Sunday 19th October.
We arrived in Sarlat yesterday, market day, to find the Aire de Camping Car full, as were all the nearby car parks and just about every available off road parking spot. We managed to squeeze in next to the coach park and as Paul and Chris were a little delayed we wandered off down into the old town to check out the market for a couple of hours. There were lots of local delicacies we could have bought but there's only so much food you can fit into a small Motorhome so we settled for some smoked duck breast, a bottle of (expensive) wine, a jar of local honey and some fresh fruit and veg. The multitude of stalls prevented us seeing how beautiful the town and its buildings are. Constructed from a local honey coloured stone, we appreciated the town better today when we came down and explored further. I don't think we've been to another town with such well preserved medieval architecture and where the new buildings blend in so well with the old
Market day in Sarlat.
Sarlat from the Cathedral.
When Paul and Chris arrived it was great to see our travelling companions again. By the time they arrived the market was closing, the car parks quickly emptied and we managed to find a couple of adjacent spaces. We caught up over a coffee and then they went down to town while we had a little siesta. Showered and changed we all set off back down to town and had a lovely meal; mind, if you don't like duck or fois gras you're going to struggle around here. Fortunately we were all happy with the menu and dined outside in a pretty courtyard on a lovely warm evening.
Today we explored the town and the Sunday antique market, visited the light and airy Cathedral and were able to appreciate the architecture and the maze of narrow streets and alleyways. Apparently this town is a favourite location with film directors and it's easy to see why.
Monday 20th October.
We bade farewell to Paul and Chris this morning after a great weekend, they're a lovely couple and we were sad to see them go. They're heading back to the UK while we are heading further south. We set off today for Bergerac along a pretty road driving most of the way next to the Dordogne river until we came to another diversion. Fearing the worst we followed the signs, fully expecting them to vanish after a few miles, but they did their job and in fact the diversion was a bonus. We were unable to fill up with water this morning as the machine in Sarlat was broken but the diversion took us through a small village with a motorhome service point where we were able to top up the tank. The new route also took us through the small village of Issigeac where we stopped for a picnic beside the river Banege in warm sunshine. When we reached Bergerac we slotted in to the last couple of parking spots next to the river and spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around the old town finding a reference or statue to Cyrano around every corner. We visited St James church where we found our first statue to Saint Philomena!! Onwards to a vineyard a few kilometres north of the town where we were directed to a nice grassy spot overlooking the vines. We asked when we could taste the wines and were told to relax, take a walk through the vineyard and surrounding forest and call at the house when we were ready. We took a walk, put some chicken in the oven and wandered over to the house. Now, usually when we've stopped on vineyards the shop or cave has been opened at specific times, the wine is tasted, rather formally, our purchase is made and that's that. Tonight we sat on the house porch of the folk who own the vineyard while they explained their lifestyle and philosophy to us. They own six hectares and produce about 15,000 bottles of wine per year, some Rose, some sweet white but mostly red, all Cabernet Sauvignon and all organically produced. Harvesting this year started on the 20th September, took ten days and required the help of a further 10/12 people per day, all the bunches of grapes cut and harvested by hand. Olivier and Elisabeth have three children between ten and sixteen years, they all go to different schools and have to be driven there and back to Bergerac. The vineyard doesn't produce enough for them to live on and so Olivier also teaches at the local Agricultural College. Were they twenty kilometres or so further west in the St Emilion area they could live quite comfortably from one hectare of vines. After and hour or so we remembered the chicken! Phil ran back to the van, came back and reported that it was almost caramelised! As it wasn't completely burnt we had time for yet another glass of wine with our hosts. The wine was delicious and we settled for a couple of bottles of Rose and a few bottles of the 2010 Red. Another lovely evening with nice folk, if you're ever in the area call in and buy a bottle or two from Chateau du Tuquet.
Tomorrow we set of for Saint Jean de Blaignac on the banks of the Dordogne in the Gironde, stopping overnight at yet another vineyard ten kilometres south of St Emilion, I bet we'll be paying a euro or two more for our wine tomorrow night.
The carved wooden altarpiece in the church of St James.
Tuesday 21st October.
We woke this morning to a grey, overcast day and a little rain, a disappointment after the last few warm sunny days but as we drove off the cloud broke up and the sun came out, albeit intermittently. We drove to Saint-Jean-de-Blaignac (no diversions today) and arrived at Chateau de Bonhoste passing vineyards all the way as we entered the Gironde. What a difference to yesterday's vineyard; here they have 66 hectares of vines, tenfold the area under cultivation at the vineyard we were at yesterday. We arrived at lunchtime with everything closed so early afternoon we called into the offices to introduce ourselves. Before there was even a suggestion that we might buy some wine we were shown the showers and toilets, the electricity point and given the WiFi code. We were impressed to say the least. Obviously we tasted the wines produced here and now have some Bordeaux to join the Bergerac in our "cellar". We didn't spend a fortune here, we bought a total of six bottles, we were offered a Cremant de Bordeaux to taste, so a new bottle was opened and as we left the remainder, very nearly a full bottle, was given to us as a gift so that's this evening's aperitif sorted.
Tomorrow we head south toward the foothills of the Pyrenees before turning right toward the northern Spanish coast at San Sebastián.