Come rain or come shine….
I just returned home to the village today. It lifts me up to see it again. So beautiful. Although it has been in the 70’s this week, it is cool and grey at the moment which is not unusual for this time of year. Although temperate from April through October, the weather in St. Cirq Lapopie is more variable at either end of the season. And with global climate change, the weather can vary significantly at any time. The good news is that the village and region are gorgeous rain or shine.
Here are some ideas for things to do if you find yourself there during a rainy Day(s):
1) Visit the prehistoric caves at Pech Merle– arrange in advance on line for an English-speaking tour, or enjoy the odd and humorous translations on the hand-out sheet for the French-speaking tour. Or go spelunking with a guide from Kalapca in one of the many caves that sound in the region. Watch Cave of Forgotten Dreams before you go!
2) Visit the renaissance castle Chateau Cenevieres– with luck you may run into the 80+ year old owner who will regale you with wonderful stories (in French), or his charming son Patrick who speaks perfect English and is very erudite
3) Take a day trip to Albi– a lovely city, the home of Toulouse-Lautrec, and with the most amazing cathedral this side of Chartres. Scary frescoes!
4) The outdoor markets run rain or shine– take your bag and your umbrella, and schedule yourself for a lunch break at one of the nearby cafes. There are markets nearly every day, all worth going to.
5) Watch a movie in the lounge upstairs—carry up some snacks and drinks and hang out. Click ‘pause’ once in a while and gather at the window for amazing views across the village and valley.
6) Drive to Conques or Cordes sur Ciel– or any of the other famously beautiful towns within less than a two hour drive.
7) Spend a few hours at a French spa or salon— there’s Alain at the Salon Siz-O in Limogne; and there are salons in Cahors. And just across our bridge is a lovely spa at the Hotel St. Cirq Lapopie.
8) Take the wine tour of the great Wines of Cahors– the tourist office has a map for this– you can spend the day visiting half a dozen vineyards– bring a designated driver!
9) On a Thursday, make the drive to the morning market in Villefranche de Rouergue (leave early, you’ll need some time to find a parking place). The market is in the square, with lots of covered spaces to escape any drenching rain. Make a reservation at the Cote de Saveur restaurant just around the corner from the Chruch for a delicious lunch. You will NOT be diasppointed.
10) Walk the tow path by the river— use an umbrella until you get to the limestone overhang, which you will then walk beneath, temporarily free of drizzle. There is a beautiful Bas relief sculpture on the wall there. Cool!
11) Visit museums on subjects that may interest you– for instance, the Resistance Museum in Cahors. Or the Toulouse-Lautrec museum in Albi.
And there are two small and interesting historic museums in St. Cirq Lapopie!
12) Visit the excellent butcher shop in Limogne in the morning, then bring back food (if you aren’t already stocked up) and spend the day cooking gourmet meals, drinking wine, enjoying our beautiful home.
13) Do everything you’d do if it were sunny– just wear slickers, carry an umbrella, and bring a change of socks.
This is just a partial list of things to do, but remember: you don’t even need to leave the village. The shops, the restaurants, the museums, the ruins, the vistas, the alleyways, the houses, all are there to explore. And you’ve got a great house to duck back into. Breathe deeply, relax, enjoy.
Then this morning it was a bit different… I swear I am not making this up. As one of my dear friends said, “It is not normal to wake up to this.”
(Sell everything and come!)
I’m just sayin’…
Today I had my front door open in the early evening to let the warm air in. A French couple stopped in the street and leaned in to ask me what was cooking. They said the smell in the street was divine. Now, listen, I am an American in France and to have a French couple praise the cooking in my house made my day (even though it was my young guests from Australia who were cooking, not me). So, I told them so. And I thanked them for making my day. Then the unbelievable happened. In rapture, they said it earned “cinq etoiles.” I told them this was really big news and I was going to have to put it on Facebook and my website. So there you have it. My house makes the French think I run a 5-star restaurant. Voila!
Recently I had the pleasure of connecting with Peter Shinyeda, a very accomplished photographer who spent two weeks in the home of a good friend of mine in St Cirq Lapopie. Peter photographed the village and the area with breathtaking results. In particular he captured the unique and spectacularly changing sky in a wonderful series of time-lapsed videos. It made me want to go home. It might make you want to go to SCL, too, to see it for your self. I swear it really does this….
The Sky, St-Cirq-Lapopie, France
I am encouraging Peter to put together a photo tour to the village. Take a look at his website (www.PeterShinyeda.com) and his workshops and tours (www.FirstLightPhotoTours.com) and let me know if you might be interested. Imagine how much fun that would be!
The weather in St Cirq can be very dramatic. Early in the morning there is often a fog that settles in the valley such that the church seems to arise from it, like Brigadoon. In an instant it is there. In the next, it is gone.
After a storm, the birds sing in joy that the tempest is departed. Turn up the Volume and Listen to the Birds. The sunsets can vary from yellow, to orange, to red to purple to blue to black. All within ten minutes.
Word must be getting around about our secret slice of heaven. Yesterday two of my friends sent me this article by a travel writer who arrived at the foot of the village without any expectations. It reminded me of my first visit to St Cirq Lapopie in the 80’s.
My sister and I started in Nice and drove north and west across the South of France. We explored sweet, undiscovered inns and scenic drives as described by Karen Brown in her book Charming Inns and Itineraries of France. We followed the “green” lines on Michelin maps, those roads marked as most scenic. We traveled through some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen: Gorge du Verdon (their Grand Canyon!), Gorges du Tarn, Conques. The tiny village of St Cirq Lapopie was our last stop and as far west as we had time to drive in France. I will never forget winding up the hill and arriving at the most enchanting place I had ever seen. It was a September evening. We had the village to ourselves. And I was unable to stop inhaling.
I promised myself I would go back. Fifteen years later my husband and I did. We stayed at Hotel La Pelissaria. It was magical. The hotel is situated across the street from Maison d’Etre. I recently found old photos that we took of us in front of it 13 years before we bought it! And I actually discovered the receipt that I had kept all these years, signed by my sweet neighbor, Marie Francoise. She still runs the hotel and is a great friend. It does seem it was meant to be…
You can watch the video of St Cirq Lapopie below and read the blog about the most Beatiful Village in France yourself, if you like! ENJOY!!!!
Last Sunday, my friend Elizabeth and I learned how to make the new hot thing in France. They are not actually so new. There is a company called Laduree that has been making them since 1862, although it was not until 1930 that the founder’s grandson dreamed up their present “double decker” form filled with ganache. Evidently they now sell 15,000 of them a day!
Macarons Have Become a New Fashion Statement
If you have been through the Paris airport, you may have seen them and been tempted to try one of the tiny delectable treats – for a whopping 1.75 Euros! They come in all sorts of colors with all sorts of flavors and all sorts of fillings. It is a sugar lover’s dream. They have even become a fashion statement, with Lanvin creating a packaging and a new flavor (bubblegum!) for fashion week!
Elizabeth and I took the class at Sur La Table as part of preparation for our next Excellent Adventure together. We made our macarons of hazelnut and almond floor. Some were tinted pastel pink, some violet and some left white. Some were raspberry flavored and some vanilla. All were filled with a creamy ganache of either praline butter cream, white chocolate or chocolate. And all were outstanding.
Maison d’Etre Cooking Tour Scheduled for April 2014
In 2014, we aspire to lead a group of interested, able and willing clients on a special cooking tour to Maison d’Etre. Elizabeth will be the chef; I will be her sous chef. We will reveal secrets of the wonderful, regional cooking of SW France. We have scouted and already found some wonderful day trips. Near Maison d’Etre are a truffle farm and a saffron farm. Not far away are a lavender farm, wineries, and numerous, bustling, fresh markets where we will gather ingredients.
Prize-winning food-travel author, Kimberley Lovato has written a wonderful book called Walnut Wine & Truffle Groves . We plan to use it for the backbone of our culinary adventure. Every attendee will receive his or her own copy. Think foie gras, duck, walnuts and black wine.
Sound like fun? Mark your calendar for April of 2014… and send me a note if you are interested!
We’re replacing all the windows and doors in Maison d’Etre this year. If you look at the photo, you can see that our house was two houses which are now one (connected by two hallways through thick stone walls). For that reason, the windows and doors are all different. Some have mullions, some do not. Some have shutters, some do not. Some work acceptably, some are falling apart. It was time for a face lift.
“Why does everything look so empty?”
When driving through villages and towns in rural France, I used to wonder why everything looked so empty, the buildings and homes were so shuttered, so closed up. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out.
When I was growing up in the Southern US, in the days before airconditioning, I learned from my grandmother how everyone kept the house cool on hot summer days. In the morning, she would leave all the windows and doors open, allowing the cool morning air to enter the house. As soon as the temperature outside started to rise, my grandmother would close them all and pull the curtains. All day long, inside the house would remain relatively cool and comfortable, while outside would blister. In the evening, after it cooled off again, she would open all the doors and windows again, and the windows would remain open at night to allow for cool breezes while sleeping. In the next morning the cycle would repeat.
Doing without Air Conditioning
We don’t have air conditioning in our home in Seattle. We do what Grandma did — with great success when it’s hot outside. Visitors on such days will comment that it is nice that we have air conditioning!.
We don’t. We just close up the house.
We also don’t have air conditioning in our house in France.
Maison d’Etre is actually made of local materials — mostly limestone rock, which is very porous. The house is located beneath a causse (a hill with plateau). Water naturally drains down the through the hill, through the stones and into the River Lot. This flow of water through limestone is what has created the ages old caves that were used by people as early dwellings and where they created the famous painted walls inside.
A giant swamp cooler
So our house is something like a giant “swamp cooler” — another Southern invention which involves any device (even a wet sheet or towel over a door!) that cools through the evaporation of water. If you keep the doors and windows closed in our house in France, the house can stay cool on hot days. What I didn’t realize until I lived there is that the shutters on the outside of the house work just like Grandma’s curtains. They make the whole system work even better.
Shuttered Down is not Shut Down
The next time you are in France, driving through a town that looks closed up, just remember it is shuttered down, not shut down. The French are inside, eating a wonderful lunch and relaxing in a cool room. And remember, when you are at Maison d’Etre, close up the shutters for the day while you are out. You will return to a much more comfortable home!