Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Trip Report: France 2011, Dordogne, based in Sarlat

Trip Report: France 2011, Dordogne, based in Sarlat

Oct 16th, 2011, 06:02 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 3,204
Trip Report: France 2011, Dordogne, based in Sarlat


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/...t-de-gaume.php, http://www.hominides.com/html/lieux/...ombarelles.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.
justretired is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 06:36 AM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 412
Hi, Larry and Margie,

I was delighted to wake up and find your trip report waiting for us Fodorites! The Dordogne area is gorgeous, n'est-ce pas?
kansas is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 07:53 AM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 22,188
Marking for later. I must reluctantly do some yard work. The flat looked amazing and what a nice price for 2 weeks.
TDudette is online now  
Oct 16th, 2011, 08:04 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,324
I always love your trip reports , especially the places you rent, which I've ear marked more than once!
susanna is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 08:08 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 3,204
TDudette, we were corresponding with Philippe at IN-Sarlat, and looking at one of their other apartments at the price I ended up paying. The apartment "Rimbaud" was quoted on the web site as being a bit more expensive, but Philippe offered it to us at the lower price, so we took it.
justretired is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 08:50 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 46,082
Enjoying your report, Larry, especially the fact that you visited the Grotte du Sorcier, next door to my house. In fact, it's very easy to get to from Sarlat. You pass through the length of Les Eyzies, turn left over the bridge, then make an immediate left and follow the tiny road that goes along the Vézère until you get to the sign for St-Cirq. Then turn right, straight up the hill, and follow the signs. There are of course all kinds of other convoluted ways to get there, but that's the easiest, most straightforward way.
StCirq is online now  
Oct 16th, 2011, 08:55 AM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 6,110
This is an area of France that we are very interested in touring. I appreciate all the details and the prices are also helpful. The Marqueyssac Gardens really looked beautiful and a place we would enjoy.

Looking forward to more
TPAYT is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 08:56 AM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 6,110
Question-----would you base yourslf in Sarlat again, even with the parking situation, or would you stay elsewhere?
TPAYT is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 09:38 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,793
>>would you base yourslf in Sarlat again, even with the parking situation, or would you stay elsewhere?<<

One size does not fit all.

We stayed in Sarlat the first time we visited the Dordogne many years ago. Now that we've spent over 3 years (total) visiting France & other spots in Europe, we enjoy spending time a little farther away from the hoards of toursits & day trippers - so we gravitate to the countryside. In the Dordogne, we've spent 10 weeks in a gite that is between Cenac and Castelnaud - on the 'quieter" and less traveled side of the river, but with easy/quick access to Beynac, Roque Gageac, Domme, Sarlat, etc. We also enjoy having a garden, views over the countryside, outside dining in the garden, less traffic, and quiet. We also enjoy driving to dinner at restaurants in the early evening when I think the Dordogne area is the prettiest.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is online now  
Oct 16th, 2011, 11:52 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 3,204
I love seeing all these replies – this is what keeps me writing.

StCirq, as we drove through the town, Margie said, “Just think, one of these houses could belong to StCirq.” I guess she was right. But we didn’t know which one, so we couldn’t stop in and bother you.

Margie is rather curious about what seemed to be a sort of “micro climate” in the area. Right opposite the Grotte du Sorcier there’s a large grove of very tall bamboo, more typical of a tropical climate than of the Dordogne. Do you know anything about that?

susanna, I’m glad you’ve gotten some benefit from the places we’ve mentioned. Although I write the trip reports and so I may get some of the credit, it is in fact Margie who does almost all the research before our trips. We never just find a place with a nice web site and book it. Rather, she asks on Fodor’s, and checks other reviews, to find people who have used the location and have good things to say about it.

TPAYT, you ask, “would you base yourself in Sarlat again, even with the parking situation, or would you stay elsewhere?” It’s always interesting to write something, and then be able to perceive it through someone else’s eyes. I guess I mentioned parking issues enough that I seemed to be suggesting it was a big problem for us. It was not.

Basically, the agency explained the parking situation clearly when we arrived. Sarlat is ringed with free lots, only a short walk from the medieval city’s limits. Only the lots right on the edge of the city, just outside the “wall” (some of the wall is now gone) are pay lots. So with five or six minutes of walking, we always parked for free.

The only time we paid was to park in a very small lot, just outside the wall, that was closest to our apartment, in order to bring our luggage in and out. We could have parked even closer to the apartment by parking on the main Rue de la République, except we both arrived and left on a Saturday, market day, when that street is closed to traffic.

The only other parking “problem” was that the lot I just spoke of was marked on the map as a free lot, and Béatrice at the agency had therefore told us it was free. But when we got to it, signs indicated we had to pay. We reported this to Béatrice, and she called the city hall, which actually looked into the issue. The conclusion: it was indeed a paying lot, and the map (and hence Béatrice’s advice) had been wrong.

Now to your question: would we base ourselves in Sarlat again? Well, we probably will see other areas of France before we return to the Dordogne, but I’ll take this as a general question, the way StuDudley did, as one of countryside vs. town. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. In many ways, like Stu, we prefer the quiet of the countryside.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’m less and less enamored of driving at night. If I drive to dinner in the early evening, I’ll have to drive home after dark. Although a couple of glasses of wine together with a long dinner doesn’t amount to much alcohol consumption, I prefer not to drink at all at dinner if I’m going to have to drive afterward (and not just because the French are very strict about drinking and driving). Staying in a town with a lot of good restaurants (and Sarlat certainly fills the bill there) allows me to have an apéritif and a few glasses of wine with dinner, and just walk home afterward.

A town that we found to be a good compromise is Bonnieux, in Provence, where we stayed for three weeks in 2007. It’s a very small “perched” (hillside) village with a countryside feel, but it has quite a few good restaurants for its size. My report on that trip is at:


- Larry
justretired is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 12:25 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 46,082
Hi, Larry.

Yes, we do have a micro-climate in St-Cirq. I have a banana tree and kiwis and quince and figs as well as every kind of fruit and nut imaginable. Despite that, we do get some fierce winter weather, with snow and ice not uncommon.

If you'd walked to the end of the bamboo grove, you would have been at the gate to my property, just past the grotte. I wasn't there, though.
StCirq is online now  
Oct 16th, 2011, 04:49 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 3,204
Here's the second half of my Trip Report.

Saturday, September 17, 2011: Saturday is the big market day in Sarlat. We thus planned to visit the market in the morning, and tour Sarlat a bit in the afternoon, so as to not have to move our car in all the traffic, and with everybody jockeying for parking spaces. The morning went according to plan, and we bought several things in the market for ourselves, and to give as gifts.

But around 11:30 or so, Margie started having back pain, exacerbated by all the walking, particularly up and down and on cobblestones and other uneven surfaces (we had also done a lot of walking the day before). Given that Saturday evening was called "Un Patrimoine sous les Etoiles" (A Heritage under the Stars), and many evening events were planned, Margie hoped to be able to walk around the village that evening. Thus we went back to the apartment for her to rest, and start a course of Motrin. This required food, since it's not a good idea to take 3 Motrin on an empty stomach. I bought a loaf of bread, and we made ourselves a lunch out of cheese we had previously bought for use in omelets, and slices of the sausage we had purchased in Saint Emilion.

We figured that the hot tub in our building's spa might help, so we tried it out for the first time. While the water jets were a bit soothing, the water in the "hot tub" wasn't actually very hot, and turning up the control didn't seem to help very much. We didn't know if there might have been a problem with it - we planned on consulting the rental office on Monday. The apartment had also been scheduled to be cleaned on Saturday, the end of our first week. But that did not occur.

After a bit, we tried walking around some more. At around 4pm, people were closing up their market stands. Since our lunch had been small, we were hungry, and each had a "fondant pomme" from one of the stands - what we would call "fried dough" (deep-fried flour covered with granulated sugar), but with an apple slice in the center.

However, Margie was still having back problems, and really wanted to be able to walk around in the evening, at least a bit. So we returned to the apartment, and I went out to buy a few items - some mushrooms, some bottled water to carry with us on outings, and a couple of bottles of caffeine-free diet coke. As I checked out, I was treated to a lecture from the checkout woman on how badly Americans eat, and how bad for you diet Coke is.

We walked to Le Présidial for our 7:00 PM reservation, which we had made a few days before, to prepare for the festival, since we figured (accurately) that the restaurants would be busy. "Un Patrimoine sous les Etoiles", was scheduled to start at 9:00 PM with a speech by the mayor of Sarlat, and various events were to continue until midnight, hence our early reservation for dinner. As we arrived, drop-ins were being turned away. We had a nice dinner at Le Présidial, served by the same waiter who had helped us on Tuesday, when we had eaten there with Fodorite "Kansas" and her husband. Somehow, we managed to spend even more on this dinner, €83.

After dinner, we walked down to the Place de la Liberté. On the way, we observed some of the 10,000 small candles ("tea candles", in glass jars) that had been lined up along the side of the streets. Doing this in Boston would have burned the city down, but in the medieval center of Sarlat, all the buildings are stone. It made for a gorgeous sight. I took a few time-exposure pictures that came out reasonably well under the circumstances.

In La Place de la Liberté, a parade of antique cars was going by. Although we couldn't see them well through the mob, we were later able to get close to them when they were parked for viewing on the Rue de la République. They were accompanied by an assortment of clowns, with red noses.

We wandered through the small streets, all lined with candles. We went up through the Cour des Fontaines, through the Cour du Cloître, and up into the Passage des Enfeus, where an impressive sound and light show was being projected onto the back of the Cathédrale Saint Sacerdos. After enjoying the candles a bit more, we eventually returned to our apartment at around 11:00.

Our street, Rue de la Boétie, was also lined with candles, leading up to the Abbaye Sainte-Claire at the top. It's a historic monument, with a curious cylindrical structure on its corner that can be seen from our living room window. People streamed up the street to the Abbaye, and looked up at the building in large crowds. In fact, this was frequently the case - entire tour groups went up there, and the guide talked about the building for ten minutes or so. It's a bit off the beaten path in Sarlat, and we never figured out why people find it so interesting. I figured that some day I needed to go up and listen to one of the tours, but I never did.

I was afraid that all the noisy tourists going up and down the street that night would keep us from sleeping, but I needn't have been concerned, on two counts. First, when I closed our bedroom shutters, then the window, and then the heavy curtain, I couldn't hear any of the noise from the street (so a third-floor apartment has some advantages). Secondly, we didn't get to bed before midnight, when the festival ended, and everyone disappeared.

Sunday, September 18, 2011: We slept in pretty late, and the day was a bit rainy (the only day of rain in the entire two weeks). We decided to stay in Sarlat and tour the village, which we had not yet done. One objective was to go easy on Margie's back, as she started a regimen of Motrin. By staying in Sarlat, we could always return quickly to the apartment if the walking and climbing got to be too much.

Almost all the books we brought on this trip were e-books in our Barnes and Noble Nook account, and that included Rick Steves' Snapshot Dordogne. It contains a short walking tour of Sarlat, so we set out to do that. We could read the book on either Margie's Color Nook, or my black-and-white Nook 2 (which uses an "e-ink" screen like the Kindle). The Nook 2 was the obvious choice, since it is smaller and lighter to carry, and its screen can be read in daylight. Since it was rainy, I put it into a ziplock baggie, to protect it from the rain.

I was rather surprised to find that although I could certainly read it through the baggie, the touch screen didn't respond through the plastic. Also, the baggie seemed to trigger the screen in random places as it moved around - perhaps the rubbing generated static. So the baggie was not entirely successful, but it was useable, and it did keep rain off the device.

The start of the tour took us into the Cathédrale Saint Sacerdos, where a mass was in progress. We entered at around 11:30 AM, so I suspect this was a mass that started at 11:00 AM. We managed to arrive just as the collection plate reached the back of the audience, so I threw in a contribution. The priest then started speaking, but the echoes in the cathedral were so strong that I couldn't understand a word he was saying. We left before he was done with his sermon.

After the tour, we found ourselves on the Rue des Consuls, where we liked the menu of the Auberge Le Mirandol, and we had lunch there (€29.50).

We then did some more walking around, visiting some interesting art galleries. We ended up walking up to the Abbaye Sainte-Claire at the top of our street, although the plaque on the building still left us mystified about why so many people go out of their way to see it (you can't go in to the building). A bit more strolling around, and Margie's back was finally showing some twinges. So we went into our local chocolatier to buy some pastries for dessert, and called it a day.

In the apartment, Margie cooked dinner, boiling some raviolis with a stuffing made of nuts and Gorgonzola that we had purchased at the Casino market. But first, she made a side of vegetables using fresh squash and tomatoes, and fresh mushrooms, sautéed in olive oil and red wine. We used the Saint Émilion Grand Cru 2007, from the Chateau La Fleur d'Horus, that we had bought in Saint Émilion (just a little bit to cook with, most of it to drink).

With a bit of time to spare, I decided to try to get Skype working. This was in particular because the SIM card we were using was rather expensive for calls to the US (it's a lot cheaper in the other direction), and Skype is very cheap. But my Skype wouldn't recognize the microphone, even though the computer's self test showed it to be working. Finally, after reading some Skype help files, I realized my version of Skype was way out of date, just as my version of Explorer had been. I was on version 3.8 or thereabouts, and the latest version was Version 5. After I upgraded my Skype, it started working. The moral of the story: when taking a computer on a trip, be sure all your software is up to date BEFORE leaving.

Monday, September 19, 2011: We drove off to visit Castelnaud, using the second half of a combination ticket we had purchased at the Jardin de Marqueyssac. There is a very well organized self-guided tour through this towering fortress, which provides fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, there was even more walking and climbing than we had anticipated - particularly somewhat dark spiral staircases, which cause problems for Margie. She made it through, though, with only minor back pain, and thought it was worthwhile.

There are a great many old weapons of various types on display in the rooms - cannons, suits of armor, lances, crossbows, maces, swords, and so on - too many to name. Several trebuchets (modern replicas) are on display outdoors - these use a counterweight to fling stones weighing up to 100 kilos against castle walls. In one room, a video showed one of these actually being fired, with narration in French and with English subtitles. As the device flung its payload, Margie laughed out loud at the Rube Goldberg appearance of the device. Others in the audience didn't seem to find it funny.

We observed a couple of groups of school children being taken through the castle. There seems to be much greater diversity in the school population than I recall seeing in the past - children of many races were represented in substantial numbers. On the way out of the castle, a small girl wondered out loud where the princess was kept.

Because many restaurants in the area seem to close on Monday, we had taken more care than usual in finding a restaurant for lunch. It's not hard to wander around Sarlat looking for an open restaurant, but you don't want to wander around in a car in a sparsely populated rural area. Thus, we had telephoned a few restaurants the night before, and indeed, most of them would not be open for lunch on Monday. But we did find a couple that were open, and we selected the Restaurant Les Près Gaillardou. We even located it on a map using the Via Michelin web site, so we would have no trouble getting there from Castelnaud.

We phoned them upon our arrival at Castelnaud, and made a reservation for 1:00pm. This proved to be unnecessary, as the restaurant wasn't full. We had a nice lunch there (€39).

We then drove to the town of Domme, and walked around, up through the town and along the cliff walk. The view from les falaises (the cliffs) is impressive. Domme is an attractive old village in a high setting, but the number of shops along its main street gives it a very commercial look.

We considered visiting Gérard Dorin's gardens in Roque-Gageac, but decided not to press our luck with Margie's still somewhat sensitive back, and we returned to Sarlat. Walking back from the parking lot, we stopped off at the rental office. There we reported the problem with the hot tub, and also noted that the apartment had not been cleaned as scheduled. We got back to the apartment early enough to do another laundry before dinner. And we did a better job this time, because in the morning, we had located instructions for the washing machine. They were in a booklet on the bottom shelf of our coffee table, under a book of photos of the Périgord.

We contemplated making omelets for dinner, but in the end went out to eat, eating on the terrace of Les Lys d'Or restaurant. For appetizers, Margie had a tomato salad, and I had baked mussels. These were baked in a garlic butter sauce similar to that usually used on escargots de Bourgogne. For a main course, we both had curried Ponga, an Asian fish (€37)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011: We got a fairly early start, and drove to Montignac to buy tickets for the cave Lascaux II. According to the Guide Michelin, these had to be purchased in a special ticket window near the tourist information office in the center of town. Indeed, we saw the ticket window there, but it was closed. The TI informed us that tickets are now sold directly at Lascaux II itself, and told us how to get there (it's only a couple of kilometers away). So our drive through the narrow streets of Montignac had been a waste of time.

At the cave at 10:30, we had a choice of a French tour at 10:50 or an English tour at 11:50. Rather than wait around an extra hour, we chose the French tour. It was excellent, and the guide spoke French very clearly and slowly, and was easy to understand. The Roman numeral "II" in the cave's name is because the cave is a copy - an exact replica of the original cave, which is nearby (you can walk to the entrance, if you'd like, but it's sealed off). The original had to be closed to prevent the breath of visitors from destroying the art in the cave. I actually saw the original, on my first trip to France in 1961, when I was 19 years old. The cave was closed to visitors two years later.

Despite the dig by the guide in Bara Bahau, and some people skipping Lascaux II because the cave and its paintings are copies and not genuine, I think the cave is worth a visit. Great effort was putting put into making it a very accurate copy of the original, which probably has the most extensive and spectacular prehistoric cave drawings in existence. I was extremely lucky to have been able to see the original in my youth, but had the cave not been closed shortly thereafter, the paintings probably would have been mostly destroyed by now. Even though it's a copy, I think Lascaux II is worth a visit.

Leaving Lascaux, we saw a sign to the hotel/restaurant La Table du Terroir, which had been recommended by Fodorite StCirc (who lives in the town of Saint-Circ, and by other Fodorites who had eaten there following her advice. We set off following the signs, which took us on a winding and circuitous route on beautiful, small country roads, not knowing if the restaurant would actually be open when we arrived. But although it appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, quite a few people showed up for lunch shortly after we arrived. We ate on the terrace in a beautiful setting. Margie and I both had an appetizer with rillettes and foie gras on toast. Margie then had an omelette aux cèpes, and I had chicken in a morel sauce (I don't think I've ever had morels before). It came to €28.

We then set out to find La Rocque St.-Christophe, the remnants of a town built into the side of a cliff. It has a long history, but was destroyed in the wars of religion at the end of the sixteenth century. To leave La Table du Terroir without getting completely lost, we set the GPS to a town near La Rocque St.-Christophe, and it took us, turn by turn, through the narrow roads until we were close enough to find signs to our destination. It was an interesting visit. The climbing was not too much for Margie, but even though most of the visit was on a single level (once you got up there), the stone ground was uneven, which makes for difficult walking even though you're not climbing up and down.

As our diesel fuel was getting low, we asked at the snack bar where we could find a gas station, and were directed to the town of Tursac. There we filled the car for the first time on this trip, for €64. Although we might have used the GPS to find a reasonably direct (and probably bizarre) route back to Sarlat, we instead drove the 6 km. to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, and picked up the main road home that we had taken several times.

In Sarlat, we found the Charcuterie right next to our street to be closed (it's open only in the morning). By asking in the TI, we found another on the Rue Fenelon (up towards our real estate office). We were looking for a rotisserie chicken as an easy dinner, but the butcher was sold out. When we asked if he had any prepared foods, he sold us prepared lasagna that just needed reheating in a microwave oven, and some grated carrots as a veggies. After that, tired, we went back to the apartment, where we found it had been cleaned, and the linens and towels replaced. But in the Spa, the hot tub was still not working. It never worked during our entire stay - I hope they've fixed it by now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011: We bought a cooked rotisserie chicken at the charcuterie right near where our street crosses the Rue de la République, and I carried it upstairs and put it in our refrigerator. We then drove to the Jardins d'Eyrignac, and took the tour, guided by a program on an iPod. The iPod was sealed into a protective metal case, with openings for the screen, the speakers, and so on. One unit sufficed for both of us - the audio was played out loud. We selected the English program - it was available in French, English, German, Spanish, and Dutch. I've noticed that Dutch vies with English as the second language of the Dordogne. a French correspondent tells me that the Dutch like to vacation in this area, and in central France in general. The gardens were quite impressive, but I suspect we were less awed by them than we might have been had we not previously seen the marvelous gardens of Marquessac.

We finished a bit early for lunch, so we drove off to nearby Salignac. Margie thought she had the name of a restaurant there recommended by Stu Dudley, but it turned out that we had not brought along that list. We ended up at Le Café de la Place, as the name implies, right on the main square. We both had a fixed menu at €14. We were both initially served an odd white soup, rather watery, and heavy on the garlic. As appetizers, we both started with a plate of sliced ham. For the main course, Margie had a steak, and I had something called Enchaud de Périgord (described by the Patricia Wells culinary dictionary as "pork filet with garlic; specialty of the Dordogne"). Naturally, I had to try another Périgord specialty that I hadn't yet had. It was interesting, but will not become my favorite dish. For dessert, Margie had a pineapple cake, and I had a cup of fruit in a light syrup.

We chatted a bit with a man at an adjacent table, who had a wirehaired terrier under his table. At some point he asked if I was English. When I said no, I was American, he apologized! Hmm, I never thought being thought English was an insult.

Using the GPS, we then drove to Les Jardins d'Eau in Carsac-Aillac ( http://www.jardinsdeau.com ). We rather liked this small set of water gardens, full of dozens of varieties of spectacular water plants. We took more photos there than anywhere else we'd been, because Margie might want to paint some of the flowers.

As usual, the GPS took us over some very narrow roads, which had stretches in which I couldn't imagine what I would do if a car appeared in the opposite direction. But in general, these small roads had very little traffic on them.

There was another GPS problem in the area: most places don't seem to have an actual address - that is, an actual street name and number. When phoning one of the local attractions, I asked for an address to put into my GPS. The woman said something like, "We're in the countryside - we don't have addresses." The result: there's nothing to put into the GPS as a destination. I tried looking up attractions by name, but the unit then seemed to enter a search mode which went on for several minutes before I canceled it without results. I wondered if it was searching for the name I had entered in all of Europe and North America. Perhaps I just haven't figured out how to do it. What we generally settled on is entering the name of a city or town, and then, as we get close, looking out for signs. That's how we found Les Jardins d'Eau.

On the way home, we drove past the Chateau de Montfort, just to get a look at it (it's private - you can't go in). We then returned home to have our chicken for dinner, followed by a brief outing for ice cream.

Thursday, September 22, 2011: We cooked omelets for breakfast, and then set out, but a bit late, for the Jardins de l'Imaginaire, in Terrassons. We had a good chance of arriving for the 11:30 tour, until we hit a massive traffic jam in Terrasson, due to construction on the main street. Attempting to turn onto another street, we found it blocked because it was market day. A phone call revealed that the next available tour at the gardens wouldn't be until 2:30 in the afternoon.

So we changed our plans, and set off for the Chateau de Hautefort. Upon setting the GPS for Hautefort, it told us to turn around and drive back through Terrassons. Fat chance - we weren't going back through that mess. Consulting a map, we instead drove east (the wrong direction) a bit, until we could hook up to the E70. The GPS bitched every step of the way, saying "Recalculating" each time we ignored one of its suggested turnarounds.

Finding the E70 was also confusing, since no signs mentioned that road. It turned out it was also designated the A89, and that's what the signs said. Margie had the large map folded to be read in the car, which put the A89 label out of sight. Only as we approached within a kilometer or so of the A89 did the GPS decide that the highway was now the better route to Hautefort.

Once on the A89, a toll road, we cruised back to the west one exit, and then drove straight up the D704 to Hautefort. Since it was almost noon when we arrived, we parked in the chateau lot, and walked into the small village for lunch. This entailed walking down a very steep road. Although there were several restaurants we could have investigated, Margie declined to climb down past the first one we encountered, "La Table d'Erillac", and we ate there. It was attached to a store called "Les Foies Gras d"Erillac", which is what the bill reads. On the way to the men's room to wash up, I noticed some of the staff pasting labels onto cans, which I imagine contained foie gras.

I think this may have been the first meal in which Margie and I each just had a single à la carte dish, and were not seduced by "The Costco Effect" into having an entire menu. Margie had "Le Plat du Jour", which was a fricassée d'aiguillettes de volaille. She asked for the sauce "à part", meaning "on the side". Always out to try something new, I had le filet de brochet au foie poêlé. The waitress told me that brochet is a pike, and indeed, my Patricia Wells dictionary defined it as a "freshwater pike". I didn't think pike could be served easily - I've always thought it was too bony. But the tasty fish I was served was a thin steak, boneless, with a chunk of pan-cooked foie gras on top.

My dish also had a variety of imaginative side dishes with it. In addition to fairly ordinary potatoes, it had a sort of fritter (just one), and some vegetables with a tempura-style coating (deep fried). One ring of the latter sat on top of a tomato slice, and was filled with a fruit jam (€28.50).

By the way, see my blog for my definition of "The Costco Effect":


After lunch, we toured the castle (quite interesting), and its gardens. Before entering, we observed flocks of starlings (or a similar bird) flying around the building. They would alight on the roof, or on the sides of chimneys, none of which had any particular place to hold on to. Their behavior seemed rather mysterious. During our tour of the castle (after a film describing the history of the building), we came across some of the staff attempting to capture a bird which had gotten into a room. They also opened a couple of the large windows so the bird could fly out, but the ceiling was much higher than the top of the windows, and the bird seemed to want to remain as high as possible. Hence, it never got down to a point where it could see its way out one of the windows.

The gardens are mostly French-style formal gardens, with elaborately sculpted boxwoods and other topiaries. Although extensive and elaborate, they boxwood carvings were not as whimsical as those we saw at Marquessac.

We drove straight home on the 704, ignoring the pleadings of the GPS to branch to the east for a slightly shorter route on dubious roads. We stopped only in the small village of Saint-Geniès, to admire its church, and a cluster of other buildings with traditional stone roofs made of lauzes, flat stones from the area.

As we walked from our car to our apartment, we came across a small market, including a produce stand. There we bought a couple of potatoes and a bunch of tomatoes to go with the other half of the chicken back in our apartment. We took a short walk after dinner just to get out a bit, and then returned to red and relax a bit before bed. Our legs are very tired.

Friday, September 23, 2011: This was our last full day in the Dordogne, so after our traditional petit déjeuner at our neighborhood patisserie, we stayed in Sarlat, walking around and taking some pictures, some of them of subjects for Margie to possibly paint. We went into some stores and galleries. Our wanderings ended up at the real estate office, where we arranged to leave the next day at 11:00 instead of the usual 10:30, and said goodbye to Béatrice.

We then had a light lunch at L'Entre 2, where we'd eaten a few times before. We both had a salad that was featured that day (€22). We made dinner reservations at Les Jardins d'Harmonie, and then went back to the apartment to pack, as we would have limited time in the morning.

A bit before 5pm, we retrieved the car from the free parking lot on the Chemin du Plantier, and drove around the town to the small "payant" lot at the Place Pierre-Paul Grassé, the closest lot to our apartment. There were a few spaces there when we arrived, but they quickly filled up. This is because you can only pay for up to two hours, hence from 5:00 to 7:00, and parking is then free overnight until 9:00am. The plan was that in the morning I could then feed the meter to carry us over until 11:00, when we would leave.

The reason this was important is that Saturday is a market day, so walking through the town dragging our luggage through the market stalls would be virtually impossible. By parking at the Place Pierre-Paul Grassé, we not only put the car within a reasonable distance from the apartment, we also put it in a place we could walk to on market day without having to go through the central area where the market is held. Also, from that location, it's a straight drive out the Boulevard Voltaire to the Rue E. Faure out of Sarlat. After a few name changes and a couple of ronds points, it becomes the Rue Joséphine Baker, in the direction of Bergerac and Bordeaux.

On the way back, we went to a local bar on the Rue de la République, where I had a pastis, and Margie had a peach Kir. A group of young French men were to one side, several tattooed, including one wearing clothing whose items seemed united by the theme "Day-glo green". The Day-glo insignia on the cap was of the New York Yankees, but when I mentioned that, he proved to be unaware of what it stood for. The group kept growing, and many people passing by shook hands, or kissed on both cheeks, or even stopped their cars on the street to say hello.

To the other side, there was another group with a young girl, who after some sort of mint drink, was given a brownie to eat. When I asked what it was called in French, I was told that the English word is used - it's called a "brownie". France has also been invaded by "cupcakes", also using the English word, but there are no Dunkin' Donuts in the area (unlike last year in Madrid).

For the record, two kisses on greeting seemed standard in Sarlat, first left cheek to left cheek, then right to right. Women kissed women and women kissed men, but I also saw (less frequently) men kissing men.

Dinner at Les Jardins d'Harmonie was very good, totaling €53 with a half-bottle of good wine.

Saturday, September 24, 2011: We dragged our largest suitcase down the spiral staircase and up to the car a bit after 9:00 AM, and bought a ticket valid until 11:00 AM from the horodateur. Margie picked up a croissant for breakfast, but I made an omelet for myself with our two remaining eggs, and our remaining cheese. We then finished our packing, cleaned up the apartment, and carried all the remaining luggage up to the car in one trip.

I knew I would have trouble entering the All Seasons Bordeaux Aeroport hotel into the GPS, because the address was shown as "95 Avenue JF Kennedy". So just what do you type for the street name? Do you leave off the "Avenue"? I tried "JF Kennedy" both with and without the "Avenue", but in both cases got "Not found". I tried various other combinations of the JF with and without spaces. Finally, I just entered "Kennedy", and that did it, so apparently you need to just get a partial match. If you enter too much, it kills the match. When the street matching "Kennedy" was finally displayed by the GPS, it showed "Avenue du Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy" - that's what I would have had to have typed to get an exact match.

As I was doing all this, a car pulled into the lot, and the driver came over and tapped on my window. He started talking in English (British accent), asking if I was indeed leaving. I said I was, once I had dealt with the GPS, so he waited for my parking space.

We had planned to return to Bordeaux the way we had come out, on the Departmental roads (starting with the D57 to the D703, and so on), through Bergerac. The alternative was to drive up towards Périgueux and pick up the A89, a limited access toll road. The latter is less picturesque, but shaves about 35 minutes off the trip. I decided to take the highway in the end, to make the driving easier.

The trip was easy and uneventful, stopping for lunch to have sandwiches at a service area. We stopped and filled up the car once we got off the highway, to return the rental car with a full tank (€40). The route circled Bordeaux, and the GPS took us straight to the Hotel. We dropped our luggage in the hotel, and then drove 5 minutes to the airport (without the GPS, but easy), and returned the car. We then went to the Air France / KLM desk in the small airport, got our boarding passes for the following morning, and took the free hotel shuttle ("la navette" back to the hotel.

We could have kept the car an extra day, to take us to the airport on the day of the flight. Since our flight was so early in the morning, we would have had to drop the car in an un-attended lot, and drop the key in a slot. I preferred to return the car to a real person, who could look it over and see that it was undamaged. Even though returning the car in the morning would not have added much more time, it would add SOME time (we'd have to allow for having trouble finding the lot, and so on). Besides, keeping the car for an extra day would probably have cost more than the €10 cab fare to the airport in the morning (we had to be at the airport at 5:00 AM, before the first free hotel shuttle at 6:00).

Next problem: the hotel restaurant turned out to be closed on weekends (the hotel's clients are largely business people, and there are few guests on weekends). This was news to us, but after our return, I took another look at the Booking.com site we had used to reserve the hotel. Sure enough, a bit down on the web page, under the heading "IMPORTANT INFORMATION", Booking.com did note that the restaurant was closed on weekends - I had missed it. We had to walk about half a kilometer up the road to the Ibis hotel for dinner. The Buffalo Grill, which had been recommended to us, was glimmering in the distance another 300 meters up the road, but forget that - we grabbed the closest available restaurant. Dinner was not bad, actually - we both had lamb chops (€28.40). But much as we might have liked to linger over dessert, the sun was setting, and we wanted to walk back before it got dark. Had we known about this in advance, we would have simply booked a room at the Ibis.

Other than that problem, though, the All Seasons Bordeaux Aeroport hotel was fine. The room was comfortable and quiet, and the staff was very nice. I can't comment on the free breakfast, as it is served starting at 5:00 AM, and we left in the morning at 4:45. The elevator announced its every move: "ouverture de la porte ... rez-de-chausée ... fermeture de la porte". I think if I had to work at the front desk and listen to that all day, after a while I'd probably shoot myself. We couldn't hear it from our room.

Sunday, September 25, 2011: We woke at 4:00 AM to a wakeup call from the hotel, and my alarm clock going off (always nice to have redundant wake-ups). The cab arrived on-time at 4:45, and we were at the airport five minutes later. We checked in our luggage, checked through to Boston via Amsterdam. Our flight boarded at 5:30, and left on-time at 6:00.

We had a three-hour layover in Amsterdam at the Schiphole airport, a huge airport that's a far cry from Bordeaux. The airport used a method I've never seen before and probably never will again: security screening was done at the gate. Two large (and I'm sure, expensive) backscatter scanners were dedicated solely to this one international departure gate, and screening was therefore started about an hour and a half before the flight time. Although Logan airport in Boston has some of these body scanners, they had not been used on our flight from Boston on the way out. Thus, this was the first time I had ever encountered one. It located my wallet in my back pocket, which I then had to take out for inspection. One of the inspectors said that the airport had determined that dedicating these expensive scanners to a single gate was not cost-effective (duh!).

The Delta flight back was uneventful, with substantially less legroom than we had had in the extra cost "Economy Comfort Seats" we had purchased on the way over. I did manage to sleep a bit, but not much.


We had an enjoyable vacation overall. Here are a few thoughts:

Sarlat as a base: when staying in one place for two or three weeks, and using it as a base for day trips, it's important to choose a region with lots of things to do within a drive of an hour or so. The Dordogne certainly meets that criterion, in the sense that there are enough different activities to keep you busy for weeks without seeing anything twice. On the other hand, we found that the things to do in the region fell mainly into three categories: caves and grottoes, chateaux, and gardens. Thus although we never ran out of places to visit, they did start to feel a bit repetitious after a while. There were other activities. We did enjoy the Saturday market in Sarlat, for example, but we didn't seek out any other markets in the area. Perhaps we've been spoiled by our past visits to the enormous market in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence.

Sarlat itself is a charming town, and everyone met there was extremely friendly. It has an enormous number of restaurants, although their menus heavily stress the traditional Périgord menu of foie gras and canard, as I've mentioned before. It took a little more effort to seek out other items on the menus. I suspect the restaurant menus are this way because a great many people come into city for only a few days, and want to sample the traditional food while they are there. I should add, though, that the meals that we did have, at reasonably priced restaurants, were mostly quite good. Well, the meals were reasonably priced given the rather terrible dollar-euro exchange rate. In the US, I'd consider these meals to be quite expensive.

The apartment: We liked the apartment very much. It was well furnished, and very nicely decorated. Much of the artwork related to Rimbaud, the poet after which the apartment was named. There were also books by Rimbaud on the bookshelves. The stairs turned out to be difficult for Margie, who had a flare-up of a back problem. But the apartment being on the third floor and not having an elevator was certainly no surprise. Walking on a flat surface didn't bother Margie's back, but climbing was difficult. In some of the caves, the walking was difficult because the surfaces were uneven.

We had also been spoiled on recent trips by having substantially larger two bedroom apartments, for various reasons that I don't need to describe here. Thus, this apartment seemed a little bit cramped. There was only one table, which we kept the computer on, so we had to move it for meals. But this was hardly a major problem.

We hadn't thought that we would need air conditioning in September, so we hadn't paid much attention to that feature of the apartment. But given the heat we encountered, particularly in the first week, the air conditioner was an extremely welcome feature. We found it easy to deal with Philippe in our many e-mail exchanges while arranging to rent the apartment, and also with Béatrice at the IN-Sarlat agency. They were very professional, easy to work with, and responsive to our needs.

Electronic equipment: We seem to be traveling these days with lots of high-tech equipment. I devoted an entire shelf in the living room cabinet to spreading out my assortment of electronic chargers, so I could find the one I needed quickly and easily. Let's see, I needed to recharge my netbook computer, two European GSM cell phones, two Nook e-readers, my PDA ("Personal Digital Assistant", a Pocket-PC containing my all-important translation dictionaries), two digital cameras, our Garmin Nüvi GPS, my electric razor, and (to be recharged once only, just before our return) Margie's US cell phone.

That's eleven different devices, each with its own charger. The shelf also held my collection of AC adapters and splitters, to plug in to the French outlets and to allow for the recharging of multiple devices at once. All of the chargers are dual voltage. They work equally well on 220 Volts 50 Hz or 110 Volts 60 Hz. I don't buy any devices these days that won't work in Europe as well as in the US. I once rejected an electric razor because it recharged on 110 V only.

Next September? Perhaps Sicily.

- Larry
justretired is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 05:13 PM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 8,553
Great report, Larry! I visited this area a few years ago in late March/early April, staying in Sarlat as you and your wife did. I didn't manage to see nearly as much as you saw--I'm envious. I missed a lot of caves! I also prefer not to have to drive home in the dark after dinner. If I'm ever traveling with a teeototaler maybe I won't care.

Was in Sicily this March/April. A great trip, but more challenging/stressful than any place else I've traveled in France or Italy. Stupendous rewards for the stress (mostly driving-related), though. If you do go to Sicily I will look for your report.

Thanks again for your report--a pleasure to read.
Leely2 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 06:21 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 3,204
Leely2, glad you liked my report.

I'd love to hear more about what was so stressful on your trip to Sicily. If you click on my name "justretired", my profile contains my e-mail address.

Margie found driving on Italian roads in the Amalfi Coast and in the Dolomites rather stressful, particularly when there was a sheer dropoff on one side, and no guardrail. Is that a problem in Sicily? If so, maybe it's not a good place for us.

I gather that less English is spoken there than in other parts of Italy, but I do speak Italian.

But we should take discussion of Italy off this thread, and conduct it elsewhere.

- Larry
justretired is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 06:28 PM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,191
Great report. You saw a lot of the same things that we did during our week in the Dordogne (based next to the Chateau de Beynac) in June. Although I would like to go back to the Dordogne again in the future (you could go back 3 or 4 times for a week at a time and still probably not see everything), I tend to agree that the sites and the food can get a little repititious--a week is probably a good amount of time to spend if you are open to coming back for more in the future.
twk is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 07:10 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 41,736
WELCOME back. Look forward to the rest of the
report and maybe getting togetherr soon.
cigalechanta is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 07:23 PM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 509
skibumette is offline  
Oct 16th, 2011, 07:58 PM
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 2,522
I've been enjoying your report immensely. Looking forward to more.
ParisAmsterdam is offline  
Oct 17th, 2011, 02:43 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 200
Thanks so much for your thorough yet elegant trip report. You've given lots and lots of truly useful information and observations. I'm considering sending a direct link to your trip report to my own guests, in advance of their visits.
I can agree that that a one-week visit to the area is just about right for most travelers, unless you want to start driving farther and farther away from your base on day trips.
I have had guests who have stayed as long as two weeks, but sometimes these are folks who enjoy taking multiple 3-5 hour hikes on some of our beautiful randonnées (marked walking trails), or who enjoy just getting in their car and "getting lost" as an adventure.
I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit. Sounds like you really did hit all the major (and many minor) atractions!
La_Tour_de_Cause is offline  
Oct 17th, 2011, 03:41 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,951
Larry & Margie, thanks for the trip report. We are planning a trip to the Dordogne in March and thinking of staying in one of the In-Sarlat apartments. Since we will be there out of the season we thought to stay in a major town would make more sense. We have been awaiting your trip report and it has provided us a lot of information for our trip. Thanks.
AGM_Cape_Cod is online now  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:52 PM.