A sybaritic week in Périgord Noir

Trip Start May 03, 2010
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Trip End May 20, 2010


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private chateau

Flag of France  , Aquitaine,
Saturday, May 8, 2010

  As I am sure I mentioned before - this trip to Dordogne happened to be possible thanks to a wonderful dinner hosted by our friends Sharon and Tim in San Francisco...

 
their company is always delightful, and that particular dinner was no exception - the mood was light and happy, the food was great, the wine was flowing, everyone was having an amazing time...that's when someone suggested on a spur of the moment that maybe one day we should all go to Bordeaux for some wine tasting...

 
 


 

    "one day" came a year later, the original number of people who wanted to go shrank to only four, "Bordeaux" became "Dordogne", but who cares about the details :)

anyway, we agreed upon dates, Sharon found a château to rent in a village by the name of Siorac-en-Périgord, and off we went...
 

 
 

 

 
Siorac-en-Périgord is about 2 or 3 hour drive from Bordeaux...so we agreed to meet in Bordeaux: we would take TGV from Paris, and Tim and Sharon - who were coming from London - would rent a car in the airport and pick us up at the train station...


 
we had a curious encounter at a little café near the train station where we sat down to have a glass of wine while waiting for our friends to arrive...we were talking in Russian between ourselves, and our waitress asked us if we were from Russia...turned out that she - although couldn't speak or understand Russian (or English for that matter) - could still identify the sound of Russian tongue because her husband happened to be Russian...she wasn't busy, so we started talking, one thing lead to another, and she ended up inviting us to meet her family the next day (when she would be off) and gave us her phone number...she was very sweet, and I honestly hoped we would meet, but at that time I didn't realize how far away from Bordeaux we would be staying...hope she forgives us for not calling to meet her and her family...


 



 
anyway, Tim and Sharon picked us up at this little café and after a couple of hours of driving and only one or two missed turns (but hey! who am I to complain - fortified by wine, I was relaxing in the back of the car while they had to navigate unfamiliar roads while driving stick shift!) we finally reached our destination...


 
the house we stayed at called Château Siorac-en-Périgord (http://www.purefrance.com/24046/holiday-chateau.php )
turned out to be amazing although huge for just the four of us...it was four stories tall, but we all ended up staying on the 3rd floor (or - if you don't count the ground floor - on the 2nd floor)... it had its charm though, just like Siorac-en-Périgord  - the little town where it was located...

 

 
Siorac-en-Périgord is one of many quaint little towns in the part of Dordogne known as Périgord Noir...this region stretches through the valleys of two rivers - Dordogne and Vézère and is known for its beauty - ancient castles and medieval towns, dense oak woods, cliffs along the riverbeds, emerald valleys with groves of walnut trees...


 




the region is also known by prehistoric caves - numerous in this area...the world-famous Lascaux cave with its unique cave paintings of Paleolithic period is located here, in Montignac...we did consider visiting Lascaux but decided against it...mainly because the cave is sort of closed to the public...


 




 



 



 
 
  
 

 







 

I am saying "sort of" because - although the real cave is indeed closed, next to it is the exact replica which is open...the replica was created in our days, there is nothing prehistoric about it... I do appreciate all the efforts in preservation, but to me - a replica is a replica...after all, if you want to see, let's say, the Eiffel Tower you don't go to Vegas to look at its replica...
anyway, we didn't go to Lascaux...we went to some other cave (the real one) - more like an obligatory tour than real desire to explore prehistoric caves...



 
 while in Dordogne we were into exploring other things...mainly food and wine.



 
 
  



 
I know, I know, it probably doesn't sound right - to put food and wine and our demanding palates above history and nature, but what can I say - we are only human...and we were in Dordogne, the area noted for its cuisine, especially fois gras...and the best truffles in the world - black truffles or black Périgord truffles - grow in the oak woods here...and the local markets - feast for the senses...


 

 


 

fois gras though deserves a special mentioning...it means "fat liver", and that's what it is...but it tastes nothing like regular liver...to get this effect ducks and geese are force-fed corn - the technique called "gavage"...in France fois gras is considered a part of cultural and gastronomical heritage...in some other countries force-feeding the animals is considered illegal, although this technique has been in use at least since the ancient Egypt...



 
I had fois gras before, but mostly in the form of mousse and pâté, not as a whole fresh block of it..when it's raw- fois gras is creamy in color unlike regular liver that is reddish-brownish ...I did taste it raw, and it's as delicious as when it's cooked (you shouldn't overcook it! but thanks to Sharon's cooking skills - it was just a perfection)...it has this rich, mild, velvety taste that slowly melts in your mouth...it's hard to describe - one has to taste it...



 











 
and when fois gras is accompanied by a good sautern - it's just divine (we would've been deprived of experiencing this combination had it not been for Tim's wine-pairing skills)...the sweetness of sautern complements the flavor of fois gras so well...it was all sooo delicious that we all couldn't help but moan in delight every time we had it for dinner...if somebody were to walk under the open windows of our dining room - I don't think he would've believed that all we were doing was just eating :)

 






 

yes, it was that kind of vacation - eating good food, drinking good wine, sleeping long hours (well, I think that one only applied to us - Sharon and Tim were always up early), visiting local restaurants and markets for more food, taking leisurely trips to nearby towns and villages, soaking in the beauty of Dordogne countryside (you do need a car there because the beauty of Dordogne IS in its countryside)...



 
 

 

 


 





 
 
countryside and the little towns and villages...Beynac with its ancient fortress on a limestone cliff high above, picturesque Limeuil at the junction of two rivers - Dordogne and Vézère, Sarlat with its ancient buildings, charming courtyards and outside cafés, Perigueux - the capital of Dordogne and one of the oldest settlements in France, Les Eyzies with lots of prehistoric caves high up in the cliffs around the village...Montignac...Trémolat...Le Bugue...Bergerac...just to name a few...


 
   




 


 
 
when we were in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle we went to Château des Milandes where Josephine Baker used to live on and off for several decades...I have always been intrigued by Josephine Baker - not just her singer/entertainer/actress role, but her personality and the amazing story of her life...she was much more popular in France than in her native USA, and she was very devoted to her adopted country...


 
 
the photography was not permitted inside the château, so I can't show you the pictures of her gorgeous theater costumes including the famous "banana belt" worn by her during performances in "La Folie du jour" in 1927-1928...it was fun to be there, so I am grateful that the current owners of the château - the family of Henry de Labarre - allow this...

 


 
we also watched a birds of prey show...the guy who showed the birds even came to Sharon and me and allowed us to use his leather glove so that the birds could land on our hands...I don't like birds (except owls and penguins), but it was fun nevertheless...

 






 

the day before our departure we happened to have dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Trémolat...I think I was the only one who was absolutely sure that we would get a table without a prior reservation and that they would let our men there without dinner jackets...but we did get in, and even if they disapproved of our somewhat casual clothes they never said a word...I won't bore (or should I say - excite?) you with gastronomic details of this dinner, but I am sure it's the best dinner I've ever had in my life...and believe me - I had more than a few great dinners (and even carry a permanent reminder of them on my hips! :)


 
by the way - I just discovered that there is a restaurant in Bethesda, MD in the USA that was inspired by the very same restaurant we went to and by the famous old inn - Le Vieux Logis - where it is located ...who would've thought!
If you can't make it to the one in Dordogne - maybe you still will be able to stop by the one in Bethesda? - here is the link:
http://www.levieuxlogisrestaurant.com/







 

unfortunately our little vacation in Dordogne came to an end...Tim and Sharon planned to return to London before heading home, and we had a few days in Paris ahead of us...

 
we said our goodbyes at the train station in Bordeaux...they were great company, and we had wonderful time together...


 
we thought that our train ride to Paris would be completely hassle-free even though we didn't buy train tickets ahead of time...but after all, we were not on some small station in the middle of nowhere, we were in a big city, so - what could be easier?... TGV is direct from here, it leaves for Paris frequently, and in about 3 hours - you are there!...






 
but with our luck they happened to have some urgent rail repairs that day, and there were no direct trains in the direction of Paris, not from Bordeaux...they suggested we take a 1-hour long bus ride to the city of Libourn and catch our train from there...it wouldn't be a problem except this connection was so tight - it would barely leave us time to catch the train, and the next available train would be in the morning...


 
this unexpected twist brought us back to reality from our state of mellow semi-slumber induced by a lazy week of complete leisure...




 
we did make that connection though and by midnight were in our hotel in Paris...a few more days in Paris! ...stay tuned :)
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