When discussing which part of France we would like to introduce to our Canadian and American friends, we drilled down to either the Bordeaux Wine country or its little sister the Dordogne valley around Sarlat. Our choice went to the latest for its diversity of landscape and things to explore.
After the usual landing in Paris CDG airport, the journey to arrive in Sarlat, The Perigord Noir's capital includes the high speed train (TGV) to Bordeaux, a change of train at Bordeaux Saint Jean train station, the experience to be a local in taking the Train Express Regional (TER) to finally arrive at the small train station in Sarlat.
Our hotel, located in the fortified part of Sarlat, felt as if we were right back in time, early in the morning, small paths in between houses reached the bakery with the smell of fresh bread to guide us.
On our first day, Sarlat’s Saturday market welcomed us. All the sudden, our senses went crazy walking down the alleys: here was a cheese producer, on the next stand, beautiful fabrics with vibrant colors illuminated our faces. Hearing the merchants attracting potential costumers, promoting their latest ‘saucisson aux herbes’ or educating on how to cut properly a cheese with a specific knife immersed us of what would become normal life in Dordogne: taking the time to search, taste and discover new flavors.
The feeling was even reinforced when we changed accommodation and spent our last 3 days in a ‘ferme auberge’. In order to have this label, the owners need to grow their own garden. At the Ferme-Auberge des Cent Ecus, not only the vegetables come from the garden, but Alain and his wife are goose breeder and have their own business of any goose related products. Each evening we dined in the 15th century big open space restaurant and tasted every part you can cook with goose: foie gras, gésier, confit, cou farcis...
Our days were organized with day bike trips, visiting a castle, a prehistorical cave, stopping by a goat cheese producer, biking through a nut orchard. The Perigord nuts are an AOC, Appelation Origine Contrôlée and dated way back 17,000 years ago and had been an important part of the region economy mainly with the huile de noix, the oil used in so many dishes.
The Dordogne river just down the hill from our Auberge provided various spots to relax, swim or canoe.
Then at the magical hour when the sun spent the whole day warming up the country and started to think of going down, we would push gently on our pedals to bike back to our little piece of heaven, looking forward to the evening menu.
Moving from France twenty some years ago, I became a Frenchman outside of France carrying in his baggages a bit of French culture spiced up by new discoveries.