Our quiet (and lovely) retreat

Daglan’s annual Fête de la Saint-Louis took place this past weekend. And that explains why my wife Jan and I escaped the village — well, the loud, late-night music from the nearby bumper car ride — for three nights. Our August escape from the fête  is pretty much a tradition.

Last year our destination was Toronto, home of family and friends, but most years we stay somewhere within a short driving distance of Daglan, so we can look after our cat Souci during the days. At night our friend Sara stays at our home, watching over Souci as well, while her young son enjoys the fête.

This year we tried a new place (new to us, that is), and were delighted not only with the tranquillity but also the hospitality, the comfort, the food, and lots more. Here’s the front of La Belle Demeure, on the road leading out of St. Cybranet on the way to Cénac:

The sign out front.

La Belle Demeure (the word demeure means residence, by the way) is a B & B, so breakfast is offered each morning. Dinners are offered occasionally (we enjoyed a three-course dinner on the Saturday night), while snacks are offered at apéro time and bottles of wine can be purchased.

Breakfast, dinners and drinks are served on a large, grape-vine-covered terrace when the weather allows, and it’s an attractive setting for relaxing and conversation, with a view overlooking the pool. Here’s the view:

Care for a dip?

And here are a few more details on aspects of La Belle Demeure that Jan and I enjoyed:

The hospitality. Our hosts were the owners, Richard and Philippe — both experienced in hotels and both brimming with hospitality, enthusiasm, good humour, and genuine concern for the comfort of their guests. Richard is English and Philippe is French, and both are fluently bilingual.

The comfort. While the building is old, the conveniences are up to date. Our room was large, with just the right amount of furniture, good lighting, a very comfortable mattress, and a well-appointed bathroom (with enough shelf space for toiletries and so on).

The food. Our Saturday night dinner included foie gras to begin, then a delicious chicken pie, and for dessert a Pavlova covered in whipped cream and fresh fruit. We had breakfast at the B & B each morning, and were impressed with the variety of foods on offer — with at least one different fresh-baked dish (baked by Richard) each morning.

So clearly this place has the Radio Free Daglan seal of approval. For future reference, the phone number is 05 – 53 – 28 – 57 – 12, if you’re calling from France. If you’re outside France, you dial the country code (33) and omit the 0 in the 05 beginning.

Posted in Food, French food, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Travels in and out of France, Wine | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Historic inventions in our streets

Each year, the Sunday afternoon parade is a highlight of Daglan’s four-day Fête de la Saint-Louis, and it always has a theme (Liberation, Music, Civilization, the Western movie, and so on). This year’s theme was historic inventions.

The inventions highlighted in the parade weren’t necessarily ones I would have chosen, but clearly some thought and a lot of work had gone into planning the parade and its floats.

What follows is a photographic review of some of the entries, starting with the steam engine (which I’ll admit looks a lot like a tractor) driving a train.

Choo choo!

The jet engine is a more modern invention, and is particularly impressive when mounted in a little airplane or rocket that in turn is mounted on a small scooter. This one was scooting around and weaving its way through the other entries:

Here he comes — again!

Plastic is of course an historic invention, and one of its many uses — as demonstrated on this float — is in the manufacture of very large condoms, which in fact can be worn on the head:

There’s nothing like protection.

It was natural that an airplane would be featured among historic inventions, although I had the feeling that this entry had been seen before — when the parade theme was Liberation. By the way, the words on the side of the plane’s nose mean The Widow Maker.

A bit of historical research (thank you, Mr. Internet) turned up the fact that many planes have had that nick name over the years, including one unfortunate new model in World War II that kept stalling and crashing, thus making widows out of the young pilots’ wives. Here it is:

And away it goes!

The band may not be considered an historic invention (or maybe it is), but this group of marching musicians added a lot of life to the parade, and for a time drowned out the music of the bumper car ride:

Playing to beat the band.

The telephone was clearly a major breakthrough in communications (and did you know that Alexander Graham Bell invented it in Canada?). I’m pretty sure the first one wasn’t pink, but this version was fairly attractive:

Give me a ring sometime!

A large sign on the front of the next float highlighted the 100th anniversary of rugby in Daglan, but the contraption on the platform  stumped my wife Jan and me at first.

Clearly the vertical column was some sort of chimney, but what was that word on the right-hand cylinder? (On the left of the chimney were the letters RCD, for Rugby Club of Daglan.) See if you can make it out:

Smoke was pouring out of the chimney.

We had to ask four fluent French speakers before we got the answer: Gnôle means hooch. That is, moonshine. Fun guys, these rugby fans!



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Packing up early

It looks to us like Daglan’s Fête de la Saint-Louis — what I call the Festival of Heat and Noise — is losing a bit of momentum. It’s supposed to be a four-day event, but today there is already strong evidence that interest is fading.

You may recall that I recently posted a photo of a massive bumper car ride that was installed in the village’s main square. While the cars themselves aren’t much of a nuisance, the loud music blaring from the ride’s loudspeakers is very much an irritant. Here’s a reminder of what the ride looks like:

Ready to rumble.

Since today (Monday) is the last day of the festival, the ride should still  be operating. So imagine our surprise when my wife Jan and I drove into the village early this morning, and found that the ride had been completely broken down and packed into its carrying vehicle, ready to be carted away. Here’s the truck, with the ride inside:

Ready to roll.

Later on, just after noon, I again drove into Daglan after doing some shopping, and found that virtually all the stalls — games, candy vendors and so on — were either completely gone or else packed into trucks and vans and ready to disembark. I guess business just isn’t what it used to be.

Tonight there is a bal musette scheduled — that’s a sort of old-fashioned dance, typically including accordion music — but that seems to be the last gasp of our festival.

Two more reports on all this will be coming soon. One will be my coverage of Sunday’s fête parade, and the other will be a review of the lovely B & B where Jan and I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, in order to avoid the noise of the bumper car ride.

At least tonight, noise levels should be back to normal — which is to say, nice and quiet.


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And so it begins, again…

Is it a false memory, based on a fervent wish? An unsubstantiated report? A rumour? A daydream?

I’m not sure, but I have this idea that, a while ago, someone told me that the bumper car ride would not be part of this year’s Fête de la Saint  -Louis, Daglan’s annual summer festival that started today and runs through Monday. Or else that the ride would be moved — so that it would no longer take up half of the village’s main square.

But no, this morning as I drove past the village square, there it was, just waiting to get started. And now, in the afternoon, it has indeed started up, and in our house not far from the village square, we can hear the music blaring out of the loudspeakers.

To be clear, I have no objection to kids’ rides in general, or bumper cars in particular, and I generally am fond of music. But it gets to be a bit much when the music keeps pounding away until late in the night, usually past midnight.

The ride itself is massive, and assembling it takes the best part of an entire day. (Not a job I would ever want.) Anyway, here it is:

Ready to rumble.

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Kiwi magic in a lovely French village

We had been hoping that this past Sunday would be another beautiful summer’s day, because we knew that the restaurant we would be trying for the first time has lots of outdoor seating. Instead, we woke up to a cool and rainy morning, and proceeded to have a fairly miserable hour-long drive on narrow, twisting roads.

So when we showed up at Le Petit Léon, in the lovely village of  Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, we were seated inside, away from the wet terrace, and joined friends Helen and Roy at our table for lunch.

As you might suspect, when we had finished our lengthy and truly enjoyable lunch, the weather had changed completely, with brilliant sunshine, as you’ll see in this photograph that I took as we left the restaurant for the long ride home:

The restaurant’s gated entrance.

We were visiting Le Petit Léon because a friend of my wife Jan had heard a glowing recommendation from a tourist, who had stumbled on the restaurant while driving around the Greater Daglan Area.

Things got even more interesting when I visited Le Petit Léon’s website, where the tagline for the restaurant is “Fine Dining with Rustic French Flair.”

In fact, it turns out to be a summer restaurant only, and the chef is a young New Zealander named Nick Honeyman, who trained at a number of restaurants in Australia and France, including the acclaimed L’Arpège in Paris (three Michelin stars).

We chatted with him after our lunch, and learned that he brings his entire brigade from New Zealand to Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère. So there really is Kiwi magic in the kitchen, although the serving staff all seemed to be French.  I’ll write a bit more about him later — but now to the food.

All four of us had the 30-euro, three-course lunch, which offered four choices for each course.

My entrée was a wonderful, rich soup — described on the menu as Potato & Truffel Velouté | courgettes | ricotta | salted melon | garlic. Okay, their spelling isn’t always perfect; that should be truffle. In any case, it was truly exceptional, with a heady aroma of truffle. Here’s my serving:

My incredibly rich entrée.

My plat principal was equally wonderful. The menu describes the dish as Veal Rump | beef cheek | cep sauce | smoked purée | brown onion. More commonly, in France that sauce made with cep would be cèpe, but what the heck. The pieces of veal were perfectly cooked, tender and succulent. The beef cheek was so soft that it was literally in shreds; in the photo below, the beef is in the little bowl on the left, under the smoked purée:

Beef or veal? It was a tie for deliciousness.

My dessert was a wonderful concoction, described on the restaurant menu as Chocolat | pear & parmesan | fig | spéculoos (so, some of the spellings are French, others English). In case you were wondering, the spéculoos refers to crumbs of a traditional Belgian cookie, cinnamon-flavoured, and surprisingly popular in France. Here’s my dessert:

Absolutely nothing wrong with this!

I’ll close this posting with a few additional bits of information on the locale, the chef, and the restaurant,

The locale. The village name indicates that it’s located on the Vézère River, a long and important tributary of the Dordogne River. The Vézère Valley is made up of limestone cliffs, which are riddled with caves. These provided homes for some of the earliest pre-historic settlers in Europe, and include such famous sites as the Lascaux caves. The whole area was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, and has been called The Valley of Mankind.

The chef.  When the four of us left the restaurant, Nick Honeyman was relaxing on the terrace with his infant daughter, and we asked him about his plans. It turns out that he loves France, and regards his time at Le Petit Léon as a virtual vacation. Despite running such a high-quality restaurant, he said his time in rural France is stress-free compared with his life back in New Zealand. There, he owns Paris Butter, a fine-dining restaurant in Auckland. Its website offers this tagline: “French Inspired. New Zealand Grown.” I hadn’t thought that New Zealand could be stressful, because I think of it as a green and pleasant land. But Auckland is a major city (population of more than 1.6 million) located near the north end of the North Island. So I guess it’s busy, busy for the chef and his crew.

The restaurant. We’d love to go back, but our visit might have to wait until next summer. We have a lot of social events ahead of us in August, so I figured we could go with our friend Joanne when she visits Daglan in September. But no dice — the restaurant opened June 20th, and is in business only until September 1. Boo hoo!

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Fasten seat belts, insert ear plugs!

For a small village, Daglan certainly seems to punch above its weight — at least when it comes to summer festivals. So the Greater Daglan Area is now waiting anxiously for our four-day Fête de la Saint- Louis, which starts on Friday.

(I know it’s weird, being la Saint Louis, when Saint Louis was, after all, male. You’d think it would be Fête du Saint-Louis. But no. It seems that the la refers, somehow, back to Fête, which is a feminine word. Go figure.)

In any case, a sure sign that the festival is imminent is the installation of yellow banners on poles around the village, which took place last week. Each banner signals the festival for a particular year, and indicates the theme of that year’s grand parade on Sunday afternoon. Here’s a typical view:

Yellow banners hang throughout our streets.

Now, what about the event itself? Actually, we are not huge fans. To be honest,  I refer to the fête as the Festival of Heat and Noise, first because it occurs during the hottest month of the year, and second because the bumper-car ride that takes up half of the village’s main square plays loud music until very late in the evening. And it happens to be quite near our home.

During the days, the festival consists primarily of a wide variety of stalls located throughout Daglan, selling souvenirs, candies, cotton candy, games for children, and so on. But in the evenings, there are special events like meals, concerts, dancing, and fireworks.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I believe the Sunday parade is worth seeing, if you can. Here’s some of what I wrote in August 2016, in which I highlighted the parade:

It’s not as exciting as running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. It doesn’t have the high seriousness of a religious procession (or a funeral march) in Italy. And it certainly doesn’t have the polished professionalism of a North American event like the Rose Bowl parade in California.

But the Sunday parade in Daglan is unique, wacky, involving and fun — certainly the highlight of our annual four-day Fête de la Saint-Louis.  Much of the community is involved behind the scenes, and the parade attracts not only the locals but tourists from all over. A Belgian couple we met this past weekend said they had never seen anything like it, anywhere in Europe.

I’ve been reliably informed that the theme for this Sunday’s parade is great inventions — presumably things like the telephone, the automobile, the MRI machine, and this blog. We shall see what the locals come up with.

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Another way to learn patience

There are several proven ways to learn how to be patient, and I’ve tried a few. For example: Fly-fishing for salmon in a Scottish river (salmon caught? zero). Putting up wallpaper (aaargghh). Taking part in a 24-hour police stake-out (okay, I’ve never actually done that).

But I’m learning another method: Growing orchids. Now when I say “growing” orchids, I am talking about “growing” on a very modest scale. Namely, on a window sill in our main bathroom in the house in Daglan.

I know there are orchid lovers who have entire glassed-in greenhouses devoted to the plants. These are the kind of people who know not only the Latin names of each variety, but the common English names: Little Brown Betty, Mandarin Butterfly, Georgia Peach Jam. (Yes, I made those up.)

If you’re like us, from time to time you buy a flowering orchid plant on a whim, or someone gives you one as a gift. It’s beautiful; you put it in a window sill; and eventually the flowers die and fall off. Then the whole thing looks barren, with just a twig or two in the air, and then you throw the plant away. Well, I decided a while ago, those days are over.

For my new regime, I went online and found a YouTube video on caring for orchids, and we’ve been following the advice ever since. And now we have two orchid plants in our bathroom that happen to be flowering (sort of) at the same time. And here they are:

They are lovely, aren’t they?

The one with the darker flower, on the right, had many such flowers, but they have been slowly withering and falling off. The plant on the left has (finally) started blooming again.

The entire process really does take time. What I’ve learned is that when a branch has lost all its flowers, you cut it off. Eventually — and this could take weeks — a new branch starts to emerge from the base of the plant. Eventually — and again, this could take weeks — buds will appear and then blossom. Magic!

What else have I learned? Water the orchids just once a week, and even then don’t water too much. Fertilize lightly along the way (yes, you can buy specific orchid fertilizer in a nursery). And don’t expose the plants to too much sunlight.

I think that’s it for the basics. But if any real orchid experts have anything to add, please use the Comments feature at the bottom of this posting. Thank you, thank you very much. (Elvis accent.)


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