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Cahors - Sarlat 9 June 2016


1304 : 1011

Travel Day, with all the frights and tensions appertaining thereto. In fact, it went really well almost all the way. The first two and a half hours were high speed highway and motorway. The French, especially the truckers, are very well behaved despite the prevailing speed on the motorway of 85mph (130kph).

From Mirepoix and around Toulouse, France's third biggest city, "The Space City" because that's where the Ariane rocket and the Airbus are built, the traffic thickened, and stayed heavy northward toward Paris on one of France's oldest motorways. 

We got off the motorway and took secondary roads across increasingly hilly country, oak covered ridges and valleys with intermittent fields and vineyards. White chalky soil. The wine transitions from the whites and pinks for which the Midi is famous to the reds that continue to intensify as we approach Burgundy.

The secondary roads tootle along nicely at about 60 mph. They feel a little narrow by California standards, but the lorry drivers know where their edges are, and it's pretty civilized. They know, because every once in awhile the secondary roads plunge into towns that were designed for horse drawn conveyances moving at 10 mph. One slows down, sucks in one's belly, hopes that there's nothing coming around that blind corner ... and somehow, another town recedes behind, unscathed.

We started out early with not much breakfast, so by the time we reached Cahors, our lunch destination, we were ready to find our restaurant and tuck in for a good lunch. You knew there'd be lunch, right?

 


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<p>Lunch in Cahors: a glass of the...

Lunch in Cahors: a glass of the highly regarded Cahors, a deep red, long-legged, thick tasting wine; kasha and a little salad; "gazpacho des petits pois" -- a cold soup made with (apologies to Margaret Fox) "whirled peas." My plat was a lovely lasagne of fish in a court bouillon also based on peas. A beautiful baba au rhum with chantilly and candied orange peel and a p'tit café to finish.

1306 : 996
<p>After lunch we wandered across...

After lunch we wandered across Cahors' claim to historical fame, the Pont Valentré. Once a stop on the pilgrimage route from Europe to Compostella, Cahors needed a way for folks to get across the wide, fast flowing River Lot ...and this was their solution.

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During the period of the pilgrimages, everything was built for strife, and one suspects that pilgrims paid to cross the bridge (just like we paid to drive the motorway.) Fair enough: building and maintaing a bridge (or a motorway) costs plenty, and it's only egalité that the users pay for their use. Look at the ridiculous ends they went to: three towers, and the bifurcated steps over the gate and to the tower so that bowmen could enforce the tolls. Budgeting too much for militarism is clearly not a new idea. I was tickled by the name proudly emblazoned on the construction crane visible in the notch in the ramparts.

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After a wrong turn and a picturesque little village, we found the road from Cahors to Sarlat ... along the Lot, over the ridge, across the Dordogne and into the Perigord, France's heartland, where one hears the refrain, "You can't see Paris from here." The idea being that this is the only true France. Hotbed of resistance during the Second World War, and proud producer of France's most highly regarded truffles, paté, and wines, this is rugged, authentic, unique terroir.

With only moments to spare before we were supposed to meet Isabelle, our lovely hostess, we found our way to the very center of old Sarlat, the Square of Fountains, and to our apartment. Isabelle shows us where to park, lugs Rochelle's baggage all the way back, and explains that we are staying in Sarlat's oldest house. Here's the view out our kitchen (left) and living room windows. 

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<p>I cannot find words to express...

I cannot find words to express how special this place feels, and how gifted I feel to be able to stay here ...and I so wish I had planned to be here for a week, too. 

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. We share a petit pichet of the house’s distinguished local red – look at that color! Carpaccio with parmesan and fresh local greens. Magret (duck breast) “in her juice” done "the French way," pink on the inside, chewy but unbelievably tasty. Rochelle’s shrimps with tiny fettucini, seaweed, and sesame seeds. Chocolate mousse with chantilly and salted caramel sauce. </p>
<p>Two serious "full menu" meals today and yet, quite surprisingly, not too much food; just enough. The meals are superbly presented but right-sized even for me. No wonder the French are, for the most part, not fat.</p>

Dinner at La Petit Manoir. We share a petit pichet of the house’s distinguished local red – look at that color! Carpaccio with parmesan and fresh local greens. Magret (duck breast) “in her juice” done "the French way," pink on the inside, chewy but unbelievably tasty. Rochelle’s shrimps with tiny fettucini, seaweed, and sesame seeds. Chocolate mousse with chantilly and salted caramel sauce. 

Two serious "full menu" meals today and yet, quite surprisingly, not too much food; just enough. The meals are superbly presented but right-sized even for me. No wonder the French are, for the most part, not fat.

1311 : 955

After our early dinner (by French standards; we sat down at 7:15) we wandered through the lovely old town. It was after 9pm, but still light. Sarlat is at about the same latitude as Portland, Oregon and Burlington, Vermont. It's worth remembering that we come from a southern place, compared to everywhere in France. The clement weather here is due to the Gulf Stream's tender mercies.

People come to the Perigord to eat, and the food choices are superlative, even the low budget ones at the restaurants in the square. The value-to-price index is uniformly high. Our restaurant, at the top end of the range, fed us for a little over $60, but in the square the chef's proposals were under $20 including a starter (entrée), plat (main), and dessert.

One eats surrounded by buildings that have been overlooking and protecting this square for 500 and 600 years.


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Most of the shops in the historic center of Sarlat are about food as well. The holy trinity of this terroir is, as mentioned already, truffles, paté, and wine. These products, in all their infinite combinations, are to be had in these stores proudly specializing in "the gourmet foods of this terroir." The prices are high but not unreasonable; the quality is unreasonably high. "A tradition of Perfection," claims the slogan in the window. One would have to live a lifetime here to verify that statement. 

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We stepped into the Cathedral and I bought a 2€ candle to give to Saint Francis in thankfulness for this trip. From his niche, I noticed this stained glass rendering in the oldest cruciform part of the Cathedral, dating back to the 14th Century. Haven't we seen her before? When we stepped outside, we were greeted by the crescent New Moon riding high above the towers and roofs.

Footsteps away (our house shares walls with the cathedral and the prebytery) we climbed ancient stairs to our house.

 

 

 


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