We are staying in the remarkable town of Sarlat La Caneda, one of the larger centres in the Dordogne River area of France. I think this town holds the reputation of being one of the most intact medieval towns in all of France. It is superbly scenic with a maze of little streets, hidden squares and quaint architecture everywhere you look.
Sarlat developed around a large Benedictine abbey dedicated to Saint Sacerdos. He was born near here and became a monk. Eventually he became the bishop of Limoges. Modern history seems to have largely passed Sarlat by – it has remained preserved as one of the towns most representative of 14th century France. It is now on France’s tentative list for future nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Our hotel is at the end of the narrow shopping street of the town that divides the town in two. Opposite our hotel is a small garden square in which two war memorials have been built. On the right is the memorial to local soldiers of WW1 showing a sculpture of a soldier who is wrapped in the arms of an angel. With my limited French, I can read the inscription that says ‘To the young of Salat who died for their patriotism’. On the other side of the square is the memorial to WW2 with the inscription ‘To the combatants and resistance who were killed by the barbarian Nazis’. I guess that pretty well summarises what the local sentiment would have been at the time!
On each side of the main shopping street are the narrow streets and alley ways of the old town which is surrounded by remnants of the old city wall. We spent a wonderful time this morning wandering around this area of the town. It seemed as though there was another photo around every corner.
This area of France is a major centre for producing Fois Gras – a food product made from the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened by force feeding. This is a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. Its flavour is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of an ordinary duck or goose liver. (My taste testing indicates that it is not all low in calories or cholesterol or anything else, for that matter, that is found in healthy foods). Every little food shop in town sells shelf after shelf of duck and goose pate and Foai Gras. You would, in fact, be in some trouble eating here if you didn’t like duck. It’s the leading item on the menu of every restaurant in town.
After lunch, we retrieved our car from the hotel’s parking garage and went for a drive around the immediate local area. There seems to be a little village every kilometre. Each has a bunch of stone houses along the street and a church at the top of the hill. There is a major town every fifteen to twenty kilometres or so. There is some forested land but most of the cultivated land seems to be used for growing corn or some other cereal crop.
The roads are narrow and windy. Apart from driving on the other side of the road than we do at home, we also had the challenge of dodging cars coming the other way and large pieces of farm machinery. On many occasions it was simpler to stop and pull over that was to trust my judgement as to how much space remained on our side of the road to let them pass. Cattle were grazing in some areas and walnut trees were common. In one walnut plantation we discovered a flock of a couple of hundred geese grazing under the trees. These were the lucky ones that had not yet been lined up for force feeding and an ultimate obese death.
We have a very nice young lady named Kathleen who is the afternoon receptionist at our hotel. When we returned after dinner, she gave us a map on which she had planned a series of day trips for us around the local area – marking each day’s plan with different coloured highlighters.. She has made it so simple for us. We go to the blue towns tomorrow and look at the local market here on Saturday. On Sunday, we visit the red towns and on Monday we go to the green ones. My impression is that French hospitality is superb – especially in the regional areas of France. It is a lot of hard work being a foreigner in Paris, but here it is vastly different. People will readily speak in English; even at a little supermarket that I stopped at today to buy some more fuel. In Paris that would not have happened.
I must be getting better at discerning different language patterns. We had a large group at a table next to us in the restaurant tonight and i listened carefully to try and identify the language they were using. My best guess was Dutch and sure enough, we had a chance to ask, I was quite correct. Not long ago I would probably not haver been able to discern the difference between that and most other northern European languages.
Well, we will keep on with our travels and enjoy this wonderful part of the country.