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.
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.
If you’re ever in Duras, make sure you book a table at restaurant La Terrasse. Situated on 4, place Jean Bousquet, directly in front of the majestic castle, the restaurant was reopened in the summer of 2013 by the couple Mathias and Éléonore Billaud. Unfortunately, it appears it went through a difficult period with the previous owners, but since its new management, La Terrasse has secured a spot as the number one restaurant in town — and with due right.
During the weekdays (with the exception of Wednesday) the restaurant serves a three-course, set-price menu for fifteen euros. The choices are always creative, plentiful and very delicious. I’ve had an exquisite ossobuco, a dish of silky squid ink pasta with a creamy seafood sauce, crispy tarts topped with summer vegetables and cheese, oriental style pork and many excellent desserts. The wine list includes a good selection of some of the best local wines as well as other good choices from the rest of France. You can also choose a carafe of their house wine, which will not disappoint.
For dinner (with the exception of Tuesday and Wednesday), the restaurant offers a varied menu that includes perfectly cooked steaks, regional delicacies such as confit de canard, a few seafood options and even a very tasty fish n’ chips (remember, there’s a large English expat population in Duras!). This year one of the special offers outside the menu was a starter of oysters which almost made me cry it was so good — especially with a chilled glass of champagne (or two)!
The best part, however, is the friendly and correct service. The team is always welcoming and very helpful, and the owners are pure charm and grace. The only thing you’ll have to remember is to book a table as judging from the always full restaurant, we’re not the only ones who have fallen in love with La Terrasse!
Tel: 05 53 84 29 62
I 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.