Category: My Heart’s Home (France)

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

The French Four: People

Every Friday, I will be posting four photos to transport you to my heart’s home, France. For me, each one of them is filled with special memories of a moment when time stood still and beauty, in some form or another, took my breath away. Perhaps it was a place, perhaps a dish. Maybe even a person (as is the case in this first post). Hopefully for you, they will be a source of inspiration. Not so much to visit France (although I highly recommend that), but to enjoy those wonderful moments even more. Capture them with your camera, but also with your heart.

Bon week-end

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Diary of France: Lunch at La Cigale

on markets and good food dessert

Today was one of those days. A typical day in France in which we somehow seem to experience a week’s worth of fun in the time span of a single day. We had a leisurely walk through the market in Chalon-sur-Sâone, enjoyed a glass of wine on a busy terrace, visited a very typical French antique market and drove through the vineyards of Meursault.
For lunch, we stopped at La Cigale located on Rue de Strasbourg. At first, we were a little disappointed because the streets were completely deserted. Two streets full of restaurants and only a few with customers! Luckily though, a few more people joined us, which made the lunch experience just a little cozier. We chose the menu du jour. Kirstie and I started with a tomato mozzarella salad which was very fresh and tasty. I liked the idea of using lemon juice in the dressing instead of my usual balsamic vinegar. The addition of finely chopped chives was also lovely. Hans ordered the chicken salad as his starter. He seemed to enjoy it, although he did mention it was rather garlicky! We followed with a steak seasoned with Herbes de Provence and served in a light, creamy gravy. The chips that went with our meal were absolute perfection. Crispy and so nicely seasoned! Kirstie, the little gourmande, had the salmon in beurre blanc served with wild rice and girolles. And oh dessert! We enjoyed a layered raspberry tart with fine pastry, sweet cream and icy, bright red raspberries!


A Barbecue in Duras

DSC00523One of the most memorable meals I have ever been invited to took place a few years ago in Duras, in south-west France; a barbecue hosted by a lovely family we had met there.
We were expected for the apéritif at seven in the evening, and we were not to worry about bringing anything. The weather had been somewhat cloudy that day so there was definitely a chance that we would have to postpone our plans. Luckily, by the time we had to leave, the dark clouds cleared and we arrived at Tessa and Jean-Claude’s doorstep, wine and chocolates in hand, and very much looking forward to an evening of outdoor dining à la campagne.
When we took a seat at the large wooden table in the garden, Tessa brought out some crackers and nuts for us to munch on with our Pastis. While she darted back and forth between the kitchen and the garden, we engaged in conversation with the chatty Jean-Claude who told us that he had just built the terrace we were sitting at and about all his other future building plans. The children happily frolicked about, grabbing some nuts here and there and asking when dinner would be ready.
I remember feeling very lucky that evening. I had always wanted to be invited to eat with a family in France, and I knew this meal was going to be great, even before Tessa had a chance to delight us with her culinary skills.
Dinner started with a board of sliced pâté accompanied by tiny, sweet cornichons and a small jar of onion confit, perhaps the most perfect of accompaniments to any charcuterie. I was given a knife and instructed to cut rounds from a crusty baguette. In the meantime, Jean-Claude opened a bottle of the local Sauvignon Blanc. The night was young and the conversation was as light as our spirits as we toasted to the good life and good food.
The next course was a bright courgette soup,creamy yet light enough to let the flavour of the summer courgettes shine through. Tessa served it in colourful plates and garnished each portion with a vivid orange nasturtium blossom. We laughed and made jokes as she told us how to suck out the nectar from the stem. The soup was so exquisite and delicate that we almost forgot that we had actually been invited to a barbecue. A six-course, very French barbecue!
After the soup, Jean-Claude busied himself grilling an assortment of delicately marinated skewered meats, and in the meantime, Tessa set out bowls of bean and pasta salads. We joyfully ate, washing down our meal with glasses that were never allowed to go empty, and when the skies grew darker, we lit candles and talked about pursuing dreams, about letting go of fears and about taking risks. At that moment, the sultry evening air, my beloved France, the good company and the gorgeous food was pure, sheer bliss.
When the cheese board came out, Jean-Claude and I discussed our appreciation for stinky cheeses, frog legs and other French delicacies. I couldn’t help but notice that the cheeses were not served fridge-cold, but that they had been taken out of the fridge on time, as they should be, because their centers were soft and melting.
Dessert was a perfect (and very refreshing) culmination to a lovely evening. We enjoyed sunny, orange slices of Charentais melon. Like the courgette soup, the melon was a delicious reflection of the summer’s bounty. Tessa told us that she had shopped for most of the products at the market that morning and that some of them came from an old, village farmer.
I will always have fond memories of that evening. While being served foie gras on brioche might impress me, I am more in awe of someone like Tessa and Jean-Claude, people who are obviously passionate about food, but mostly, about life. That meal was more than a barbecue. It was a feast prepared with love. Love for the food and for the enjoyment that comes with eating it in good company.

Memorable meal2