Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Via-ferrata challenge!

 I've often reflected on why the Perigord Noir (our part of the Dordogne department) is so popular and attracts so many return visitors: obviously it's very pretty and in summer,  the weather is usually sunny and pleasantly warm but the most important thing is probably that there is something for everyone.
La Dordogne & boats from the via ferrata
Despite having lived here for almost 8 years, we still have places we haven't yet visited and activities we haven't yet tried, so are always grateful to guests who can give us the lowdown on where they've enjoyed visiting or have tales to tell about activities the've enjoyed. For sight-seers, the list goes on and on - you could stay a month and not have managed to get around to visiting all of the beautiful villages/chateaux/caves/scenic views in the area  - unless you decide to go for the easy option and float over it all in an early morning hot air balloon!
Tweety pie flies over Meyrals!

For those who like active holidays (or have children to wear out) there is plenty on offer. Recent guests came back from Les Eyzies having enjoyed an excellent couple of hours exploring the local area on horseback, whilst another couple with young children had a terrific holiday out an about on bikes - neither of which are things that I've done, being scared of horses and too lazy for cycling!

Kitted out and under instruction!
Sometimes the attractions are the least expected: lots of our guests visit gardens whilst here, and Marqueyssac gardens are particularly well know for their fantastic views over the Dordogne and Le Roque Gageac, but the ticket price also includes free entry to the challenge of the Via Ferrata. Wearing a harness and helmet, and clipped onto a wire rope, one can spend 40 minutes negotiating around the cliff face, 100 metres above river level: a great challenge for all from 8 years upwards.....including Grandma (me, Sue). Having braved it once a couple of years ago, I decided to return with friends/guests just so that I could take the photos that I'd been too scared to take the previous time!
Ready for the off!
Guest, Tim, reflected in a mirror at the start

There are some 'thought provoking' moments!


I think all of us - 2 oldies, 2 x '40 somethings' and 2 students all felt a sense of acheivement at the end.......and the 10 year olds behind us thought it was "cool"!

  In the same vein, there are several airparcs in the area

where anyone from 3 years old to adult can swing through the trees - just for the fun of it & a good way to get some shade on a very sunny day!
Impressive cliffside below Marqueyssac gardens
Another enjoyable(and more relaxing) way to visit Marqueyssac  is on the 'candlelit' evenings held each Thursday in summer, when there is live music and children's activities.


 The very hot and sunny weather we've been having over the last few weeks has meant that our table tennis table/badminton & other games equipment has been a little less used than normal but the pool has never been more popular!

Although there's nothing like a reviving dip in the pool after a day out, the fun of river dipping can be very memorable (& sometimes unintentional during spirited canoe jousting)!
For younger children, one of the life-guarded river beaches on the Dordogne makes a great afternoon out, especially one for one of our young guests who'd just had a snorkel for his birthday!

Beynac castle -view from a canoe
  Older teenagers & adults might like to whisked along in the faster (but shallow) stretches especially in the 'cingles' or loops of the river!
 Canoe trips on both the dordogne &  Vezere are a great family activity and guaranteed to use up excess energy as well as being the one of the best ways to see the majesty of the chateaux lining the Dordogne. To quote Ratty in Wind in the Willows, "there's nothing like messing about in a boat"!
Jon, after the Via Ferrata, enjoying a celebratory icecream at the Garden cafe!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A taste of South West France: food glorious food!

For anyone who chances upon our website, whether on a grey and drizzly day in London or Dublin; a freezing day in Vancouver; or a  hot and humid day in Sydney or Los Angeles....., the beautiful, green and plentiful Dordogne could seem to be the dream place to combine work and a wonderful lifestyle.
We feel lucky to be able to live here but now and again it's good to see the place from a new angle - and on this occasion from the point of view of food.
Charlotte, Gariguette, Mara de bois, Clary, Elegance: just a few of the strawberry varieties available
Every Sunday, without fail, we toddle down to our local market in St. Cyprien to fill a basket with fresh local, seasonal produce. Often I will visit another local market during the week to buy more freshly picked vegetables and fruit - spinach (epinards) and kiwi fruit in winter, salad stuff and strawberries in summer. However, we've often stopped and looked at some of the things that we'd never eaten in the UK and dithered about what to buy or how to cook it if we buy it!

For those with less than perfect French, it can be daunting to look at, for example, a foie gras stall and understand the subtle differences between the products on offer. I'm certain that many visitors to the Dordogne feel just the same, but help is at hand. In the hamlet of Pechboutier, only a 5 minute drive from us here in Meyrals, is the Chevrefeuille restaurant and cookery school, run by Sara and Ian Fisk, an English couple who have lived in France for 14 years.

Ian & students

Since some of our guests came back raving about their day at the cookery school, last spring, I have been itching to give it a try! As a home economist, earning a crust by giving cookery demonstations in my pre-kids days, and latterly a food technology teacher, I love cooking but was a little sceptical about how much I would learn. Happily, my scepticism was misplaced!

Local goat's cheese on Le Bugue market

Our little group of four started with the day with a trip to the market at Le Bugue, where Ian (chef) filled in the gaps in our knowledge. For the other 3 ladies (all American) this was the perfect chance to see the wonderful range of locally produced foods available and there were lots of exclamations of delight and declarations of what they would be buying on their next market trip, whilst for me it was great to feel that next time I'm there, I will be able to confidently discuss what I want to buy with the stallholders, whether it's selecting the perfectly aged Cabecou cheese, duck for confit or correct variety of strawberries for my dessert .

Ian demonstrating a luscious soup recipe
Ian doesn't have a set menu that he shops for: like all of the best chefs, he adapts according to the best available produce. We returned from the market with a whole fresh foie gras, cheese, lots of vegetables and ceps to be cooked along with some of Ian and Sara's home grown cherries, walnuts and apples.

Dordogne walnuts & apples - to accompany foie gras poele
The rest of the day was a whirl of cooking and eating: the course is very much hands-on with everyone involved in the cooking (and of course, eating) of the meal. Ian is a good teacher - not at all  like the image of the shouting chef! For those who want to learn in a sociable and relaxed atmosphere, I can thoroughly recommend Le Chevrefeuille cookery course.  I now have new recipes, lots of tips which will make entertaining less stressful, and I no longer feel intimidated by ingredients that I'd not used before - result!

preparing a fresh foie gras for cooking - my turn!

At 5pm, after a very extended lunch.....and feeling that I might not need to eat for several days, we said our goodbyes. This isn't a cheap day out but what you learn will stay with you - and it would make a great treat for someone special! Ian also does the market trip on it's own and this would make an excellent start to a holiday for all foodies.
Cabecou in puff pastry with cherry & walnut garnish

The cookery courses run during spring/early summer and autumn when the markets are less crowded and Ian has more time on his hands but not during July& August.  For more information follow this link

For those keen cooks who would like to combine a long weekend or short break with a day at the cookery school, email us to discuss your requirements. We can be flexible on arrival and departure days in our studios (ideal for a couple or two friends) and, outside high season, in our larger cottages for groups or families.

Who can resist chocolate - with added tips for making it dinner-party friendly?
..............And the resulting 'fondant chocolat'

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Life in the Perigord: the literary connection........

Like many people, when I'm planning to go visit a new country or area, I try to do some reading in advance to give me a bit of a feel for the place. Surprisingly or maybe not in the circumstances, when we decided to move to the Dordogne, this wasn't on my list of priorities: I think that the shock of finding ourselves in the situation of having made a spur of the moment decision to 'up sticks' and move to France meant that I was too busy sorting out practicalities! We had never visited the 'Perigord', as locals prefer to call it, until the weekend when we decided that Le Jardin des Amis was for us.

As I've said in previous blogs, our guests are a great source of information on everything from world geography, to the best coffee they've found in the area. Every year I can rely on someone finding something or somewhere new to visit  and this has, in some cases come about as a result of their 'pre-holiday' reading. Obviously there are many guide books and accounts of the history of the region out there but sometimes, it is stories (fiction or real life) which have actually propelled our guests to the region.

American guests who stayed with us last year, introduced me to the 'Inspector Bruno' series which they had heard about because their author (Martin Walker) spends some of his time working in their home city of Washington. The Inspector Bruno novels are set in the well described, and thinly disguised town of St. Denis - in reality our nearby town of Le Bugue. As in Le Bugue, the St. Denis' of the stories is an attractive little market town built on the banks of the Vezere river (above & below). I recommend a trip to the tuesday morning market where you can soak up the ambiance to keep in mind when you read the books: fortunately the frequent murders and intrigue are a figment of the author's imagination!

Another author that I was introduced to by guests, some years ago, was Patricia Atkinson. Not fiction this time but the real life story of her arrival in the Dordogne, the creation of a vineyard and her transformation into a producer of well respected wines! 'The Ripening Sun', conjures up perfectly what it is like to move to a small rural French village. Our guests went off to find her vineyard and buy some of her wine to try to complete the picture, but for those who like an easy life, the wine is available in a very good wine shop with branches in both Le Bugue & Sarlat.

For an amusing read which gives a flavour of the region and it's inhabitants, 'The Matchmaker of the Perigord' is a relaxing pool-side novel which you may find in our pool bar library, above .......unless someone else got there first!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Perigord Noir in Spring

The lovely spring weather that we've been having has got me out into the garden and onto the mower for the first time this year. A sit-on mower seemed like a great luxury when we first arrived here, but once the grass really starts growing in spring an early summer, it can still take several hours to complete the task! This year I am having to do some careful manoeuvres as we have both purple and white violets in great swathes across our meadow and orchard: the most I've ever seen.

One of the lovely things about visiting the Dordogne during Spring and early summer is the display of flowers, both wild and cultivated. Indeed the beautiful roses and wisteria that we saw in many gardens as we drove into the Perigord Noir, were one of the  attractions on our first visit to Meyrals (8 years ago at the start of May) and that was before I had realised that we'd also have several varieties of wild orchid growing in our own garden!  To see these at their best, visit in May when it is possible to find many different wild orchid growing in their preferred limestone environment.

Spring weather here, as in the UK, can be variable with "giboulee de Mars" rather than 'April showers' but there are plenty of caves, castles and museums to keep everyone amused - and dry. The great thing being that apart from in July and August, the pace of life here is pretty slow, and you're unlikely to meet big crowds or queues where ever you visit. Likewise the roads are generally fairly empty (it's always a bit of a culture shock for us when we leave the Dordogne and meet lots of traffic)!
June is another particularly attractive month in this part of France: it's usually still looking very green despite the weather really warming up, and is the ideal month for those who like to combine sight-seeing with sun-bathing but aren't constrained by school holidays. Even better, the prices are lower - check out our booking page or email us for any late booking offers on your preferred accommodation!

 Before we moved to France we had never visited the Dordogne, but I'm now astonished that we could have missed such a pretty and interesting part of the world! We have many visitors who return year after year to visit and revisit the beautiful villages, canoe down the rivers, clamber around castles or creep into caves.........and we now fully understand why!
Come and find out for yourself why the Perigord Noir is such a fantastic location for your holiday.

Pictured above right, above left, and to the right are just 3 of the 6 or 7 variety of wild orchid growing at Le Jardin des Amis!

Below: wild iris surround Meyrals village pond and laverie in spring.