Posts Tagged ‘Dordogne’
For the past two days, the dynamic Tour de France of 2017 has taken cyclists and viewers throughout the revered Dordogne area and the Massif Central, where volcanic landscapes showcase lush forests and are covered with wildflowers each Spring. Today, Le Tour race ended in the latter in the enchanting city of Le Puy-du-Velay.
UNESCO pays homage to the extraordinary blend of cultural heritage and art de vivre within the Dordogne’s well-preserved natural landscape. Abundant natural resources stimulate the healthy economy of the basin that benefits from tourism, agriculture, forestry and industry – all in the remarkable beauty of the Dordogne and its tributaries.
France now boasts 11 such areas of natural heritage, including Mont Ventoux in the Vaucluse and the sprawling Camargue in the South. While UNESCO also designates World Heritage sites, the unique biosphere reserve honor aims to encourage people to revere and maintain the symbiotic relationship and mutual respect between man and nature.
When my husband and I ‘motored’ around the region, we were stunned by the landscapes – stark hills and long rolling landscapes, the cooling river waters and quaint villages. We aren’t able to spend nearly as much time in France as we would like, but I’ll let you in on one of my little vicarious travel secrets.
Google Earth offers me phantom travel, so that I can zoom down to a small road in the Dordogne or elsewhere and travel right along the routes we may one day visit. I also can re-visit Le Mont-Dore and search for that little restaurant we found. It’s simply a fun pastime that can lift my day and offer hope for new adventures.
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Next month a soft celebration will happen in France. Mais oui – this is the only time of year the remarkable Mont d’Or cheese (Golden Peak – also called Vacherin Mont d’Or ) is available. For those who lament the onset of cooler weather, many balance their feelings by embracing autumn with a quick trip to their favorite cheese shop. Alas, they have awaited this treasure for several months – a small AOC “Mont D’or”, carefully belted with spruce bark that is only available from September to April.
Renowned for the luxurious taste and treasured tradition, the cheese enjoys a storied history and even represents a center of contention. While summer hikers thread their way across the Jura mountains, local farmers herd their cows up to the grassy pastures. The summer grazing leads to considerable milk production and – voila! – ultimately to large wheels of Gruyère de Comté. Why? Milk can spoil. Until I read the story, I hadn’t thought about trying to transport that volume of milk down the mountains. The large cheese wheels are the answer.
In the autumn and winter, though, the cows laze in warm barns in the valley, fed on dried mountain grasses. Milk production drops off, and smaller cheeses are created. A handful of producers deliver the raw milk to a select group of affineurs (finishers), who then refine the cheese, according to strict AOC standards. There’s Edy and Jean-Pierre, René and Serge – to name a few of these distinguished cheese artisans. And each will tell you their favorite uses of the cheese – cold or warm (but of course – fondue!), over potatoes, in a Cordon Bleu dish or stuffed in avocados.
Need I even suggest, if you are in France between November and April, you stop by the fromagerie to request Mont d’Or? Bon Appetit!
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One day I want to indulge one of my French travel wishes – to enjoy a long weekend of golf in the countryside. And I believe I’ve discovered just the right place to indulge that wish.
Set in the Dordogne, near Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion, the 16th century Château des Vignes is an appealing blend of classic and contemporary. The 4-star Château is regal, set like a Grand Dame in the undulating landscape of a spectacular 27-hole golf course with special attention to the “natural” golf course design. The beautifully restored centerpiece and resort have been designated one of the “Small Luxury Hotels of the World”.
A little side note is interesting. I know France hasn’t much of a golfing tradition. Perhaps, with so much beauty, culture, history and “je ne sais quoi”, they simply haven’t the time or desire to chase a little white ball around grassy knolls. But there was one notable French golfer who made history more for his loss than Paul Lawrie’s win at the British Open at Carnoustie. In a virtual bow to the theme of the movie “Tin Cup”, in 1999 Frenchman Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18thtee with a healthy 6-stroke lead. To make a long story short, he made one bad decision after another, spending twenty excruciating minutes working his way in and out of the barns and water. Though his triple-bogey took him into the playoff, he would not walk away with the Claret Jug. An interesting story, but let’s get back to our golf escape.
I’m not sure if we would choose one of the classic Chateau rooms or one of the spacious patio wing rooms with our own terrace overlooking the gardens or golf course; but all rooms are beautifully furnished with every comfort. Though there is a beauty and spa centre, I rather think we’ll just play golf, enjoy leisurely lunches and perhaps explore Saint-Emilion and local vineyards, as our sole side trip.
Just the thought of playing golf and relaxing in the countryside is quite enough to satisfy this particular travel wish. And at day’s end, we’ll dine “al fresco” on the scenic terrace overlooking the lake, while the wine steward fetches our favorite rose from the wine cellar. Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?
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Where the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers come together in Charente Maritime, the Gironde estuary is formed – a vast waterway that hugs the shores of the famous Bordeaux vineyards to the west and ultimately flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
We wander westward from our little chambre d’hote (guesthouse room) in the interior, turning here and there as our fancy dictates; until we reach the flatland leading to the river. It is quite low, seemingly near sea level; but we drive as far as we can, until we reach the Gironde River.
Just at this spot, colorful fishing boats are docked in the inlet, and a wedding party celebrates at the only building on the point. The vintage “escape car” was brightly painted and decorated, as is the custom for many weddings in France. We park overlooking acres and acres of rich, green farmland; where lazy, satisfied cows nap near their feeding station.
As we looked around, we spotted the lone fisherman, perched at his “cabane de pêche au carrelet” – his fishing cabin on stilts raised above the river. A little homework later, we learned that peasant fishermen in days of yore used these types of cabins for fishing. Today, they are not commercially viable for fishing, but are nonetheless very popular for local and visiting fishermen. Large, square nets (thus, fishing “au carrelet”) are suspended from a winch into the water; and a net on a long pole is used to scoop the catch, before lowering again. Their efforts can easily earn them a feast, as the Gironde is teeming with sturgeon, white shrimp, shad and lamprey.
All in all, we were well rewarded for our day of exploration. It is a day we will long remember.
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