Our second week in France was something both J & I had wanted to do for a long time.
France is terrific place to walk. The entire country is criss-crossed with walking trails known as the Grand Randonnée(GR), extremely well marked and well thought out trails that allow one to experience the French countryside on a much more personal level than more automated modes of travel.
Many companies will organize tours utilizing the GR system. For our trip we chose Sentiers de France. They booked all our hotels and arranged transport for our luggage during our 8 day trek through the Dordogne. We visited countless pre-historic sites (the cave paintings at Lascaux, Roche St. Christophe, etc.) and medieval castles (Beynac, Castelnaud, etc.) and finished with one of the best markets I have ever seen, in Sarlat le Canéda. If you enjoy walking (we averaged 18 km per day) and want to see France at a very leisurely pace, I highly recommend Sentiers de France.
One of the side benefits to a walking tour is that it affords one the opportunity to eat more. For us, this was a good thing considering the Dordogne is one of the countries leading producers of walnuts, truffles, and …
Foie rules the table in these parts. There are producers in every village, corn in every field and foie appears prominently on every menu. For our tour, we ate foie in various forms at all but two dinners. I never thought I would say this, but I’ve had enough foie for a while.
Breakfasts and dinners were arranged at each hotel. Breakfast was the espresso-croissant-confiture variety; dinners were of the prix-fix menu variety. Out of 6 dinners, there was only one we would have classified as sub-standard, and one produced the best meal of the entire trip.
These are the hotels we stayed at:Hotel Le Lascaux
(Montignac) – Thierry & Agnes Pralong run this hotel and dining room. On our first night, Thierry cooked me the best piece of beef I have ever eaten. The hotel is nice and clean, and the dining room is solid. Hotel Le Moulin de la Beaune
(Les Eyzies de Tayac) – Quiet hotel beside its own little creek. The dining room here is fantastic! Easily the best meal of the trip
, and perhaps our best restaurant experience ever. The requisite foie, duck confit, trout, black truffle risotto ... all excellent, although for the life of me I can't figure out the love for Rocomadour Chevre! Every restaurant we visited on the tour served this as their cheese course. I know there are many other cheeses in the region, why not feature them?.
Service was intuituve, and my french was indulged and politely corrected throughout the evening. Thanks to the sommelier, we also had one of the best bottles of wine we’ve ever enjoyed, a 2003 Château Des Eyssards L' Adagio
from Bergerac. We tried a lot of wines from Bergerac on the walking tour and thoroughly enjoyed them all.Hotel Du Chateaux
(Beynac) – The only thing this hotel did wrong was come after the hotel in Les Eyzies. The dining room was quite busy the night we ate there since all the other dining rooms in town decided to close. They were a little short-staffed but handles the crowds really well.Hotel Plaisance
(Vitrac) – Not much in this little town, but the hotel had the only pool we saw the entire trip. Apparently though, not many folks swim during the last week of September in France. We hardy Canadians were given a few odd looks, but it was warm outside and we’d been walking all day. The dining room was serviceable, but clearly geared towards the seniors’ bus-tour circuit. Having said that, they served me a lovely walnut stuffed trout.Hotel La Couleuvrine
(Sarlat) – The hotel sits right on the edge of the town square, so if you’re there on market days (Wed. & Sat.) be prepared to be woken up by vendors setting up for the day. The dining room here was highly touted in many of the guides we read, but our experience was not that great. In fact, I would classify many of the dishes as poor. I’ll be fair … we were given the least expensive of the 3 set menus. But at 30 Euro it was already more expensive than the excellent meal we had at Les Eyzies.
Outside of the hotel meals, we were on our own. That meant a quick shopping trip in the evening before we hit the trail!
This is what lunch looked like pretty much every day: cheese, charcuterie, fruit, chocolate & wine while seated on our Gortex looking at stunning scenery. The scenery was spectacular, especially as we came into the Dordogne valley. The picture above shows Beynac Castle in the distance. Castles were a pretty common site, and eventually became referred to as AFC’s.
Shop owners everywhere, but especially in the smaller towns, were more than happy to let you know about local specialties. In the Dordogne, this was foie virtually every time, but the freshly baked breads (usually with walnuts) made regular appearances in our back pack.
I show this because after 3 weeks of purchasing cheeses, we found this to be the SMELLIEST cheese in France. You have been warned.