La Fête des Mais
Not to be confused with La Fête de Mai (Festival of May), A tradition from the Perigord, La Fête des Mais is a whole ‘nother thing altogether. After having seen many of these dead pine tree branches, with a French flag and a sign that said “honoring –someone–” throughout the Perigord, I had to ask what it was all about. Most of these signs said “Honoring the Owner” as in an owner of a business, but apparently, this tradition is basically applied to anyone, whether it is a person celebrating a birthday, an elected official, an owner of a new business or just about anyone else celebrating something important.
La Fête des Mai translates as the festival of the Mai trees, a tradition that goes way back when Mai trees were sacred and symbolized youth and fertility and was connected with the ancient goddess of nature, Maïa, from Greek and Roman mythology. Much later, other elements were added: a flag for victory and pride, and the sign specifying the honoree.
I happened to take a photo of one of the more quirky ones that had a strange picture of a claymation-like cowboy or something holding a gun and sporting a cowboy hat – next to a thought bubble with lots o’ dollar symbols. I guess the owner is a dollar-hungry, trigger-happy Texan…
A Great Place to Stay in the Dordogne: Au pré de l’arbre
Sometimes it makes sense to stay in a hotel while you’re vacationing but there will be times when you might want to mix it up a little and try something different. The great thing about France is that you have many options when it comes to accommodations, whether it is a full service hotel, or something more independent.
We spent an amazing week in Sarlat, where we based ourselves strategically to have easy access to many sites of interest in the Perigord, places I’ll eventually write about.
This time we picked Au pré de l’arbre in Sarlat, which is a vacation village with 6 completely self-contained (self-catering) chalets in a forest just about a half a mile from the center of the village. Each chalet is completely equipped with all of the most necessary and convenient appliances you’ll ever need (fully equipped kitchen including dishwasher. Yay), giving you the independence and comfort to live, even for a week, in your own home sweet home.
We stayed in the house called Les Charmes, which is, of course a charming 2-story chalet that sleeps up to 4 people. There are two bedrooms upstairs and a balcony with a view of the forest. Les Charmes was one of two houses that sleeps up to four and we were very comfortable there; For larger groups, two of the six houses accommodate up to 8 people.
Oh! Most importantly, all houses are wired with high speed internet, cable TV (stations in English, German, French), CD/DVD player and even the two mascots of the village, Zora and Argos, a chocolate lab and a yellow lab. They hung out in front of our house, but if you’re not into adorable canine companions, no problem. Dogs are optional.
The pool is a rather large one with a wonderful view of the valley and forest, and is a particularly quiet and relaxing environment to take a leisurely swim or sunbathe within a setting of pine trees softly swaying with the gentle breeze.
We were happy to get to know the owners Nathalie and Marc, who told us of of their life changing decision to sell their home in Chartres (just outside Paris) to buy land in the Perigord, move their whole family into a forest, all in order to embark on their village des vacances that officially opened in 2003. It was a huge risk that involved the most challenging of trials and tribulations but everything has eventually fallen into place and only three years later, they already have returning clientele.
We highly recommend Au pre de l’arbre if you’re in this area of southwest France, and want to use it as a comfortable, clean and independent base to explore the nearby sites as well as the village of Sarlat itself – or even just to relax. I have no doubt that you’ll find this place a pleasant base, to say the least, and you can always feel free to ask advice from Marc or Nathalie to give you some itinerary ideas, specific places of interest or even recommend wines from the region, which include some of the finest wines in France.
To view the houses: Les Pins; Les Acacias; Les Charmes; Les Ormes; Les Châtaigniers and les Chênes, and to find out more about Au pre de l’arbre and rates, click below on their website.
We loved staying Au pre de l’arbre, and will be joining the group of “regulars.”
Au pre de l’arbre – Open all year
Website: Au pre de l’arbre (in English and French)
Nathalie et Marc Pinta-Tourret
Au pré de l’arbre
Rue Lino Ventura, “Le Mas Cavaillé”
Phone / Fax : +33 5 53 59 33 33
Mobile: +33 6 73 79 12 87
Lulu Lundi* Sarlat, France
Next to Paris, surprisingly, the Perigord probably has the richest heritage of historical monuments in France. The notable places to visit are somewhat spread apart, and if you’re only in the area for a week, like us, you have to choose your base carefully and organize your days as best as possible.
One of the ideal spots to choose as a base when exploring this area, in my opinion, is the medieval village of Sarlat. If you stay here, you most certainly will not regret it. You will not only be close to so many of the most beautiful villages in France, you will be staying in one as well. Also nearby are the most famous prehistoric sites (Lascaux, Les Eyzies, Fond de Gaume), 1500 chateaux, caves and more. We like to choose a base that we can call “home” and that we’re always happy to return to. I loved Sarlat, and loved having used it as home away from home.
I tried not to disturb this artist too much with my camera…
A little more than 40 years ago, Sarlat was a simple, quiet, unnoticed little hamlet town that resembled many of the other villages in the area. In 1962, the writer and then Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux, took notice of Sarlat, fell in love with its simplicity, lack of modernization and architectural unity and decided to take it under his wings to begin a gargantuan restoration project.
It was a project that would last three years but once finished, there would be lots of oooohs and ahhhhhhs – and later Sarlat was scouted as a filmworthy location for the movies Cyrano de Bergerac and Manon of the Spring.
The winding streets are lined with foie gras, wine, walnut cake merchants and street musicians as well as several restaurants offering the local specialties of confit de canard, cassoulet and more. If that isn’t your thing, there’s an excellent restaurant called Le Gaulois, that caters to the locals who can’t constantly being eating foie gras, confit de canard and cassoulet. The great thing about Le Gaulois is the atmosphere and how it feels like a restaurant not for tourists. I liked how the menu was written in chalk on mini chalkboards that many school children in France used to have in grade school. Two nights ago we had dinner there with friends who drove in from Paris and with the owners of where we stayed (which I’ll write about later) and ordered the Raclette (melted Raclette cheese, potatoes, jambon cru) and something called l’Assiette de loup, which was a melted blend of cheeses served with a small salad, potatoes, jambon cru, which was actually prochiutto from Parma, Italy. Everything was delicious including dessert and it was hard to stop eating when we were full.
We all needed to stroll around the wonderfully lit village afterward to walk it off.
Tags: hotels in dordogne
There’s a French song by a guy named, Gérard Blanchard called, “Rocamadour,” which apparently was a huge hit in 1982. Now, if I’d listened to this song before going to Rocamadour, honestly, I might not ever had gone to Rocamadour. Sorry, Gerard. I’m kidding of course. For the bold and inquiring minds that wanna listen, click here for the song.
Warning: this is a song you shouldn’t listen to first thing in the morning especially if you’re not a morning person. The song starts, “aaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Here are the lyrics (in French).
Lucky for me, I heard about the song yesterday after I visited Rocamadour (for a day trip a couple of days ago). Ok, I don’t hate the song; I’m just amazed it was a hit. It’s a love song, believe it or not, and little kids were crazy about it because it is SO GOOFY.
Back to Rocamadour. This tiny southwest town (Region: Midi-Pyrénées, Department: Lot) is rather, a vertical village magnificently built into a mountainside, three levels stacked one on top of another. Lazies can take the elevator for 2 euros from the bottom level to the top level where there’s a private chateau at the peak of the cliff. Others can take the winding stairway that goes from the bottom Cité Médiévale, through the middle Cité Religieuse, then all the way to the top.
The bottom tier of Rocamadour, the Cité Médiévale is the village of merchants and restaurants. You’ll find gobs of foie gras shops and other touristy places for souvenirs.
The Cité Religieuse, the middle level, has seven churches and chapels, which is a lot of worshipping for a town of about 650 inhabitants! Actually, it is said that some time in the 12th century, the perfectly preserved body of Saint Amadour was unearthed. He was reported to have actually been the biblical Zacchaeus, a tax man who turned his life around after having dined with Jesus.
Since then, there were numerous (alleged) miracles that ensued, turning Rocamadour into an important site for pilgrimages as well as an official “Ville Sanctuaire de France” (Sanctuary Or Shrine Town of France).
On this middle level is a terrace called the Plateau of St. Michel. Look up to where the rock meets the main church of Notre Dame. There, you’ll see an alleged fragment of the sword called, Durandal, which belonged to Roland. (I thought Roland was a fictional character…)
The chateau is privately owned, and therefore, is not accessible to the public.
Lastly, there’s a AOC labeled cheese called, Rocamadour, a goat milk cheese that was named by the village, but I couldn’t find any Rocamadour cheese in Rocamadour!
[Related: Rocamadour Cheese Festival]
Tourist Office of Rocamadour
Guided Tours are available
46500 Rocamadour (website)
Tel : (33) 5 65 33 22 00
Foie Gras Soup
Ok, I’m not really sure what to say about this Velouté de foie gras de canard, (which is a very thick, creamy foie gras (duck liver) soup) we saw yesterday, except to say that this is surely something for the die-hard, true, absolutely loyal foie gras afficianado. Not saying it’s bad. I have no idea. Maybe it’s good!? I was too chicken to try it. Perhaps this is a regional thing; I’ve never seen it before and just figured since we are in foie gras country, it might just be a commonplace local dish.