There was progress on the Spanish restoration last year that saw shutters installed and painted pale green, a new colour for us. The roof with its 200 year old tuiles plat was completed almost two years ago but only last year were we able to close the window openings and tidy up the surrounds to the house. Makes you think it could be a house again. And, of course, there is still a bit of crepi to finish. We plan to do it this year!
Just a five to ten minute walk up the road to Chateau Fenelon brings you to Le Cantou. In the fields below the poultry (ducks) roam free-range. Everything on the menu here is natural too, no conservatives, no colurants. Though, for vegetarians, there is not much in the way of meat-free (or in this case, duck-free) dishes. For here, it is all about duck in its many forms — pate, fois gras, mousse de fois gras, rillettes, gesiers and magnet seche (both in their delicious saladeperigourdine), confit, cassoulet…
There is a very pleasant outdoor eating area overlooking the fields and forested hills but, for our most recent visit, unseasonally cool August weather saw us eating inside. The dining room is a converted barn, with the original mangers still in place. The evening menus start at 20E, for soup, entre (salade or mousse de canard) confit de canard with a deliciously morish creamy potato bake for a main, and a choice of desserts (we both choose creme brûlée noix, yum). Hard to go wrong, here. Then, stroll home down the hill to La Vieille Grange. Continue reading
Sunday afternoon, no bread and everything is shut. No panic. In the Intermarche car park in Gourdon, put one euro into this machine, wait one minute, and it will deliver a warm and crusty baguette.
The old railway line along the Dordogne Valley between Sarlat and Souillac is now a walking and cycling track. Gentle gradients, shaded and with a terrific tunnel to whoop and echo through. Hire a bike at the Sarlat end, or from the Saint Julien bridge, and enjoy a couple of hours of easy cycling, or pack a picnic and stop for a swim at the Saint Julien ‘beach’.
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)
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!’
If a stray puppy, probably dumped, came whimpering into the village, Henriette made sure she found it a place in the community.
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.