We collected our Volkswagen Polo from near the station at Bordeaux having first successfully and easily (!) printed out our onwards and pre-booked train tickets to the Spanish Border for the leg of our journey on which we are now embarked.
But I am going to tell you about the intervening four days in the village of Montford in the Dordogne region of South Western France during which time I have not had time or the engergy to write this blog.
We took the long route to Montfort which is near Salat for those who know the region, paying a visit to the chateau of Montaigne which I will let John tell you all about. Being the long route it was an attractive jouney and we entrusted outselves to Madam Tom Tom who equipped herself very well. This was our first use of such a device and a great leap of faith on John's behalf who has a serious regard for the works of cartographers.
The further we drove into the Dordogne the more we had to pinch ourselves. We had thought on our last visit to France that the Provence landscape must be the most attractive on earth but this though different is as good or better. It seems as if things have been especially placed to please the eye, just the right grouping of wild forest of oak or other spindly fine leafed trees nestled in a valley or cresting a hill, craggy limestone escarpments looming over intimate farms of walnut trees and newly ploughed red earth, silvery wheat shining against the wind, the chestnut trees in flower like candles on the ends of branches in pink or white or mauve, luminous white hawthorn clustering in hedgerows or clumps. Being early spring the leaves are all newly out and soft green and the sun is a soft gold and the weather is perfect - cool but warm in the sun.
We arrive at our B & B which J had had some misgivings about - and there were no need for those! It is an eighteenth century house sitting atop a rise in a small village towered over by a castle. The house overlooks a walnut orchard and the pretty garden below. The walnut trees, walnuts being a major product of the area, still hold the old leaves and are late to leaf.
Our hosts greet us warmly. Andrea and Barbara are Italians from Turin. They have moved here to establish a B & B as a change in career. They are foodies of a serious kind so we are seriously in luck. They have a view that the French cook is not serious enough about the quality of the product because the emphasis of their cooking is on sauces whereas in Italian cooking the emphasis is on the ingredient and it must be of the best quality. Barbara is a superb cook. Andrea knows all about the products of the area and sources the best cheeses, meats and the best strawberries. Every single thing we eat has a story. For example, their walnuts taste better because they are not picked by machine so they do not have to be washed and are dried in the air. And they do taste like a different nut.
Also staying there are two other french couples and an Australian couple from Brisbane. We have breakfast together outside one morning but for the rest it is too cold and we must eat inside. The french couples live in the same street north of Paris. Every Sunday the two men cycle together. They are on a cycling (the men) and walking (the women) holiday. In the evenings they are like us and eat! Trying out the different restaurants of the area. The aussies are from Brisbane and like us driving around and seeing the sites. The french have got it worked out though because you need to spend your days walking and cycling to deal with the prodigous quantities of food one is just forced to eat! We have stopped eating lunch. But am sure that is not going nearly far enough. I feel like one of the fois gras geese that are one of the great produits terroire of around this area.
A great food and cultural experience for us was a table d'hote put on one evening by our hosts. Wonderful to share food with french people, stumbling along with the language, though one of the french men spoke very good English, and to learn something of attitudes and experiences. Wonderful too the meal provided by Andrea and Barbara.
Nibbles on thin bread: Cured duck breast - so many days in salt followed by so many days in pepper; fresh (young) chevre.
Entree: pumpkin risotto
Main: duck breast, sliced thinly, pink with light balsamic vinegar
Cheese: 10 different cheeses mainly from the area and each with a story about the producer and why their cheese was a particularly good or unique one
Dessert: Something chocolate - I don't know what it was! Simply delicious.
Now you can see why we feel like fois gras geese!
One funny little event during the dinner. John had struggled with lights on the car which have a mind of their own (have a quirky setting) and come on when it is dark or an area of darkness such as tunnels. Obviously the lights were on this setting because they came on when darkness fell. Someone came in and reported in french something about the car. There had been some polite talk earlier, several reds earlier, about the change of president and what that might mean. Now the french man told John his car was on fire, it was just the beginning of the socialists!
France is a fantastic country. I write this sitting on a fast clean train. We have visited well maintained historic monuments, and travelled on excellent (toll) freeways. The frenchman's beef was the level of taxation - it provides a high level of national infrastructure and social safety net/provision. Getting the balance right between taxation/public provision and incentive for the individual is a tricky business. Interesting to experience a place where the balance is quite different to our own.
Highlights of our stay apart from food are the visits to Lascaux and Pech Marle. These I will leave to John and venture out to see the sights of San Sebastian where we have just arrived.