Tag: Lot-et-Garonne

Returning from Duras

DurasI must start this post with honesty that may seem a little too sentimental, perhaps a little too much. I had a very hard time leaving Duras this year and had to choke back more tears than were good for me. I know that my family hated to leave just as much as I did, and the last thing I wanted to do was let them see how sad I was, so I composed myself and thought about that perfect Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
But as we drove away and the castle slowly disappeared in the distance, my heart broke. I wasn’t just leaving France, I was leaving my heart’s home. A place that has been endearing  to me since the first time I laid eyes on it. And after all these years, Duras still continues to be so good to us.
I sometimes jokingly say that I lived in Duras in a past life. No other place in the world feels so much like home, so who knows, there may be some truth to that. My husband and I have every intention of moving there permanently, but the time is not right just yet. Our biggest priority is having our daughter finish her education. Once that’s a fact, we’ll start the process that we’ve been planning and talking about for the last eight years.
In the meantime, we make the most of the time we spend in that beautiful little corner of the world. Starting the day with coffee at Régine’s café overlooking the castle, enjoying a glass of wine and a genuine smile at the local wine bar, having a simple lunch at brasserie L’EXpression after the Monday morning market, relishing in an expertly prepared dinner at La Terrasse (more about that fabulous restaurant to follow soon), walking through the village and seeing all those familiar faces, slowing down our pace and, in short, living life to the fullest. And no, it’s not a ‘holiday’ thing. As much as I love the rest of France, it doesn’t feel the same when I leave other places.
Duras is a good twelve hours away in distance right now, but it’s closer to my heart than ever.  If you want to read more about Duras, have a look here, here, here and here.

Agen Prune Cake with Armagnac

Prune cakeSweet, glossy and bursting with flavor, Agen prunes have been part of south-west France’s gastronomic history since the 12th century. During that time, crusaders returned back from Syria with Damson plum trees which the Bendectine monks of Clairac, not far from Agen, crossed with their own, local plum variety. The result was a new kind of plum which they called the Ente plum. Since then, the plum has been used to produce the famous pruneaux d’Agen, named after the city from which the prunes were shipped all over Europe. Today, more than half of the production of the fruit is still taking place in the Lot-et-Garonne.
The dark plums are harvested between mid-August and mid-September. By that time, they are so ripe and sun-drenched that the trees either naturally drop them or need nothing more than a gentle shake to let them fall to into the harvesting nets. After careful sorting, the best fruits are dried and preserved for year-round use.

Discovering the Wines of Duras

When it comes to great wines, there’s more to South West France than just Bordeaux. Located to the east, in the Lot-et-Garonne, is the Côtes de Duras – an appellation of fifteen communes that stretch out over roughly 1500 hectares and produce a variety of exceptional quality (and very affordable!) wines crafted by some two hundred passionate growers. There are reds (52%), whites (33%), rosés (13%) and sweet wines (2%). The reds and rosés consist of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec; the whites are mostly Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle; and the sweet wines are made of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
The vineyards of Duras have been producing wines since the 12th century and were one of the first to obtain the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée certification in 1937. Here are some of my favorite selections, plus some delectable tips.

The cave coopérative Berticot produces award winning wines and unites more than half of the region’s wine growers.
Try:  The honey-sweet Quintessence de Berticot Moelleux 2009. Delightful aromas of candied fruit and apricots.
Pair with: Heavenly with foie gras, ideal as a dessert wine.

Domaine Les Hauts de Riquêts
The fifteen-hectare vineyard  has been  producing organic wines since 2005 and is run by seventh generation growers Pierre and Marie-Jo Bieraud. Wine tastings and culinary workshops are available at the domaine.
Try: Le Mignon 2009, a silky blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Ripe blackberry flavors. Complex aromas with herbal notes and a hint of violets. Long finish. Aged in French oak for eight months.
Pair with: Autumnal dishes such as magret de canard, lentil stews and roast guinea fowl.

Domaine de Laulan
The thirty-five-hectare estate of Laulan was founded by Gilbert Geoffroy in 1974. Known to produce some of the region’s best whites, Geoffroy has been described as ‘L’artiste du Sauvignon’.
Try: The dry, minerally Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Crisp, clean palate with hints of gooseberry and grapefruit. A nose of freshly-cut grass. Elegant and refreshing.
Pair with: Fruits de mer!



Ode to Duras

The medieval town of Duras located about thirty kilometers to the south-west of Bergerac in the department of Lot-et-Garonne, has a warmth that captivated us from the very beginning. We love its history, people and neighboring villages, and being food and wine lovers, we simple adore its exceptional wines and regional cuisine. Duras is a beautiful little corner of the world stole that has stolen our hearts and inspired us in so many ways. Let me to take you back to some of my most memorable moments and show you a few of my favorite places in Duras.

IMG_0251Breakfast in Duras and Market Days on Monday
In Duras, there’s nothing better than beginning the day with a panoramic drive into the centre ville for breakfast. We pass rolling vineyards and in the summertime, when we take a little detour into another village, we can admire golden fields of sunflowers stretching out into the horizon. For some reason, the deep blue of the sky and the vivid yellows of the large blooms always make me feel as though I am actually inside a Van Gogh painting. It’s a little surreal at times. Breathtaking.

IMG_5491The first place we visit when we arrive in the village is the bakery on the Rue Paul Persil. We purchase some of their buttery croissants or huge, plate-sized pain au raisins and then take our breakfast to Le Tip Top, a bar/brasserie on the main square (NOTE: the place is now called L’EXpression) . There, we order a grand crème and have a leisurely breakfast while reading the newspaper or simply watching the world go by.

Ode to Duras MarketAnd speaking of the market, just like all the other markets in the area, this one offers a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, all kinds of spices, tasty olives, fat roasted birds and even toiletries and housewares. There is so much to inspire me as a cook! But the best market meals are always the simple ones. Toulouse sausages or a plate of charcuterie (either from the meat stand in front of the small supermarket or from the butcher Alain Evrard) with a green leafy salad, some olives and bread make a fuss-free and delicious meal. There are a few local wines on offer, and the sellers are always more than happy to give you advice or a little dégustation.

IMG_0001Mid-Morning Shopping and the Château de Duras
Being a food and wine lover/writer, my favorite places to shop are undoubtedly the gourmet kind. When it comes to wine, I’m very lucky because there is a wine bar, Le Chai et Rasade, located in the center on the Place du Marché, where you can sit down for a drink and a nibble and even buy wine straight from the wine grower himself.

IMG_0213We have spent many memorable afternoons sampling wines and enjoying artfully prepared boards of Pata Negra ham, dry-cured duck sausage, chorizo, Brebis cheese and bread. I especially loved the 2009 Château Molhière ‘Les Maréchaux’, a red, full-bodied wine bursting with luscious, ripe fruit. Thanks to the wine, food and extremely friendly service, it is one of our favorite places in the village. One year, before leaving, we purchased a few bottles of the house wine, and curious as we were, the next day we took a drive through the vineyards of Château Molhière which are found approximately five minutes away from the center, to the north-east.

Ode to Duras Chateau MolhiereAnother treasure is the Maison Guinguet. They specialize in the famous regional prunes (pruneaux d’Agen) and in fine chocolates. Agen prunes are sweet, wrinkly treats, very healthy on their own but sinfully delicious as chocolate-covered delicacies, in jams, creams or my absolute favorite – preserved in wine or liqueur;  a fast and easy dessert when served over vanilla ice cream. The pretty chocolates at Maison Guinguet are ideal to give as presents or to indulge in with a cup of coffee after dinner.
Of course, the main attraction in Duras is its imposing château which originally dates back to the 12th century. With the help of Pope Clement V and his nephew, Bertrand de Got, it served as a fortress starting in the 14th century and later as a luxury residential accommodation. The château, partially destroyed during the Revolution, was purchased by the people of the village and completely renovated in the late 1960s.

Ode to Duras Chateau de Duras (2)

IMG_0222 IMG_0224We’ve visited the castle many times, and I would definitely encourage anyone discovering Duras to do the same. There are many beautiful rooms including a kitchen and an original bakery. I’m not very daring, but I was still brave enough to climb up the rounded tower for a magnificent view over the Dropt Valley. In the late summer, an annual wine fair is held in and around the castle. It is the perfect opportunity to try the region’s wines, eat local food and mingle wih the French.

IMG_0132 IMG_0165Lunch at Don Camillo
How I love Don Camillo, that wonderfully cozy restaurant located on Rue Paul Persil! Officially, they’re a ‘pizzeria’, and their pizzas are certainly something to be proud of, but they also offer excellent traditional French cuisine and a reasonably priced wine selection.

IMG_0243I remember ordering a bottle of local Merlot and three pizzas the very first time we ate there, completely oblivious as to how filling they were going to be. Well, we nearly had to roll ourselves home that afternoon. So be warned: the portions are very hearty!

Ode to Duras Pizza IMG_0110Whenever we’re in Duras, you’ll be sure to find us at Don Camillo at least three times a week. Although lunch on a summer’s afternoon is wonderful, there’s nothing quite as romantic as finishing a crème brûlée under a starry sky while making plans for the next day. (NOTE: Unfortunately, things have changed. We only ate there once in 2015 and the experience was not very good.)
Drinks at Café de la Paix
To the locals it’s known as ‘Chez Régine’, but officially it goes by the name of Café de la Paix. Whatever you call it, it’s a lovely place to have a drink, whether that be a Pastis before dinner or an Armagnac and a coffee after. When we sit outside, we have a great view of the château. I love the welcoming, laid-back atmosphere.

Ode to Duras Cafe de La PaixThe family that runs it (with the locally loved Régine at the head) really make you feel at home and always receive you with pleasure. Even on their busiest of evenings. During the summer, the café organises a concert on Wednesday evenings (cancelled in 2016, unfortunately). The last one we attended was sheer joy. Many people made their way to the area where the band was playing and proudly showed off their best dance moves.
Dinner at Le Cabri
Just outside of the village, following the Route de Savignac, is our favorite restaurant, Le Cabri. It is part of a campsite, but don’t let that fool you into thinking their menu consists of pizza and chips. Quite the opposite, in fact. Le Cabri offers both regional and bistro-style dishes and boasts a nice selection of moderately priced local wines. If you’re looking for a good meal, whether that be a perfectly crispy confit de canard (a dangerously addictive choice) or a nice steak, this is definitely the right address.

Ode to Duras Le Cabri Ode to Duras LC menuThe dining experience is complete with the care of the most attentive of hosts, Peter and Eileen Marston, wonderful people whom we consider friends and are happy to see every year anew. No matter how busy they are, they always stop by to ask how your day was or to share a friendly word. (NOTE: Sadly, the restaurant closed this year and the Marston family moved to Spain. It was very sad to see the grounds empty and abandoned. Hopefully someone will buy the property and restore it to the wonderful place it once was.)
Duras Wines
The vineyards of Duras were one of the first to obtain the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée certification in 1937. The appellation produces a variety of wines of exceptional quality. There are reds (53%), whites (32%), rosés (11%) and sweet wines (4%) made by over two hundred passionate wine growers. Some of my favorites include the wines of Château Molhière (mentioned above), Domaine de Laulan (especially their Sauvignon Blanc) and Domaine Chater. The wines are very similar in quality those of the Bordeaux appellation. In fact, renowned wine authority Jancis Robinson once said the following about the wines of the region: “It is history more than geography that excludes these vineyards from the cozy umbrella of the Bordeaux appellation and I would take my hat off to any blind taster who could unerringly distinguish between the Bordeaux, Bergerac, Côtes de Duras and Côtes du Marmandais appellations.”


IMG_0015A Lovely Gesture
Perhaps my warmest Duras memory involves everything this charming village is known for: great food, amazing wine and friendly people. One Thursday evening, a lovely French couple sat next to us during the summer picnic. This weekly event sees both tourists and locals gathering in the town center where long tables are set out and stands sell everything from roast chicken to paella to garlicky escargots.

Ode to DurasThursday Evening Market DurasAt the time, we had our little Daschund, Pastis, with us. We had a brief chat with the couple about our dog, they showed us a photo of their lovely Spaniel and we all carried on with our meal. Just as I poured my husband and I the last of our bottle of wine, the man reached over and poured us some of theirs. It was such a lovely gesture. At that moment, I fell in love with Duras and its people even more. I can’t wait to go back every year… one day, forever. See you soon, my heart’s home…

Ode to Duras End