Dordogne Valley delights former St Albans resident
PUBLISHED: 13:35 22 November 2012
WHEN former St Albans local David Knight swapped the historic cathedral city for beautiful tourist destination, the Dordogne Valley, it was an affair of the heart in more ways than one.
Speaking at a recent taste and gastronomy day at Sarlat, capital of the Périgord noir region, David’s wife Françoise explained the perfect ingredient for love.
She laughed: “I seduced David with foie gras.”
The Dordogne Valley boasts plenty of the delicacy, which David and Francoise were teaching visitors how to serve during the gastronomy day.
Now living in Sarlat, David explains that he decided to move to the heritage-rich area after “sticking a pin in a map”.
He lived in St Albans during the 1980s where he was sales manager for Marconi Instruments – once a major employer in the city.
Seduced by mild weather and the Dordogne Valley’s peaceful countryside, David decided “this is the life for me”.
For food lovers, the Dordogne Valley is the perfect place to visit, as it boasts an abundance of fresh produce, with regular markets in cute medieval villages serving up everything from caramelised walnuts and strawberries to truffles and wine.
Another resident singing the region’s praises at the Sarlat gastronomy day was Moroccan hooker Jawad Djoudi, who played for Gloucester between 1999 and 2001 and more recently, Brive.
Now retired from rugby, Jawad said that he had learned how to be a chef, with his love of cooking fostered by the region’s “beautiful food”.
Jawad explained: “Everything you need for cooking, you don’t need to go to a supermarket, because everything is right here.”
Aside from gastronomic delights, the valley has pretty villages and towns which, away from bustling tourist destinations in other parts of France, offering the perfect, peaceful getaway. And best of all, it is a short journey from the UK to the new Brive-Dordogne Valley airport by CityJet (London City Airport).
Labelled one of France’s most beautiful villages, narrow streets meander up a steep hill, towards the remains of Chateau De Turenne, perched on a rock at the very top.
Also known as the “Riviera of the Limousin” this medieval town is the strawberry capital of the valley.
Palms and bananas grow here too, thanks to its sheltered position which offers a warm micro-climate.
An abbey in the heart of Beaulieu has a 12th century silver-covered Virgin and Child.
LA GRÈZE CASTLE, BRIVEZAC
Dinner and a night’s stay at this charming chateau enables visitors to enjoy complete peace and quiet in a beautiful countryside location.
Owners and hosts Anne and Jean-Phillipe France fell in love with the 18th century chateau in the heart of the Dordogne valley and spent seven years restoring it to its original splendour.
Anne cooks up a treat for visitors – no surprise given that she has been taught by great chefs at Alain Ducasse’s masterclass in Paris.
The whole village is constructed from dark red sandstone which makes it look simply gorgeous. Plenty of craftwork and local products are available in little shops throughout the village.
Built on a limestone plateau, Martel has traditional markets in the Corn Exchange on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and truffle markets in December and January.
Or, treat yourself at Aux Saveurs des Halles, a restaurant in the heart of the medieval city.
Other villages to visit include Carrenac, on a rocky terrace overlooking the left bank of the Dordogne, with its remains of a Romanesque cloister; Loubresac, perched on a hill overlooking the Castelnau-Bretenoux fortified castle, and Autoire with its waterfall inside the side of a cliff.
Like St Albans, the Dordogne Valley has attracted its fair share of pilgrims through the ages, and particularly at iconic Rocamadour, which clings to the side of a sheer cliff.
The place has drawn hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, who have visited to pray to the Black Virgin and St. Amadour since the 12th century. They used to climb 197 limestone steps leading up to shrines on their knees, reciting their rosaries.
One of the more famous pilgrims was Henry II Plantagenet, who visited in 1159.
The little Black Virgin can be seen above the altarpiece of the chapel of Notre-Dame, and outside the chapel 12th century paintings of the Angel Gabriel with Mary and the Visitation are high up on the wall.
The prestigious hotel-restaurant in the small village of Meyronne, north of the Lot department, is a castle which overlooks the Dordogne Valley. Apart from beautiful accommodation there is a heated pool and delicious cuisine to enjoy before setting out to visit more stunning places in the Vallée de la Dordogne.