Monday, 17 April 2017

La Combe des Loups, circular walk in the Dordogne Valley

Among the numerous circular walks that can be found in the Perigord Noir, there is one that stands above the others and that we loved in a particular way.
It is the Combe des Loups in Saint Andre d'Allas and we just discovered it a few days ago: 12 Km, 4 hours walk among the amazing blooming lush nature of this fantastic region of France.

But, as we are passionate walkers nature is not unusual for us. Indeed what really struck us is that this is a real complete walk: it offers the "usual" beautiful scenarios of the Perigord, colorful flowers, wild strawberries, blackberry bushes but also open views over one of the most beautiful castle of the region (the Chateau de Puymartin), some typical Perigourdine landmarks such as stone huts and rocky outcrops, ancient wash houses and hamlets dating back to the XIV century.

But I think pictures are worth thousands of my words....

Cabane en pierre
Lavoir/Wash house dating back to 1908

Hameau de Boussieyral - XIV -XVII century - ancient residence of the bishops of Sarlat

Chateau de Puymartin

Church of Saint Andre d'Allas
Useful links: our B&B in Sarlat La Caneda, Sarlat Tourist Office

Friday, 13 January 2017

Top 10 things to do in the Dordogne Valley

If you ran into this blog post, we assume you are probably already planning a visit to the Dordogne Valley.  Well done, excellent choice.

This beautiful and welcoming department of the South-West of France offers plenty of culture, history, beautiful nature and amazing food, so no wonder why it is one of the top destinations in the country.

We have prepared a little list for you that it's just meant to be a starting point, to give you an idea of the most interesting sites and things to do during your stay, and if you haven't booked your trip yet, we are pretty sure you'll be doing it straight away after reading this!

Here is our top 10 list of things to do in the Dordogne Valley:

1. Savour the local produces: duck, walnuts and truffles.
Food lovers already know that the Dordogne Valley is a top gourmet destination. And not only for the voluptuous, fairly expensive and surely controversial (in its preparation) foie gras, but for any kind of duck dish, for the highly sought-after black truffles and the delicious walnuts protected by a local appellation. In fact, the Périgord (ancient name for what the Dordogne department) is actually one of the richest countryside areas of France covered by chestnut, hazelnut and walnut orchards, beautiful fields of juicy strawberries and deep forests filled with mushrooms, black truffles and wild animals. No wonder why the local cuisine is so rich and intense in flavours!!

Duck plate served with potatoes `a la Sarladaise`
2. Visit at least one of the 1001 castles
It is said that the department hosts 1001 castles, and even though lot of them are private (luckily for their owners) and can only be admired from the road, there is a wide choice among the visitable ones. The most famous are probably the Chateau de Beynac and Castelnaud, but the Chateau de Milandes or the Fenelon or the Biron ones are also well worth a visit. And what makes all these castles so interesting is that they are all very different, both in age and in style, making every visit an extremely stimulating experience.

Castelnaud Castle
3. Spend a day at a `Brocante` or `Vide Grenier`
The French love their markets, and I am not talking only about the weekly farmers' markets where you can find all sorts of local delicacies but also the flea or antiques markets that happen almost every week in a different village. Don't miss them, there's plenty of little treasures to discover.

Vide Grenier at Saint Genies
4. Canoe on the river
The main character of the region is, without a shadow of doubt, Her Majesty the Dordogne river. And there is no better way to explore it than taking a ride on a canoe over its calm waters. You will be impressed by the astonishing surrounding scenery of green lush vegetation, beautiful medieval villages and castles along its banks. And in summer you may also want to stop by one of the little pebble coves to sunbathe or take a refreshing dip in the exceptionally clean waters.

View from the canoe
5. Find your favourite view of the river
Once again we are talking about Her Majesty. But this time we are trying to have a look at it and the beautiful surrounding valley from above. When thinking about beautiful views, the region offers an amazing array of choices. From the castles nestled above the villages, from the belvedere on top of the medieval bastide of Domme, or maybe from the terraced gardens of Marqueyssac....there is plenty of choice, it's up to you to find your favourite spot for the best romantic view and most unforgettable picture.

View from Castelnaud Castle
6.Get lost among the windy countryside roads
Do you love driving in the countryside? Or are you a biker? Then, here is the place to come. The countryside is rich and colorful with intense tones especially in autumn and spring and the windy and peaceful roads among the medieval villages of fairy tales stone houses are just perfect to get lost.

7. Experience Sarlat at night
By night, Sarlat enjoys a very special gas lighting put in place during the rehabilitation of the city according to the Malraux law. Shadows and lights draw a captivating urban landscape that seems to animate its past bringing you back to the age of splendor of this unforgettable town and leaving you with extraordinary memories. Have a walk after dinner or join one of the night guided tours organized by the local tourist office  to discover the history and hidden treasures of this enchanting town.

Maison de La Boétie
8. Taste some walnuts olive oil
Walnuts have been grown in the region since prehistoric times, as evidenced by findings dating back 17 thousand years ago.Once upon a time they were used not only as part of the daily diet but even for the illumination or for soap production. And they were so valuable that farmers were paying their debts in baskets of nuts. But it 's in 2002 that this rich local product has earned the AOC label of origin. Périgord walnuts are now used in cooking in many ways, in bread, cakes but also in savory preparations, and certainly one of the most delicious products is the walnut oil that, thanks to its excellent nutrients is considered a fine substitute for olive oil. Try it with an endive and Roquefort salad!
Perigord walnuts
9. Take a look at it from above
Are you looking for the experience of a lifetime? Well, then take a hot hair balloon and gently fly over the beautiful green countryside, cut in the middle by her majesty the Dordogne river and scattered by little stone villages and imposing dawn or sunset. Hold your breath and enjoy the spectacular views. It may be expensive but it is totally worth every minute!

Hot air balloon - public domain picture

10. Walk one of the many circular paths
In the Dordogne Valley, the harmony of the landscape is made of green rolling hills, quiet valleys and beautiful forests full of birds. And if you like hiking, you will find a wide choice of circular paths that will give you the chance to explore this beautiful scenarios alternated to the little golden stone hamlets that seem to be lost in time and space.

Dordogne countryside
For more info and updates on local and seasonal events, check out our Facebook page and website.

And here are a few useful links to plan your visit:
Sarlat Tourisme
Perigord Tourisme
Dordogne Vide Grenier

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Unusual Paris: Montparnasse cemetery

You may think we have a sort of taste for the macabre, but after visiting the Montmartre cemetery we decided to repeat the experience and explore another monumental cemetery of Paris, the Montparnasse one.

To be honest with you, we actually ended up there quite in a random way, after trying to get into the Catacombes de Paris and giving up due to a massive, incredibly long queue (eventually we would then end up leaving Paris without ever visiting the catacombes despite several attempts).
Montparnasse area was not far away and we thought about having a walk around to explore the neighborood but then, reading the guide we got tempted by this ancient cemetery!

And if Montmartre cemetery had a Gothic fascinating atmosphere, Montparnasse is surely not less charming with its sculptures and bizarre decorations, illustrious tombs and large airy spaces filled with trees and flowers.

Montparnasse cemetery

Montparnasse cemetery

Montparnasse cemetery

Montparnasse cemetery

Montparnasse cemetery
Samuel Beckett's tomb in Montparnasse cemetery

Serge Gainsbourg's tomb in Montparnasse cemetery

Philippe Noiret's tomb in Montparnasse cemetery

Julio Cortazar's tomb in Montparnasse cemetery

Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir tomb in Montparnasse cemetery

To all of these people that has filled our world with their art we wish to rest in peace in this beautiful little corner of Paris.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Parc de la Folie Saint-James

Once upon a time there was a french man. His name was Claude Baudard de Saint James and he was treasurer of the French Navy. One day he bought an estate close to the Bagatelle and commissioned a landscape architect (François Joseph Bélanger, the same who had created the Chateau de Bagatelle) to develop the project for a garden, something that had to be surprising, original and full of character.

Today not much of the ancient splendor is left and the garden and its buildings are a bit run down but the place still retains an intriguing charm especially considering its location, in this bourgeois area of the Ile de France surrounded by modern buildings and with view over the Defense skyscrapers.

La Defense -Paris

We bumped into this little gem while walking from Levallois Perret (our home during our first 6 months in France) and Bois Boulogne, the biggest park in Paris.

And we decided to make a stop to enjoy a bit of calm and its eccentric beauty.

Parc de la Folie Saint-James

Parc de la Folie Saint-James

Parc de la Folie Saint-James

Parc de la Folie Saint-James

Parc de la Folie Saint-James

Parc de la Folie Saint-James

Parc de la Folie Saint-James

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Spending your honeymoon in Egypt

Have you decided? Are you really sure you want to get married?
Well, then the next step is choosing your honeymoon destination!!
I personally believe one of the best option is Egypt. 
Thanks to its geographical position in the northeast of Africa, Egypt is characterized by low annual rainfall and sunshine all year round, with temperatures that rarely fall below 20°C. It is one of the richest countries in terms of history, culture and natural beauty and it is without any doubts one of the most amazing and desired destinations for honeymoons.
A holiday in Egypt can offer something for all tastes: a combination of thousands of interesting temples and monuments with the magic of a sea among the most beautiful on the planet.

And if you are looking for romance, intimacy and relax, the association of an adventurous Nile cruise with a week getting pampered by the wonderful coral reef of the Red Sea may be the perfect choice for your honeymoon.

A cruise on the Nile is a timeless journey through a landscape that is always different and the most convenient and engaging way to explore Egypt, as did Thackeray, Flaubert, Kipling and Agatha Christie, at the time when the fever of Egypt infected the world, inspiring literary memories.

The Egyptian river is not just a river; it is a full horizon of vegetation and desert and its banks are populated by hundreds of people regarding it as an indispensable source of life. Along the Nile you will find the largest concentration in the world of ancient temples and monuments, including the palaces of Luxor and Karnak, the Valley of the Kings and the Abu Simbel temple. You will literally be flowing in a world of colour and silence among centuries of history. 

At sunset, the sunlight slowly plays with colours and shades on the water, until it disappears dissolving like a reddish cloud creating the most paradisiacal scenery and romantic atmosphere for you and your beloved.

And after an exciting week on the Nile, what’s best than some time relaxing by the Red Sea? There are plenty of locations to choose from.

Sharm el Sheikh, located in the extreme south of the Sinai Peninsula, is probably the most popular destination and makes an ideal place for a honeymoon, whether you are looking for relaxation and sunbathing, or you can’t stand still for more than five minutes in the sun. You will find pristine waters and excellent climate throughout the year, entertainment and opportunities for fascinating excursions.

Marsa Alam, situated near the Tropic of Cancer, is full of palm trees and mangroves. The sea is gorgeous here with a magnificent coral reef that is home to many varieties of fishes. The reef is in fact very popular among divers that come here to explore the many unspoilt diving sites, where it’s not difficult to meet dolphins and hammerhead sharks.

Hurghada was a simple fishing village until a few years ago but over time it has become one of the most touristy destinations and it is often offered as a typical location for all-inclusive packages.

El Gouna, it’s the perfect destination for those looking for a luxurious experience. Its name means “lagoon” in Arabic, and it consists of a multitude of islands divided by turquoise waters and modern golf courses.

Taba is a rapidly expanding tourist destination but has a very relaxed feel and it’s close to the most interesting sites of the Sinai.

Pictures used for this post are public domain and found at the following links:

Friday, 10 October 2014

Top 5 reasons to dive in the Red Sea

The Red Sea is an amazing blue stretch of pristine waters famous for its beautiful seabed, the magnificent colors of the reef and the rich fauna that inhabit its waters: a true “underwater paradise”. 
Thanks to its geographical isolation it has developed, over the centuries, a unique marine ecosystem that never ceases to amaze divers.

But what makes it so special and why you should choose it as your diving destination?

I will give you 5 reasons:

The corals.

A dip in the blue waters of the Red Sea will lead you to the discovery of more than 200 different species of corals creating an amazing underwater landscape. Indeed the Red Sea has the largest range of corals in the world. Each part is characterized by a different species and at each dive your eyes will be amazed by coral gardens with an impressive variety of colors and shapes. It’s something that cannot be described with words, it needs to be experienced; an experience you will never forget.

The impressive richness of fauna.

This unique marine environment is home to more than 1250 identified species of fishes of which more than 200 are endemic. The Red Sea is one of the very few places in the world where you can swim with hammerhead, thresher and oceanic whitetip sharks during the same dive (if you are brave enough!). 
Here you can make some of the most exciting encounters of the underwater life: dolphins, whale sharks, turtles, manta rays and dugongs are often present, even if it may take a bit of patience and luck to find them. And, closer to the coast, you will enjoy a chromatic explosion of smaller reef fishes. 

The interesting shipwrecks.

If fishes and corals haven’t convinced you yet, there's much more!
In  fact numerous wrecks are just waiting for you in its depths. Probably the most famous is the Thistlegorm, sunk in 1941 while carrying supplies for the British troops based in Alexandria, Egypt. There you will find Bren Carriers trucks, BSA motorcycles, jeeps and rifles together with large groups of barracudas, tunas and groupers. Another famous wreck is the Dunraven, a Victorian ship that was carrying a cargo of spices from India. Since 1876, the wreck has been lying upside down next to the barrier at 30 meters depth so the keel is now encrusted with corals and abundant marine life, including the extremely rare false pipefishes.

Public domain - Gulf of Eilat

It’s always good time to dive in the Red Sea.

The fame that the Red Sea has earned among divers around the world is mainly due to its physical and climatic conditions: it is one of the warmest and saltiest seas on the planet. The area is characterized by a mild winter from December to March and a hot summer from April to November and the water temperature ranges normally between 30°C and 25°C. Plus, it has been found that, contrary to what normally happens at great depths, where the coldest temperatures are recorded, in the Red Sea, the deep waters retain mild temperatures. This ensures you the chance to have pleasant dives all year round.

Last but not least, there’s plenty of choice among destinations.

Within the Egypt coast on the Red Sea there are plenty of different locations that can offer different experiences. Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh are maybe the most popular and touristy destinations where you will find a great reef but there is plenty of other places for your dives. Marsa Alam, for example, lists some of the most amazing diving spots in the world.   Safaga has breathtaking coral reefs to explore. Makadi Bay is a divers’ paradise and if you are looking for a less touristy destination, a bit off the beaten path, Berenice will welcome you with its remoteness and the unspoilt beauty of its waters.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Finding a flat in Paris

Finding a flat in Paris is not an easy task. You may think choosing your place in such a big and cosmopolitan city should not be that complicated but believe me, it's almost shocking how things are working for the renting business in the ville lumiere!

First of all agencies apply nefarious fees corresponding to a month rent, and this is just for paying them taking you to visit the flat and to write a contract (that will probably be based on a template I guess!). So your first decision should be if you really want to pay those fees or if you prefer to go through privates.

If you decide to go for the cheapest option, there a couple of good websites: pap & leboncoin where you can filter area, max price, number of rooms etc.

Obviously what you will find will depend on your budget, but, be ready for high prices, old houses especially if centrally located, ridiculously small dimensions (10-15m2 are not unusual), upper floors with no lifts.

In any case, when you find anything that you consider interesting and you get in touch with the owner they will ask you to have your dossier ready and this is when things become funny. This dossier must include: your passport, your 3 latest payslips, your work contract stating your annual income, your RIB or bank account details, your last 2 tax declarations. 

Do you think that's it? Nope. Some may also ask latest receipts of your council tax and all of them will ask you for someone to guarantee for you in case you are not able to pay your rent. Doesn't really matter your age or if you have enough savings to pay a year rent, you still need your parents to guarantee for you!!

Once the owner of your chosen place is happy with your dossier you can go for a visit where you will often meet a group of other visitors. If you are interested in the flat your dossier will be compared to those of the other interested visitors and the wealthiest and more solid one will win the chance to pay a one or 2 months deposit before installing themselves in their new home.

I know this may sound scary, but don’t worry too much, the most important thing is knowing what to expect in advance and being prepared. And even if all I have said is simply the truth, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of luck. You may actually be the first one to see the flat, you may like the place a lot and your future landlord or landlady may find you very nice and decide to give it to you straight away.
And the whole process may take no longer than a week….

Bonne courage!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Versailles or not Versailles; that is the question!

We are going to be on the move again very soon, so I am determined to make the most of our time in Paris and to visit as much as possible of what this extraordinary city can offer in terms of art and history.
Clearly Versailles had to be on the list: isn't it one of the most significant touristy destinations in Paris?

So, we bought tickets in advance and the first bad surprise was that at weekends tickets are more expensive (€25 compared to the €18 during the week): I may see the point of trying got push people to visit during the week, but it's a bit of a disadvantage for the people living and working in Paris!
Anyway, it's a important historic site, so spending for a bit more for the entrance is not such a big deal.

We got there 10 minutes before the opening trying to avoid the long queues, but the situation was already  scary. Most groups had already arrived.  No separate entrances for groups and individuals and no staff controlling the queue. But, luckily, the entry procedures were fast enough and we managed to enter the palace in no longer than 20 minutes.

And here is when the dreadful experience really started. Basically there is a huge cordon of disordered crowd getting into the royal apartments in the main palace, making it almost impossible to clearly see the decorations or spend more than 15 seconds per room. You need to move fast or you will have people bumping into you or randomly stopping in the middle to take photos without even looking around.
It would be delightful to walk freely through the Hall of Mirrors if it wasn't for the hundreds of people in there. I know we were a plus 2 to the crowd, so I shouldn't be complaining but I guess a limit number on entries (as it happens for examples in the caves in Dordogne) would be advantageous for visitors in order to fully enjoy the experience.

By the way, despite the crowd, I managed to take a few decent pictures...

...of the Royal Chapel....
...some beautiful chandeliers...
...a view of the Hall of Mirrors (a raised view, to avoid people's heads!)....
...the King's bedroom....
...and the Queen's one.

Good thing is that once visited the palace rooms, then people thins out, a bit lost among the other parts of the site. The big complex has lot to offer, fantastic gardens, two smaller palaces (the Grand and Petit Trianon) with beautiful gardens and the funny Hameau de la Reine, a village created as a sort of leisure park for Marie Antoinette's delight, who apparently liked to play the role of a milkwoman in her spare time!

So rest of the visit was much more relaxed and enjoyable....

So, yes, Versailles is certainly a `must go` if you are visiting Paris (unless you are really claustrophobic), but you'll need to get organized and ready to face crowds of tourists and for an extremely tiring day, but it's totally worth it!