupon at Bistrot Du Temple. It's
a good one, and another three courses under my belt.
November, the car is returned and it's only got one dent in the rear bumper where I backed into a column in Perigaux. No problems, it's all on the insurance. A train into Paris to the Marche Au Puce, where we are both back on the trail of the elusive ceramic rooster. Yes, we got one, and don't quite know how it will fit in the luggage. But, we're going to try! Then, to fill time, it's the movies in Les Halles to see Argo. Any complaints about movie prices in NZ are out the window, the cost is 21.80 Euro and an 4.1 Euro Coke. That's around NZ $50..... The evening completes with a visit to L'Ebauchoire a favorite Paris restaurant, three more courses to take off when I finally get back to NZ.
November – We're on our way home.......
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