It’s places like Château de Castelnaud (and the village Castelnaud-la-Chapelle) that make the Perigord one of my favorite regions to travel to in France. Alhough privately owned, it’s open to the public, and I highly recommend visiting the château and nearby countryside especially for the spectacular views from the castle/fortress of the surrounding area and the Dordogne River. From atop the fortress, you can see the châteaux of Beynac and Marqueyssac and the medieval village of La Roque-Gageac. NOTE: Like most smaller French villages I feature on this blog, you’ll need a car to get here and explore the vast Black Perigord.
Château de Castelnaud is a treasure trove filled with fascinating history and trivia as well as beautiful medieval architecture.
Château de Castelnaud (website)
Musée de la guerre au Moyen Âge
24250 Castelnaud-la-Chapelle France
Telephone: +33 (0)5 53 31 30 00
GPS :44°48’57.59’’ N
Here’s a slideshow of photos I took of Château de Castelnaud:
“I tip the torchlight and examine a wall in my hotel room. From a distance, the wall looks like vanilla frosting roughly applied. Up close, I see nuggets of caramel-colored stone, faint brown streaks…and an oyster shell. The wall before me is 100 million years old, the raw edge of a cave scraped into a cliff above the Loire River. The oyster was a much earlier guest here, a fossil left from the sea that once covered this part of France and left behind a thick bed of white stone called tuffeau.
Many buildings in the Loire Valley are constructed from this stone. On a trip to France four years ago, I stayed in an elegantly restored farmhouse near Tours, its walls made of tuffeau blocks, stacked like irregular sugar cubes. The farmers of long ago probably dug their own tuffeau. It’s just under the surface–unplanted fields gleam with tuffeau churned to pebbles by the plows. However, the serious quarrying was for the signature chateaus and other monumental architecture of the Loire Valley.
At the time, I was among friends who wanted to visit all the chateaus. The first few exhausted my taste for opulence. Then, near the chateau in Amboise, I noticed caves in the cliff, some with brightly painted front doors, windows, shutters and flower boxes. As we drove around the Loire Valley, I spied more of these domesticated caves, some with chimneys thrusting through scruffy vegetation at the tops of cliffs or new facades and courtyards. Oh yes, someone finally explained: after widespread quarrying of the tuffeau began in the 11th century and created cavities in the hills and plains, people moved in. Some to escape warfare, others because the caves made convenient, low-rent dwellings. Until the early 20th century, many people lived in these so-called troglodyte homes. Entire villages were underground. Some people still live in the caves, I was told, and others are …”
When you see the famous prehistoric paintings at the Lascaux Cave in Dordogne, you must purchase your tickets in the village of Montignac. (Ticket purchase is not available on-site.) You won’t feel inconvenienced by this because Montignac is beautiful and worth a stop to explore its two different areas located on both sides of the Vézère River. On the right bank, there’s a feudal town with medieval narrow streets with architecture from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. On the left bank, the suburb with a convent and priory is an indication that Montignac used to be a harbor town, a place of artisans, crafts, arts and other sell-able goods.
More information about Montignac is here (in French).
There’s an old comic strip by Gary Larson in “The Far Side” with two pictures. One shows a person receiving a harp with the caption, “Welcome to Heaven. Here’s your harp.” The other has a guy receiving an accordion with the text bubble saying, “Welcome to Hell. Here’s your accordion.” That is EXACTLY how I’ve felt about the merits of the accordion. However, there is a little tiny exception to my loathing of the accordion – accordions playing musette, which is a genre of French music from the 20s, 30s and 40s (being most popular in the 40s) – though it is a type of music I can only take in small doses. VERY small doses. It does have its own charm. Here’s a sample from youtube.
Sure, you can listen to musette walking along the fake cobble stones in the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas, if you can stand it over the cacophony of slot machines (don’t forget to buy a croissant for $10) – but I GUESS it’s probably better to be sipping coffee and people watching at an outdoor cafe somewhere in France with musette in the background. Luckily Today, I hardly ever hear musette in France…until just about a week ago in Sarlat (Southwest France in Dordogne).
Surprisingly, the music seemed to all come together and make sense, and it was fun to listen to. Maybe it was the warm and welcoming atmosphere of a jazz club’s “cave” in a medieval village. Maybe it was the company of good friends and a happy public. Maybe it was because we were in France. I dunno. In any case, the evening was filled with “musetty-jazz” fusion. Not strictly musette, it was a small, mostly jazz combo with the centerpiece instrument being an accordion. Of course when we initially entered the club and I saw the accordion, my first thought was Welcome to Hell!!
I’m glad I was wrong.
Is musette making a comeback? Would it have worked outside a stone wall lined cavern in a medieval village in Dordgogne, France?
What do you get when you take my preferred computer platform, Macintosh – and mix it up with Vietnamese cuisine, a postcard perfect medieval French village and friendly service? Answer: My new favorite restaurant/Mac store in Sarlat!
I’m not kidding. This is a Mac Store AND a Vietnamese restaurant; yes, all in the same place. (Not an official Apple store, but a reseller.) What could be a better combination?
The awesome collective power of Mac and Southeast Asian food beckoned us to give Ma Pomme Tao a try and now a mention because it was one of those awesome and unique finds when wandering around France. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it if the food was bad, which it wasn’t. In fact, the food was exquisite.
Most of the restaurants in Sarlat cater to the tourist looking for regional specialties like cassoulet, confit de canard, foie gras and other heavy yet yummy dishes from the southwest, but the beauty of Ma Pomme Tao, is that if you are in Sarlat for more than a few days, once in a while you will need something different: say, a store that sells Macs and iPods, oh and meal-wise, something other than meat slowly cooked and drenched in goose fat. Ma Pomme Tao was the refreshing alternative and offers all that, even vegetarian dishes; what a concept! Seriously. Vegetarian dishes are hard to find here.
We couldn’t wrangle our entire party of 6 to the restaurant, so we had to order out. More points go to Ma Pomme Tao for having take out! Everything we ordered was really excellent even the xung-xa (jelly) desserts they offered us for free. (What we ate: Vegetarian nems, shrimp nems, bo-bun, beef lemon lemongrass salad, crispy noodles and vegetables, the luc-lac beef, 5 spice pork meatballs, beef sate skewers, shrimp wrapped around sugar cane.)
Ma Pomme Tao
37, avenue Thiers
24200 Sarlat-la-Canéda France
+33 5 53 59 71 88
*reservations are required*
email: firstname.lastname@example.org (restaurant)
email: email@example.com (store)
We wondered if people walking down rue de la Sagesse (Street of Wisdom) in Perigeux realize there are words of wisdom at their disposal right under their noses.
To be more accurate, the words are right under their feet as they stroll down this tiny ruelle. If you see this statue of a very plump woman (actually, her face looks a lot like Jar Jar Banks with shorter ears from Star Wars), then you can take a walk down wisdom lane.
This was the only street in Perigeux that had these cute tiles.
Liberté = Freedom
Sagesse = Wisdom
Paroles en l’air = Idle Talk
Tout est Poésie = Everything is poetry
Nu comme un vers = Nude like a verse (which is more poetic than using the real saying of nu comme un ver / nude as a worm )
A vous de jouer = Your turn / It’s up to you.
Good thing we stumbled up them. The tile messages give you something to think about. (especially worms) So now we’re wiser. Maybe.
Just ignore my silly, rhyming title; I couldn’t resist.
There’s a cute boutique dedicated to our favorite French, Les Ch’ti (pronounced SHTEE) from the very north of France.
We were surprised while visiting the city of Périgueux (southwest France) when we saw this timely boutique, “La Ch’ti Boutic,” with all things Ch’ti. Since the Ch’tis are la tendance, this business-minded shtorekeeper shtepped up to the ch’plate to tempt his luck at Ch’ti Shtuff.
It’s filled with goodies like chuques (coffee candies filled with caramel), pardon bonbons sucrés au caramel (caramel candies), bière de Lens (beer from Lens), sac de charbon (sack of coal, which is actually candy), les bêtises de Cambrai (mints), spéculoos (gingerbread cookies) and more.
The boutique has only been in business for a few months, so I hope it lasts, even after all the Ch’ti madness had died down.
La Ch’ti Boutic
25, rue Limogeanne
24000 Périgueux France
Telephone: +33 5.53.03.22.59
For about a week now, we’ve been back in the land of foie gras, confit de canard and truffles, at our favorite accommodations in Sarlat, which is in the southwest region of France called, Dordogne (in Perigord Noir) and – a couple of days ago, FINALLY, the sun was out!
Today is different, though, and there’s grisailles galore but since we’re here to work, the gray weather couldn’t be better.
It occurred to me that Au pre de l’arbre (independent fully equipped (self-catering) chalets in a forest) is a great place to escape to – from where ever you happen to be, and if absolutely necessary, (like us) take your work with you. On days like these you can be very productive.
Also worth noting is that it’s a great place to base yourself if you’re house hunting in the Dordogne area. Each of the rental houses here is fully equipped with high speed DSL and if you don’t want to bring your computer, you can use one provided by Au pre de l’arbre. They even have a list of real estate agents for you. That’s service if you ask me.
You don’t have to be workaholics like us, to stay here. Most of the people who come to Au pre de l’arbre are here to vacation: to explore the prehistoric drawings (Lascaux), to visit the wonderful villages (La Roque Gageac, Rocamadour, etc.) nearby, to participate in outdoor sports like rock climbing, horseback riding and canoeing – all within the unique backdrop of Dordogne’s signature stunning scenery. After a full day of travel, it’s a sigh of relief to come back to your comfortable chalet at Au pre de l’arbre. And then, take a swim in the gigantic pool that overlooks a forest.
The beautiful thing about Au pre de l’arbre is that it’s open all year ’round. We like to come outside of the busy season, but if you want to come during the summer, make sure to secure your reservations right about….NOW.
A note: You can stay for as short as a weekend or even longer term. And here’s a little secret: if you come during the low season, feel free to barter a bit with Marc to lower your rent. (I swear, he likes that!)