This report covers a trip to the Dordogne region of France, from September 8 through September 25, 2011. We always appreciate the help we get from Fodorites before our trips, so we always post a trip report when we return (even if it's a bit late, like this one). We got a great deal of help before this trip from Stu Dudley, kansas, carlux, stcirc, winnick, sap, and others.
The travelers are Larry and Margie, in the latter half of our sixties. We both post under the screen name "justretired", although Larry actually retired in 2003. Margie usually does most of the trip planning, and Larry wrote this report.
After a past trip report, a Fodorite suggested that readers are interested in knowing the prices of things like meals and hotels, to help decide whether to visit a restaurant, for instance. Thus, I've included them where available. During this trip, the Euro was worth between $1.35 - $1.40.
Separate from this report, I've been writing my memoirs over the past year. I'm writing in the form of a blog, in the sense that I add one entry each week, and it's on the web. Although I don't write much in the blog about travel (I save that for Fodor's), a few of the entries I've posted since my return seemed relevant to this report, so you'll find a few links to my blog in what follows. Let me assure Fodor's that my blog is entirely non-commercial - it contains mainly my memoirs, and I'm writing it primarily for my family.
We brought along and used a Garmin Nüvi 1370T GPS unit, and I'll report on some of our experiences with it in this thread. But I've also posted another Fodor's thread with more detail on our experience with our latest Garmin unit. It can be found at:
An expanded version, with some other thoughts on use of a GPS in general, can be found on my blog, in an entry called "Recalculating!". It can be found at:
Margie and I generally travel to Europe once a year, usually in the Fall, mostly alternating between France and Italy (I speak French, Italian, and Spanish). We travel less frequently to Spain, but we went there a year ago. Our trip report from that trip can be found at:
On this trip to France, we used a mode of travel we've used in the past: stay two or three weeks in one place, with a rental car, and take day trips in the area (usually driving an hour or less). This time, we stayed for two weeks in the town of Sarlat, in an apartment inside the medieval city, in a pedestrian-only area. By the way, despite the faulty recollection of some people in my French Discussion Group, the "t" in Sarlat is silent - SAR-LAH.
We found our apartment on the web, and rented it from the agency Transimmo. It was their apartment called "Rimbaud" in "La Maison des Poètes". The cost was €1,290 for two weeks. A view of the apartment can be seen at:
The agency that manages it is called IN-Sarlat, with a web site at:
Our car was rented in advance for 16 days through Kemwel, $576.37 prepaid, and supplied by Europcar. After returning, my credit card was billed an additional €69.51, €25.92 for "Licenses and fees" (€1.62 per day), and €32.20 for "Premium Station Surcharge", an extra fee assessed for picking up and returning the car at the airport. The above rate declines insurance - I use the insurance provided by my Visa card. I've always been a bit nervous about that, since in the event of major damage to the car, it would be charged to the card and I'd then have to file with the card's insurance for reimbursement. But it saves a lot of money. Rentals in Italy are generally more expensive than in France, because Italy requires you to take the insurance.
We always rent a "compact" car. There are smaller sub-compact cars available (called "mini" or "economy" by Kemwel), and these are better adapted to the small towns we often visit. But as an older driver, driving a standard-shift (at home I drive an automatic) in a foreign country, I suspect I'm more likely than usual to get into an accident, and I'd rather have the protection of a somewhat heavier car. A compact also generally has enough trunk space for our excessive amount of luggage to be stored out of sight. At the end of a trip, I'm always happy to return the car without having totaled it (I've never damaged a rental car at all, fortunately).
The places we visited on this trip were not all that far from "home". All told, we drove 1,048 Km (651 miles) on €104 worth of diesel fuel.
The day-by-day report: Caution: I recorded what we did each evening in a netbook computer that I brought along. While that preserves a lot of memories, it also means the Trip Report can get wordy. And it has gotten wordy indeed. Written out in Word, this report is 17 pages long. Feel free to skim or skip.
Thursday, September 8, 2011: Flight to Bordeaux, via Amsterdam, booked on KLM. The flight turned out to be a Delta flight, with a KLM codeshare number. We called two days before the flight and found we had no seat assignments, and the only seats available were separate, isolated middle seats. Delta had not honored the KLM seat assignments, nor had they made the slightest effort to assign us actual seats or to keep us together. To be assigned seats together, we paid $80 each to upgrade to "Economy Comfort Seats", which have more legroom.
On the one hand, the way Delta had handled the seat assignment was infuriating, and I intend to complain to Delta and to KLM about it. On the other hand, the extra legroom was great. But the chairs themselves were not comfortable (the seats on the Embraer from Amsterdam to Bordeaux were much better). We left Boston an hour late, but arrived only 25 minutes late, in plenty of time to make our connection. On our flight from Amsterdam to Bordeaux, the announcements were in Dutch and English. Hello? So what is French, chopped liver? The destination was in France, after all.
Friday, September 9, 2011: Arrived in Bordeaux, and picked up our car, a Renault "Scenic". This is a pretty high hatchback diesel, which had a standard shift with six forward speeds, plenty of power and drove well. It had some odd features. I couldn't find the parking brake, which it turned out is controlled electronically by a button. That seems to make it useless as an emergency brake (to use in case of brake failure). But then again, in a standard shift, you can brake by downshifting, I suppose. I had to ask the Europcar attendant to show me where the parking brake control was - it was not labeled, and the manual in the glove compartment showed an entirely different type of brake with a standard lever.
But once I got the hang of it, I liked it. You can activate it with the push of a button when you've had to stop while on a slope. When you take your foot off the brake, you won't roll down the hill, because you're in "PARK". But then, when you shift into gear, feed a bit of gas, and start releasing the clutch pedal, the parking brake automatically releases as the clutch engages. You can thus start up on a hill without the risk of rolling that you usually have in a standard shift (especially when you're in a rented car, and aren't familiar with the exact point the clutch engages).
We attached our new Garmin Nuvi 1370T GPS, and entered the address of our hotel. About an hour later, we arrived in Saint Émilion, at the North end of town, where the GPS told us to turn down an absolutely impossible street (too narrow and steep for the car). After circling around a few times, we parked in the center and found the Tourist Office. The woman there informed us that our hotel was in the south part of town, and that it was impossible (despite the advice of the GPS) to drive through the town from the north part to the south part. She told us how to drive out of town and around to the south part, where we located the hotel.
The hotel was locked up tight, but there was an attached wine store affiliated with it, and the man there (named Sebastian, it turned out) told us how to circle our car around to the front door to unload, and then where to park (actually, we got a space right in front of the hotel). But since we couldn't get into the room until 4pm, we went off and had a simple lunch. Since by then it was 3pm, and our lunch choices at the nearby restaurant were limited, but we each had a "Croque Monsieur". While the two Croques Monsieurs came to only €8.20, a fruit juice and three diet cokes added up to €17.50 (it was a hot day, an omen of the weather to come).
Then at 4, Sebastian helped us schlep our stuff up to our third-floor room, and offered us a glass of wine in the shop. After trying it, we bought a bottle to drink later in Sarlat. It was a Saint Émilion Grand Cru 2007, from the Chateau La Fleur d'Horus. We also bought a preserved sausage, a "Saucisse au Roquefort Maison".
Our hotel was Les Logis du Roy. It was really more like a small set of suites than a hotel - apart from Sebastian in the attached wine store, there was nobody at the desk (and there wasn't really even much of a desk). We had a small living room and kitchenette, in addition to the bedroom and bathroom. There was no dining room in the hotel - breakfast was brought up to our room in the morning, and left on a tray outside the door. I think there were only three suites in all. But Sebastian was friendly and helpful, and it suited our purposes. We had booked it in advance on booking.com, €140 per night, including breakfast (payable at the hotel - no payment in advance, although a credit card number was given to guarantee the room).
Most Saint Émilion tourists seem to be there for the wines. A man we met who was staying in our hotel talked of buying a wine which he said had a nice "structure". I nodded, without the faintest idea what he was talking about.
We then took a walk around the southern part of Saint Émilion, and had a fairly simple Crêpe dinner in a restaurant in "La place de l'église monolithe". As we were finishing up, the waitress was taking eight orders at an adjacent table, without writing anything down. She then took eight drink orders. I was surprised, and chatted a bit with one of the men at the table about it. I noted that I'd never know if she got the orders right, since I had to get back to my hotel. The man suggested that he might e-mail me the result. I said "OK", and gave him one of my cards. I always carry business-type cards with me, with my e-mail address and web page address, and my European telephone number. The cards also have various short quotes on them - I have them in various languages (interesting citations are easy to find on the web). We then went to the hotel to re-arrange our luggage a bit, and go to bed.
Saturday, September 10, 2011: We were served breakfast in our room, and then took another walk around Saint Émilion. This time, we walked UP the street that the GPS had wanted to take us DOWN. While not drivable, it's perfectly walkable, although steep. There's a photo of it on my blog, in the entry entitled "Recalculating!" - here's the link again:
We explored the cathedral and some other sites, before coming back down to load the car. We then ate lunch in the Restaurant "L'Huitrier Pie", right next to the hotel, which was recommended by Sebastian. It was quite good. I started with half a dozen oysters, although they were €19 for the six. At the exchange rate at the time, that's about $4.50 each, pretty absurd. I buy oysters in Boston at Legal Seafoods, hardly an inexpensive restaurant, for about a third that price. But Bordeaux is a center of oyster production, and I wanted to try them, so I was willing to splurge. The oysters of the day, which were listed on a blackboard, were specified as "Gillardeau #2". They were very tasty, and served with bread and butter, but no sauces of any kind. Butter is not generally served with bread in France, and when I was done with the oysters, the bread was left on the table, but the butter was removed.
The oysters were also very large, and with very deep shells. I commented on that to the waiter, who said that the #2 on the menu indicated the size, and #2 is a large size. The meal came to €56.50 (fully a third of the cost being my oysters). Margie, who's allergic to shellfish, obviously couldn't try one.
After lunch, we drove to Sarlat for our two-week stay. Traffic was heavy once we got to Sarlat, because Saturday is market day there. Although the heaviest activity is in the morning, there was still a lot going on when we arrived in the mid afternoon. We checked in at the offices of the IN-Sarlat agency, where we met Béatrice, paid the balance of our rental fee (after having previously mailed in a deposit), and were escorted to our apartment by another employee, a young woman who looked like Scarlet Johannsen. She gave us a quick rundown of the ground-floor spa, and the features of our apartment, two floors up.
We walked back across the old walled village to our car near the agency office, and drove it around the city to get it closer to our apartment. This was an immediate problem, since a detour ("Deviation") shot us away from the city (due to the market), and poor signage got us so lost that we pulled over and set up the GPS to get ourselves back. We parked in a lot outside the city walls, but close to our apartment, the apartment being in a pedestrian-only part of the old town. We then dragged our luggage into the apartment, and up to the third floor (it's the "third" in US terminology, "2ième étage" in France). But the ceilings are high in these old stone buildings, so those two floors up were really almost three. Actually, Margie counted the steps on the spiral staircase - there were 40.
Finally, since the apartment was not supplied with basics, we stopped in at the small "Petit Casino" market around the corner, buying hand and bath soap, dishwasher soap, laundry soap, paper towels, toilet paper, and a few food items. This cost €29.36. We thought the apartment ought to provide at least simple supplies such as salt and soap for the dishwasher. Having to buy items like that when you're only going to be there two weeks is rather annoying.
I had no problem connecting to the WiFi provided in the apartment, using the password the agency had provided. But I did have a problem getting our e-mail from our Verizon accounts. After a lot of aggravation, I figured out that my Internet Explorer browser was way out of date - I only use our netbook computer for travel, and I hadn't updated my Explorer in a long time. Fortunately, with the fast WiFi available in the apartment, it was no harder to do an update in France than it would have been in the US. After the update, the Verizon site worked a lot better, and we were able to send and receive e-mail and surf the web during the entire trip.
There are many restaurants within a three-minute walk from the apartment, and a three-minute walk can reach any point in the entire walled medieval part of the city. We had dinner our first evening at the Chevaliers de la Tour, where the staff was particularly friendly (€50.50, with a 50-cl carafe of house wine). Menus in Sarlat all offer similar Périgord specialties, heavy on the foie gras and various ways of preparing duck. This would become an issue on the trip, as you'll see. I gather that "Périgord", the old name for the region, is pretty much synonymous with "Dordogne", the modern name for the French department, which takes its name from the river that divides the region in two.
Sunday, September 11, 2011: Breakfast at a nearby Chocolatier, croissants and coffee. Yes, they did have decaf for Margie. By the way, nobody ever corrected my mispronunciation of "décaf", and I kept pronouncing it wrong until I heard someone else say it one day (the "f" is silent in French - it's like "DAY-CAH").
We then drove to L'Abri du Cap Blanc, to see the 15,000-year-old prehistoric sculptures on the cliff walls - astonishing, and a well-conducted tour ( http://www.hominides.com/html/lieux/cap-blanc-abri.php ). Then to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac for lunch at the Restaurant Gout des Mets, where Larry had a rather odd risotto with cèpes, and Margie had an omelette with cèpes (€44.60). We then spent the afternoon in the Musée National de la Prehistoire ( http://www.musee-prehistoire-eyzies.fr ), an interesting museum, but one whose collection is almost overshadowed by the magnificent building in which it's housed. Back to Sarlat, where we had dinner at a restaurant called Restaurant du Commerce (two fixed menus at €15, plus a 50 cL. carafe of house wine at €6.50).
Monday, September 12, 2011: Font-de-Gaume: Although we had planned the trip months in advance, we only called the ticket office at the Font-de-Gaume grotto about a week before our departure, thinking that would be sufficient in September, which is late in the tourist season. We were wrong. No reservations were available until October. However, 30 tickets were held back to be distributed each morning at 9:30, as well as 15 tickets for the nearby grotto Les Combarelles. So we woke up early, and drove to the ticket office, arriving at a few minutes after 9:00. There was already a line of about 22 people ahead of us, but we got tickets for both Font-de-Gaume (1:30 tour in English) and Les Combarelles (3:30, tours only in French).
With free time in the morning, we drove up to the Grotte de Roufignac, a bit to the north. The map was unclear on exactly where it was, and we took the wrong road. But it did eventually connect up to the right road, after we stopped to ask several people along the way, including a cyclist and a passing car. Several people told us to turn left at a market whose name sounded like the English words "show-pea", and we couldn't imagine what that was. I thought people might be talking about a place using the English name "shopping", but you usually hear that "g". When we got there, the market proved to be named "Shopi".
The Grotte de Rouffignac, which you ride through on an electric train, was great, and Font-de-Gaume was magnificent. We also enjoyed Les Combarelles, where, although the tour was in French, the guide spoke extremely slowly and clearly, making her very easy to understand (and although the tour was presented in French, she could answer questions in English).
See http://www.hominides.com/html/lieux/grotte-font-de-gaume.php, http://www.hominides.com/html/lieux/grotte-combarelles.php, and http://www.grottederouffignac.fr/ .
With three grottos in one day, and a lot of walking, we arrived home exhausted. We had a simple dinner at a nearby pizza place, "L'Entre 2", where Margie had the magret de canard (what else?), and I had a steak, both with frites (fixed menus at €11.80).
This may be a good place to say something about the caves and grottoes we visited. For the most part, these are caves containing prehistoric drawings and engravings that are in the vicinity of 15,000 years old. Each cave is a little different. Some have paintings, and some have engravings with no color. The animals differ, some caves containing drawings of mammoths, others of bison, horses, and deer. We found that our enjoyment of a cave was very much affected by the skill of the guide. Whether the tour was in English or French, we enjoyed it more if the guide was knowledgeable and passionate.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011: We slept in a bit, and then after a late breakfast, drove off to spend the day at the magnificent Jardin de Marqueyssac in Vézac ( http://www.marqueyssac.com/ ). This astounding old estate has gardens made up of 150,000 boxwood bushes, all sculpted topiary style. There are five full-time gardeners, but in the Spring and Fall, extra gardeners are brought in, so there are ten at a time working full time to maintain the grounds. The boxwoods are trimmed with hand trimmers, because they feel that electrical trimmers mutilate the leaves and cause them to yellow. The effect is astounding, and impossible to describe.
We got an English guided tour at noon. We admired the small château's roof made of "lauzes", a particular type of mortar-less stone construction used in the area in the past. As the guide called our attention to the details of the roof, Margie tripped over a ring of stones on the ground, and plunged into a flower bed. Since the flower bed was soft, she suffered no injury (some of the flowers got a little bent, but the guide didn't seem concerned about that).
We then had lunch outside on the terrace of their Salon de The, choosing a shady table with careful attention to the sun, as recommended by Stu Dudley (it was, again, a very hot day). Peacocks walked around among the tables. After lunch, we walked the length of the estate, about a kilometer, and Larry walked up to the belvedere while Margie stayed below so as to not exacerbate some mild back pain she'd been having (reasonably under control up to that point). The view out over the Dordogne River was astonishing. Down below, large groups of people were preparing for a canoe ride.
We had expected to take a canoe ride on the Dordogne river at some point, and I had actually brought along my windsurfing shoes for the occasion. But once there, we decided that the experience was not particularly necessary for us, as we come from an area where we can easily take all the canoe rides we want (on the Sudbury and Assabet rivers, renting canoes in Concord, MA). On an earlier trip to France, we had rented canoes in the Gorges du Tarn, but that was a spectacular gorge, in which you could see things not visible from the road. That didn't seem to be the case on the Dordogne river. See our report on that trip at:
Driving back to Sarlat, we went in to the 100-space free parking lot near the Jardin Public du Plantier (at the southeastern corner of the medieval village). We figured it would be easy to park there, but in fact we grabbed the space of a woman backing out, which seemed to be the only space available. This gave us a place we could leave the car for Wednesday's market day, our first market in Sarlat.
As I noted at the start of this report, we always get advice on the Fodor's Europe Forum before we plan a vacation, and in doing so, we discovered that Fodorite "kansas" and her husband would also be in Sarlat at the same time. We communicated via e-mail, and arranged to meet at the restaurant Le Présidial on Tuesday at 7:30 (I phoned and made a reservation the day before). We met and had a nice dinner, chatting into the night (we left the restaurant around 11:30). Our meal at Le Présidial was one of our best meals of the trip. It was also one of the more expensive restaurants we ate at, at €74.50. But that included an apéritif of walnut wine, a good wine, and desserts.
One of the odd things we discovered in our conversation with Fodorite "kansas" was that she had also tripped, in approximately the same place as Margie, while visiting the Jardin de Marqueyssac. She had apparently fallen into the very same flower bed while looking up at the lauzes roof. By the way, our local chocolatier in Sarlat sold a chocolate candy (with nuts inside) in the shape of the lauzes stone roof tiles, and we brought some back with us.
kansas's Trip Report on Fodor's starts, as she reports, "… when I still had all my teeth, the car still had two sideview mirrors, and my husband still possessed a wallet!" Read it - it can be found at:
Wednesday, September 14, 2011: Wednesday is a market day in Sarlat, although it is a much smaller market than on Saturday, and is mostly food. We spent the morning wandering around the market, and bought a couple of small gifts. We also bought ourselves a rotisserie chicken and some potatoes cooked with cèpes, which we brought back to the apartment. We had a simple lunch in Le Glacier, in the Place de la Liberté (€28.20, without wine).
In the afternoon, we drove to the Chateau des Milandes, formerly the home of the dancer Josephine Baker. Shortly after arriving, we saw their well-known falcon show, with assorted raptors performing. We then toured the chateau. This was a rather fascinating visit, as I had previously known very little about Baker, an American dancer, singer, and actress who became famous in France. In addition to contributing to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, she used her fame to help the French Resistance during World War II, and thus was the first American-born woman to receive the Croix de Guerre from France. The chateau contains a large collection of Josephine Baker memorabilia, including her famous tutu made out of imitation bananas.
Back in Sarlat, we ate half the chicken and some of the potatoes we had bought at the market.
Thursday, September 15, 2011: I received an e-mail message from the man I had given a card to in Saint-Emilion - remember the waitress who had memorized an order for eight people? He wrote, "Je vous confirme que la serveuse du restaurant de St Emilion a bien servi les 8 plats sans aucune erreur et qu' elle a renouvelé l'exploit avec les 8 desserts" ("I confirm to you that the waitress of the restaurant in St Emilion served the 8 dishes without any error and that she renewed the exploit with the 8 desserts.") He subsequently sent a message with a photo, taken from above, of six of the members of his group, with Margie and me at the adjacent table.
We drove to Beynac-et-Cazenac, attempting to use the GPS to get us up to the chateau rather than just to the town. We were not successful using the GPS, but when we drove upward in the center of Beynac to park, by continuing up, we eventually saw signs pointing the way to the Chateau. These took us over a fairly convoluted route, but with good signage, and we eventually arrived at the chateau. We bought a ticket from the horodateur, useable all day in the town, and toured the chateau. It was well worth the visit, and also offers very impressive views of the surrounding countryside.
Margie looked up restaurants in the Guide Michelin, since we had none listed in Beynac on the sheet we had prepared before the visit (taken from Fodor's and other internet sources). We found La Petite Tonnelle listed, and as we drove down to the lower parking lots, we spotted it on the side of the road. We parked, still using the ticket we had purchased in the upper lot. We had a great lunch there, both having their €19 menu, with an entrée and a main course. Margie started with a velouté de courgettes (a squash soup), and I had a soupe de poisson (fish soup), served with grated cheese, croutons, and a spicy mayonnaise. Both were excellent. Margie followed up with lamb kebabs with lentils and couscous, and I had braised veal. We ate at an outdoor table. I'd recommend this restaurant.
We were uncertain what to do for the afternoon, because of the heat of the day - it was 31 degrees Celsius (about 88 degrees F). We didn't want to do a lot of walking in the heat, or even a lot of walking in the cool of a cave, because we had walked all morning, and Margie's back was fragile. So for a simple activity, we hopped onto a boat, the Gabarres de Beynac. A "gabarre" is a type of boat used in the past for commerce on the Dordogne river, but now they are powered by outboards, and carry tourists. The 50 minute trip was restful and taught us interesting facts about the river and the river commerce of the past, but you don't really see anything more than you see just driving around the area (and in 25 minutes each way, at low speed, you don't go very far at all). I should say that the area had been having a drought, and the river was very low. The guide's French was very clear and distinct.
We then drove to the riverside town of La Roque Gageac to take a quick look at it, but we didn't stay there long, only long enough to have an ice cream on the outdoor terrace of the Auberge des Platanes hotel. My concoction was called a "Sunday Fraises" (strawberry sundae), and Margie's was called a "Milkshake", which came in various flavors.
Heading home, the GPS took a very direct route from La Roque Gageac to Sarlat, which took us on a rather narrow and scenic road that ran due north. It then merged into our usual road into Sarlat from the south, which passes a large "Casino" market. Since the "Petit Casino" right near our apartment was very small and limited (and more expensive), we decided to stop in and do some shopping. We bought some vegetables and fruit, some salt, olive oil, and coffee, and eggs, butter, and cheese for morning omelets. We also got a large bottle of Caffeine-free Diet Coke, but decided against a six-pack of water bottles, because of the weight of the order that we'd have to carry through the town and up the stairs.
Back in Sarlat, we still needed to buy water bottles, so we could stop paying €2 every time we needed to cool down, but we figured they must be available at the local Petit Casino. We drank a lot of water walking around in the heat.
For dinner, we had the second half of the chicken, and some more potatoes, for dinner. After checking e-mail and other things, we abandoned our plans to walk around the village a bit in the cool of the evening, and just hung around the air-conditioned apartment until bedtime.
The heat we encountered was unexpected. Looking at the weather reports on the internet before our departure, we had expected cooler, more Fall-like weather. Given the unseasonable heat in the area, particularly in the first week, it was fortunate that the apartment was air conditioned.
Friday, September 16, 2011: Because another hot day had been predicted, we decided on cave visits, since they are always cool. Cooler weather was predicted starting Saturday.
We began with La Grotte du Sorcier ( http://www.grottedusorcier.com/ ), which my daughter and her fiancé had visited and liked. The tour was only four people. This cave, privately run, has one of the few engraved images of a person, called the sorcerer (most cave paintings and engravings depict only animals).
Getting there, we set up the GPS for the town of Le Bugue, and it took us over a rather convoluted route of scenic roads. This seemed a bit odd, since the most direct route, from the map, seemed to be the main road to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. The route computed by the GPS was no doubt a bit shorter in distance, but the twisty roads, I think, made it take longer. This caused me to check the setting of the GPS to see if it might be set up to choose the route of shortest distance instead of shortest time. But it was indeed set up for shortest time. Although the route was very scenic, we chose to come back the other way, repeatedly ignoring the instructions from the GPS unit (which were then followed, of course, by "Recalculating". From our experience on this trip, it's unwise to depend on a GPS alone. You ought to always have a standard map, and know where you are.
We then drove into Le Bugue for lunch, seeking the restaurant "Les Trois A's", which was on the restaurant list Margie had compiled from various sources on the internet (that particular restaurant came from the SlowTrav site). When we couldn't find it, we phoned the telephone number, and got instructions. We were in fact within a few hundred meters of their parking lot, but the restaurant turned out to be now called "Da Francesco", an Italian restaurant. When I asked about "Les Trois A's", I was told that was the restaurant in that location about six years ago. In fact, when I paid with a credit card, the name printed at the top of the slip read "Restaurant Pasco" (€39.40).
In any event, we had a very nice lunch. I had spaghetti with clams, very good, with a lot of small clams on top. Margie had a fish called St. Pierre, and we split a nice pineapple-based dessert. As I alluded to earlier, one problem with the restaurants inside the medieval city of Sarlat is that the vast majority serve a variation on the same theme, a traditional Périgord region menu of one form or another of duck. The menus start with some appetizer containing foie gras, and go on to magret de canard, cuisse de canard, aiguillettes de canard, or quelque-chose-de-canard. I actually love these dishes, but after a while you want something else for variety (and to not eat so much fat that you end up like a stuffed goose yourself). Thus, our Italian lunch was very nice. We started to pick our restaurants by choosing those offering something other than foie gras and canard.
After lunch, we drove a short distance to the cave of Bara Bahau ( http://barabahau.free.fr/ ). We were the only people on the tour, led by the same woman who had sold us the tickets in the ticket office. She was the only person there, and I had spoken to her in French when I bought the tickets. Thus, she started the tour in French, but when she heard me translating into English for Margie, she asked if I was in fact French, or if we might prefer to have the tour in English. I said yes, so she switched to English.
She was a very enthusiastic guide, and clearly loved the cave and prehistoric art. At some point, she mentioned that all the prehistoric art in the cave was original - nothing was a copy. I said, "Pas comme Lascaux II" ("Not like Lascaux II"). She said, "Ah, moi je n'ai rien dit !" ("Ah, I didn't say anything !"). Since she was an excellent guide, I gave her a nice tip. Of course, anyone who hears me talk and then asks me if I'm French is bound to get a good tip.
We often had gone home after a couple of activities, but since Bara Bahau was a very short visit, it was still early. So we headed over to the nearby Gouffre de Proumeyssac ( http://www.perigord.com/proumeyssac/ ). This is not a cave with prehistoric art, but rather just a large limestone cavern with interesting stalactites and stalagmites and other such structures.
The cave is a nearly spherical hole, 50m deep and about 40m wide. It was discovered in 1907, via an opening at the top. Visitors were lowered in a basket, driven by a horse revolving around a crude winch. That ride has now been recreated with an electrically driven basket. But we elected to enter via a 112m long tunnel, excavated in 1956, which brings you into the cave about half-way up. You then tour the cave on a pathway, with stairs when needed, that takes you down to the bottom and back up again.
Back to Sarlat, we ate dinner at Restaurant Rossignol. I started with a soupe de poisson (fish soup) like the one I had had in Beynac, again served with grated cheese, croutons, and a spicy mayonnaise. It was a little different - the croutons were larger (I liked the very small ones at Beynac better), and the mayonnaise was even spicier (which I preferred). It was also a very large serving - I couldn't finish it all. For my main course, I had salmon, in a very nice sauce and artistically presented, but a bit overcooked.
Margie started with an "éventail" (fan) of sliced ham and melon, and then had a steak seasoned with green peppercorns, which was very good. This restaurant was chosen because it had been recommended by the agency that rented us our apartment, and because a look at the posted menu revealed selections other than the standard Périgord menu found everywhere in medieval Sarlat (€56.50).
There were only two other tables occupied in the restaurant when we started, and the restaurant's cat actually jumped up onto the lap of a woman at another table (which she was perfectly happy with). She commented on this, and I replied, and another table chimed in, and soon we were all talking about cats and dogs in French restaurants, and how this was never allowed in the US. This sort of friendly banter among strangers would be unlikely to happen in many places in France, but seemed to be the norm in Sarlat (all the other patrons were French, and we were speaking French). Of course, many of the people you meet are other tourists, from all over, and tourists are perhaps apt to chat with one another. But even the shopkeepers in Sarlat were friendly and chatty, more even than in Provence (and it's near the end of the season, when vendors are often a bit tired of the tourists). We were delighted by the attitude of the people in Sarlat.
Now, it helps that my French is good, and people can chat with me easily. But when Margie talked to people in her more hesitant intermediate-level French, people listened patiently, and generally tried to speak slowly and clearly when they replied. Also, when she spoke to people in French, they usually responded in French, instead of switching to English as has often happened in the past. Of course, Margie's French is getting better.
There's a bit more about this in my blog entry "The French", which can be found at:
That's it for now - I need to do some more proofreading and italicizing before posting the rest, but there's more to come.
Trip Report: France 2011, Dordogne, based in Sarlat
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