When En Route editor Andy Arnts asked if I was interested in going on a press trip to Bergerac, it didn’t take long for me to say ‘yes’. I love the city and am there every summer during our vacations in Duras, which, as you may know by now, is “my heart’s home”. You can imagine my surprise when I reread the mail he sent me and discovered that the press trip would also take us to… Duras! In case, you don’t know, by the way, I am the culinary columnist for En Route.
The trip, which was organized by Vins de Bergerac & Duras and Business France, featured wine, food and culture. We (I had the pleasure of being in the company of Renée Salome from Winelife, Loethe Olthuis from the Volkskrant and Marjolein Schipper from De Telegraaf) had the chance to taste fantastic Bergerac wines (I am especially in love with the wines from Château Bélingard, and Laurent, the owner is just about the most charming person you will ever meet), dine at Michelin-starred restaurants such as Les Fresques at Château des Vigiers and La Tour des Vents, and visit beautiful places such as the château and tower of French philosopher Michel Montaigne and Château de Monbazillac. Being in Duras again (just weeks before our vacation) was also fantastic. One afternoon, we visited the Maison des Vins and had a lovely walk through the Berticot vineyards. We were in the village late at night though, so it was pretty much deserted, but we did get treated to a spectacular light show at the château!
We stayed at the beautiful Château les Merles where I also got a chance to interview the gracious owners Jan van Grinsven and his wife José as part of an assignment for an awesome magazine (more on that in due course). I can tell you, however, that I pitched the magazine just days before my departure and got the ‘go-ahead’ the same day! Mr. Van Grinsven was a joy to talk to. He is truly an example of someone who isn’t afraid of chasing dreams. Oh, and I really enjoyed hopping on one of the golf carts with him and seeing both his abundant potager (which is used by the on-site restaurant) and his favorite spot overlooking the vineyards!
Now I know this may all sound idyllic (and that I may even make you slightly jealous), but believe me, press trips are not all-expense paid vacations — they are work, and the workdays are long (but lots of fun)! Every sip of wine, every bite of food and every place is carefully analyzed. I made notes, took video, recorded explanations, took pictures, posted extensively on social media… and then came home and spent the next two weeks organizing all the material, doing further research and writing.
But this is the best job ever. I can definitely say that my work involves a lot of ‘pinch me’ moments!
Here are some pictures. You can find more on Instagram.
Château les Merles, where we stayed during our trip. Beautiful four-starred hotel with GaultMillau restaurant and lovely owners.
Wines at Bergerac’s Maison des Vins.
Jan van Grinsven’s (owner of Les Merles) favorite spot.
Château de Montaigne, where French philosopher Michel Montaigne wrote his famous ‘Essais’. The book is now on my night table.
Tasting session at Domaine du Haut-Pécharmant.
The lovely cheese course served by Paul Ebbing and Reinoud Slinkman of La Maison Forte.
Tasting with Hugh Ryman at his organic vineyard, Château de la Jaubertie.
The marvelous kitchen at La Jaubertie… what a dream!
Enjoying dinner with Daniel Hecquet from Château Puy Servain at Michelin-starred restaurant Les Fresques.
Tasting at Berticot in Duras. Wines I know all too well!
A wonderful way to end our press trip: lunch with Laurent and Sylvie de Bosredon of Château Bélingard!
Views over Château Bélingard… stunning.
When I visited Le Touquet this past April, we ate at a lovely restaurant called À Table. It was our second visit to the restaurant. The first time was two years ago, also during the month of April. We had such a positive experience that first time, that we decided to book a table for lunch on our last day there. Luckily, it did not disappoint, as did a few other restaurants we returned to (here’s a hint: stay away from Le Matisse and Le Restaurant du Marché).
Though À Table is small (my chair was literally touching that of the person behind me), it serves gorgeous food and is friendly and welcoming.
My main course that last day was certainly memorable. I was served a tender pork loin with a velvety lavender sauce. Who would’ve thought this would be such an exceptionally beautiful combination! After that wonderful meal, I was reminded about how much I love lavender. In my garden, bath and pillow, but also in my food. In fact, there are three lavender recipes on this blog that can attest to that! Ever tried lavender in jam or in baked treats? Well here’s your chance! The one thing you have to remember is that you must use edible lavender. For those in the Netherlands, I got a bag at Dille & Kamille (not sponsored), but you can also try health food shops or organic supermarkets.
I recreated the pork loin recipe one Saturday evening and it was quite a success. However, I did not write down the recipe. Stay tuned!
In the meantme, here is a lavender creation all ready for you to try your hand at. This strawberry and lavender mousse is an elegant, summery dessert that can be made in advance. In other words, it’s the perfect way to end any dinner party in the months ahead! Enjoy!
Strawberry & Lavender Mousse
Serves 4-6 (depending on the size cups you use)
- 300g strawberries, plus some extra as garnish
- 1 1/2 tsps dried edible lavender
- 4 tbsps sugar
- 5 sheets of gelatin
- 250g mascarpone
- 200ml single cream
Place the strawberries, lavender and sugar in a blender and blitz into a smooth sauce. Pour into a small saucepan and heat while stirring for approximately 5 minutes. In the meantime, soak the gelatin sheets in cold water for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, squeeze out the gelatin sheets and add them into the hot sauce one by one stirring well after each. Allow the mixture to cool. Whip the mascarpone and cream until the mixture holds its shape. Carefully fold in the strawberry sauce in three batches. Do not stir too hard or whisk! Divide the mousse over 4 or 6 cups and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, garnish with fresh strawberries and perhaps a sprig of mint.
Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is known as one of the most luxurious beach resorts in the north of France. Wealthy Parisians have beautiful summer villas there, and the resort was a favorite among people such as Serge Gainsbourg, Marlène Dietrich and Winston Churchill. One of its most famous residents today may just well be French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron!
We fell in love with Le Touquet years ago during our first trip to the north of France, and since then, we alternate either early winter in Bourgogne or late spring in Le Touquet. Last week we had another wonderful holiday at this gorgeous coastal town. It was only five days, but it felt like so much more. We enjoyed wonderful (and not so wonderful!) French food, had the fortune of having fantastic weather (albeit a little on the chilly side), and enjoyed walks on the beach with our little digger Pastis (who gave me quite a scare when he got sand in his eyes!). Here are some snapshots of our week, for those who didn’t already see them on Instagram. PS: There are more there.
I am looking forward to going back already! Never visited? Have a look at this link:
Our ‘welcome to France’ meal has always been steak-frites. And the best we’ve ever had is served at Brasserie de la Paix in Sainte Cecile. Everything is perfect here. The wine, the desserts, the ambience!
Brasserie de la Paix, from the outside. The beach is two steps away.
Some of the seaside houses of Le Touquet. The really fancy ones on their own private little hills are about a five-minute drive from the beach and city center.
This could have been the best meal ever! We went for a drive and ended up in a coastal town called Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. There we stopped at Le Bistrot de St. Val where I started with six beautiful oysters before moving on to this sumptuous choucroute de la mer! Sauerkraut, various types of seafood and a delectable cream sauce to gloriously crown it all. The wine was gorgeous and the setting at their veranda just perfect.
After lunch, we walked through the center of town, Beautiful little French village!
Our next stop was Cayeux-sur-Mer.
Majestic views around Camiers.
On Wednesday, we visited Boulogne-sur-Mer and ate at the cozy restaurant La Pierre Chaud. Run by a friendly couple, eating at the restaurant feels like coming home after a long day at work. I started with a herring salad and my main was a traditional dish of northern France called ‘potjevleesch’, a terrine with various types of meats such as rabbit, pork, veal and chicken. I can’t even tell you how good it is — though it may not look that appetizing!
After lunch, it was time to walk off some of the calories!
Square at Boulogne-sur-Mer.
On Thursday morning, hubby and I headed for the market in Le Touquet where we enjoyed coffee and croissants in the sun! Kirstie stayed at the hotel with Pastis as markets are not all that interesting to them.
The covered part of the market is the best part! We got some bits and pieces for dinner that day, including a tasty piece of duck-pepper terrine from Prince Mulard!
And no trip to the north of France would be complete without buying a chunk of the stinkiest and tastiest of cheeses — Maroilles! Look at this beautiful cheese stand!
Our final lunch in France was at Á Table in Le Touquet’s Rue du Metz. Wonderfully cozy place. We started with this lovely goat’s cheese salad and our main was pork loin in mustard-lavender sauce! A flavor explosion! By the way, we had a pretty horrible experience at Le Matisse (where I got served the most vile Belgian endive salad) and at Au Marché (where Kirstie was served a bleeding burger and I ended up a bit sick; a shame as we loved this restaurant in the past). But we didn’t let those hiccups ruin our fun!
Our final sunset at le Touquet. Can’t wait to be back!
This weekend while having lunch at Het Hert (great, little restaurant in Naarden, by the way), my husband and I discussed our vacation plans. Every year the same question arises: “Duras or something else?” — in France, obviously. We have been visiting Duras every summer since 2009 and every time we fall in love with the village and surrounding area even more. Driving into Duras always feels like coming home. So much so, that I’ve even joked about having lived there in a past life. We love that place so much. But we also love all the other villages and cities in the area. Like Miramont, Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, Monségur, Issigeac, Soumensac, Marmande and Bergerac. And of course places like Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux and Arcachon, which are a little further away and well worth the drive.
So, as you may have guessed, it didn’t take long for us to decide that this summer it was going to be Duras, for the ninth time! We rented a beautiful house from one of our friends there and I am already looking forward to August! Our hotels for overnight stops in Vierzon and Orléans have also been booked. Yay!
But first, plenty of other things to look forward to — like our trip to Le Touquet-Paris-Plage in April and working on my cookbook. Most of my days are spent immersed in studying, writing about and practicing French cuisine. Yesterday I made a lovely Flan Parisien (hurray for the new oven — which came in a week late, but still). For lunch, I quickly threw together a Salade Lyonnaise. Of course, I could not find frisée salad (something to do with it being Sunday and living in a Dutch suburb), so I had to settle for romaine, which wasn’t a bad alternative. I wrote a very rough recipe, which I am sharing with you today. The full (and improved recipe) will be in my book — more about that in due time!
Have a great week!
- 1 1/2 tbsps red wine vinegar
- 4 tbsps sunflower oil
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp dried chervil
- 1/2 dried parsley
- Fleur de sel & freshly cracked pepper
- 6 handfuls of crisp lettuce leaves
- knob of butter
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 100g lardons
- 1/4 baguette, cubed
- 3 tbsps white wine vinegar
- 3 fresh eggs
In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil, mustard, dried herbs and salt and pepper to make a dressing. Reserve 1 1/2 tbsp of the dressing and toss the lettuce leaves in the rest, making sure they are coated with the dressing. Divide over 3 plates. Melt the butter in a frying pan and gently sauté the shallots. Add the bacon, increase the heat and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in the cubed bread and toss for another five minutes. In the meantime, bring a large pan of water to a simmer for the eggs. Add the vinegar and stir with a whisk to create a whirlpool effect. Add each egg one by one to the water and poach for 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 minutes, depending on their size. Add the reserved dressing to the bread and bacon, give it a final stir and divide over the salad. Top with the poached egg, season with a little salt and serve.