Our everyday market, La Halle de Cougnac

It’s certainly fun to go to a local market, and there is a good choice within easy reach of La Vieille Grange — St Julian de Lampon (Thursday), Souillac (Friday) and Gourdon and the ever popular Sarlat market (Saturday) as well as summer markets in Fajoles (Sunday) and Payrac (Wednesday). And we buy at all when we are in Mercadiol. But we are also great fans of the farm producers outlet at Cougnac, on the outskirts of Gourdon on the Sarlat Road (D704).

On offer under one roof is a range of produce similar to what you will find at a market, and maybe more. On our last visit we bought just-harvested carrots, radishes, asparagus and lettuce; duck sausages; delicious walnut slice (we buy this each visit!); and wine. There is also a range of jams, honey and condiments, eggs, yoghurts, juice, escargots, terrines, meat, cheeses, bread and local wines and artisan beer. And, like any market, it is best to go early. By the afternoon, the asparagus may be gone, and the bread, and remnants only remaining of the walnut slice. Prices are sometimes a little higher than the supermarket, but the freshness and quality is high, and reliable. A visit here is highly recommended. We are hooked!

La Halle de Cougnac 3 km from Gourdon on the Sarlat Road (D704). Hours: Monday to Thursday 9–12.30, 3–6.30; Friday and Saturday 9–6.30 (no closure for lunch); Sunday 9–12 July and August only)

Merci chien! Merci Henriette!

Mercadiol has always had dogs. When we first bought a house in the village more than 40 years ago, the two old farmers and who were then our neighbours Honoré Delmon, next door, and André Pramil just down the lane, both had dogs – large, intelligent, well-behaved farm dogs who protected the village, trotted obediently wherever their masters’ went, and ran wildly through fields and woods when they were set free to roam. Honore’s dogs, Dick and Titou, would sometimes disappear for a day or two – returning wet and muddy, exhausted from their forest wanderings, falling into a deep sleep at their master’s feet. Other times they sat on the back of a tractor or trailer, sniffing the air, happy to be part of whatever outing was underway. But if Honoré told them to guard our house they would sit on the front step (or wherever they’d been told to stay) until their shift ended. Then they would pad gently home for their dinner.

But there were canine visitors to the village, too: dogs on their own, checking out territory beyond their own patch, some no doubt strays or escapees from maltreatment. Mostly the village dogs were able to stop them causing trouble in the village. On one occasion, when our family was packing the car to return to London after a holiday in the village, we were caught out. On the table was a cold roast chicken, cooked the night before to be ready for our pre-departure lunch. As we said our farewells in the street, we became momentarily distracted. A large dog, a shaggy breed with brown coat and high pointy ears, ran through the open door, jumped onto the table and seized the chicken – and raced off with it in his mouth! ‘Voleur ‘we cried, more than a little dismayed, as the dog dashed past us.

By this time Honoré’s sister Henriette and her husband André, by then retired, returned to the village and her family home (pictured below, and there is a chapter about them in Stephanie Alexander’s Cooking and Travelling in South-West France). Ever-generous, Henriette was so shocked she immediately replaced our boring cold chicken with confit duck from a jar she’d prepared for the long winter. It was absolutely stunning!

After thanking her profusely, we ate our new delicious lunch and set off on the long drive trip to London. As we drove from the Mercadiol through leafy lanes, we spied the robber dog, walking through a field, slyly observing our departure, licking its lips and – I’m sure of it – smiling. We could only wave and yell, ‘Thanks, chien! You made sure we both had a really nice lunch!’

[Derek]

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If a stray puppy, probably dumped, came whimpering into the village, Henriette made sure she found it a place in the community.

 

All the fun of the Tour, 2017

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The ‘caravan’, which comes through about an hour before the riders is a particular highlight.

In 2017 the Tour de France will pass within 30 minutes’ drive of La Vieille Grange, this year cycling along the banks of the Dordogne and through scenic villages of  La Roque Gageac and Beynac. The Tour came even closer in 2012, when we joined a crowd of locals at Payrac to watch Cadel whizz by.

The build-up is great fun, with the caravan that precedes the cyclist tossing out gifts to those lining the way. Then the cyclists come and go in a flash. Although no Cadel this year, there will be other Aussies to cheer on and so we’ll be out beside the road again. And when it is all over, we’ll maybe take in a castle or cool down with dip in the river.

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Jardin Medieval du Barry, Salviac

The pretty village of Salviac, south of Gourdon and about 30 mins drive from Mercadiol, is known for its antique and bric-a-brac shops, its annual old book fair, and its flower displays. Definitely worth a visit is the medieval garden, the old potager of the Chateau Lacoste, revived and replanted in the traditional square divided into four squares of monastic gardens. It fulfilled many needs, providing fruit and vegetables for the kitchen, medicinal plants, aromatic herbs, tinctures for dying fabric, and flowers to gather. It was also a place of contemplation.

And adding to the atmosphere here are a number of small sculptures — old iron garden implements (spades and hoes) — transformed into mysterious, hooded medieval figures.

Authentic rural dining experience

The Diabolo-Fraise, in Nabirat, is the genuine article. A village restaurant serving well-prepared fresh local produce.

One piece of advice though, make sure you book! We had, and arrived just after noon, the first through the door. Within minutes other tables started to stream in, farm workers, families, locals, holidaymakers — soon 40 or so were seated. There’s no menu, you just take your seat and wait.

Icy water, a carafe of very drinkable chilled red wine and crusty bread soon appeared. Then a tureen of steaming vegetable soup — broth with beans, carrots, courgettes and garden herbs, tasty but not too filling.

 

Next a slice of jambon in parsley aspic with melon which was followed by the hearty main course – a platter of roast beef, thick slices, perfectly pink with oven-cooked sliced vegetables and jus. We left nothing.

 

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Nabirat is famed for its strawberries and these featured in the dessert, a rich strawberry syrup with ice cream, whipped cream and palmier pastry biscuit. And then an excellent coffee to finish. Our hostess looked after the tables single-handedly, cheerfully delivering food, clearing plates away, replenishing bread and water and greeting customer’s dogs (we had two well-behaved greyhounds near us).

And all for 14 euros per person (no cards).

Nabirat is 20 to 25 minutes from Mercadiol taking back roads via Grolejac, or 30 minutes if you go via Gourdon.

Le Diabolo-Fraise, Nabirat, 05 53 59 36 83.

Note: closed Saturday and Sunday lunch. Themed meals Saturday evening. Evening menu 24 euros.

Visit to the goat farm

Fromagerie Lahore is about 3 km south of Payrac, tucked away on a back road – follow the goat signs. It’s about a five minute drive from the main road and once you arrive you’ll likely come across a full car park of interested visitors. Milking time is 6pm to 8pm, when the farm is the open for free daily tours and sales. You can watch the goats being  rounded up and penned for milking, and can actually walk among them.

Fear not – they seem remarkably docile. We did not stay for the entire tour this time, but we watched as eager children were shown how to milk a goat and allowed to have a go. Best of all, you can buy your cheese from the cool room next to the milking yard. It’s very reasonably priced, from day old to week old, and quite delicious – you’ll have a task on your hands trying to find better cabecou in the region!

Fromagerie Lahore

Tel: 0565327051

Address: Mas de Géral, Toulas. 46350 Payrac

Email: ferme.lahore@hotmail.fr

Walking back from Chateau Fenelon

One of the walks you can do from La Vieille Grange is along the road up the hill to Chateau Fenelon, past the Auberge du Cantou (the duck restaurant and retail outlet for preserved duck products and fresh eggs). Continue past the chateau gates and follow the wall back down the hill, through woods, to Mercadiol. Once the track leaves the walls, keep taking the left fork! About 50 minutes.