The countdown continues! It feels like the clocks are racing.
Francis leaves for France in just one week.
He is so excited.
I’m still busy preparing for the tours that we’ll be leading so I haven’t had a chance to look into the Dordogne at all. I’ve only seen the stunning private castles that Francis would like to rent as a base for our guests so they can visit the region relatively inexpensively. It is hard to believe but if our guests stay in a castle instead of a charming boutique hotel, we can save them over a thousand dollars. Part of the reason is the difference in lodging costs. And, part of it is also that we can buy wonderful fresh baked breads and croissants from a bakery and offer fruits and cereals for a much lower price than hotels charge… So, we decided to do the same at dinner with a salad-bar style buffet including lots of luxurious items local items (truffled cheeses, frois gras…) to save on dinner costs. That way our guests can still have a luxurious meal in a fancy Michelin star restaurant during their stay and eat in other delicious local establishments but keep to a tighter budget, so to speak.
But I digress!
Yesterday, I took my sons to a birthday party and mentioned our project to one of the mothers in casual conversation. I was so thrilled by her reaction. She burst into smiles and gushed about how much she and her husband love the Dordogne region. One of the first things she told me was that it is fabulous because there are so few American tourists there (which is exactly what Francis and I want to offer to our guests) and then she told me that one of the biggest charms of the region (in addition to the gorgeous natural setting and the food which she called “the best I have ever had in France”) is the multitude of charming villages.
I believed her… but I underestimated the extent of her love for the region. When she wrote out a list of her favorite places on a napkin and they numbered 17… obviously this was a place where she’d spent a lot of time. I never imagined there would be such a wealth of places to capture the imagination… 17 favorites is a lot! Her most favorite village was Carennac which I looked up and was not surprised to see that it is registered as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”. One of Francis’s arguments when he convinced me to let him develop the Live-a-Local Castle tour in a region that we don’t know was that it has the highest concentration of “Most Beautiful Villages in France” in the entire country. Her other top favorites included Martel, Autoire and the city of Sarlet for its market.
And what you won’t believe is that when I showed the list to Francis, he had an almost entirely different list of places planned for us to check out for our guests! They agreed on Sarlet. I couldn’t believe there were so many fabulous things to visit in one area.
Francis has a tight schedule for us, so we will have to hold on to her list in case the places he considers potentials for our itinerary don’t live up to our standards. We’ll be looking at about a dozen places knowing that we only have five full days to visit the region with our guests. So he has selected a variety of different kinds of sights which he considers the best in the area from which we will select only the most interesting for our guests.
Next week when he arrives he’ll mainly spend a week just getting a feel for the place and the cuisine. He plans to visit the “vertical village of” Rocamodour and the caves of Padirac before I arrive. I’m sure he’ll check out other places too if he gets some recommendations from the locals. I’m sorry to miss out on Rocamodour… it looks incredible -many of the buildings are built on a cliffside!
Once I’m there, he has a list of 9 places for us to visit… which includes Montbazillac and though I may not know the place I’m very familiar with that wine and I cannot wait to go wine tasting there!!! When I had just met Francis back in 1997, he found several bottles of 1943 Montbazillac in his grandmother’s cellar. It was the first old wine I ever experienced. I was still fresh to French culture and even more green when it came to wine. I could tell that this was a really special opportunity that I’d stumbled upon from the looks on Francis and his grandmother’s faces… it was the awe and excitement that crosses a child’s face the first time someone “magically” pulls a coin out of their ear. I’ll never forget that day…
Francis had run around the village to tell his great aunt, and his cousins that we were going to taste this wine for the aperitif before dinner. The anticipation built throughout the day like the welling anticipation of the Christmas meal. There was similar joviality in the air too. Just when we’d all gathered in the courtyard of the family home and were about to open the bottle, the plumber dropped by to hand deliver a bill. I was surprised when Francis’ family urged him to join us for the aperitif. He declined saying his wife would be furious if he was late for dinner (this was before everyone had a cellphone of course –but also before I understood that everyone in the village knew each other which made him more than just a plumber). They chided him that he should wait until he knew what they were drinking before so hastily declining… and with the pleasure that someone might show off a new Rolex they revealed the bottle. He was appropriately wowed and his legs almost gave out from under him as he fell merrily into the chair that had been extended to him. Suddenly business was over, he was all smiles. The table was alive with laughter. At the time Francis and I were deeply in love, in that sweet intoxicating state of limerence that is so ephemeral and fleeting… much like the Montbazillac ’43.
Wine tasting in Montbazillac will be a really romantic experience for me.
Just 17 days until I head to France!
(Map/image from the blog “Learn About Wine” where you’ll find a description of the wines of this region.)