There was one reason why we came to Les Eyzies. It was to visit Font de Gaume, the only site in France with "polychrome" (colored) prehistoric cave paintings still open to the public. The catch was, there's no advance tickets sales, you need to show up and wait in line and purchase tickets for one of the "tours". The ticket office opens at 0930, we got there at 7am and there were already people in line for one of the 52 tickets available on this day! Carbon Dioxide is starting to damage the 15,000 year old paintings of 230 animals, so access is limited. We could have gone to Lascaux and visited the Lascaux II, which is a replica of the original, now closed to the public because of carbon dioxide damage....but seeing the real thing was on the Missus' bucket list, so here we were. One of the reasons we stayed where we did was that it was a short 2 kilometer walk up the street.
Folks were sitting around chatting, checking their smartphones, staring off into space, or like me, checking out this very social little guy, who seemed totally unafraid of humans.
Like clockwork, the place opened at 0930. We were about number 14-15 in line. The only English tour of the day was at 10am and we easily got tickets to it! Since it would be starting fairly soon we just hung around for 15 minutes and off we went up the trail.
Of course photos aren't allowed, but let me just say, this well worth 5 times the 7.5 Euro ticket price....that's right, it seems they really care for this place and aren't gouging you. Much like the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, this place left us amazed and truly touched. The artwork is quite amazing, one of the particular paintings, which looked somewhat abstract and 3-d had our guide tell us, "see, even then, they had a Picasso!" And then there was the famous "Reindeer Kissing" painting. This is truly a worthwhile place to visit. I'm not sure how much longer it will be open to the public, but it is truly a treasure.
We left on a high, we decided to walk back into town and grab some lunch. But first, the walk......Les Eyzies is in essence a one street village, near the north end of that walk is the Hotel Cro-Magnon.
This hotel was built in 1868, basically on the site where the first Cro-Magnon skeleton was unearthed. The owner of the hotel was Monsieur Magnon and it was on his land the remains were found. Thus the name, Cro-Magnon....which in simple terms means, "Mr Magnon's Hole".....you gotta love that! Just think, all those guys you called Cro-Magnon.....you were calling them "Mr Magnon's hole......" Which might have been appropriate!
Turning back, it was time to decide on lunch. We were kind of tired...sleeping on what felt like plastic sheeting didn't translate into a good night's sleep and the Missus really enjoyed the salad She had the night before, so Pizzeria La Milanaise just seemed like the easy choice.
So the Missus got Her salad. Meanwhile, I decided to go just go for it and got the Pizza de Campagnade (14,3 €/about $16US), mainly because it was topped with...yes, this is the Dordogne...Foie Gras. My curiosity had gotten the better of me it seems...or maybe not as this was pretty good.
It was a nice thin crust, the edges charred, but not bitter. It was merely topped with foie gras after the pizza baking process, which answered my questions of how foie gras would survive on a pizza. Under that cheese was a nice amount of "magret fume" smoked duck breast which was quite good; the "sauce" was persillade, basically a parsley-herb-garlic-oil-vinegar mixture that really resembled pesto in this case. It was quite rich....as in after the salad, we had one-third of the pizza and the foie gras and took the rest to go. So here's the thing, sixteen bucks here in the Dordogne gets you smoked duck pizza topped with foie gras........
Pizzeria La Milanaise 41 Avenue de la Préhistoire Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, France
We walked back to our unit, stopping again at the win shop at the end of the street....this time we noticed a photo of the owner; the guy running the register, who looked a bit less dapper than this photo......his "Bond....James Bond" picture.
Getting back to the apartment, it was a bit too early for a nap, so we got into the car and decided to take a drive around the countryside. We came across a village named Campagne.
The Chateau and park was closed, but it was a charming little stop. Wikipedia says the population of this town is 345.
Which of course makes one wonder what life here is like......
Later that evening, while we finished the remnants of the pizza along with a nice bottle of wine, I noticed some movement on the hillside. There were some deer grazing. In some sense it looked so peaceful......in harmony with the surroundings. Perhaps this was what the beautiful Dordogne does to you.....
This town is where the first Cro-Magnon was found in 1868. There's an interesting story about how these early humans came to be called "Cro-Magnon". I'll go over that at a later time.
We took a walk through the town....it is basically one street, before deciding what to do. We got in the car and drove to the Pôle International de la Préhistoire, which is basically a welcome/introduction center, which has exhibits, interactive activities, and other resources for the area. There are maps and we noticed that the staff here really engage the visitors.
The building is quite sleek and modern; you cross a bridge over the Beune River and enter the building.
We really enjoyed the exhibits.
By the time we finished up here, it was time to check in. Or so we thought. We arrived at the place we were staying and found the offices closed! There was no one around. After searching around a bit, a staff member arrived at the office to pick something up. Apparently the offices are closed on Sunday. And no one had informed us. Luckily, the nice young lady went to a lock box and got us our key. We were supposed to have been sent an email with instructions.....we never received one. When I spoke to the front desk person about this the next day, the response I got was a shrug and "well, perhaps we forgot". Perhaps we forgot? I got the feeling that this might be a normal occurrence.
Anyway, it was time for an early dinner. On our early walk through town we noticed one place that seemed unusually busy.
Strangely, it was a "pizza" shop. Perhaps it was the location, but still, we were intrigued. So we decided to have dinner here.
Being rather early, the place was empty except for one other table, but by the time we left the place had filled up. There were some interesting, not-quite-my-neighborhood-pizza-joint items on the menu.
We started with the Charcuterie Plate (9,8€), which was quite generic, and really not worth the price.
The Missus did really well ordering the Salade Perigourdine (14,9€). The salad was huge and topped with Magret seche (duck breast), Gesiers (duck gizzards which we enjoyed on a previous salad), and yes, Foie Gras.
This was a decent salad; not haute cuisine, but very refreshing, delicious, and well worth the price (about 16.75 US). The foie gras was decent and this is almost large enough for two.
I went with the Duck Confit, which had obviously been reheated.
This was way too much food for us; so we save the duck and had it the next day. It was fine, but nothing special. We did enjoy the potatoes.
Service was fine, the prices were right, and the Missus loved Her salad.
Pizzeria La Milanaise 41 Avenue de la Préhistoire Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, France
We had a nice walk back to the apartments and dropped by a wine shop along the way.
So our residence was kind of strange, there were so many rules for cleaning, and all of that. And yet, there were no paper towels, no soap, no dishwashing liquid, and half a roll of toilet paper. The worse thing was the bed which had a plastic liner and was hard as rock. I guess this place is fine for long term stays, you'd have to go shopping and get everything yourself whether you stay was for a couple of days or couple of weeks.
But on the bright side.....the bottle of wine was not half bad......
After a wonderful stay in Sarlat, we were heading out the next morning. We loved staying in the wonderful B&B we had booked....well...except for a couple of the paintings......which strangely kind of spooked me in some strange way.
But, here we were ready to head out for the next leg of our trip in the in the "Le Gauche.....La Droite....Sortie....mobile"
If there was any doubt as to the beauty of this part of France, all you need to do is to take short pause at the Limeuil Bridge. On a day like this; with the sun shining, the water sparkling...can you see the folks fishing?
We drove along, our objective the hill town of Domme. I'd read that some of the best views of the Dordogne Valley were to be had here. Which I believe are true.
Most folks might be too young, but my Mom used to play this old album once in a while.....
"On a clear day Rise and look around you And you see who you are On a clear day How it will astound you"
Many of the canoe trips on the Dordogne River start here.
It's quite an amazing drive. We stopped at a little shop by the side of the road and bought some duck rillette and foie gras for Sammy....yes, for Sammy. And from the parking lot you had a dramatic view of Chateau de Castelnaud.
A few kilometers down the road from La Roque is the stunning and yet imposing village of Beynac-et-Cazenac.
Walking from the waters edge, up the charming narrow, winding, cobbled streets, it seems like you've just stepped onto a movie set.
You should park in the lots at the bottom of the hill, or you'll risk the fate of this automobile, manned by a British couple, who had gotten to the point of no return and seemed trapped on in of the narrow lanes. The poor guy seemed like he was going to have a coronary, while the woman was quite amused. They managed to get the attention of one of the locals, who kindly jumped into the car and maneuvered it down the street. I told her, "you've sure got a story to tell when you get home, don't you?" And the woman cracked up and nodded.
The rest of the walk uphill was uneventful and we just took in our surroundings. Near the top there are cafes and restaurants. You can visit the Chateau, and yes, there's even a parking lot....apparently there's an easy way up the hill.
We just walked to the look-out and took in the view. Yet another fantastic sight.
The best shots of the Chateau are taken from right above the cemetery.
The Chateau was once seized by Richard the Lionheart who used it as his base of operations in the area. You can read a nice history of the structure here.
Our destination for the day was Les Eyzies de Tayac so we passed through the village of Saint Cyprien and the road was closed. It was market day, so we decided to stop and enjoy.
There were many temptations.
But in the end, we just went with some fromage.....
And a strong double espresso.....
We got out of town via a round about way and actually got to Les Eyzies quite early........
There wasn't much going on so we decided to just head up north, to Perigueux, the Prefecture, administrative "capitol" of the area. We parked in one of the lots alongside the river of this old Roman town and paid a visit to the TI and picked up a walking tour map, which started at the Mataguerre Tower right across the street.
There were once 28 towers forming the walls that protected the district of Puy Saint Front. Built in the 15th Century, this is the last one standing.
The walking tour took us up and down winding alleyways, past historic buildings like the Maison des Dames de la Foi. The façade dates back to the 12th century. In the 17th century, the structure was turned into a convent.
We found the streets to be eerily quiet. I guess Sunday is a very slow day in Perigueux.
Round the corners you'd find little alleyways which seemed to be protected by a metal gate....which was open.
Exiting the alleyway, we found ourselves in a square....which was very peaceful and sedate.
We were getting a bit hungry, so we found one of the few shops open, a bakery, and got espresso, water, a croissant....
And had a bit of our cheese.......
Funny thing about France....I could just about live on croissants, baguettes, cheese, charcuterie, and wine.
We finished things up by visiting the rather imposing Cathedrale Saint Front (Perigueux Cathedral). A UNESCO World Heritage Site with quite a long history. This area has been used as a place of worship since the 6th century.
The interior space is quite large and one of the most noted features is the Baroque altarpiece carved from oak and walnut.
The Bell Tower soars 200 feet over Perigueux.
We were starting to get a bit tired. It was time to head back to Les Eyzies de Tayac to check-in and freshen up....and maybe meet a Cro-Magnon or two.....
While researching our trip it became obvious that we'd need a car to make the most of our trips in and around the Dordogne River Valley. Since this wasn't some crazy big city I decided to rent a car for a couple of days.
I'd made arrangements for a rental to be picked at the local Europcar office in Sarlat. The process was painless, the folks there quite friendly. As I mentioned when I drove around Crete, almost every car I've seen is a "stick". So I'm glad to have learned to drive in my friend's 70 'Cuda, which had probably the hardest clutch I've ever had to use. When on these trips, I think it best to get the smallest, easiest to hande, gas efficient, car you can get. We had a small Peugeot. I also requested a GPS, which was provided. There was one little glitch.....it was in French! So what better way to learn a few words in French, than with your GPS commanding you, "Le Gauche.....La Droite....Sortie...." It was almost like a song...."le gauche, la droite, sortie....le gauche, la droite, sortie". Basically, to the left, to the right, exit. But of course it sounds much better in French....repeat after me; "le gauche, la droite, sortie....."
One other thing that threw me off a bit were all the roundabouts....where you gotta know when it's your turn and then make that quick decision of which exit (Sortie) is yours. There were a few times where we took a lap or two in a roundabout.
As a whole folks were pretty relaxed out here; there's no freeway, so no one is blasting it down the road. Once I saw an ambulance approach from the back, lights flashing. I just crept over the right. The guys actually smiled and waved at us as they passed!
The payoff was being able to see some of the beautiful countryside. It was like being part of an ever moving painting at times.
I was just trying to get used to driving in the area, so we had no particular place in mind and ended up at this impressive, yet haunting looking church.
Looking at our map we had arrived at Cadouin Abbey, founded in 1115, the church was consecrated in 1154.
The Missus, while reading the Michelin Green Guide found that in 1934 two scholars found that the embroidered bands mentioned an emir and caliph who rules Egypt in the 11th and 12th century. Man, you can't make this kind of stuff up, can you? It kind of looks like the figure to the right has his finger in the air saying, "but wait a minute!!!!"
There was just so much to see, like this quaint little church. This town wasn't even on our map. The GPS said it was Saint-Avit-Rivière. The Wikipedia page says the "Commune" has a population of 80.
The façade of this church was quite charming.
A few minutes later we passed through a fairy tale like forest; the trees swaying gently above us.
And ended up outside the walls of a town named Monpazier, a well known "Bastide" (fortified) town. The town was founded in 1284 by Edward I of England, basically to command and control the roads and commerce in the area. The Porte Saint Jacques was our entrance to this historic town.
We took a different route back to Sarlat; but it was no less beautiful.
The biggest challenge with the car for me wasn't the driving, it was finding some parking once we got back to Sarlat. I finally found a spot 5 blocks away from where we were staying.
We walked on over to the restaurant the fellow in the TI recommended to us, by the name of Criquettamu's. It was a nice place, with small out door seating along the alleyway and a decent sized dining room.
It was a good thing we had made reservations; the place filled up quickly. The menu was "interesting" as it featured some truly French styled dishes, but also some rather strange "International" dishes. The couples on the tables on both sides of us; who spoke French, both ordered "sushi".....which looked quite bad. It really made me worried about what we had ordered. I needed some wine to calm me down.
This was quite a full bodied wine, with some tannic tones, a nice stone fruit flavor.
When our starter arrived, my doubts about this place increased a bit more. The trilogy of foie gras mi cuit was a bit of a disappointment.
All three were quite dry, almost crumbly. The version poached in red wine tasted a bit off; the best of the lot was the standard foie gras, which was still much too dry for my taste and lacking in flavor. The version stuffed with figs had a strong livery flavor. By far the most disappointing foie gras we had the entire trip.
Just as I ready to write this place off, my Duck Breast with Seared Foie Gras and Morel Mushroom Sauce arrived.
I don't even remember the potatoes, nor the salad; but that nice, rare duck breast, and melt in your mouth, rich foie gras, topped with a sauce with the earth nutty morels, brought together with a touch of sweetness, this was very nice. The portion size was on the large size and at 24€ (about $28 at the time), this was a bargain.
The Missus's dish was good, though not spectacular. Instead of the usual Duck Confit; She went with the Goose Confit (18€).
While I thought the skin of the goose could have been a bit more crisp; man was this rich and fatty. The texture of the meat was so velvety and rich, it basically melted in your mouth. I actually thought the flavor was milder than duck.
Overall, we thought the service, while on the slow side was quite nice. We chuckled at the presentation of the food as it looked a bit dated. We enjoyed our entrees, but that foie gras was probably the least favorite version(s) we had on our trip.
Criquettamu's 5 rue Armes Sarlat-la-Caneda, France
After dinner, we took a final lap around Sarlat-la-Caneda. Come morning we'd be moving on.
The town just seemed to have so much charm and character; we were sorry to be leaving the next morning. But we had a tight schedule to keep.
Hope you're having a great Saturday. I thought I'd share what our Saturday morning was like in Sarlat. It started with a huge breakfast at our B&B.
Man, there's no way we'd be able to have lunch after this!
We left the B&B and headed up Avenue Thiers, which, after crossing a pedestrian only stretch, became the main street of the town; Rue de la République. It was still a bit early at 8am; the vendors usually open at about 830. Still, it was a nice and relaxing stroll up the street.
The Missus actually bought a little wooden nut cracker in the shape of a mushroom. She loved the walnuts in Dordogne and would crack them one-by-one savoring each bite!
The market actually takes up the entire length of the street and then stretches into Place de la Liberte and up side streets.
I can see why this market is also popular with the local residents; you can get it all here.
By 9am, things had picked up significantly.
And the crowds kept on growing.
I took time to stop and smell the fromage!
Behind the huge doors of the former Church of Saint Marie resides another covered market and a panoramic elevator which wasn't in service yet when we arrived. Plus, there were too large a crowd here anyway.
We took our time, exploring the side streets and alleyways; which looked totally different from the previous day.
You could make out a literal buzz in the air! It was only 10am and we needed a break. So, using a technique we learned in Rome, we sought out the Cathedral of St Sacerdos also known as Sarlat Cathedral, to escape the crowds and noise.
The TI is steps away from the Cathedral, so we decided to take a look and grab a map.
This is where I really started getting an understanding of folks in, at least this area of France. We stood in line and the very pleasant young man got us a map. As we were turning to leave, I happened to ask the young man for a dinner recommendation; a place he enjoys. He smiled and opened another map and started going over his favorite spots in town, cheerfully pointing them out. I looked at the line forming behind me with some concern. He smiled at us and said; "do not worry, I take my time with you, and all our customers." I got it! We'd have this experience a couple of times more during our trip. Ask a question, and many times, the folks in France will want to give you the most perfect, complete answer. The young man actually called one of the places to make dinner reservations for us, but there was no answer. He then marked the way to the place so we could walk over at our leisure and make reservations. Coming back to the states, it seemed that we're in too much of a rush and when someone has a question we'll often give, not the best answer, but the easiest and the shortest.
By now, things were going full tilt.
Remember the bronze statue of a boy sitting named "Le Badaud", the Onlooker, that I mentioned in my previous post? I was wondering what he was looking at. Well, I'm pretty sure it's the crowds on market day (see above photo).
It was just past 11 now and we were feeling a bit peckish. We decided to grab some cheese, a baguette, and find the quiet place to eat.
There was one fromage stand that was doing great business, so I decided to get into the queue and pick up some cheese for us.
After getting our cheese and bread, we decided to walk on over to the restaurant the fellow in the TI recommended to us and make dinner reservations which was located in the tiny side streets west of Rue de la République. Things were a lot quieter here. As we left, I mentioned that there was a brewery nearby; located one street above République.
The place was quite easy to find; just follow the signs.
And you'll literally walk into; well; for lack of a better phrase, a medieval nano-brewery.
I was told that they make all of their beer on premises! No bright stainless steel kettles here.
What the heck; we bought a bottle of the Blonde. She got us a bottle without a label and charged us less.....
Bière Artisanale de Sarlat 2 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau Sarlat-la-Caneda, France
We skirted the crowds by heading south, around the market areas, finding the Jardin Public, above the busy parking lots, this was a nice, quiet little oasis.
We had our baguette and cheese; one a typical, light Cabécou, the other two, aged, one of them with a fine coat of ash and mold. Both were nice a creamy; though not too pungent. Quite easy to eat.
We wrapped what we had left and saved it for later.
We took a 'roundabout way back to the room. Taking time to enjoy the architecture.
And to meet some of "the locals".
We stopped by our room, freshened up and headed back out. It was time to pick up our car rental. Now things were going to get interesting.......
At one point in time, I had thought of ending our vacation France in Bordeaux. But one item on the Missus's Bucket list was a visit to the Lascaux Cave, so I went ahead and did a bit of research, and found that the Dordogne region was full of medieval cities, beautiful vistas, and villages cut into the cliffs and crags. When I read that most important food products of the region are walnuts, truffle, duck (!), goose (!!), and foie gras....stop right there, that's enough....we were going for sure. Plus, I'd read that the Saturday Market Day was something not to be missed. And to make things even sweeter, the Missus didn't seem to keen on Lascaux II, a replica of the original cave which has been closed to the public, so I found the only site in France with polychrome cave paintings that is still open to the public!
Getting to Sarlat from Bordeaux was a snap. It was a half mile walk downhill from the train station to our accommodation, a wonderful little B&B named Chambres d'Hôtes L'Unique. The place is run by a very charming and warm couple; the wife speaks only French and Spanish, and the husband some English. I believe there are only two spacious and charming rooms. We enjoy our privacy so staying at B&B's sometimes cramps our style, but this place was wonderful. We were given a key to the front entrance and could come and go as we please.
We got a nice recommendation for dinner and the breakfast (in a future post) was amazing!
Chambres d'hôtes l'Unique 20 Avenue Thiers Sarlat-la-Canéda, France
Another plus was that the place was a few blocks from the center of Sarlat, but still far enough from the hustle and bustle (all relative of course), which we'd appreciate the next day.
To say that Sarlat charming is an understatement; with lovely cobblestone streets, meandering alleys, the Gothic and Renaissance stylings of the buildings, there's the feeling that you're breathing in the rarefied air of a medieval market town.
One that's filled with and endless assortment of Foie Gras Shops......
Which are everywhere. Find a picturesque square; this one is Place de la Liberte, and you'll know why Sarlat has been used as the backdrop for so many movies; like Ever After; The Musketeer, Timeline, Chocolat, and the Duellists.
And without a doubt you will run into another Foie Gras shop.
Folks, this sign is no joke.
I Googled "how many foie gras shops in Sarlat" and I guess even the Internet didn't want to hazard a guess.
Look close enough and you'll start to notice interesting pieces of public art; like this bronze statue of a boy sitting above Place de la Liberte, named "Le Badaud", the Onlooker. We'd find out just what he was looking at the next day; during the Saturday Market.
We just kind of wandered around with no objective in sight; other than to make dinner reservations at a place recommended by the owner of the B&B. That was done quickly; which left us to our own devices; roaming the quiet alleyways of Sarlat.
It was a tranquil Friday afternoon. It seems that most of the day-trippers had headed back to their accommodations, resting up for the Saturday swarm. Every so often you'll come something like this medieval courtyard; Cour des Fontaines, with, of course a fountain, a remnant of an Abbey that was located on this site in the 14th century.
Or the Lanternes des morts (Lantern of the Dead). In 1147 St Bernard blessed the bread in Sarlat, an event called the "the miracle of the healing loaves" when the ill and infirm ate the bread and were healed. Though I've heard a couple of other stories about this distinct and very interesting structure which is one of the oldest in Sarlat.
They say "water is life" and this fountain, which flowed out of a tiny grotto was built in the 12th century, and for centuries the La fontaine Sainte-Marie was the main water source for Sarlat.
You can see that the Virgin Mary is still standing guard, protecting the water.
And then there's this square.
Named "Place de Oies", yep you guessed it, "Square of the Geese". Geese are actually traded here on market days between November thru March.
We'd worked up an appetite walking around, so it was time to head to dinner. We had walked over to Bistrot l’Adresse earlier and made reservations for dinner. Lucky thing too as the place filled up quite quickly.
Our Server was very nice, even though she was slammed, always had a smile for us. We had the middle table on the porch, which we really enjoyed as it was quite a lovely day. There were two combinations of a three course prix fixe dinner menu to choose from; so we selected one of each.
As for wine, we couldn't decide on a white or a red; so we got both. The white to start out with the first course and a red to follow. Since the place was super busy and popular, even with locals it seemed, we'd just relax and have a nice leisurely dinner, something that seems to be lost here in the States.
We are of course Asian, so we basically shared everything; passing plates back and forth, and had a great time.
After seeing all those foie gras signs, you know what we had to start with right? The foie gras mi cuit of course!
Along with the date chutney, this was totally delici-yoso! I mean really good; fairly light yet rich, amazing texture. Yes, I do call it Basque Butter as it seemed like the folks in Basque country treat it as a birthright. But perhaps I need to find some other name for this.....like "Dordogne Delight"?
Loved the simple, yet refreshing Salade de Gesiers de Canard Magret Fume.
Basically, a wonderful green salad topped with amazingly tender duck gizzards (Gesiers de Canard ) and tasty cured duck breast (Magret Fume). I could eat this everyday.
Loved the Magret de Canard which was served wrapped in a crepe/filo dough. Really moist, great flavors from all the herbs.
The potatoes; Pommes Sarladaises; "Sarlat Potatoes", were quite rich and delicious. From what I've read; this classic rendition of potatoes is made with only Goose Fat, Garlic, salt, and Pepper. What more do you really need?
The Tarte de Confit de Canard; which is actually in the back of this photo was good, but it really didn't grab us like the other entrée.
As for desserts....well, I'm not much of a dessert guy...unless one of them is cheese!
A nice, local Cabécou, mild, milky, with a nice finish.
The Missus just loved the Pistachio Ice Cream as it wasn't too sweet.
The prices weren't too bad at 22 Euros per person, the Chateau de la Jaubertie was 19 Euros, while the Clos Montalbanie was 20. Overall, this might have been our favorite meal while in Dordogne.
Bistrot l’Adresse 8 Rue du 8 Mai 1945 Sarlat-la-Caneda, France
We left fat and happy and took our time walking back to our room.
As darkness fell, the city, the only one lit by gas lamps in France; seems quite romantic under the warm glow.
This is what I'd always thought France would be like.