France 2005: Belvès

Sunday, 24 April 2005

After a longish day+, we are safely ensconsed at the delightful Hôtel Clément V in Belvès.

We left Toronto on Saturday evening on an Air France flight to Paris, along with the 100 or so members of the Kirov Orchestra who were on their way home to St. Petersburg after a one-month tour of North America. (This included a well-reviewed concert in Toronto on Friday night which we read about while on board with them!). One of the most interesting aspects of travelling with the orchestra was that all the cellos got their own seats. Imagine eight or so cello cases strapped into their own airline seats – every one with a window.

From Paris we changed planes and flew on to Bordeaux where we picked up our rental car and drove to Belvès, a journey of just under 3 hours. Much of the journey covered some amazing wine country – vineyards everywhere. The weather was quite nice (we give it a 2.0 on the Knowmark Weather Scale today) – it varied from bright sunshine to torrential downpour and several variations in between.

After a nap and a brief orientation walk around Belvès, we decided to eat at our hotel and had a delicious light supper of salmon quiche and a green bean/tomato salad all washed down with a tasty 2002 Bosredon (Bergerac). This wonderful meal was prepared and served by our gracious host Anne who has already been of great assistance.

Monday, 25 April 2005

Our first complete day in Belvès found us with a full (but, limited) schedule. Café just around the corner from our hotel was followed by wonderful pastries (apple and apricot) from the little boulangerie/patisserie a few metres down the street in the other direction.

Then, we needed to buy some essentials which we accomplished at several establishments throughout the day. We took a circuitous route to Bergerac, which took about 1½ hours, through some lovely country and a number of small villages. Bergerac is one of the larger cities in the region (population: 26,000) on the Dordogne river. It is a commercial and agricultural centre, especially wine and tobacco. We did some shopping and had a great lunch at the Autour d’un Verre restaurant. This pleasant little restaurant specializes in tartines which are open-faced sandwiches. Steve’s was a combination of jambon de pays, a cheese called pur brébis and confiture des cerise noirs. Susan’s was magret fumé with cabecou (a local kind of goat cheese) and honey. All washed down, of course, with a pichet of local red wine.

After lunch we toured around Bergerac for a bit and then set out to visit one of the local wineries – Château Terre Vieille – which is a few kilometres east of Bergerac. They make some well-thought-of wine, so we had a tasting and purchased a couple of bottles (one to drink here; one to bring home). Then, back to Belvès by another route, just in time to relax a bit; explore a bit and then have dinner at Le Home. We weren’t expecting too much here and were not disappointed. The weather today rated a so-so 1.5 on the Knowmark Weather Scale.

Tuesday, 26 April 2005

Today we had absolutely glorious weather, a perfect 3.0 on the Knowmark Weather Scale: clear blue sky; no precipitation; comfortable, shirt-sleeve temperature. We took the opportunity to visit two more wineries – this time in the Cahors A.O.C. The first stop was at Domaine La Berangeraie; it was a highlight of this trip and probably the best visit of its kind that we have made. Steve corresponded with Marlène Oberdorf-Beranger back during the winter and today we met her. Despite our late arrival (corresponding with the beginning of the lunch break) she kindly took an hour to explain to us the philosophy of the family-run business and to allow us to taste several of their wines. The property is absolutely beautiful and the wine delicious. We bought three bottles – one to drink here and two to bring home.

Marlène recommended a restaurant in nearby Puy L’evêque which provided us with the light lunch we wanted – we shared smoked salmon served on hot potatoes and a tomato/basil salad with fresh mozarella and a balsamic dressing, accompanied by a tartine tapenade.

After lunch we wandered around the area a bit more and stopped at another of the wineries researched by Steve prior to the trip, Clos La Coutale which has a wine (2002 vintage) awarded two stars in the 2005 Guide Hachette des Vins. We tasted it and really liked it but the woman serving us said that they had no more for sale, only the 2003! We expressed our regrets, telling her that it was that particular wine (and vintage) that brought us there and it was the only one we were interested in purchasing. And, as we began to leave, two bottles of the 2002 miraculously appeared!

We wandered back to Belvès on small back roads just in time for a nap. (Slow travelling can be quite exhausting!) Dinner this evening was at the hotel, with Susan finally trying the area’s most famous delicacy – foie gras, in this case served with Anne’s homemade, cumin-flavoured onion jam which made a marvelous combination. The main course was the local speciality of tourtière also made by Anne. This version is made with shredded duck meat and potatoes in a flaky pastry with herbs – quite different from what Graham’s mother, Denise, used to make, but equally delicious.

Tomorrow we have a reservation at Font de Gaume – a site containing some of the last publicly-accesible paleolithic cave paintings. We’re really looking forward to it!

Wednesday, 27 April 2005

We started at Font de Gaume – a site containing some of the last publicly-accesible paleolithic cave paintings. It was most impressive – recommended!

Then, on to Sarlat-la-Canéda, a well-known town in the area. We had a nice lunch there at Le Bistrot: magret de canard grillé avec sa sauce au miel for Susan; omelette de cêpes for Steve. Both came with pommes de terre sarladaises, which are memorable!

After strolling around Sarlat, we drove south to Domme, another bastide town that has a wonderful panoramic view of the Dordogne valley.

Then a quiet late afternoon and evening in Belvès, which is a delightful village. Another lovely day in Aquitaine – 2.5 on the KWS.

Thursday, 28 April 2005

Hike – lunch – winery – dinner.

A great day in Aquitaine – 2.5 on the KWS.

Friday, 29 April 2005

Winery – lunch – winery – dinner.

The weather actually got too warm for a while, so we had to knock off a half-point: 2.5 today on the KWS.