Five Reasons to Visit Dordogne France

There are hundreds of reasons to visit Dordogne France, but five that top our list.

Known by its older name, Perigord, Dordogne is France’s third largest region located in southwestern France about a 5 hour drive south of Paris between Lyon and Bordeaux. The Perigord region is full of medieval towns, gorgeous châteaux, prehistoric caves, elite gardens, awesome food and all in and around the spectacular countryside. So don’t delay, visit Dordogne France this year!

There are four major towns are Périgueux, Bergerac, and Sarlat, but don’t stop at visiting those towns and experiencing all that the Dordogne has to offer. When you visit Dordogne France, you’ll pass by many honey-colored stone houses and rich green meadows. Along the way you’ll be reminded why the Dordogne, the rural south-west of France is so loved by residents and tourists.

Here are five reasons to visit Dordogne, France.

  1. Le Châteaux – The Dordogne region has around 1000 castles and exquisite châteaux. Some of the most visited châteaux include the 15th century Chateau des Milandes which was restored by the legendary jazz and singer and actress Josephine Baker.

    Châteaux des Milandes in Dordogne, France.
    Châteaux des Milandes in Dordogne, France. Photo by Manfred Heyde.

    Also, worth a visit is the fortified 12th century Châteaux de Beynac. Set 200 meters high on a cliff that juts out onto the Dordogne River, it was temporarily occupied by Richard Lion Heart. The history alone is a reason to visit as well as the fantastic views of the countryside.

  2. Gorgeous Gardens – When you visit Dordogne France, you’ll see it has its share of châteaux as well as astonishing gardens to match.
    The most famous being Les Jardins de Marqueyssac with numerous perfectly manicured boxed hedges. The gardens overlook the chalky cliffs of the Dordogne offering an amazing panoramic view of Perigord.  Even more amazing than a day trip to the gardens is visiting the magically illuminated gardens during the summer evenings.

    The Gardens of Marqueyssac, Dordogne, France
    The Gardens of Marqueyssac, Dordogne, France. Photo by Lemoussu
  3. Quintessentially French towns – There are three major towns in Dordogne, Bergerac in the south-west, Perigueux further north, and Sarlat in the south-east, but don’t stop at those three. One never tires of visiting any of the towns especially those classified as ‘les Plux Beaux Detours‘ in France, so just look for the label Most beautiful detour in France and you’re on the right track. One city on the detour is Brantôme, also known as the known as the Venice of the Dordogne. A stop at the Benedictine Abbey on the river’s edge and the old stone bridge are well worth the visit. Each village has its own charm so make time to thoroughly enjoy as many as possible.

    Abbey of Brantôme and its bell tower, Dordogne, France
    Abbey of Brantôme, Dordogne, France, Photo by Monster1000
  4. Brilliant Caves – France is peppered with hundreds of caves full of prehistoric art and extraordinary rock formations hidden deep beneath a sea of caverns. At Grotte de Rouffignac, the electric train descends you to complete darkness where you’ll see nearly 100 line drawings and engravings of mammoths, horses, and bison as well as the ‘Great Ceiling’ decorated with 65 animal figures.When visiting Gouffre de Padirac you’ll see nature’s beauty in an underground gorge. After the 99 meter descent (elevator or stairs), you take to a gondola ride to enjoy the beauty of the limestone caves.

    Photo by cave painter
    Photo by cave painter
  5. A Gourmand Experience – I had to save the best for last as without a doubt, Dordogne is a foodie region. It’s the food and wine which draw many people to Dordogne. After all, the region is France’s capital of foie gras, duck, and truffle. Vegetarians, don’t fret, the daily markets in the towns and villages are full of seasonal produce such as walnuts, strawberries, mushrooms, goat cheese (cabécou), and French breads of course.And what better way to enjoy Dordogne’s bounty than with one of the region’s Bergerac wines. The region is one of the few in France that produce nearly as many white wines as red (around 48% versus 52%). The area contains 13 Appellations Contrôlées where Bergerac red wine, Côtes de Bergerac red wine, Bergerac dry white wine, Bergerac rosé wine and Côtes de Bergerac sweet white wines, are grown in the Bergerac vineyards.

    Bergerac white wine, Dordogne, France
    Photo by JPS68

Need another reason to visit Dordogne France? Stay-tuned as we update you on more great things to see and do in Dordogne France.

French Le Puy Green Lentils

French Le Puy Green Lentils

I’m not superstitious. I just do it every year. On New Year’s Day for a year of good health and prosperity, I eat black-eyed peas and some sort of leafy green vegetable like cabbage. The black-eyed peas represent coins and the cabbage represents greenbacks (dollar bills). Then I bake homemade gold-colored cornbread muffins in hopes the proper New Year’s Day meal will bring more fortune in the year to come.

French Le Puy green lentils
French Le Puy green lentils

So every year I head off to the grocery store in my German village in pursuit of black-eyed peas. This year I waited too long and there were no black-eyed peas remaining. None. Nada. In fact, the bean section shelves were empty.

I started to freak out a bit so went home and scoured the kitchen drawers for at least a half bag of black-eyed peas I had brought back from the U.S. I didn’t find a single stinking black-eyed pea but instead, found something even better. A box of caviar, well the caviar of lentils, a box of French Le Puy green lentils.

Show me the Edible Money

I thought I knew my lentils pretty well. I cook with yellow, red, green, and even the fine black beluga caviar lentils. Then I learned about the real-deal; true French Le Puy (pronounced PWEE) green lentils are considered to be the best lentils in the world.

Dark green-grey in color with a blue marbling, French Le Puy green lentils are grown on the rich volcanic soil of a mountain plateau around the French town of Le Puy en Velay in the Haute Loire region. The climate is perfect for lentils with lots of sunshine and less humidity so the lentils dry on the plant. The perfect conditions means cooking French Le Puy will only take about 20 minutes, retain a superior texture, and will reward you with a distinct peppery or nutty flavor.

Look for the AOC Seal of Authenticity

When looking for authentic French Le Puy green lentils you should see an AOC seal on the package, certifying they are true lentilles du Puy. You might be in shock when you see the price (three-four times than normal lentils) and be tempted to buy the cheaper lentil or even an imposter. Don’t hesitate to open the pocketbook a little wider and purchase at least one package of the caviar of lentils, they are so worth it.

French Le Puy Green Lentils
French Le Puy Green Lentils AOC authenticity

So, will eating French Le Puy green lentils bring you a year prosperity? I’m not sure, but I’ll enjoy eating the caviar of lentils anyway.

Every country has their own list of lucky foods. What’s yours?

How to Open Champagne Correctly

How to Open Champagne Correctly

Have you decided on a Champagne or sparkling wine to celebrate? Did you select the right glass? Do you know how to open Champagne correctly? If not, no worries. Here are a few tips on how to prep the glasses, chill, cork, and poor a glass Champagne or sparkling wine.

Keep the Glasses

If you invested in expensive Champagne or sparkling wine glasses, you may want to wash them by hand using a very fragrance-free mild detergent. Add a drop of mild detergent to each glass and sponge the soap around to remove all stains or marks. Thoroughly rinse the glasses, ensuring no soap residue is left on your champagne flute as this will interfere with the flavor and affect the carbonation of the champagne.

Carefully dry the glasses (twisting a towel inside to dry puts pressure on the glass and may cause breakage). Store them upright and shelter them from dust use until the next use.

Chill the Bubbly

Bubbly is best at a cool temperature (approximately 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius)). If your bottle isn’t yet chilled yet and the countdown is near, place the bottle in a bucket with ice, water and salt to quickly chill it.

Don’t leave the bubbly in the freezer. Doing so will disturb the balance of the alcohol and ruin the liquid gold.

Cork and Pour the Bubbly

Old films show people opening bubbly with a loud popping noise of the cork, but the cork should ease out of the bottle with a slight hint of sound. We’re talking Champagne or sparkling wine, not a can of brewski.

French Sparkling Wine Crémant
French Sparkling Wine Crémant

Here’s what you need to do to open Champagne correctly and impress your guests:

  1. First, pull off the foil to reveal the cork (bouchon).
  2. Second, cover the cork with a lovely cloth napkin or your finger and untwist to loosen the wire cage (muselet). There’s 70 pounds behind the cork so you’ll want to be careful not to point towards a person or precious item.
  3. Third, with the base of the bottle pressing you, tilt the top of the bottle away from you (and your guests) at a 45-degree angle.
  4. Fourth, still grasping the cork and wire cage, gently twist the bottle and tilt the cork a bit to allow some gasses to escape. You’ll hear soft pop.
  5. Fifth, pour the Champagne into flute or tulip glasses. If there is any leftover bubbly, use a Champagne stopper to preserve the wine’s sparkle for many hours.

Now that you know how to open Champagne correctly you can finally enjoy your glass of bubbly and move onto kissing and making resolutions.

Happy New Year’s Eve!!

How to Select Champagne and Sparkling Wine

How to Select Champagne and Sparkling Wine

I was switching TV channels when I ran across something that horrified me. Some hoity-toity reality show cast members were in a limo drinking Champagne out of plastic cups. It goes to show you money can buy you good Champagne, but obviously not taste. That led me to want to write a post on how to select Champagne and sparkling wine for New Year’s Eve or any celebration.

French Sparkling Wine Crémant
French Sparkling Wine Crémant

Champagne or Sparkling Wine?

It’s nearly countdown time to popping the cork and celebrating a new season. Before you head to the checkout with bubbly in hand, first decide if you’d like to celebrate with a bottle of Champagne or a bottle of “sparkling wine”.

Here’s the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine. Champagne with a capital “C” can only come from the Champagne region in France located about 90 miles northeast of Paris. No exceptions. This small area produces all of the world’s Champagne which comes with an expensive price tag.

Everything else produced outside of the Champagne region is technically “sparkling wine” and can be just as good and much less expensive than Champagne.

Sparkling wine is made throughout the world under different names. My personal favorite is Crémant (from France in the non-Champagne region). There are a number of other wonderful sparkling wines made in the world such as Sekt (Germany), Cava (Spain), and Prosecco (Italy). With all of these “sparkling wine” types, you’ll get a lot of bubbles and sparkle, just without the hefty Champagne price.

Selecting Champagne and Sparkling Wine

So, now you know how to select Champagne and sparkling wine and decided to go for it and splurge on Champagne. Great! If you see “vintage” printed on the bottle along with the year, it means that particular sparkling wine was made with what the winemaker considered to be exceptional grapes.

For some not only does the price of the Champagne matter, but the size too. The standard sized bottle will yield about 6 glasses of bubbly (125 ml each). For those out to impress, there’s a Magnum (2 bottles), Jeroboam (4 bottles), Rehoboam (6 bottles), Methuselah (8 bottles), Salmanazar (12 bottles), Balthazar (16 bottles) and Nebuchandnezzar (20 bottles). The biblical names make a strong statement about the worth of the bottle of wine.

Champagne bottle sizes and names.
Champagne bottle sizes and names based on Biblical kings and historical figures.

If you’ve opted for a good bottle of “sparkling wine” look for “Methode Traditionelle” on the bottle’s label. This tells you the sparkling wine has been made the same way true Champagne is instead of the time-saving Charmat process involving bulk fermentation in tanks resulting in a lesser quality wine.

For either Champagne or sparkling wine you’ll want to decide on the level of sweetness starting from the driest Extra Brut (pronounced “broot”), Brut, Extra dry, Sec to the sweetest Demi-sec.

Finally, the last decision is how much money you’d like to invest. Luckily there are price points for every budget.

Selecting the Right Glass

You’ve invested in a bottle of Champagne, sparkling wine, or maybe even both. Now it’s time to select the right glass (and not a plastic cup).

It’s been said that the coupe, the first Champagne glass shape, was produced in the 18th century and modeled on the French queen Marie Antoinette’s left breast. In actuality, the coupe glass was designed especially for Champagne in England in 1663 as a means to get people to buy new sets of glassware for the ever popular elegant wine Champagne.

Although during that time the shallow coupes were considered elegant, the shape actually dissipates the bubbles. In fact, this is exactly what the sophisticated ladies of the time wanted—to not burp in public. They’d even use a glass stick to break down the bubbles. What a pity because the pearls are a significant part of Champagne enjoyment.

Champagne flute and tulip glasses
Champagne flute and tulip glasses.

Flute or Tulip
Fast forward to today when we want to keep the sparkle in sparkling wine. The flute design is better at preserving bubbles and aromas than the coupe, and comes in various forms—elongated, slightly inwardly curved at the rim, straight-sided, “V” shaped and with a wide mouth.

Flute haters (yes, they do exist) say a flute is too narrow to capture aromas, so an enlarged tulip glass is favored by the wine professionals. Like a flower, some balloon out at the base and turn in at the top; others turn in at the top and then flare out a bit.

Some glasses even have a small dot at the base which is designed to generate a steady stream of bubbles (pearls). After the first pour and sip, notice the beauty of the pearl activity and how Champagne and sparkling wine actually compliments food.

Whether you choose a breast, elongated, or flower-shaped glass, it will be so much better than a plastic cup. Pick a shape you like and then get ready to chill, cork, and pour.

Wandering through St. Hippolyte along the Alsace Wine Route

I didn’t expect much for the next 24 hours, I simply wanted to enjoy the last golden days of October and especially along Route des Vins d’Alsace (The Alsace Wine Route). Of all the wine regions in the world, it has got to be my favorite. I thought I knew the region well from my numerous stays in the larger cities such as Strasbourg and Colmar, but this time unlike the Kings that once ruled the area, I was ready to experience something on a much less grandiose scale. Even a small town experience would be too much, I simply wanted a rustic back to the roots experience so opted for an overnight in St. Hippolyte along the Alsace Wine Route.

Typical house in St. Hippolyte, France
Typical house in St. Hippolyte, France

The weather was perfect for absorbing the last few days of intense sun, inhaling the fresh air billowing from the Vosges Mountains as the golden transparent Riesling grape leaves danced through the skies. The next few hours would be as perfect as the wine villages whose colorful half-timbered homes display an array of colorful boxes dripping with flowers and leafy green leaves.

St. Hippolyte along the Alsace Wine Route is not a bustling metropolis, it’ not a large town, in fact, I wouldn’t even consider it a village, but what it lacks in city size and conveniences it makes up for in it’s pure simplistic surroundings and the infamous Rouge de Saint Hippolyte (Pinot Noir) wine.

We spent 24 hours (not nearly enough time) poking around St. Hippolyte noted to be the birthplace of the 8th-century saint and abbot, Fulrad who built a monastery there.

From the village you look up the mountain toward the enormous castle Haut-Koenigsbourg, but the village does have its own monuments. There’s the fortified city wall (built in 1316), The Tour des Cigognes (Stork’s tower) covered by a pitched roof which defends the south-east of the town, and the 14th century parish church shrine dating back to 1766 containing the remains of Saint Hippolyte.

St. Hippolyte, Stork's Tower
St. Hippolyte, Stork’s Tower

Walking around the hamlet, there’s a refreshing sense of laissez-faire feeling in this little-known wine village. The mature French woman meticulously sweeps the front stairs of her colorful Alsatian home and I greet her with my best pronunciation of ‘Good Day’ in French which sounds embarrassing like ‘Bonejuur’. She returns a huge smile and returns the greeting, maybe even in Alsatian French.

There was no witch hunt for me for not speaking perfect French, even though in 1600s witch hunts were common in many Alsatian towns. I wasn’t even scolded for not speaking perfect German, since the region with its Germanic influence, due to the changing of hands from France to Germany and vice-versa, is a common vacation area for Germans.

I feel very comfortable in the little village full of winding roads which connect one wine village to the next—it’s as refreshing as the wines produced in the area. Speaking of wine, before venturing out for a stroll in the vineyards, we checked into our B&B at Francois Bleger which offers large simple clean rooms, a good French breakfast to start your day, and at an affordable price point. Those are deals I love, giving me an opportunity to invest in local wines, even from the B&Bs own wine and Cremant (sparkling wine) selection.

Alsace Wine Route in St. Hippolyte
Enjoying a glass of Riesling in St. Hippolyte

There’s no better place to embrace the wine you’ll drink than with a walk through the stunning countryside and its impressive vineyards. I attempted to identify the seven Alsatian six white grape varieties, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat d’Alsace, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and the seventh, the red Pinot Noir, and found nearly all of them.

After a bit of Oenology schooling from my husband, a resident of the German wine region, it was time to go to one of the best spots for watching the sunset along Rue du Vins at Aux Ducs de Lorraine hotel and restaurant. The last few moments of the day was spent watching the sun prepare to set in a beautiful atmosphere as we awaited a glass of local Riesling which is as elegant, delicate and distinguished, as the village of St. Hippolyte.

With great wine comes great food, the little village has a handful of great Alsatian-style restaurants, so you can easily select one that suits you. Perhaps the one with the cute name, Hupsa Pfannala, the former vault, hospital and soup kitchen to the poor. The decor is typical Alsatian style with hits of red, large family style wooden tables, and a pure homey feel, as well as hearty meals best enjoyed with locals wines of course.

Rabbit with Dijon Senf Sauce
Rabbit with Dijon Sauce

After a delicious meal and walk back to the B&B, it was time for a good night’s sleep. The clean country vineyard air prepped me for a deep slumber in my little French bed. You are virtually guaranteed peace and quiet in the little village, so experience the simple life in the sleepy town of St. Hippolyte where you’ll surely dream sweet dreams.

For more information on St. Hippolyte and the surrounding area, visit the official Alsace Wine Route tourism website.