Dordogne Trip Report - May 2006

Old Mar 6th, 2007, 07:06 AM
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Dordogne Trip Report - May 2006

Six Days in Dordogne – May 2006

Here is the link to the Photos which go along with this portion of our trip
http://tinyurl.com/2uzu9v

Saturday May 13
We arrived at the town of Cenac, at the base of the hill going up to Domme where we were going to stay for five nights. In Cenac we saw a Laundromat and found that it was by an English family whose daughter had married a French electrician from the area. They preferred that you leave your clothes with them and pick them up in a couple of hours’ time. This suited us fine as hanging around a laundomat was not what we had in mind for our first visit to Dordogne. We walked across the street to a creperie and enjoyed a delicious ratatouille and cheese crepe and a tomato, onion, garlic and cheese crepe, a small salad and some wine. We walked from one end of Cenac to the other noting the location of a bakery and a café and then returned to find our clothes (about 4 loads of most of what we had with us) washed, dried and folded for €20 – great value.
After negotiating the windy road to Domme and entering the gate to the city we checked into the hotel Esplanade. The gate to the city is one way and it is a blind entry so be sure to pause before barging through. L’Esplanade has no private parking of its own but we never had trouble nabbing a spot by the church, across from the park. Domme had not begun their summer custom of charging for parking and what one would do in the tourist season would be a concern to me.
L’Esplanade is a venerable old structure with a magnificent view out over the valley. Our room had an old, sedate look about it but opening the large windows to look over the valley was wonderful. We both felt a calm peace looking out over that pastoral setting with the ploughed fields, brown, twisty ribbons of road and the Dordogne River bisecting the scene. At about the same level as the distant hills, we didn’t tire of that scene from our room window. Often there would be a hot air balloon slowly drifting in the spring breezes seemingly not in any hurry to get anywhere in particular.
We walked the streets of Domme, visited a couple of stores and parks and then prepared for dinner at our hotel.

Dinner at L’Esplanade is very much classic French. It is expensive and artistically presented. It was delicious but many of the menus in our favorite places in France seem to vary with the availability of local fruit and vegetables however this menu seems to be safe – designed to be able to be prepared year round. Carrots, peppers, onions, chopped spinach don’t seem to show much respect for the availability of spring produce. Cream sauces were rich. The service was non too attentive with staff diverting their attention to favored guests (not us). At one time our wine glasses sat empty, the decanter out of arm’s reach. This probably sounds petty but when the meal is pricey and the restaurant boasts a reputation, you tend to expect better.

Sunday May 14 2006

Driving to St Cyprien for the Sunday market, we stopped at an old car show in the parking lot of the gardens at La Roque Gageac. At St Cyprien we first went to a café and had a breakfast buckwheat crepe called a galette. Edges folded up towards the middle, it contained egg, ham and cheese and made an excellent change from our typical baguette breakfast.
This market was marvelous. Stretching the length of the town, there were gawking tourists like us as well as locals shopping for the necessities. Food stalls teemed with spices, rotisserie fowl, sardalaise potatoes, paella, fruit (strawberries galore) and vegetables, cloth and clothes, cheese, meats, music, jewelry. We had never seen such a point put on varieties of strawberries with some purveyors distinguishing between 7 or 8 types, each different and each suitable for different purposes. What a great atmosphere and I can’t wait to return. This was and is the best market for us.
We approached Castlenaud, walked around the grounds but, being early on Sunday, nothing much was moving. It seemed like a long walk up to the chateau especially if it weren’t open so we decided to leave it for another day. We dropped into the Walnut Museum but despite many signs to the contrary, it was closed as well. Pressing on to Les Millandes we finally found a place that wanted to take our money. The receptionist who spoke several languages was extremely helpful filling us in with much of the background information of Josephine Baker and the unfortunate history surrounding her life and ownership of this chateau. We began with a delightful lunch at the café at Les Millandes of cassoulet and lamb chops and salad. We went on the self-directed tour of the chateau enjoying the displays of Josephine Baker and the furnished rooms of the mansion. The highlight was the falconry show which we will go and see again. Held in an intimate setting, it was beautiful to see the birds of prey flying out over the valley.
Rather than eat at the hotel again, we ate on the terrace of the café beside the park beside L’Esplanade. We dined on dinner salads, one laced with foie gras, the other with seafood and drank a bottle of Cahors red, looking out across the valley watching the sun set through the process of dusk until it was dark. What a special meal. How was the food? Neither of us can remember.

Monday May 15
This morning we drove to Sarlat. We had breakfast in a café there before we headed to the Tourist Office to pick up maps for the town and the area. We followed the provided walking tour down streets and alleys enjoying the insights and comments on the buildings and locations. There is a lot to see in this town and one or two days don’t do it. As stores were closed Monday it was a perfect day to do this initial trip and walking tour.
Returning to Hotel de Ville square we sat at an outside café and had cep omelettes et frites. Cepes are wonderful and we loved these to the extent that we brought back several bags of dried mushrooms that we reconstituted and enjoyed for some time.
Continuing to explore Sarlat, we finally left in the afternoon planning to stop by one of the restaurants in Beynac at which we wanted to eat. These were closed today and we drove the area becoming familiar with the surrounding villages. We happened upon Le Relais des Cinq Chateaux and we reserved for dinner. The meal that night was the best we had while in Dordogne. Admittedly we didn’t get to the top restaurants but, regardless, it was excellent. A coarse paté and foie gras were our entrées, followed by venison in a light fruit sauce and a beef stew. The cheese course was 4 selected local offerings and dessert was a sabayon and crème brulée. Two notable features about this restaurant were that our vintage Cahors choice was decanted while at L’Esplanade we had to recommend that it be done as there was considerable sediment. Secondly ordering the foie gras brought an accompanying glass of sweet wine which is an appropriate touch that more places should adopt. In the pictures you will notice a different decanter which I hope to find for sale next fall.
We had a great conversation with the young waitress about the yellow/orange ground cherries which are often served as a garnish with French desserts. The French call them “L’amour en cage” (love in a cage), which is appropriate if you know these jack-o-lantern encased fruit. We have found them both in Canada and the States and serve them as a garnish – they look elegant and always provoke conversation.

Tuesday May 16 2006
Today we had our much anticipated reservation for the English tour at Font de Gaume cave near L’Eyzies. We found it a very emotional experience to be viewing these wonderfully complex drawing created over 17,000 years ago. The narration was superbly informative. It is hard not to gush about this tour – a must if you are able. It probably will not be available for viewing by our grandchildren.
We drove a couple of miles down the road and had a full lunch at Le Métarié. We quite liked the selections of warm chevre and salad, seafood en croute, Rouget (red mullet) and duck confit plus wonderful desserts. We remained there well into the afternoon.
After we drove around exploring the rest of the afternoon, we visited the Casino supermarket on the outskirts of Sarlat to pick up cheese and baguettes and cold meats. We returned to our hotel and had a picnic in the room watching the balloons until it was dark.

Wednesday May 17 2006
Wednesday was market day in Sarlat and we returned easily finding a free parking spot in the lot above the city government buildings. Eating a breakfast croissant at one of the cafes in the square with the market going on around was a lot of fun. We bought dried ceps, walnut oil, onion and fig confitures for our foie gras, and interesting Provence-colored pottery dishes with raspy portions for grating garlic, etc and making coulis and the like.
We then headed for Salignac with intentions of visiting La Meynardie for lunch. It was closed that day. We seemed to have difficulty with different closing days for different restaurants. Revising our plans we went over to Manoir d’Eyrignac to see the famous sculptured gardens. Here we had interesting lunches at their outdoors café – chicken gizzards on a green salad and a casoulet and then spent a glorious afternoon wandering the magnificent grounds.
Back to the room we finished the rest of our picnic fare and sat in the café next to the hotel for drinks and sunsets. I think it was then we decided that we had to spend more time in this marvelous area and that a gite would suit our travel style better than a hotel room.

Thursday May 18 2006
This was market day in Domme and we wandered around but it is very disappointing. I think it is aimed at the tourists. One vendor had homemade jelly candies which I love and she freely gave me several samples. One of the more interesting flavors was lavender. I chose a small bag of various flavors (about 15 candies) and was a little taken aback when she said €11 (I think that was the amount – I have tried to repress the memory). Sandra doesn’t like jelly candies and I don’t understand why she sat watching me eat them nodding with a knowing smile on her face. She wouldn’t try one no matter how good I said they were.
We went to the Prehistoric museum in L’Eyzies. This is a new facility and quite grand, built into the rock. English guides are available if requested in advance and although we enjoyed it, we would have gotten so much more out of it. Next time. As a warning, even museums like this one seem to close for the 12 to 2 lunch hour – at least that is what we recall.
We left L’Eyzies and drove to Montignac to see Lascaux II to visit another prehistoric cave. The rule when we were there was that tickets had to be purchased in advance at the Tourist Office in town. We arranged for the English tour and then sat at a busy café in Montignac a lunch of a croque monsieur and madame. We went to a less busy café for coffee and to write postcards.
Although Lascaux II is a replica cave it is very well done and you certainly forget about that very quickly as you are led through the wonderful drawings. The English tour seems to be where anyone who does not speak French is dumped. We were put with a number of Oriental tourists who were in a group and whose leader insisted in speaking over the guide to translate the tour. As well as distracting and annoying it slowed us down so we did not get back to the full depth of the cave from where we saw other tours returning. All in all it was wonderful and this is just another reason to return.
The thought of the souvenirs sitting in Julie’s care back in Paris as well as the number of things we had bought since, gnawed at reality as we knew we had to find a way to get these items back home to Canada. We decided to buy another suitcase. This proved not to be so easy. First we went to the Tourist Office to find where they sold luggage in Sarlat. We were directed to a store on the ring road where there were plenty of fine leather bags with price tags just as fine. We asked and we looked but we could not find anywhere where they sold suitcases. Finally we were directed to E.Leclerc which turned out to be kind of a French Walmart and had a wide selection. €60 bought us a large hard-sided suitcase which did just fine. We will be prepared next time.
Being our last evening headed back to our room for another picnic and to watch the sun set on the Dordogne, our new most-favorite spot in France.
Tomorrow - Loire

The Paris portion of this trip can be found at
http://tinyurl.com/2lljlk

The Lyon portion of this trip can be found at
http://tinyurl.com/386esd
The Provence portion of this trip can be found at
http://tinyurl.com/35rmd2
The Provence to Dordogne portion of this trip can be found at
http://tinyurl.com/36o64d





robjame is offline  
Old Mar 6th, 2007, 07:31 AM
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ira
 
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Hi R,

Thanks for sharing.

>Manoir d’Eyrignac ... we had interesting lunches at their outdoors café – chicken gizzards on a green salad....<

Are you sure that that wasn't duck gizzards?

I also bring back dried cepes. That's why I have to go back to France every couple of years.

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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 07:37 AM
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Bob, thank you so much for finally reporting on your six days in the Dordogne after much urging on my part! I'm sure I'm not the only one that appreciates your effort. For me it brought back many pleasant memories of our two week stay there last June as we visited many of the same places. I only wish we were going to return again this fall like you are.

My mouth is watering after looking at the photos of your meals. I'm inspired to get out the crepe pan we bought at E. Leclerc and make myself a "galette complet" for lunch using wholegrain buckwheat flour that I found at the market here at home. Maybe I'll even add some reconstituted cepes that we brought back on your recommendation.

What kind of camera do you use by the way? It seems to work equally well on closeups and on sweeping landscapes.

Your experience with the jelly candies reminds me of a simillar experience we had. One stand at the Periueux market offered generous samples of cheese after which we felt obligated to buy. A tiny sliver cost 11 euros! We saw the same merchants afterwards at other markets but accepted no more "free" samples.
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 07:43 AM
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>>We then headed for Salignac with intentions of visiting La Meynardie for lunch. It was closed that day. We seemed to have difficulty with different closing days for different restaurants.<<

Next trip, get the Michelin Red Guide. It clearly indicates that La Meynardie is closed on Wednesdays. The Red Guide also has maps of many cities. The maps show one-way streets, parking facilities, an exact locations of restaurants & hotels. It's always the first think I pack when heading off to France. The '07 edition will be available in America soon, and is published in English for the first time.

We had a niced lunch at Manoir d’Eyrignac also - one of ony 2 sit-down lunches we had when we were in the Dordogne for 4 weeks in '05.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 09:22 AM
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ira - I am sure you are right about the duck
moolyn - Thanks. Our camera is a Sony Cybershot - I know that they have a lot of different models and this was an expensive one. I like the fact that I can just slip it in my pocket yet it isn't too small for my large hands (some are). I only wish it used a common SD card instead of a Sony proprietary one.
Have you gone to Whole Foods in Oakville (on your way to Niagara area) for their great French cheeses?
Stu - Thanks for the tip on the red guide - I will order on when they are out Mar. 15
We found that you really need a hat at the gardens and I will pack a Tilley crushable for next September.
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 10:18 AM
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Yay! I've been waiting for this. Thanks so much. I especially like the little details (Sandra doesn't like jelly candies, etc.) that make this report have a distinctive point of view.

What did you think of the driving in this part of France? Pleasant? A pain?
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 11:13 AM
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Leely - There certainly was never much traffic and we felt confident driving at night. There are some narrow spots especially in villages when the truck are unloading or going under a railroad but you do what we always do... pull over and wait. We are on holiday but I appreciate that some people are working and in a hurry so I always let them pass.
Now driving some of those StuDudley roads in Lot, on the sides of mountains... that was a different story. Park outside and walk into Sarlat - the usual common sense things.
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 02:40 PM
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Bob, thanks for the camera info! I'm debating between the Canon S3 IS, the Panasonic FZ7 and the Sony Cybershot H5. Since new models are due out soon I've decided to wait and get either an improved product or a better price.

We haven't visited Whole Foods in Oakville but there is a small store selling French cheese now right on the outskirts of Niagara-on-the-lake.

I wore my Tilley hat every day in the Dordogne whether canoeing, strolling around Manoir d’Eyrignac or eating on the terrace of restaurants like La Meynardie or Le Vieux Logis. So, go for it!
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 04:37 PM
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Rob,

Thanl you for posting your wonderful report. I loved all your food descriptions and pictures, as well as the details of all the items that can be purchased at the markets. I had L'Esplanade on my short list for dinner, but after reading your report, I think I will pass. For us, dinner in Europe is as much about the ambiance as it is about the food, and our best dining experiences have been when we've been able to enjoy the food without any silly pretentiousness or attitude. We often chat with the owners and often find out things about the food or area that we didn't know before! Plus, even though the presentation is lovely and refined, you're still getting only *one* asparagus! I will certainly keep the Relais des Cinq Chateaux in mind.

Are galettes traditionally found at breakfast time in cafes? I thought they were more of a lunch item, but they do make the perfect breakfast food (whole grains *and* protein!).

Finally, I have one question. If you could do only one: Lascaux or Font de Gaume, which one would it be?
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 05:01 PM
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I've always had an excellent meal at L'Esplanade. We've dined there 4 times. Biggest gripe I have is not leaving the wine on the table, but last time we were there, we requested that they do so - and they did.

>>If you could do only one: Lascaux or Font de Gaume, which one would it be?<<

Throw Pech Merle into the mix also, if you are swinging that far south.

Stu Dudley

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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 05:17 PM
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Thank you Mariarosa.
You would find "Relais de cinq..." much more relaxed and less stuffy, but the food id fabulous at either. I haven't eaten around Dordogne yet so you might want to research some other suggestions.
I would vote for Font de Gaume as it is a "real" cave if you can only do one.
You are probably right on thr galettes. We were there at a brumch time but it really had breakfast things on it...egg, ham, cheese.
For us it really worked to have a nice noon meal and then a picnic at night. That covers the 12 to 2 closings that Stu always warns about. It let us keep going and we were ready to relax and enjoy the sunsets.
You might want to consider eating a night meal at the cafe beside L'Esplanade... same view... one fifth the price.
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 06:10 PM
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Very informative report....I love your photos. We too have decided that we'll pass on the meal at L'Esplande but make a point to visit Le Relais des Cinque Chateau.

We plan on eating most of our lunches out and eating dinner at our Gite. You've got me hooked on drinks at sunset in Domme so we'll make it a point to do that at least once.

We know we can't see it all and like you will plan to go back. Looks like you made good use of your time though. Thank you again for posting the great info.
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 10:01 PM
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Thank you for posting your trip report robjame, the Dordogne is a gorgeous area. We were there a couple of years ago and dined at L'Esplanade and were a little disappointed with the food and ambience. We thought it was a little too stuffy and a bit predictable and there was, what we presumed to be, the grande dame of the establishment doing laps of the restaurant all night with her hands behind her back. We felt like we were sitting for a exam! Oh, but what a view. We will definitely try Relais des Cinq Chateaux next time.
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Old Mar 7th, 2007, 04:10 AM
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Robjame, you give me hope. I see I am not the only one slow to file trip reports (but I am really bad, I've got stuff dating back to 2004 that I'm still getting around to finishing....)

I laughed to read that a trip to the laundromat was not what you had in mind for your first visit to the Dordogne. It is exactly what we visited within an hour of arriving in Sarlat (must needs when needs arise....) That night was our first ever taste of foie gras entier.

The year following that trip , while visiting my brother and family in Vancouver, I tried to buy a slab of foie gras entier of the size served to us in Sarlat. I had it in mind as a chance for my brother to sample this delicacy, as we'd been raving about it. I was just floored by the price quoted by the Granville market shop (can't remember now, but it was ridiculous.) Moral of story: eat in the Dordogne what you can, when you can, because you won't likely be able to afford it back home!

Thanks for the report.
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Old Mar 7th, 2007, 05:04 AM
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Sue, Crazy, toni - thank you for your kind comments.
"the grande dame of the establishment doing laps of the restaurant all night with her hands behind her back. We felt like we were sitting for a exam!" LOL She is still there and you have captured her perfectly. She would wait at the bottom of the stairs as we came down in the morning with her book in her hand and ask if we would be there for dinner. It got to be a game to get by her. We would hate if we forgot something and had to return and run the gauntlet.
The first night when we did eat there she promised us a window table. Someone better came in and we were relegated to the second row.
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Old Mar 7th, 2007, 09:04 AM
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Great pix, Rob

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