Guest Notes for Episode 270: 6 Days in the Dordogne and Aveyron

Category: Toulouse Area

Discussed in this Episode

  • Sarlat
  • La Roque Gageac
  • Beynac
  • Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
  • Belcastel
  • Najac
  • Marat des Bois strawberries
  • Gariguettes strawberries
  • Manoir de Grisson in Sarlat
  • Boat ride in Gageac

I have been listening to your podcasts for about 3-4 months now. I think I found it by searching Saint-Cirq-Lapopie on Apple podcasts and was shocked and very pleased to find a podcast that gives so much detailed and helpful information about traveling in France! Since then I have listened (and am still listening) to many hours of episodes. You are great company on my commute to work and while I am busy with my paperwork. I most recently went to France with my boyfriend (now fiance) Grant. This was our 5th trip to France together (my 6th), previously we have been to Alsace, Provence, Bourgogne, the Cote d’Azur, and several times to Paris.

So for the trip I’ll give you an outline of what we did and will defer to you what you think will be most helpful and interesting to your listeners. I certainly have a lot to say about Belcastel, that was a very special place to us, but I’ll follow your lead on however you want to structure the conversation.

My skype handle is sdtoporek. Tell me how to send pics via WeTransfer, I have not used that before. Also I finished the form but will wait until a date is picked to send it. Some dates that could work for me are the mornings of 6/24, 6/26, 6/27. Mornings of 7/6 or 7/7 or 7/11 or 7/12 could also probably work. I could probably find some more dates if none of those work.

The basic itinerary was we flew from Los Angeles to Paris. From there we stayed several days in Paris before flying to Bordeaux. We rented a car and drove to Sarlat, where we also stayed for several days. We did a day trip to La Roque Gageac and Beynac. From Sarlat we drove and stopped by Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, then on to Belcastel where we stayed for several days. After that we drove to Najac for an afternoon, before heading to Toulouse. While staying in Toulouse, we did a quick afternoon trip to Carcassone. Lastly, we flew from Toulouse back to Paris and back to LA.

Day 1
Arrived in Paris, we booked apartment via Hometown Paris (it has generally nicer apartments to offer than Airbnb). The apartment was in L’Hotel Colbert de Villacerf, near the Place de Vosges. The building was built in 1650, back when this area of the Marais was where a lot of noblemen were building their new mansions. Gorgeous apartment, views of the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur (though they are really tiny).

First night we took very easy, ate nearby at Chez Janou, a a very lively cafe with many traditional foods from Provence, and they claim to have the largest selection of pastis in Paris.

Day 2
We walked around the city, looked at how the fire had ravaged Notre Dame. It was so heartbreaking to see, I had watched the footage nonstop on TV but it just seemed unreal in person. Though I was relieved to see the facade appeared intact. We had a surprisingly lovely lunch at Au Bougnat, a very cozy restaurant near Notre Dame. It was recommended by friend, and I was expecting it to be very touristy since it was so close to Notre Dame, but food was excellent with a lot great French classics (I had the chicken with a morel cream sauce it was amazing!) We visited Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie, and we went to see a very modern ballet at Palais Garnier (Leon, Lightfoot/Van Manen, set to the music from Satie’s Gnossiennes). Dinner was at Brasserie Vagenende off Saint Germain. This was previous favorite of ours from a prior trip, a very consistent brasserie and less touristy than Lipp, with a beautiful Belle Epoque interior. Then out to some of the gay bars in the Marais for a few drinks!

Day 3
Cluny Museum, though I don’t think the full museum is open yet due to renovations. But there the major attractions like the Unicorn tapestry and the Tetes des Rois were on display. I still enjoyed immensely as I love all things medieval. Lunch was at Le Petit Pontoise (a new favorite of ours discovered on this trip). A very fun local French clientele who all apparently like to drink a lot (not that I can judge them!) We did some shopping that afternoon around the Place Vendome and walked down Rue Saint-Honore. We then went back to the Marais and did some more shopping and looking around. It was rainy that night so we just ended up eating at one of the closest cafes to our apartment. Food was not amazing, but there was a friendly French couple sitting next to us that we enjoyed meeting. They were both doctors as well so we had fun chatting about the differences between American and French health care.

Day 4
Flight to Bordeaux, we rented a car at the airport at Bordeaux. TIP: She didn’t have the car I reserved and tried to give us a SUV. I refused as I learned the hard way of having a larger car when we were in Provence. It took an extra hour but I was able to get a more compact car, which in retrospect I am very glad I did. We ate lunch in Bordeaux at La Tupina. A very traditional restaurant, they have an open fire (rotie) in the middle of the restaurant where they cook over an open flame. I had a huge piece of foie gras and goose confit–delicious but way too much food! We did explore Bordeaux a bit, saw Port Cailhau but it was raining so we drove to Sarlat.

The weather cleared there, we checked into our Airbnb. Daniel the host was great! He’s American, he and his partner own the building, it was built in the 13th century and renovated in the 18th century, the local judges stayed there as it is adjacent to the old courthouse. Daniel lives in the top floor and rents out the other rooms. The best part is he greeted us with some fresh local strawberries from the Dordogne, which I am now in love with! That night we had a lovely dinner Le Tourny. At first had some trouble getting reservations in Sarlat as it was a Sunday and we ate so much at lunch that we weren’t hungry until late. But it all worked out, enjoyed some more local foods and aperitifs.

Day 5
Explored Sarlat, a great lunch at Les Jardin d’Harmonie. One of the largest and impressive salads I have had! We explored the Manoir de Grisson, I recommend it, the house is open you can explore it all of its curiosities. Surprisingly one of Grant’s favorite places we visited on the trip. Dinner was at Le Presidial, great place if you want a fancy dinner in Sarlat. The food was impressive but unfortunately we were so full from lunch we got scolded (with a laugh) by our waited for not finishing our whole plates.

Day 6
A simple lunch at Le Regent in the main square (at this point we had so much duck and foie gras we were looking for simple salads for lunch). We did some shopping in the marche couvert located in the Ancienne Eglise Sainte-Marie. The vegetables were beautiful, so we bought what looked good. We then went to a Poissonnerie on the main road, we selected a whole fish to cook for dinner. The woman there cleaned our fish and gave a free lemon. We then stopped by the Patisserie for a little something sweet for after dinner. We unloaded our bounty at the apartment then drove to La Roque Gageac and took a Gabare down the river. They had English audioguide via headphones. Though we must have got mixed up with a German tour group since the overhead tour on speaker was in German. I was hoping to canoe but the weather was a little cool and it was supposed to rain later that day. Instead we then drove to Beynac, visited the amazing Chateau there, enjoyed a few glasses of wine in the village.

We saw a runaway dog, luckily our waiter helped save him from the street but turns out his owner did not seem like a very nice man. Poor dog. That night we cooked in our apartment, it was a break we needed from the rich food so we enjoyed a nice fish and vegetables with a homemade aioli (yes I know that is from Provence but we love it and it is not too hard to make! lol)

Day 7
Wednesday morning market in Sarlat (I bought some more strawberries–Mara de Bois and gariguette!) along with walnut oil and a very tasty walnut tart. Sadly had to leave Sarlat, but it was a beautiful day so we drove to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. It truly was a wonder to behold and the drive there so picturesque! We had a simple but good lunch at La Terrasse. The waitress told me I spoke french very well! (I guess she knows how to get a big tip from American tourists, it worked! lol) We then visited the town to take some pictures and stopped in the infamous Musee de Vin–Grant’s favorite “museum” this trip!

We drove to Belcastel, checked into the Tower Suite in the Chateau de Belcastel. TIP: Do NOT always trust google maps, it shows the fastest route, this time took us on a country road that ended in a dead end at a cliff. Lesson learned, if it looks like you are driving through someone’s farm, you probably and are, and may need to look for a more main road lol.

The property manager was a very bubbly, enthusiastic, and but slightly forgetful woman named Isi. We had a lot of little chats with her, I think I may know her whole life story by now, but she definitely brightened our stay. The tower has such amazing views of the town and you have the Chateau to yourself once the museum part of the castle closes. Dinner was at Restaurant du Vieux Pont. AMAZING dinner, this is expensive but worth it. They have a cheaper lunch menu if you are on a budget. Its head chef is one of the few female Michelin starred chefs in the world Nicole Fagegaultier. She runs the restaurant with her sister, the building itself is the house they grew up in. Great service though all in French, no English here.

Day 8
Explored Belcastel, it was sooooo beautiful! From the Occitan “Bel” meaning warrior (not beautiful) and “castel” meaning castle. Before the Chateau was there was a chapel built in that spot in the 9th century. The old chapel has been incorporated into the chateau but it has been restored and you can still see some of the original frescoes! It then became a fortress in the 11th century before being rebuilt in the 15th century as a chateau. There is some very interesting history here we could talk about. There is the infamous story of the “Routiers” led by Merigot Marches who stole the castle. It is a little gruesome how it all ends but I think you’ll like it! There are more interesting stories about the Saunhac family who came to rule there, how they built the bridge and Church that is down below. The castle eventually became abandoned when its heir married the Marquis de Bournazel and the decided to live in his much newer Renaissance chateau and let one in Belcastel fall to ruin.

That day we explored the Chateau, the town, and did about a 20 minute hike to an old ruined castle the Fort du Roc d’Anglars. Its not that big, but beautiful in that old romantic decaying way. Also its not touristy at all, there is no official tour or documents, we were the only ones there, no one else even on the trail. You can climb all over the castle and just explore it. You do have to be a little careful, it is over a cliff by the river. I think someone may have fallen off there, there was some kind of memorial plaque. But I could be wrong, I don’t speak French that well. Below there is a little mini grotto similar to Lourdes with a statue of Mary called le Lourdou. We didn’t hike down there but later saw it when we drove down then road. No miracles attributed to the Lourdou that I know of! Lunch was at Chez Anna, a cute family run cafe by the river. The food was fine, but it was the peaceful ambiance of dining by the river that made it special. Plus they served a complimentary aperitif at the beginning! We spent the end of the day relaxing at the pool and chatting some more with Isi.

We had dinner again at Vieux Pont. Isi recommended another place near Rodez with supposedly great aligot, but it seemed like too far of a drive and after my experience of driving through a farm to a dead end we thought it best we stay in town. Plus I wouldn’t have to worry if I had too much wine, which does happen from time to time. Dinner the second night there was better than the first, this time we ordered a la carte instead of prix fixe. We had amazing selection of local vegetables prepared so wonderfully it was better than the meat dishes–“les legumes du moment.” We are not vegetarian everyday but usually do eat a lot of vegetables so it was a very welcome option. Also, the staff also seemed very happy to see us back a second night! The restaurant, though small and a little pricey, did seem to fill up both nights. We also got to briefly meet the chef which was very exciting, though I realized after I didn’t know the word in French for a female chef! I said “nos compliments au chef” which I hope was not insulting!

Day 9
We drove from Belcastel to Najac. It was bit cloudy that day, but did make for some cool pictures. TIP remember tourist offices/castle are usually closed 12-2 for lunch. We would have organized our day a little better if I had remembered that. Still it was a beautiful village to walk around, the castle is very impressive and foreboding when viewed from the village. Lunch was at Restaurant La Salamandre. I finally got to try some Aligot! Very simple country restaurant, but the atmosphere is very french. They have a balcony where you can take a great pic of the chateau. We ate inside that day due to rain though. From there we drove to Toulouse, we checked into a great Airbnb in the heart of the old town. Adrien the host was a young guy, check in was super fast. The apartment was in a very old rose brick building, it has been tastefully renovated but still kept a lot of it original features, including the stone fireplace and wood beams in the ceiling.

We explored the city visiting Saint-Sernin, Capitole, and Notre-Dame du Tour (I have never seen a church dedicated to a bull! Well at least where a bull killed a saint lol). It was a relaxing day, a few drinks at cafe at the Capitole where we watched small group protest in support of some jailed Catalonian politicians and support of their independence. I was a little surprised to see this in France but I guess it is not far from Catalonia! Dinner that night was in a quaint cafe at the Place St. George called Cafe Maurice. Once again I was so full from lunch (all that aligot!), that I had trouble finishing my dinner (duck risotto very good, but so embarrassing I couldn’t finish again). But I learned how to ask for a box in French that the woman working there kindly provided. No scolding looks this time! Maybe it was just luck, I don’t how often French people do that.

Day 10
Explored Toulouse some more, went to Cathedrale St Etienne, ate lunch at Flowers Cafe (they had some good salads/sandwiches for a light lunch). I usually have a rule against French restaurants with English names We then got to witness first hand a very large march of the Gilet Jaunes while at lunch, this was the Saturday before the most recent national election. I had a moment of weakness and decided to drive to Carcassone for a brief visit. I regret this in retrospect, I wish I had stayed in Toulouse but I so badly wanted to see Carcassone. It was sunny the whole drive there then started pouring rain as soon as I arrived. It was a little unfortunate as when I left Toulouse it was hot and sunny so I was in shorts. Oh well, it was still nice to see. On the bright side almost no tourists in Carcassone to battle as it was raining! We ended our trip with a very traditional cassoulet dinner at the Cave au Cassoulet in Toulouse. The restaurant was very cool, an underground cave built of the Toulouse brick. To be honest, not the best cassoulet I have had, but we enjoyed it with a hearty bottle of Cahors and it still proved to be a great meal and a fitting finish to this trip to France.

Day 11
Flew back to Paris, then back to LA!

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Category: Toulouse Area