Journées d’hiver ensoleillées en Périgord – Sunny winter days in Périgord

Daily walks on sunny winter days near Saint Aulaye and Puymangou.

Balades quotidiennes aux beaux jours d’hiver près de Saint Aulaye et Puymangou.

The sun doesn’t always shine but when it does….

Le soleil ne brille pas toujours mais quand il le fait …

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Soleil d’automne – Autumne sunshine

Every season has its delights – chaque saison a ses joie.

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Gurat – a less well known underground church

Gurat is a small, well kept ville in south Charente close to the border with the Dordogne. If you approach from the south turn off the main road as you enter the village, cross the small river and park in the small carpark on the right. The signs for the recently improved path to the church will take you across the road and along the banks of the river. During our visit the landscape was verdent and the river at capacity. The walk was very pleasant.

It is a very short walk to the ancient river cliff with the yawning mouth of the cave ahead of you. The present village sits on top of the underground church. Less than 100m away is the conventionally built church of Saint Roch.

The underground church may have been founded by a religious community between the end of the 11th and beginning of the 12th Centuries and was dedicated to St George. This would make it contemporary with the underground church in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne which probably inspired it. It is believed that the church was partially destroyed during the 100 years war and was abandoned as a place of worship during the wars of Religion (C16th). It is likely that it was for private rather than public worship.

Inside it is dramatic and, given its size, impressive. The ‘nave’ is wide with pillars on one side. At one end is the yawning gap that leads out of the cliff to the burials beyond. Above the entrance is a room with silos for food storage giving an idea of the buildings purpose after the religious function had been abandoned.

The guage on one of the pillars indicates that there is concern for the long-term integrity of this very interesting building.

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Randonnée avec moutons – Hike with sheep

Transhumance is the moving of domestic animals from winter pastures to summer pastures and back again. In France it happens mostly in mountainous areas however the name has been appropriated for an annual movement of sheep from the grand agricultural market site at La Latiere to the communal land below the bastide walls in Saint-Aulaye-Puymangou.

It is a pleasant and slow hike for anyone who wishes to walk with the sheep as they wend their way through the byways of the forest and through the centre of Saint-Aulaye. Talking to the shepherd the sheep are quite happy to act as commune lawnmowers and calmly chomp their way across the common.

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Its 2020 at Bon Abri in the Dordogne and Christmas and the New Year festivities have come and gone.

It has been a long time since I seriously published a post and so it is well past time to make another. This was our first Christmas at home in Bon Abri for 5-years.

Those terrible days of late November, early and mid-December with flooding along the rivers suddenly vanished to make way for beautiful sunny days in and around the festive few period. It was such a beautiful day on Christmas Day that we had pre-breakfast coffee sitting outside the barns.

Coffee in the sun on Christmas day
Waiting for the mist to burn off

These balmy days with very cold, picturesque, frosty nights may have pushed the rain aside but it is taking a long time for the high rivers to recede.

The fields have started to dry out but the cattle egrets, still paddling around in the mud, are making the most of what food they can find.

Just before Christmas we made a short journey to Saint Aigulin where we watched the very energetic Carl Grainger playing the superb, and much travelled, organ in a wonderful recital of mostly Christmas orientated music from Bach to Rowley. The nave of Saint-Fort was packed with a very appreciative audience.

In Puymangou Céline Marly and Carine Rouzeau built the creche (nativity) in the village church, creating a very dynamic, delicately lit, stable that was alive with animals, visiting magi and shepherds.

So now, as the days get longer, it is time to work towards the delights of a summer full of visitors.

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Elisabeth Hoffmann – Artist/Artiste

Images de l’artiste Elisabeth Hoffmann, avec deux de ses tableaux grand format, exposés jusqu’à fin janvier à la galerie de l’Union des Producteurs de Saint-Emilion.

Images of the artist Elisabeth Hoffmann, with two of her large format paintings, exhibiting at the Union des Producteurs de Saint-Emilion gallery until the end of January.

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Another visit to the Union de Producteurs de Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion-Gironde-France-Union de Producteurs de Saint Emilion 170510 0001We were invited, once again, to visit the Saint Emilion wine Co-operative, the Union de producteurs de Saint Emilion(UDP), for a tour of the production area and to renew our relationship with the Cooperative.

The drive down through rain drenched lanes flanked by rolling fields of immaculately manicured vines was a slow but delightful journey.  Strange machines ran up and down the vines, heads bobbed as the workers tied up the rapidly growing branches and at one point a horse and ploughman were working the narrow lanes between the vines.

Saint Emilion rose slowly from the fields, the massive stonework dulled by the rain.  The UDP plant is south of the city below the vine covered slopes on which the city rests.  Inside we were taken through the newly refurbished sales area with bottles and cases reflected in the black mirrored ceiling.  Once in the exhibition hall/conference room we were invited to have a light breakfast while the rest of the guests arrived.  The walls displayed the works of artist Nane (Christiane Relave) and showed a progression of her works through 4 periods.

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I will not go into the details of the tour as it followed the same route from sorting to bottling as described in my previous post on the UDP.  However, the highlight for me, once more, was the visit to the row upon row of thousands of golden oak barrels full of wine maturing in the semi darkness.  The aroma as you enter the cellar fills your nose with a warm glow and awakens the taste buds.

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Returning to the exhibition area there was a short talk about the discounts available to any of our guests who choose to come for a visit and wish to buy wines from the UDP shop. Then we took part in a tasting session of three of their superb reds ending in a delightful, flavoursome Grand Cru.

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Sometimes it is a hard life running Gites; but not today .


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A Saint-Emilion wine tour – and more.

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Every now and again, as people in the ‘Hospitality’ business, we get invitations to interesting events organised by the Office de Tourisme or one of the notable or more pro-active tourist venues. In this case we were invited (along with a lot of others over a two-day period) to visit the ‘Union de Producteurs de Saint-Emilion’. The UDP de Saint-Emilion is a large wine Co-Operative that produces a wide range of excellent, quality, wine from hand-picked Speciality Grand Crus to easy drinking AOC. This co-operative was founded, along with many others, in the 1930’s as a direct effort to counter the effects of the impending economic depression.

Nowadays this UDP provides a full range of wine making skills for whoever wants to make use of it within the Saint-Emilion area. In addition the scale of their operation means that they are able to offer their growers not only their expertise, knowledge and superb processing facilities but also marketing and sales assistance on a scale that individual producers could not afford. This of course (apart from us being consumers) is where we, with this invitation, come in.

We chose the second of the proposed days for our visit and took the scenic route down through rambling villages and open countryside into the mono-culture area of the greater Bordeaux vineyards. Despite the additional scenic element that a wrong turn gave us (we will not dwell on it here) we made it, door to door in well under an hour.

We were met in the UDP reception by the excited and fired-up marketing team. We were taken straight to the basement exhibition space where we had coffee and pain au chocolat. The marketing team made us welcome and while our colleagues gathered the team were able to give us a quick briefing and identify the 6 or 7 Anglophone people in the party. Slowly our companions for the morning assembled, drank coffee, dropped crumbs of pain au chocolat and properly curved croissant (certainly not Tesco value) and chatted while gazing at the exhibition of paintings.

With most of the 20+ of us assembled and fortified for the tour we set off into the shop for a very interesting talk on the geology and landscape of the Saint Emilion AOC. From a foundation group of six wine-growers there are now 150 producers within the UDP. They harvest about 36,000 hectolitres from 700 hectares in the prestigious Saint-Emilion and Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. The singularity of the varied geology is what makes this area what it is.

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The tour started as we were led into the great hall of concrete vats on a walkway above the impressive wine presses. Beyond this hall was clinical and shining; stainless steel glinting in the light. Here the grapes arrived by trailer to start their conversion. Four conveyors for ‘other’ grapes and one for the specialised ‘hand-picked’ grapes that are sifted, sorted de-stalked and optically quality/size checked in a completely different way to the bulk of the grapes.

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The scheduling of arrivals and the record-keeping involved in ensuring that the right grapes go to the right place (specific château grapes must take their pre-ordained processing route to maintain their integrity) for such a range of producers is mind-numbing. Because the UDP processes for so many and so varied a group of producers they must cater for everything from Grand Cru and Château bottling to the standard AOC. This I think is one of the great benefits of a visit to the UDP; while it is not a famous single Château with a single process to demonstrate it is far more than this and can show a range of different processes under one roof.

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We were shown the fermenting chambers where the wild yeasts are killed off and specific yeasts administered before the juice is cooled in summer and warmed in winter to provide the perfect environment for that wonderful magic that turns juice to wine.

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Enough of the boring details because you can go and find these out for yourself.

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I will, however, dwell on one other aspect of the tour and that is my second favourite segment (the wine tasting at the end came first place), and that was the beautiful warehouse where the wines (the ‘better’ wines at least) are stored in rank after rank of golden oak barrels.

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The oak comes from a single forest in the centre of France and four or five workshops provide the cooperage. There is an amazing glow that fills this dimly lit cathedral of a room.

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I will gloss over the final part of our tour where theory met practice as we sampled three delightful wines all of great quality but each better than the previous. This we ‘washed’ down with an excellent buffet.

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Throughout the visit our guide, Christine, gave a full commentary in French. After each stop she took the small group of Anglophone visitors to one side and gave us explanations of the technicalities in English. She was never hurried, no question went unanswered and the range of her knowledge was superb.  There was though one question that I forgot to ask and that concerned the escape of alcohol from the barrels and the change in strength of the wine stored in those barrels over their four years of gentle slumber.

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So, if you want to visit what does it cost? Not a lot – once you are in the area and staying with us a tour and sampling can be arranged for free every day of the year (well almost, exclude Christmas day and New Years day). The marketing people are passionate and incredibly knowledgeable and really want you to enjoy your visit. Go on, spoil yourself, stay at Bon Abri in Puymangou and spend a really pleasant morning with the UDP in Saint Emilion.

For more on Saint-Emilion itself have a look at this earlier post.

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Perhaps my French is improving after-all

Just re-posted now I have worked out why the images did not previously show up. –  We drove through the quiet village of Monze, deep in the land of Corbiere wines (in Languedoc-Rousillon and south-east of Carcassonne). Wide, flat valleys dozed cosily in the shelter of the …

Source: Perhaps my French is improving after-all

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Perhaps my French is improving after-all


La Cite-Carcassonne-Aude-Languedoc Rousillon-France 160221 022

We drove through the quiet village of Monze, deep in the land of Corbiere wines (in Languedoc-Rousillon and south-east of Carcassonne). Wide, flat valleys dozed cosily in the shelter of the cracked and shattered folds of the often bare limestone ridges and peaks. Carefully tended vines stretched in serried ranks across the valleys. Occasionally a lone worker could be seen tending each vine with the care of a nurse working between row after row of hospital beds. Each vine was checked and cosseted, then given its required treatment.

Corbieres - Clear water through the limestone valley.

The village of Monze, unlike the surrounding landscape, is unremarkable with its restaurant and small vehicle repair workshop; however the signboards for each of these premises read “M’11 restaurant” and “M’11 autos”. It took the few seconds until we drove out of the village for the penny (or centime or cent) to drop and I suddenly understood the signs. Perhaps my French is improving after-all.

Lagrassse - Abbey through the medieval bridge

Our destination for this short trip was the town of Lagrasse. This is one of the “Plus Beaux Villages”. This is the official designation for one of the most beautiful villages in France. From Monze you enter the town across the new bridge. This is parallel to the high-arched medieval bridge framing the great Abbey behind it. The old bridge is narrow and steep, soaring above the seemingly tranquil waters far below. On foot the bridge leads into a beautiful Bastide town with narrow canyon like streets of tightly packed houses sheltering within the remains of the old walls.

With the sun ‘winter low’ and casting deep shadows in the streets it was a fine place to wander. The church is well worth a visit but hard to find. From a distance the low tower hovers over the rooftops. As you close in the houses crowd in so closely on all sides that you are unaware of the church itself until you step through the great doors at the end of a short dead-end street and down into the very wide space of the nave.

Lagrasse - the gap between church (on the right and houses on the left)

Lagrasse – the gap between church (on the right and houses on the left)

Walking back to the car along the path below the Abbey walls I thought about other Abbeys in the region; the Abbey of Saint Hilaire in Limoux is where Blanquette de Limoux comes from. They use the Méthode champenoise to put the sparkle in the bottle and claim to have invented the method before Champagne did. Don’t join the debate, just drink a Champagne quality wine at a better price. On a different tack the Cistertian Abbey of Fontfroide opens its 200 bush rose garden to the public in the spring. This one is on my ‘to-do’ list for the next Spring trip south from Bon Abri Gites.

Lagrasse - the north door into the nave

Lagrasse – the north door into the nave





If you are planning a holiday down this way later in the year (and apartment St Vincent is a great place to base yourself) it might be worth thinking about the 16th July to the 4th August which is the Festival des Abbayes. There are events at many of the Regions Abbeys including Caune Minervois (if you are of a geological bent the quarries at Caune produce a beautiful pink marble that turns up everywhere from fountains to fireplaces).

While thinking about festivals there is one that comes to mind, Les Médiévales de Peyrepertuse, with medieval entertainment and an amazing backdrop of the château of Peyrepertuse. Several of the local castles are classified as “citadelles du vertige”, for instance Quéribus and Puilaurens. Their clifftop locations (and the often hard slog to get to them) justify the name.

A week after that trip, back in the Dordogne, the crane migrations are in full flow. Bigger flocks than I have seen before assemble and disassemble overhead as the birds chatter and jostle spiraling up into the thin, wispy clouds before peeling off into ‘V’ shaped squadrons that move off in noisy lines towards the Paris Basin and beyond.

Almonds in Lagrasse - last years nuts with this years blossom

Where the Languedoc is already pink and white with almond and plum blossom up here in the Dordogne the blossom is only slowly showing that Spring is not far away. Its arrival is very much anticipated this year as we face up to the squelching ground, mist and showers. In the mean-time the sweeping paths of daffodils planted when we first arrived in Bon Abri in Puymangou add a shimmer of constantly moving yellow.

Narcissus - Bon Abri, Puymangou, Dordogne, France

I can reveal, for those less adept at French than even I am, the number 11 would be pronounced onze. So M’11 becomes Monze and the village was……Monze. As Alexander the Meerkat would say “simples”; well it is when you know.

Daffodil - Bon Abri, Puymangou, Dordogne, France

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