Thrills (and possibly spills) in the hills

Most of us like our sidewalks, paths, streets, roads and highways to be smooth. But there is at least one group of riders who prefer their roads to be rocky: the cyclists who ride cross-country (with a lot of downhill runs), on what are sometimes called mountain bikes.

And they’re coming (again) to the Greater Daglan Area, or GDA.

Less than four kilometres from downtown Daglan is a hill near the village of Saint-Pompon, and it’s one of the main sites for a key event in the 2017 Coupe de France VTT (for Vélo Tout Terrain, or all-terrain bikes).

The Coupe is actually a series of five rounds, and XC No. 2 (at Saint-Pompon) will take place on the weekend of April 15-16. This marks a return to Saint-Pompon, as the races weren’t held in the area last year.

So, what does it look like? Well, actually, it’s pretty scary. Here’s a photo of the hill taken this morning, with earth movers in the foreground:

Adding the finishing touches.

It looked to me like the earth movers were adding the finishing touches to the final run at the bottom of the hill. Here’s how the path down the hill looks:

The path is anything but smooth.

As for the riders, they face some pretty tough going. Here’s a photo from one of the races in the spring of 2012, taken from my posting of May 28, 2012, cleverly called “VTT comes to the GDA”:

Racer

He’s made it almost to the bottom.

So if this is your kind of action, the place to be is this hill just outside Saint-Pompon in a couple of weeks. As for us, we’ll probably be dining somewhere instead. Smoother going.

Posted in Bicycling in the Dordogne, Exercise and fitness, Festivals in France, Life in southwest France, Sports, Sports in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Another seasonal first

Each March, it seems, we are delighted to find the first strawberries of the season showing up in stores and markets. And so it was yesterday, when we stopped at the (wonderful) Grand Frais food store in Bergerac. There they were on display — boxes and boxes of fraises gariguette, or Gariguette strawberries.

This is how another website described them, as quoted in my posting of March 25, 2012:

“They are small, soft and aromatic, reminiscent of wild strawberries. They taste simply fantastic. … Gariguettes are grown in the area between Carpentras, Avignon and Cavaillon, mostly under plastic tunnels to ripen early.”

And here’s a taste of how the Grand Frais display looked yesterday:

And they’re as good as they look.

Your logical question now would be: “And how many boxes did you buy?” And my answer would be: “None.” That’s because we knew that Gariguettes would be on offer at Daglan’s weekly market this morning, and my wife Jan could buy some then. Which she did.

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Truffle heaven

The Greater Daglan Area, or GDA, is known for producing excellent black truffles. And the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Gindreau is known for producing excellent dishes with them.

And so it was that on this past Thursday — when my wife Jan and our friend Joanne and I lunched at Le Gindreau — that I decided to throw caution to the winds and order one of the all-truffle menus.

It cost 99 euros for an amuse, a main course, a small cheese course, and a massive dessert. As it turned out, it was a good idea.

Before I go further with my delight at truffle-heaven-on-a-plate, here’s just a bit of what I wrote about the restaurant in the posting “A well-deserved upgrade” on February 12th of this year, soon after Le Gindreau had been awarded its second Michelin star:

I have been raving about Le Gindreau, the restaurant in Saint-Médard, for quite a while. The food, the service, the atmosphere — they are impressive and have seemed to keep on improving.

As a refresher, the restaurant is less than an hour’s drive south of Daglan, and is located in a former schoolhouse. Since Chef Pascal Bardet and his wife Sandrine bought the place from the previous chef, it’s been renovated and refreshed.

Our lunch began with glasses of Champagne and a wonderful assortment of amuse-bouches. Then came the first of my truffle-laden dishes — a single layer of macaroni, stuffed with foie gras and black truffles and then gratinéed, and served with mushrooms and a sauce made with Jura wine.

For my main course, I received veal sweetbreads, garnished with artichokes and slices of black truffles — over which Sandrine then grated a fresh black truffle. That may have been gilding the lily, but it was superb, and here’s how it looked:

Sweetbreads smothered in truffles.

The so-called cheese course was another truffle-laden concoction. It consisted of layers of thin, crunchy biscuits with mounds of a soft, buttery, salty cheese, and then garnished with generous slices of black truffle:

Truffles galore.

Finally came the massive dessert, which is designed for two diners (Jan and me, in this case). It’s a black truffle soufflé that looked as large as a head. Here it is, being served:

Truffles in the dessert.

To finish the serving, our portions were flamed with dry Maraschino liqueur, like this:

The final, flaming touch.

So it was all wonderful. And to finish things off, we had an enjoyable few minutes talking with Chef Pascal Bardet, a charming and unassuming man who told us in detail about how he learned of his second Michelin star, how he informed his team, and his sudden trip to Paris to be recognized. As I wrote back in February, star No. 2 was “a well-deserved upgrade.”

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in the Lot | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A dedication ceremony, in photos

As I wrote on Saturday, March 18, Daglan was to hold a ceremony on Sunday (March 19) to dedicate a peace monument. Here’s what I wrote:

… taking place tomorrow, at the side of the village church, will be the inauguration of our new Stèle de la Paix, a small  peace monument dedicated to the memory of the combatants and the victims of the battles in North Africa and Indochina (Viet Nam) in the years 1946 – 1962.

Now here’s a look at how the quiet, respectful and well-attended ceremony unfolded:

Dignitaries and villagers assemble.

Our Mayor and an officer place flowers on the monument.

A smart salute, after the flowers are placed.

Our Mayor, Pascal Dussol, reads his  speech.

Posted in French government and politics, History in France, Life in southwest France | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fresh fish and barbed wire

The story behind this very international posting begins with our friend Keith in Toronto. Knowing that my wife Jan and I were travelling from Daglan to Lisbon in late February, he sent me a link to a blog about Portugal.

It’s a very attractive blog called “Salt of Portugal,” with the sub-title “all that is glorious about Portugal.” And what should I discover when I checked it out? I read about a place called Ultimo Porto (the Last Harbour) — whose very existence “as one of Lisbon’s best fish restaurants has been a closely guarded secret for more than half a century.”

Music to our ears! Lisbon is known for seafood, so one of its best fish restaurants must be very good indeed.

So on a Thursday in late February, Jan and I headed out of our hotel for lunch. On the way, I asked the concierge if he knew the restaurant; he did not. Seemed strange.

When we climbed into our taxi, it turned out that the driver also had never heard of the restaurant, and in fact wasn’t sure if he could find it  — as its address is Estaçao Maritima Da Rocha Conde d’Obidos, evidently on a dock at the end of one of Lisbon’s harbours. He promised that if he couldn’t find it, he would turn off his meter and take us back to the hotel without additional charge.

However, with some luck and the help of Google Maps, he did eventually get us to Ultimo Porto — tucked away at the end of a long concrete wharf, surrounded by what we assumed were warehouses.

Questions immediately popped into our minds: It seemed a bit rough and ready, so did we really want to stay? Would a taxi be able to find us, to return us to our hotel? Helpfully, our driver went into the restaurant and asked the staff if they could call a cab for us when we were finished with lunch. No problem, they said, and so we stayed.

And here is Jan at our table, located outdoors, and as you can see “informal” pretty much sums up the restaurant’s style:

Jan gets settled at our table.

The main event at this restaurant is grilled fish — a good assortment of very fresh fish, grilled outdoors. (Our server brought us a tray of fish, so we could see what was available, and make our choices.) Here is one of the staff, standing guard over the grill:

Checking out his smartphone while watching the grill.

And here’s a close-up view of the grill itself, so you can see the fish being cooked:

Fish on the grill.

What was most strange about the restaurant is that we didn’t really have a view of Lisbon’s river, or indeed anything very attractive or nautical.

Instead, we were treated to a lot of industrial action, with various cranes moving the huge cargo containers stacked in neighbouring yards. To complete the effect, the metal fences were topped with barbed wire (to keep people out of the container yards, I imagine, rather than to keep people in the restaurant). You can probably make out the rolled barbed wire at the top of the fencing:

An overall look at the cooking area.

And here’s another photo, showing off the stacked cargo containers, as well as several tables of diners:

A romantic back-drop?

And by the way, the place was packed by the time that Jan and I finished the last of our lunches, and asked our waiter to call a taxi. (It came quite quickly, in fact.)

So, what was all the fuss about? Well, the grilled fish — served simply with potatoes and greens — was indeed very good. (The total bill for Jan and me, including a bottle of fresh white wine, was just under 54 euros. Very reasonable.) Here’s my plate of grilled grouper:

Fish, she is very fresh.

The all important question: Would we return? We probably would, if we lived in Lisbon, fairly near the harbour, and had a car to get us to the restaurant. But we’ll probably always remember Ultimo Porto more for the surroundings than the fish.

Posted in Food, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two meals in Lisbon

Yes, I realize that I have not been awfully diligent in posting about our trip to Lisbon near the end of February. Among other things, I’ve had technical troubles with photographs (okay, probably Operator Error). As well, I’ve been rather occupied with writing for some corporate clients in Canada, who actually pay money for my written words, and thus deserve priority.

But just for now, I will let you know that I will shortly be posting accounts of two very different meals in the capital of Portugal. One meal was one of the strangest lunches we’ve ever had, while the other was possibly the best meal ever.  (And I mean ever.)

Stay tuned for “Fresh fish and barbed wire.” Coming soon. In the meantime, here is some fresh fish, from that very lunch.

Fish? Fresh. Venue? Strange.

Posted in Food, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Flower power, 2nd edition

Just about a year ago (March 20, 2016, to be precise) I posted “Flower power” to herald Daglan’s first Fête du Printemps, or Spring Festival.  And now my wife Jan and I are busily getting prepared for the second edition of the Fête, which takes place in our village tomorrow (Sunday, March 19).

(Okay, we’re not actually “busily getting prepared.” But we have talked about it, and do plan to buy some flowers and other plants for the front of our house.)

The festival is pretty much a village-wide flower and plant market, with stalls all over the place. There will also be some displays, and a lunch of stuffed chicken in the village’s Salle des fêtes. (The lunch costs 20 euros for adults, and 10 euros for children. To reserve, call 05 – 53 – 28 – 41 – 16.)

Here are just a couple of photos from the 2016 edition to show you the kinds of offerings that will be available:

Plants, flowers, shrubs — you name it.

For sale, trees and shrubs.

Also taking place tomorrow, at the side of the village church, will be the inauguration of our new Stèle de la Paix, a small  peace monument dedicated to the memory of the combatants and the victims of the battles in North Africa and Indochina (Viet Nam) in the years 1946 – 1962.

The ceremony starts at 11:30, and will be followed (of course) by a vin d’honneur at the Salle des fêtes. [Late news: A notice for this event said it begins at 11:30, but an email newsletter from our Mayor’s office said it will start at 11. Go figure.]

And now, as the saying goes: “It’s time to watch some rugby.” (The Six Nations tournament ends today.)

 

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Festivals in France, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Markets in France | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments