0 Castelnaud; La Roque-Gageac

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Thursday, we visited Castelnaud-la-Chappelle, a small town whose claim to fame is the Château de Castelnaud, a medieval fortress built in opposition to - and thus directly facing - Château de Beynac. The Château de Castelnaud is huge, picturesque, and is now a popular museum with all sorts of reconstructions of medieval weaponry. We might have been the only family there without a child under ten.

At the top of the castle were - you guessed it - more stunning views of Castelnaud-la-Chappelle, Beynac, and the nearby countryside.

That night, we had what will surely be our most indulgent meal of the week at La Belle Etoile, an amazing restaurant in the sleepy town of La Roque-Gageac.

We all had local aperitifs (my dad and I had vin du noix - walnut-flavored wine!), rilletes (a more meaty version of pâté) and pumpkin soup. For our appetizers, we had foie gras, sea bass, and rabbit (ick); for the main courses, guinea fowl, sole, and - my favorite - veal in a creamy mushroom sauce. But the desserts are what we'll remember the best - homemade sorbet with beautiful fresh fruit, souflé with a Grand Marnier ice cream, and a chocolate raspberry tartlette. Topped off with a bottle of wine and coffees all around, we basically had to waddle home.

0 Sarlat par Nuit

Friday, October 29, 2010

I was so excited to finally get to see Sarlat-et-Canéda, which is a wonderfully preserved medieval town just ten kilometers from Beynac. The other night we wandered aimlessly around the old town, which was magical and felt like a step back in time.

Today I am relaxing and writing while my parents are out for a long walk. This is, after all, vacation, and it feels like to still be in my pajamas at one o'clock.

0 Beynac mornings; Pech Merle; Rocamador; Périgueux

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The past several mornings, a fog has settled over the countryside and across the river to Castelnaud. The first morning we were stunned - it's so beautiful that it almost looks fake.

On Monday morning, we went to Pech Merle, a pre-historic cave that's 10,000 years old but was only discovered in the 1920s. We couldn't take pictures, but you'll have to take my word that it contains incredible cave drawings and limitless stalagmites and stalagtites. Not to mention, it is about four kilometers long - though the tour only took us through a small portion of it. It's beginning to get chilly here - at 55 degrees, the cave was warmer than it was outside.

In the afternoon, we went to Rocamador, a 15th century pilgrimage site, settled near-vertically into the cliffs. (My mom counted - we walked down and up sixteen switchbacks from the car to the town - and that was only to the halfway point, where we took an elevator.) We stopped in town for lunch, where our oversized beers and cappucinos were the highlights. Although the town was a bit tourist-y for us, the views of Rocamador and the nearby villages on the way out were beautiful.

Then yesterday, during the day, we went to Périgueux to see my French host family from my training week. We met their younger daughter, Hélène, and her husband, Jonathan. As suspected, my parents were as fond of Alain as I am.

After coffee with Alain and the fam, we got to meet up and have lunch with the Périgueux boys, Robby and Tyler, and Ben, who's been staying with them this week. It was so nice that my parents got to spend time with some of my friends. We didn't stop laughing the whole time.

0 Beynac-et-Cazenac

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm spending this week with my parents in Beynac-et-Cazenac, a tiny but breathtaking village about an hour east of Bergerac. The town is built into cliffs overlooking the Dordogne River, and at the top of it sits the Château de Beynac, which served as a stronghold for the French during the Hundred Years' War. Although medieval architecture dominates the town, historians think that people settled there as early at 2,000 B.C.

The house we are staying in is 500 years old, and has been rented out for years by the same American couple. There is thus a guestbook on the coffee table filled with rave reviews from past English-speaking vacationers, all with valuable advice about where to go, where to eat, and what to skip in the Périgord Noir (the name of this particular region of the Dordogne). When we walked into the house, which is set on a steep hill on the way up to the castle, my mom said to me, "You must have done something right in this lifetime." It is absolutely the most breathtaking place I have ever slept in! My bed alone is fit for a princess, and I have the entire basement floor to myself, which opens out onto a garden and a terrace.

(I have yet to take pictures of the room itself - I should have done it when we first got here, but now it is far too messy to share. Perhaps before check-out...)

Our house is aptly named Mont Joie - literally, Mount Joy.

Yesterday, our first full day here, we wandered around the town and made our way up to the château. We decided not to spend the seven Euros on going in, agreeing that it probably looks much prettier from below. Then we made our way to the highest point in Beynac, which provided the most stunning views of the Dordogne River, the nearby countryside, and Château de Castelnaud.

Later, we watched the most beautiful sunset over the river from our dining room window. Although it's a little bit chilly, the sunlight and the fall colors over the past few days have been absolutely perfect.

We walked all of two minutes down the hill for dinner. I had amazing pumpkin soup for my appetizer, then a delicious whole sea bass, and my dad discovered a new favorite beer.

One more important fact about Beynac: scenes from the movie Chocolat were filmed there. Obviously I'm talking about the ones with Johnny Depp in them, or else I wouldn't bother to mention this.

0 Andy's and Alain's photos

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I'm really enjoying this limitless supply of pictures right now. Here are a few more taken by my lovely roommate, Andy.

Alain and Françoise, my wonderful house parents in Périgueux, also kindly sent to me a few pictures to remember them by.