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April 6, 2004


Dear Friends and Families,




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We stayed in the town of Sarlat for first three days of our visit to the Dordogne Valley. At 10,000 residents, its the largest town or village around and it still retains it's medieval feel. There are records of Sarlat as an 8th Century Monastery town and, like most of this part of France, it was a key fortified town in the 100-Years War with England and the subsequent French Religious Wars.

While there is little of the original surrounding wall, the circular center is still mostly a network of small streets, alleys, and paths. After the French Revolution, the government opened one major thoroughfare straight through from one side of town to the other. This was "for modernization", although, as with the great boulevards of Paris, it also makes street barricades much less practical and government protests more controllable.

Our 100-year old hotel, the Hotel de la Madeleine, was just outside the center area and was an established place with gracious service and 39 pleasant rooms. From there, we could wander around the town and enjoy the age of the place. I am sure that, in summer, Sarlat is a sea of tourists, but for our early-April visit, there was plenty of space and tranquility. In fact, there was a flurry of activity that seemed directed at preparing for the summer throngs, but walking among the preparations made it feel like we'd received back stage passes for a play that would open in a few weeks.

I think the main attraction in Sarlat, besides strolling the alleys and pathways, must be eating. Our trusty Rick Steves' Guide offered a few restaurant choices and we can confirm his judgment for at least a couple. However, there are dozens and dozens of other places as well and, while some may be "touristy", this is the heart of Francophile dining so there should never be a reason for being hungry.

We also wandered through the daily market, behind the massive doors of St. Mary's church. As if that wasn't enough, the streets around the central squares are also markets every Wednesday and Saturday. Although we come from California,the home of good strawberries, the one we bought here at the open market topped any we'd had before. We also sampled the nuts the area is famous for and on this I'd have to say California may have just the slightest edge.

However, I have never experienced a place like this for ducks and geese, certainly not in squeamish America. The markets were filled with a wide variety of duck and geese parts and preparations. We got the story on foie gras (don't ask) and, for a lighter meal, we decided to sample one of the local favorites, Duck Gizzard Salad, a mistake we will never repeat. We brought home a couple small jars of duck somethings, preserved in real duck fat and juices, after being reassured that the shelf time for this confit was roughly the same as for wine - at least a few years. It will be that long before I want any more I'm afraid.

Sarlat is also a good base for all local attractions. These seemed to be divided into chateaux and castles, caves and caverns, hikes and paths, and a supply of small shops and galleries filled with reasons for bringing lots of money to the area. Our later diaries and slide shows will cover what we saw outside of town. In Sarlat, our souvenir buying was limited to a set of dessert knives and forks from Mssr. Xavier Merilhou (see below).

We have included a few pictures below to illustrate this short diary and there is also a slide show for the passive reader who only wants to click and wait. Finally, at the very end, are a few possibly-useful Sarlat websites.


Stay in touch and work on duck recipes.


John and Marianne



Story Pictures

Normally we don't take pictures of hotel lobbies but this quiet setting just struck me as representative of the Hotel de la Madeleine.
St Mary's church was sold after the Revolution and served a variety of uses over the years. Nowadays, behind these massive steel doors, is a daily food market of local specialties.
At first, I thought perhaps we'd discovered bank robbers among the workers cleaning up Sarlat for the summer rush, but no, it seems the bank folks knew what was happening.
The streets of Sarlat were active with cleaning and road-rebuilding. Reportedly, the town has kept its ancient character because it was so isolated and hard to reach, so the buildings were left to gather dirt and grime. Since the 1960's, the town has discovered the rewards of cleaning and restoration.
Mssr. Xavier Merilhou ran a wonderful cutlery shop with everything from swords to dessert knives. We opted for the boxwood-handled knives from nearby Nontron.

Shortly after we had returned from a zippy drive through the country roads, we drove to our hotel parking lot and left the car thinking that zooming though French country roads can be fun! We no sooner left our parking lot than we came across this scene, at the intersection we had crossed perhaps a minute earlier. It was hard to imagine how the lady's small white car had managed to flip the blue truck, leaving her shaken but standing. The other driver was soon taken away by the rescue team, also shaken but alive.

Memory of this scene managed to slow us down from the rest of our trip.



Hotel: http://www.hoteldelamadeleine-sarlat.com

Sarlat Tourist Office (French): http://www.ot-sarlat-perigord.fr

Nontron Tourist Guide: http://www.nontron.net/uk/MAIN.htm


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