Sunday, August 10, 2008
Sarlat and around
The apartment was very stylish, built into an old building almost in the centre of town. It had a spa and fitness room in the basement which we didn’t use and a circular staircase going up three floors. Luckily we were on the first floor, so only 20 stairs. I felt a bit sorry for the other residents as this had not been explained on the website. A kitchen and a bathroom with a washing machine, such luxury.
Unlike St Emillion which seems to be exclusively for tourists, Sarlat is a real working town with excellent markets, though the old centre still is rather touristy. There are just so many shops selling foie gras and canned duck, or restaurants with foie gras and duck gizzard salads and confit duck on the menu that a body can stand. We ate a lot of duck!
In the end, after a rather bad meal at one restaurant early in the piece, we shopped at the covered market or the real market and bought our own vegetables, raspberries and fraises du bois and duck magrets, smoked magrets, lovely country terrines, gorgeous bread. Yum!
We had several excursions to the countryside. We visited the reproduction of Lascaux caves which is moulded from the original and has all the paintings exactly reproduced using original techniques. I expected it to be second rate but it was truly inspiring and we had a great English speaking guide. We ventured into several “Plus Belles Villages” even though it was wet, including St Armand de Coly which is dominated by a fortress church and remains a formidable bastion.
Another was Domme, high on a ridge with pretty squares and charming side streets when you got away from the tourist shops. Rocamadour, that vertical village with town on one level, church in the rock next up and crowned by the chateau, was also an appealing place to spend a day, even in the wet.
The troglodyte “chateau” of La Maison Forte de Reignac was also an experience, part original cave, part defensive house with only a front to defend. Lots of stairs and levels and views forever across the river and forests.
For a formal chateau it was hard to beat privately owned Hautefort with its exquisitely sculpted gardens and huge domed towers, while the tiny town of St Genies on the way had beautiful mellow stone buildings, a chateau restaurant which we did not visit, and roses covering every wall.
St Genies’ roses
We were fortunate to obtain a booking at La Recreation in the tiny town of Les Arques. This restaurant was documented charmingly in the book “From here you can’t see Paris” by Michael Sanders. The restaurant is housed in the old school house of the village and has old teaching posters interspersed with other pictures on the walls. The E32 menu with choices was delicious. First a creamy, buttery white asparagus soup served in a tureen at each table. I followed with lobster ravioli arranged like a flower with a smooth coral sauce poured over while Nick had St Jaques in katafi pastry with a passionfruit sauce. Given that he has conservative tastes and ate every scrap, I am assuming it was an acceptable combination of flavours. Nick had a steak with wine jus while I enjoyed a boned quail piled onto a galette spread with foie gras, the whole topped with a peppery and grapey jus. A cabecou of goat cheese with honey next, then desserts of choc fondant and a nougat glace with raspberry sauce. Well replete we headed home.
Interior La Recreation, Les Arques
The Sarlat market on Saturdays is big, very big. Because we could not park close to the apartment, we parked in a tree lined square just outside the old town. Came time to leave for our next stay and oops! This huge market had surrounded our car and we couldn’t get out. The signs were small advising of the market, but they were there. We paid a fine and killed time till about 4pm when the crowds had thinned and some market vans had left.
Then the people with market sites nearby helped us to edge the car out and get on our way. Luckily not too far to go to St Cirq-Lapopie and a charming hotel made up of a series of village houses which had been remodelled. We had the tanners shop where he had cured leather in the back and sold it in the front window, now a lovely room with four poster bed, table and chairs and a modern bathroom. Most comfortable, with a lovely breakfast in front of the antique fireplace in the main building.
St Cirq-Lapopie is another vertical village, crowned by a church and the ruins of a chateau, smothered with arches of roses everywhere, pretty little tourist shops and a scattering of restaurants. Not many places to stay at night so it tends to be visited by people on day trips. It is quite some hike up the hill to the village proper along cobbled streets past medieval houses and the ateliers of artists and artisans.
We had a sinful meal at the Gourmet Quercynoise, with variations on foie gras for me (deglazed duck liver, foie gras with flowers of salt and fig conserve, foie gras with truffles and carpaccio of foie gras) and another foie gras dish for Nick. We followed with a magret of duck with jus and truffles and a pork with honey and spices, finishing with pears poached in red wine with poire William sorbet. The decor of the restaurant was very much a country inn and quite delightful. I could kid myself that all the walking up and down hill assisted in working it off!
Interior Gourmet Quercynoise