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Trip Report Our time in the Dordogne March 12

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After having spent 4 nights in Paris my DH and I boarded a train at the Gare D’Austerlitz to go to Brive-le-Gaillarde on our way to the Dordogne. We had stopped at the boulangerie downstairs from our apartment on Rue Monge to pick up some croissants and fortified with café au lait and chocolat chaud from the station we were ready to depart. The train was nice, comfortable and clean.
After 4 hours we arrived in Brive to a gorgeous, warm (24c), sunny day. We dragged our bag down the hill to Le Chapon Fin for lunch and scored a table on the enclosed patio. After lunch, we picked up our Clio from Eurocar and set off down the D60 to Sarlat-le-Caneda. On the way we stopped once so my DH could take a photo of a chateau which enabled the putt-putting Vespa rider to get in front of us once more. Passing her we made good time to Sarlat and found the office of the rental agency. As have several people on Fodor’s we rented from ‘In Sarlat’. The apartment we rented was Verlaine in La Maison des Poètes. http://www.in-sarlat.fr/holiday-rentals/rental-sarlat.php It was very nice though not as light filled as the apartment in Paris but that was mostly because of the closeness of the buildings in the old town.
This was our second experience renting an apartment in France. The first was the four day prior to this in Paris. The apartments themselves were wonderful and the extra area was really appreciated. We knew coming into Sarlat that there would be nothing in the way of supplies left in the place. That was minor in comparison to the difference in the amount of information we got from the agency in Paris as compared to the one in Sarlat. It was probably more necessary in Sarlat because we were unfamiliar with the area where we have been to Paris many times. The funniest part was the last full day when we wanted to do laundry. The washer was in no way intuitive and we were very proud of ourselves for taking a photo of the controls to the rental office for an explanation of how they work. We didn’t expect the woman in the office to be as confused as we were and we were lucky we had my iPad and could access the internet. I found the owners’ manual online and we were able to manage with that.
Since the ‘season’ hadn’t started in Sarlat we were lucky in that we didn’t have to pay for parking. There was a little lot up the hill from our apartment and most days we were able to park there off the street. Once we got everything into the apartment we wandered around town to see the layout. We found the wine store- Julien de Savignac- that my cousin recommended and picked up a red and rose Bergerac to try. Then crashed fairly early.
Thurs- March 15
The next morning we went down the hill to the Patissiere Mertz and had breakfast. With a café au lait and chocolat chaud we split a croissant and an orange juice. We could probably have done better to order one petit dejeuner for 6.9 euro which includes a hot beverage, OJ, two pastries and a fromage blanc. I am not sure how they would feel about your splitting one and what we had was enough for us. They have tables on the sidewalk but also a little area in the back of the store that you can sit in.
After breakfast we headed out of town to do a drive around the Dordogne valley from the guide books. Our first stop was I thought in Cenac but now that I look at the map see that we were most likely in Vitrac. We looked at the church and wondered about the little remnant of a wall with a town up the hill. It is strange to us that these things don’t merit mention in the guidebooks because they are the things we are most curious about. Then we went and walked around La Roque-Gageac though we didn’t get up to the troglodytic fort. Don’t know if we missed it or it was closed. By then it was time for lunch and we went back to the D703 to Le Pres Galliardou for that.
After lunch we went to the Parc de Marqueyssac. It was a gorgeous afternoon and we walked all the way out to the belvedere and back. We liked that there were many little areas of play grounds for children and obviously someone there has a sense of humor because we noticed a group of stones half buried with faces on them. Wandering around the Parc took most of the afternoon and we were ready to go back to Sarlat afterwards.

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    Fri, March 16
    We tried another coffee shop this morning which didn’t have pastry. So while my DH got the beverages I went across the lane to the boulangerie for a raisin pastry. We went back there later in the week for their bread which was excellent. Of course as was the norm for this trip the best boulangerie was closed for vacation this week. After trying this coffee shop (I can’t remember the name of it-sorry) the rest of the mornings we went back to the Patissiere Mertz.
    We set out Friday morning to go to the Moulin de la Tour to see the walnut oil production. The sign on the door was repeated many times during our week in the Dordogne- En Vacances. Many of the places that are open all year long took vacation prior to the start of the season in April. So we drove down to St Julien to find the restaurant we wanted to lunch at. My DH made a reservation for the table at the edge of the terrace for 1pm. We had an hour and a half to kill so we headed to Domme. We ended up taking the back road and getting sort of lost. We kept seeing it in the distance or on the next hill but by the time we realized how to get there it was time to head back to La Gabarre in St Julien. The lunch was totally worth it!

    After lunch it was Jardin time again. We went up to Manoir d’Eyrignac which was beautiful. It was a very different garden than the Parc de Marqueyssac. It wasn’t in bloom yet but you could see the potential. We toured the garden and then went into the restaurant but no one showed up to even tell us it was closed. We went back to Sarlat. Later that evening we took a walk down to Le Grand Bleu to see about making a reservation for Saturday night, unfortunately they were already booked. C’est domage.

    Sat, Mar 17
    This was the day of the market in Sarlat. Of course it turned out to be a cool day with occasional rain. If this was the size of the market off season and in rain I can’t imagine what it is like in the summer. As with the local shops, there were many stands selling foie gras. I mentioned to my DH I didn’t realize there were that many geese and ducks in France. We were overwhelmed with the choices so went up to the rental company and asked for advice. Beatrice told us where there was a stand she recommended-Ferme des Roumevies. The people were friendly and it was the stand which caught my eye because they were also selling dried figs stuffed with foie gras. YUM!! We bought a number of tins of foie gras for my family, the fig, dried and smoked magret. We also bought a tin of walnut oil from Moulin de la Tour since we wouldn’t get there this trip. We have several long rows of raspberries. In the fall we put a couple of pounds in a jar with sugar and cover them with Framboise. We bought a bottle of Framboise Eau-de-Vie for this purpose in a shop during the market. Another purchase now adorns the kitchen table. There was a gentleman selling tablecloths which he assured us were made in France. This one is woven and was made in Lyon. I love it. After roaming the market all morning we bought the makings of a picnic (St Marcellin, bread, a little salad and the fig) which we had in the apartment since the weather wasn’t conducive to an outdoor event.

    After lunch we followed several of the walks in the guidebook. At the same time we tried to avoid roaming groups of teenagers with eggs and shaving cream. Apparently this is the way St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Sarlat. After we got back to the apartment we heard a lot of noise. My DH went to investigate and told me I missed the St Patrick’s Day parade which had children in costumes and on ponies as well as the roaming bands of teenagers. A wild time!

    That night we walked to dinner at Rossignol in Sarlat. Luckily I brought an umbrella with me since it poured. (Though we can't complain since it was the only rain we had for both weeks we were in Franch) My DH was sorry I didn’t spring for the 40 Euro poppy print umbrella I saw in the market that morning. I don’t know if the problem was that the umbrella was small or that it was pink striped.

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    Sun Mar 18
    This day we moved into the prehistory portion of our tour of the Dordogne. In the morning we went to Lascoux II where they allowed us to join a tour that had just begun. Otherwise we would have had to wait for 40 minutes. The tour was in French and with the amount we had read about the place we managed to understand a fair amount of it. The guide told us at the end that they don’t do English tours until the summer. The next day we met a group who had been at Lascoux II in the afternoon and since there were so many English speaking people they did a special tour for them. Ah, well.

    After finding that where we were expecting to lunch was closed we drove hither and yon and found L’Auberge de l’Etang Joli. It was a very interesting experience for us since no one spoke French at the Auberge. It was a lot of fun and we managed this as well with our meager French.

    In the afternoon we went to the Musée National de la Préhistoire in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. It was a very interesting museum. Luckily they had cards in English to explain a lot of what the exhibits were about. We spent several hours in the museum then exited to the terrace where there was the famous statute of Cro Magnon man. There were several more sites we had hoped to get to but with the weather being overcast and cool we headed back to Sarlat.

    Mon Mar 19
    We had arranged in advance an English tour of Font de Gaume. It was fascinating and as one of the other people on the tour said knowing that it was the real thing made it more interesting than Lascoux II even though the paintings were more subtle. They aren’t allowing people to go all the way to the back of the cave as they had previously. We were told that at some point the cave would be closed to the public but others have told us they have been saying that for years. We were sorry to miss Pech-Meche but it wasn’t opened at this time of year.
    We stopped in the grocery store on our way back to Sarlat and picked up stuff for a light lunch as well as some souvenirs of our sort- tapenade, rouille, and aioli. After lunch we decided to go to the Château de Beynac. We had the place pretty much to ourselves which is amazing to me. We went all the way up to the top and enjoyed the view from the south-bastion. It is strange that someone just bought this and has been renovating it. Not a lot of Châteaus in our neck of the woods.

    On our way to Beynac we stopped and picked up some seeds for petit pois, haricot vert and cornichons so we can enjoy our vacation over the summer.

    Because all the restaurants that the rental agency suggested we try were either closed for vacation or closed because it was Monday we called La Gabarre and made a reservation. It was the only evening we drove out of Sarlat for dinner. Other than one small argument over which way to go we had no trouble getting there and back. Part of the group from Font de Gaume were there for dinner as well. It was an excellent end to our time in Sarlat. After dinner we finished packing and straightening up the apartment.

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    Tue Mar 20
    My DH took the trash and the carry on up the hill to the car while I wheeled the suitcase and the other carryon down the hill to Rue de la République. It was easier than dragging the bag up the hill to the car. We dropped the keys to the apartment in the rental offices drop box and drove back to Brive to catch the train. We had forgotten to get gas the previous afternoon and couldn’t find a place where we could pay either in cash or with our chip less credit card so we had to turn the car in with just a half tank of gas. We need to plan better in the future. My DH was so good to drive all the way to Brive without having a cup of coffee. When he got to the station after dropping off the car he went into the buffet to see about getting a cup to take on the train. No take out! So he chugged his café au lait and we got onto the train back to Paris.

    We really enjoyed the Dordogne though we barely scratched the surface of what there was to see. Our 30th anniversary is in June and we had already booked airfare back to France without deciding where we would go. Now we are planning to spend the last week in June back in the Dordogne hopefully in a gite outside of Sarlat. The other areas of the Perigord will have to wait for another year.

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    Dordogne Restaurant s
    We had decided in advance to have lunch as our main meal while in the Dordogne. The selection of restaurants open outside of Sarlat where we were staying seemed greater than in town and the cuisine I think lends itself to a major meal in the middle of the day. Also though we can pick different dishes we generally trade so we each have every dish we order.
    Mar 14- Le Chapon Fin in Brive- Lunch (http://www.lechaponfin.com)
    We took a train to Brive-le-Gaillarde on our way to Sarlat. Since we arrived while the rental car place was closed for lunch we schlepped our bags down the hill from the train station to Le Chapon Fin for lunch. They very kindly let us put our suitcase in their held luggage area and set up a table for us on the enclosed patio.

    For entrees we chose ‘Crespéou de légumes antipasti’ (which was an assortment of bruschetta) and salmon fume. The bruschetta was with roasted vegetables (eggplant, peppers and tomatoes), fresh mozzarella, basil oil and parmesan. It as well as the salmon fume were served with an herb salad with that fabulous acidic French vinaigrette. The salmon fume came with horseradish crème fraiche, a dab of wasabi (that the server warned us about), several slices of beets topped with a tartare of scallops with horseradish and apple. Both dishes were excellent.

    For plats, my DH chose the Cote de Veau which came topped with a slice of liver, roasted potatoes and a roasted caponata with eggplant, whole garlic cloves, red onion and tomato. I chose a risotto with scallops and ‘jus de homard corsé’ which came with a few slices of fried coppa ham.

    We started with two glasses of champagne and had a bottle of Château Boyer Rosé Bergerac. The tab was around 90 euros.

    Mar 15- Le Pres Galliardou in Le Roque-Gageac-Lunch (http://www.les-pres-gaillardou.com)
    After a visit to Roque-Gageac we stopped at Le Pres Galliardou for lunch. We had a lovely meal though it would have been nice to sit outside instead of in the dining room.

    We had the duo of Foie Gras with figs and a terrine of goose with shallot confit for entrees. The foie gras was split between a terrine and a piece of seared liver. The fig was also a duo with one fig that had been steeped in a spiced sauce and a little savory tart of figs. Both dishes were very good.

    We ordered the duck (which came with the breast seared rare and the leg as a confit) and the coq au vin. The coq au vin had a wonderful dark sauce with baby onions and carrots as well as mashed potatoes. It reminded me of dishes in a restaurant I worked in when I was younger.

    Desserts were an apple tart (which came with slices of apples on top of an apple puree and then the pastry) and mango & lemon sorbets with fruit.
    We had two half bottles of Bergerac in red and white and a glass of Monbazillac with the foie gras. The tab came to 92.50 euros- one three course menu at 26 Euros and the other at 19.50.


    Mar 16- La Gabarre in St Julien- Lunch (http://www.restaurantlagabarre.com/)
    We were lucky to be able to sit on the terrace in the sun overlooking the Dordogne River. Sometimes you wonder what the elements are that make a restaurant so appealing to you. For this one it was easy to see- the food was wonderful, the setting idyllic and the patronne welcoming, friendly and fluent in English but willing to speak French to us. We liked this place so much that when we were having a hard time finding an open place in Sarlat our last night we returned which is unusual for us.

    We ordered the seared foie gras (see a trend here?) with prunes and the presse of pintade with pistachios and foie gras. The foie gras was the best piece we had on this trip. The presse was very good and an interesting dish. I asked how it was made and am considering trying to replicate it.

    For plats we got the saddle of lamb with flowering thyme and potatoes and the pork with a mustard glaze and lentils. Though not something we would normally order out the combination of the mustard glaze and the lentils really worked well with the pork.

    Dessert was a caramel tart with chocolate ganache and Stracciatella ice cream and a coffee ice cream as well as a coffee. We also shared two half bottles of wine- a Percharmant and a white Bergerac. The tab was 80 euros- one three course menu at 35 Euros and the other at 19.50.

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    Mar 17- Rossignol-Sarlat-Dinner (no website- phone 05 53 31 02 30)
    On Saturday we decided to spend the day in Sarlat since that was the market day. Our choices were limited since a number of restaurants were either closed for vacation or not open for the season. We tried to get reservations at Le Grand Bleu but they were fully booked for that night. On the recommendation of the rental agency we went to Restaurant Rossignol. This was our least favorite place of the time we spent in the Dordogne but I am not sure how much of that is what we selected for wine and a few deficiencies in the service.
    We started with a half bottle of Billetcart champagne which was slightly maderized. We probably should have complained but this was part of the deficiencies of services in that the server opened the champagne and poured it without giving us a chance to try it. Like I said just slightly maderized so drinkable.
    We started with an escallop of foie gras which was served with mushrooms & Sarladaise potatoes and a Soupe de Poisson with all the trimmings. The portion sizes were larger than usual and my DH felt that the foie gras could have been a plat. Both were excellent though the soupe de poisson wasn’t as good as the one we have had at Alain Assaud in St Remy.
    Our entries were a Cote de Veau and a Filet de Veau with wild mushrooms. Both plats came with the same accompaniments which were Brussels sprouts, zucchini, carrots, potatoes and ziti. I thought the filet was slightly better than the cote but both were very good. In retrospect we should have ordered a Bergerac red to go with this meal but decided on a Medoc. It just wasn’t to our taste so added to the negative feelings of the evening.
    Desserts were a crème caramel which is one of my favorite dessert and a cassis sorbet followed by an Armagnac for my DH.
    Honestly when I think back to this meal I can’t really complain too much since I think the problems were things we could have changed but didn’t. With the more expensive wines and ordering one meal a la carte this was our most expensive meal in the Dordogne at 161 Euros.

    Mar 18- L’Auberge de l’Etang Joli- Eyzies- Lunch (http://www.auberge-de-letang-joli.fr/presentation)
    We spent the morning at Lascoux II and were planning on an afternoon visit to the prehistory museum in Les Eyzies. Someone had recommended the Le Moulin de la Beune but of course it was closed when the website said it was opened. So we pulled out the Michelin guide and tried to find something else. The first place on the list was also closed so we tried the second. It was a ways out of town and down a little road but it was open. When we entered L’Auberge de l’Etang Joli it was like entering someone’s house. There were four tables of deuces already dining. The patronne, Isablle Montfort,came to explain the ‘deal’ which was in more rapid French than we could follow. We asked if she spoke English and she said ‘non’ then looked around the dining at the other patrons who all shook their heads ‘no’. She explained again slowly and we understood and agreed to a soup, charcuterie, plat, fromage and dessert for 25 euros served en famille. That also included an aperitif and a carafe of wine. This was the deal of the week!

    The patronne cleared a couple of places at one of the tables where the deuce must have just arrived because they hadn’t had their soup yet. The aperitif was a kir rouge which was followed in short order by a tureen of crème of ail. The only reason I know that was the soup was when we left we notice a sign board with the menu on it. It was very good as was the whole meal.
    The charcuterie was two large terrines which were obviously made there. She also produced a jar of pork rillettes, something with duck and a jar of homemade cornichons and tiny onions. Bread was provided and we went to town.

    The plat was a large platter with a piece of Limousin beef with green peppercorn sauce on a large pile of Sarladaise potatoes. The beef was rare which was amazing since the pieces were fairly thin and the potatoes were crispy on the edges. It was wonderful with the carafe of Bergerac red of unknown provenance.

    The fromage was a disc of Cabecou de Rocamadour which was a little young for my taste. The other tables had gotten an apple tart for dessert served with a crème anglais but we were served a walnut cake. It was good but that apple tart looked amazing. Since she had already cut the cake we were out of luck on the tart.

    The other part of this meal that was very enjoyable for us was the camaraderie in the dining room. Our tablemates were also new to the restaurant but everyone on the other side of the room seemed to know each other. There was a lot of joking going on between every one. The patronne would sit and talk with people and the guests at the next table were her mother and uncle. I have no idea how she did the cooking and the serving as well.

    Mar 19- La Gabarre-St Julien-Dinner
    Our last night in Sarlat, we decided that we would return to La Gabarre for dinner. The other restaurants we were interested in Sarlat were closed for one reason or another. It was a cool evening so dinner was served indoors in a lovely room with a fire in the fireplace. There were a number of returning guest and a group that we had met that morning at Font de Gaume.
    We started with two kir royale with peche for me and mure for my DH.
    This was our fish night. Our entrees were a Bouillon of shellfish with orzo and octopus and a risotto with crab and ‘butternut’. The bouillon was amazing with very tender piece of octopus. The risotto was also good but I didn’t understand where the ‘butternut’ came in.
    My DH selected cod steamed with endive and leek with an herb butter sauce. I chose the shrimp and dorade with polenta with coconut milk, ginger and a sate sauce. My dish won! It was really more to my taste than the cod. We had a bottle of local white wine made by a woman vintner which shows on the receipt as Miss Blanc. It was a lovely wine.
    Desserts were an apple and kiwi crumble with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate tart which was strongly flavored with coffee and Stracciatella ice cream. My DH had an Armagnac which brought the tab to 112 euros. The menus were 35 and 28 euros.

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