Polishing off the Tour de France

The time frame may be different, but our basic idea for finishing off the Tour de France — the Sunday “Ride into Paris” — is the same. Namely, Champagne, good food, good friends.

When my wife Jan and I lived in Toronto, the last day of the TDF was when we joined close friends (members of the Wild Forest Pig Contrada) at the home of Keith and Kathy for a Champagne brunch. That’s because it’s six hours earlier in Toronto than in Paris, where the Tour action starts in the late afternoon as the riders reach Paris.

So yesterday at about 5 p.m. we left Daglan and drove up to the lovely home of friends Suzanne and Mark, joined by friends Rosemary and Richard, to watch the cyclists complete the Tour with that series of mad dashes around the Avenue des Champs-Elysées,

Our role was to bring the Champagne (and Proscecco and white wine). Here’s one of the bottles:

Was there ever a bad Champagne?

While relaxing on the deck, before the cycling action really got hot, we sat back with our drinks and devoured oysters on the half shell. Like these, which Suzanne and Mark had bought from Fabrice le Chef in Daglan:

One of the plates of oysters we consumed.

Then it was indoors, to watch the exciting end of the Tour. Here’s one of the commentators, a chap we like for his dry wit:

Commenting on the Tour results.

Once the racing was over, and it was confirmed that Sky’s Chris Froome had won his fourth Tour de France, we headed back outdoors, to sit near the pool and enjoy a lovely evening. Here’s the table:

The glasses were sparkling properly.

At this point, dinner was set out on the table, starting with a couple of bowls of salad:

The veg makes an appearance.

And then came the baked potatoes, and grilled vegetables like mushrooms and peppers, and a selection of meats off the barbecue, including sausages and lamb cubes on skewers:

Some serious platters of food.

Finally, it was time to enjoy a delicious apricot tart that Rosemary made for our celebratory dinner. We celebrated by attacking it, cutting off slices before I could take my first photo:

Dessert for a summer’s evening.

When everything was polished off, and the sky had grown dark, it was time to head home. And so off we went, secure in the knowledge that while Chris Froome had won the Tour, we probably ate better that evening.

Posted in Exercise and fitness, Food, Life in southwest France, Sports, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Day tripping to Toulouse

Whether you’re a regular visitor to the Greater Daglan Area, or a first-timer, I’d recommend a trip to the city of Toulouse, if you can spare the time. It’s about two hours by train from Gourdon, the station that often serves people from Daglan. You  could of course drive (highways are excellent), although traffic within the city itself can be pretty congested.

Over the years, my wife Jan and I have become fairly familiar with the place, and happy to be there. You might like it too.

We visited Toulouse again yesterday, because I had my annual check-up by the charming surgeon who performed spinal surgery on me in April 2014, Dr. Pierre Moreno.

Because we were finished at the Centre Toulousain du Rachis (the Toulouse Spine Centre) not much after 11 a.m., we called for a taxi and headed to la Place du Capitole, the city’s central square. Here’s what it looks like:

The Capitolium dominates Place du Capitole.

Why even consider a trip to Toulouse? Lots of reasons. La Ville Rose (the Pink City) is France’s fourth largest, has lots for tourists to see (historic sites, galleries, museums and so on), supports much of the country’s aerospace industry (Airbus), and is home to the huge University of Toulouse (founded in 1229).

I confess that Jan and I haven’t explored many of the typical tourist attractions, and are quite content to use the area around Place du Capitole as our base. The square is usually busy, but not packed; it’s lined with shops and cafés and restaurants; both pedestrians and cyclists travel through it regularly; and it has a young, fresh, cosmopolitan feeling.

So yesterday, for instance, I had a coffee at a sidewalk café while Jan shopped for clothes (she happily scored a lovely blouse) and cosmetics (including my favourite shaving products, on sale at Sephora) . Then we walked along the covered gallery past any number of shops and cafés, and had a pre-lunch drink at Les Tenors, on a table out on the central terrace.

Then it was lunch at a favourite spot, the Grand Café de l’Opéra. I won’t go on and on about it, as I’ve written about the restaurant previously. (For a fuller description of the restaurant, and more details on central Toulouse, see “Hearty fare in fair Toulouse,” posted July 9, 2014.)

The food is always good, the place is large and comfortable (and nicely air-conditioned), the (all-male) staff is made up of professionals who are friendly, polished and efficient. In short, it’s the kind of French café you would expect to find in a good movie.

There’s lots more to learn about Toulouse, and if this has piqued your interest, you can find lots more useful information on sites like Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. You can also take a look at the information here: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/10-amazing-things-to-do-and-see-in-toulouse/




Posted in Cafés in France, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Look! Up in the sky!

The “night market” in the neighbouring village of St. Pompon is a summertime highlight for my wife Jan and me, although these days it is not quite as robust as it used to be. (Aaarrgh! No oysters!) Here’s a quick recap, from my posting of July 6, 2015, “Our favourite night market gets a split personality:”

In case you’ve forgotten, the St. Pompon night market isn’t the usual weekly French  marché; it’s not about picking over cheeses, fresh vegetables and flowers.  Instead, it includes buying prepared foods (fresh oysters, curries, sausages, paella and much more) and local wine, and enjoying them at rough picnic tables with friends and neighbours and strangers. Dancing to the music provided by a DJ is another big part of the fun — and the event had been attracting all sorts of people.

Unfortunately, as I’ve previously written, the market was sort of a victim of its own success, and has been scaled back a bit. Still, it’s a real attraction, and we were there again this past Saturday night, with friends Elisabeth and Gerhard, Rosemary and Richard, and Suzanne and Mark, all of us nibbling various goodies and drinking wine. Here’s a view from our picnic table, showing just some of the food stalls available:

Strolling between the tables and food stalls.

As time went on, however, our eyes turned up to the sky, because headed in our direction was a huge yellow hot air balloon. Here it is, floating relatively close to the rooftops, on the other side of the main street:

A yellow balloon floats past, and soon lands.

It kept right on going, but soon landed, fairly near the edge of the night market. But then, we were all captivated by another sight — and you can see the surprise and (perhaps) delight on the face of one of the spectators, shown here:

Quelle surprise!

It was yet another hot air balloon, but flying even closer to our side of the market. Here it comes, approaching us over the Mairie, the office of the village’s Mayor:

Another balloon approaches — even closer.

And before it finally moved off, the balloon got even closer to us, as you’ll see here:

Skimming over the rooftops.

In case you’ve never seen one in person, these balloons are absolutely huge, and they make a remarkable roaring sound when the pilot turns on the gas to create more hot air. It wasn’t exactly scary, but the balloons’ arrival did add a touch of excitement to our Saturday evening.

And then we repaired back to our house, to watch highlights of the day’s stage of the Tour de France, which I had recorded. The Tour, after all, is a tradition.

Posted in Festivals in France, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Tourist attractions | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A four-hour lunch (with sticker shock)

When friends Keith and Kathy (K-2) were contemplating their recent trip here,  to see some of the Tour de France in person, we first did some long-distance planning. Among our decisions was that at least one Michelin-starred lunch was in order.

On previous visits, K-2 had eaten with my wife Jan and me at two of our starred favourites in the Greater Daglan Area — Le Grand Bleu (Sarlat) and Le Gindreau (Saint- Médard) —  so we decided to eat at the “gastronomic” restaurant at Trémolat’s Le Vieux Logis. Our chosen date was the day after K-2 arrived from Toronto, which was last Sunday, July 9.

I had confidently made the reservation, thinking that we would enjoy the multi-course lunch (Le Menu Tapas) at just over 50 euros (it’s now risen to 53 euros) . But when we arrived and looked over the menu, we learned that the tapas lunch is available only on weekdays, and definitely not on jours fériés (holidays) and weekends. Oops.

Having eaten at Le Vieux Logis many times, I had been confident that the tapas lunch was available on weekends, and hadn’t bothered to check the restaurant website. But later, I reviewed my own records at home, and found that in 2013 (for example) we ate there a total of six times. In 2013, the tapas lunch cost 46 euros, and it turns out that all our meals took place on either Monday or Tuesday. Hmm.

In any case, there we sat, outside on the terrace, drinking a glass of Champagne, reviewing the menu, and hoping that the grey skies would clear. They didn’t, and a light rain forced us into the restaurant itself. (That’s too bad, because in good weather the terrace is an absolutely lovely spot for lunch.)

We all got a bit of sticker shock when we realized that the “best” deal available was probably L’Eté en Aquitaine, at 100 euros for the food and another 25 euros for la sélection des vins de notre sommelier, all of which are from the Bergerac area. But, onward we plunged, and here’s a look at the cavalcade of goodies that we enjoyed.

With our Champagne on the terrace, we had been given a small selection of petite amuse-bouches.  But seated in the main dining room, we were brought another, more substantial amuse — a dish of cold tomato soup with a quenelle of ice cream, small cubes of tomato, and a small glass of cold gazpacho. Quite refreshing, and delicious.

A tasty mix of tomato tastes.

Our entrée was La Truffe Blanche d’Eté — a vichyssoise of vegetables, served atop a small pile of potato cubes, and covered in slivers of white truffle.

A veritable blanket of white truffles.

The fish course consisted of a small filet of sandre (pike-perch), served with a light tomato sauce and accompanied by a flower from a zucchini (courgette) that had been stuffed with a mousse of sandre.

There was a  fish mousse  inside the flower.

The main course was veal, served with a galette of girolle mushrooms and hazelnuts. Here it is:

Pieces of tender veal under the galette.

Next came a cheese course, which I won’t bother showing. As you would expect in a fine French restaurant, there’s a lot of cheese on offer, and you take your pick. But for dessert, Chef outdid himself — serving up two beauties.

First was this creamy, chocolatey concoction:

Nothing wrong with cream and chocolate.

And then the real show-stopper — what the menu described as Les Fraises En Vacherin Minute, avec Sorbet Fraise, Hibiscus. In other words, a strawberry dessert served in a delicious meringue tube. Both attractive-looking and really yummy.

A truly fine finish to our lunch.

And then it was back out onto the terrace for our coffees and mignardises. Oh, and the cheque.

So, on balance, the quality and variety of the food made up for the sticker shock — sort of, anyway. At 125 euros per person for the meal and wines, plus the glass of Champagne we all enjoyed before lunch, the total came to nearly 300 euros per couple. Cost aside, it was certainly a great way to spend four  hours with good friends, who also appreciate fine dining.

The biggest disappointment probably was that we had to eat indoors, although you can’t blame a restaurant for the weather. In fact, there were a couple of other slips — such as mixing up one of Jan’s gluten-free desserts with mine, which did contain small pieces of biscuit. And by the way, could someone give the sommelier some happy pills before he starts work?

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

A taste of the Tour, 2017

The Tour de France passed through the Greater Daglan Area this past Tuesday (July 11), leaving lots of residents happy, and a bit fatigued. We were among them. For my wife Jan and me, it was our fourth personal encounter with the TDF.

Stage 10 on Tuesday consisted of a relatively flat and fast 178 kilometres from the département capital of Périgueux to Bergerac, passing through Sarlat, La Roque-Gageac and Beynac, just to name a few attractive places near us in Daglan. Here is a taste of our encounter with the Tour, up close and personal.

Our location. After much thinking and scouting, Jan and I had decided to position ourselves, and our group of friends, just beyond the bridge that crosses the Dordogne River at Vitrac Port. The Boys, as the riders are sometimes called, would be swooping down from Sarlat, headed for Domme, and we figured we’d get a good view. Here’s our picnic site, in a grassy area just below the road.

Our picnic site, just below the road.

Most of our friends in our group — Kathy and Keith, Rosemary and Richard, and Elisabeth and Gerhard — had ridden their bikes from Daglan, while Jan and I drove my car, loaded with all our food, supplies and chairs. Here’s our travelling squad:

A car and a bunch of bikes.

Our location had seemed relatively remote, but as time went on, the spectators just kept coming. Here’s a look at some of them, lined up beside the road, waiting for the action to begin:

Some anxious TDF spectators.

The picnic, and passing time. We had to leave Daglan early on Tuesday (roughly at 9 a.m.) to get to our site, before the roads began to be blocked. And when I say early, I mean early — the Caravan and then the cyclists weren’t expected to reach our site until the afternoon.

Chatting amongst ourselves, and with other spectators, and drinking a variety of wines (sparkling, still, white, rosé, red) helped to pass the time. So did enjoying an excellent picnic lunch, organized by Jan. She had made the cold roast filet of beef, served with a creamy sauce, and the poached salmon. Rosemary contributed the cole slaw and the desserts, while Elisabeth had made the potato salad.

Here’s Jan, proudly wearing the yellow jersey purchased from the official TDF site, setting up the picnic for us:

Setting out the picnic goodies.

Our disappointment. One of the best things about watching a stage of the Tour in person is the Caravan — a long string of vehicles promoting a wide variety of companies, products and organizations, often with freebies that are thrown to the onlookers. This is particularly popular with the young, and the young-at-heart. Sadly, we were badly short-changed this time around.

The problem is that after passing our site, the Caravan had to climb up to the village of Domme, perched on a hill, and featuring incredibly narrow streets, plus a relatively narrow and low stone entry gate. So to avoid getting stuck, the biggest vehicles in the Caravan — and typically the ones with the best goodies to be thrown to the crowd — skipped our site.

Instead, we got a few cars, and some of the smaller vehicles, like this one:

FDJ operates the national lottery in France.

A few of the vehicles did chuck things into the crowd, like ballpoint pens. In this photo, our enthusiastic friend Elisabeth celebrates her capture of a pack of pens:

Hot dog — they’re Bic pens!

The waiting game, and the singalong. After the severely weakened Caravan passed us, we all had a good long wait until the actual race arrived. To help pass the time, several of the spectators in our area decided to sing, and many of us in the crowd joined in.

The leaders were a group of Welsh men who sang such standards as the Welsh anthem, Delilah (the Tom Jones classic), and the Do-Re-Mi song from The Sound of Music. And here’s the leader of the Welsh group, in action:

Belting out the tunes.

Helping to motivate the group, and provide some direction, was none other than our ever-enthusiastic Elisabeth, shown here in action:

The large foam hand helps the director.

The cyclists arrive — and leave. Finally, the actual race arrived, starting with a group of two cyclists out in front (typically called the “breakaway” group, in cycling circles). Here they are:

It’s the breakaway duo.

And then, in a rush, the rest of the cyclists blow past us, following the breakaway group:

Here they come, there they go.

After the fly-past, we had lots of time to pack up the car, and wait for the long lines of traffic to clear, before heading home. Jan and I had left the house at 9 a.m., and arrived home at 5:30. Such is the attraction of the Tour de France.


Posted in Bicycling in the Dordogne, Exercise and fitness, Food, Life in southwest France, Sports, Sports in the Dordogne, Tourist attractions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Tour: On your mark, set, camp!

Every time that my wife Jan and I encounter the Tour de France in person, we learn something new. Yesterday (Sunday), we learned that some people are very — very — serious about getting themselves in place to watch the cyclists race past.

Yesterday we were driving from home base in Daglan to Trémolat with good friends from Toronto, Keith and Kathy, to have lunch at Le Vieux Logis (about which, more later). Just outside the village of Le Buisson-de-Cadouin, the road heading west starts to climb, twisting up a long hill.

As our car climbed up, we were startled to see a camper or two parked beside the road — and then, lots of them. Have a look:

All set for the cyclists.

And here’s another group of campers:

French flags flying, of course.

And here are some campers who obviously are favouring one rider in the Tour, namely the young French cyclist Warren Barguil, who rides for Team Sunweb:

We want Warren!

Now for a bit of background, in case you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about.

TDF in the Dordogne: The Tour has been to our département, the Dordogne, many times, but it’s not an annual occurrence. So when the route of Stage 10 was announced, it’s a big deal for towns and villages along the way. This stage of the Tour, set for tomorrow (July 11) runs for 178 kilometres, from the département capital of Périgueux to finish in Bergerac.

Getting prepared. For weeks, there have signs posted along the way, announcing that the roads will be barred to traffic. And also for weeks, all sorts of decorations have been put up in many if not most of the towns and villages — ranging from coloured ribbons and bunting, to decorated old bicycles, to  a huge model bicycle-with-rider that will greet the cyclists as they enter Lalinde.

A place to watch. In case you’re not familiar with the Tour, the reason why all the campers are perched on a hill is because a hill is a great place to watch the race. As the cyclists climb, they naturally slow down a bit, so that they are not a blur as they whizz past you. Also, by looking down a hill, you get a better view of how the pack of cyclists is forming up.

What about us? This afternoon, we are just getting set — poaching salmon, roasting beef, making salads, chilling the wine and beer. There are to be nine of us friends at our picnic, at a spot we’ve found that should give us a good view. At least, we’re hoping. We leave early tomorrow morning, to make sure we reach our intended spot before the roads are closed.

More to come in a later post, once we’ve seen the cyclists.





Posted in Bicycling in the Dordogne, Camping in the Dordogne, Festivals in France, Life in southwest France, Sports, Sports in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Progress report — early July 2017

I am a resolute supporter of progress, believing that a Continuous Improvement Program should be part of everyone’s life (and that includes every home, every business, every government, and so on). And I am delighted to report that our little village is demonstrating progress on a broad range of fronts.

Take, for example, Daglan’s status as a Village Fleuri. A month or so ago (June 11, 2017, in “Some sunny summer Sunday joys”) I showed off the first official sign commemorating our achievement, located as you enter the village from the north, which is to say from St. Cybranet. At the time, it was the only such sign at any of the three entrances to the village. But now the other two signs are up, and here is the one at the Pont Neuf entrance to Daglan:

New sign, freshly painted bridge.

But that’s not all. Also in the photo is a view of the Pont Neuf, our bridge over the Céou River. It had been looking pretty ratty. But now it’s been thoroughly sand-blasted, then primed, and then painted in a restful beige. Okay, not exciting — but still nice evidence of civic progress.

On the private enterprise side of things, here is the front of our Café de la Fleur, which had been the out-of-business Bistroquet for some time. The operators of the café are themselves enthusiastic progressives, continually updating and beautifying their business. Now it has a nice, strong sign out front — like this:

Lavazza is the brand of coffee the café serves.

A few days ago, I noticed a couple of the village workers down on their hands and knees in the Place de la Liberté, fiddling with what seemed to be underground pipes. Sure enough — they were turning on the flow of water to the fountain that’s centred in the village square, a flow that (for some reason) had been stopped for quite some time. Here it is, as it looked early this afternoon:

Flow, ye mighty fountain, flow!

Perhaps the most exciting project these days is the complete renovation — you’d really have to say complete re-building — of a run down pile of stones that’s tucked away, just off the Place de la Liberté. A derelict house for years, and quite an eyesore, it’s now being turned into a liveable space.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but here is a photo of a project in full swing most days (actually, since today is a Saturday, it’s a non-working day). What you can’t see is that an entire set of stone steps, leading down from the front door to the ground level, has been removed:

A stone-by-stone re-building.

There is more progress to report. But not now. Friends Keith and Kathy from Toronto are arriving tonight, and tomorrow we’re off to the Michelin-starred Le Vieux Logis, and Monday we’re off to Le Diabolo Fraise, and Tuesday we have a picnic planned with several friends. How come? Because the Tour de France is on its way through. Yahoo! And I guess all this fun is progress, of sorts, as well.



Posted in Bicycling in the Dordogne, Cafés in France, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Markets in France | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment