Two great French villages...The Star's Linda Barnard does Sex in the City
SARLAT, France - Sometimes you can research a place to death before you go there. Then you arrive, and it's basically lunchbag letdown. Then, there's my Sunday evening here in Sarlat and my Saturday afternoon in St. Emilion.
I've seen pictures of the Dordogne region of France for years and dreamed of beautiful villages perched high on hills overlooking lazy blue rivers. To get ready for this particular trip, I spent many a late night perusing guide books and web sites to see exactly what I thought I wanted. But....things change. I attended a France tourism event a few weeks back at the Royal Ontario Museum and met folks who represent the Aquitaine region. They endorsed some of my late-night findings, but also suggested a few other spots to check out, including St. Emilion near Bordeaux.
I figured they knew a lot more than I did (not that that's unusual), so I said, "sure." I flew overnight from Toronto to Paris on Friday on Air France (nice job, folks), then jumped on a regional flight to Bordeaux. After giving up on a GPS device that had never heard of St. Emilion, or the hotel that had been arranged for me, I finally arrived on the outskirts of St. Emilion around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. And promptly fell in love.
It's a remarkably beautiful town in the Bordeaux wine-growing region, swirling up the side of a hill with incredibly beautiful views and row upon row of lovely wine shops. It's a stunningly beautiful town, with a giant bell tower and a church carved out of the living rock and lovely shopkeepers. I didn't have time for a full, sit-down lunch, so I wanted to grab a sandwich. How hard can it be to find a jambon/fromage on a baguette in France, I thought? Well, pretty hard in St. Emilion. Then, I happened to poke my head into a shop that specializes in macaroons, a local delicacy, and asked about getting a sandwich. A young girl promptly walked out of the shop and insisted on walking two blocks with me until she could point out a shop that would fulfill my simple desire.
I later went for a tour of the village and the church and the lovely, swirling streets and passed by the macaroon shop. The young girl seemed embarrased, but I had to thank her for her help in easing my hunger pangs. I had a great tour of the town, and a wonderful hour learning about the local wines.
I had hoped to have dinner in town but most of the restaurants were closed until later in the evening, so I opted for dinner at my hotel, the Chateau Franc Mayne just outside the village. It's a wonderful chateau/hotel with great wine and exotic, underground wine caves carved out of the limestone. I could've done without the giant gazelle horns and elephant shapes in my room, which was called the Out of Africa suite, but it was still a lovely place to rest my weary bones, with the best rainfall shower I've ever had.
After a day touring around Les Eyzies and the Dordogne Valley and checking out the lovely gardens at Le Manoir Eyrignac, I stumbled into my hotel here in Sarlat. I had just a half hour to rest up before I was to get a tour of the town, and it was the last thing in the world I wanted.
I was tired from driving a good portion of the day and from fightiing a nasty head cold. I really wanted to sleep, but I had agreed to a tour of the town. So I went to the lobby at 6:30 and met tour guide Francoise Martinet.
Within five minutes, I was transfixed. The town looks, well, kinda boring when you drive in with your car. But off the main road there is a huge, hidden maze of medieval streets, with church spires and rose bushes and narrow walkways and pedestrian alleys and incredibly sharp views in nearly every direction. It's a stunningly beautiful maze of a town with great restaurants, welcoming patios with orange and reg lights and about 1,043 shops selling foie gras or duck confit, more or less. I think I took 200 photos in 60 minutes.
After the tour was a simple but remarkable dinner at the Plaza Madeliene, with a thick cut of local foie gras served alongside spicy, sweet, sauteed onions, local sliced potatoes and the sweetest, moistest confit of duck I've ever tasted. Toss in a couple slices of local cheese (tome blanche might be my new fave) and a creme brulee the size of a softball and you've got a helluva meal, all served in a wonderful, bistro-like setting.
God, I love France. Off today for some canoeing on the Dordogne.
While I'm suffering through mornings with strong coffee and chocolate croissants, my Star colleague, the ever-lovable and entertaining Linda Barnard, was in New York for the Sex and the City movie weekend.
She's, naturally, having a pretty good time herself, although she wishes she was rich...and a size 2.
You can click here to check on her traveblog and read for yourself how things are going. Tough view you had from your hotel, there, kiddo!