Spring is here, and just before the summer invasion of tourists why not take a short vacation to France (airline prices are still reasonable) to one of the most picturesque area where the food, the villages and the old castles are sublime?
Southwest of Paris, the department, Le Lot is well known to aficionados of foie gras and good wine. It is also one of the best places to spend a lovely weekend — especially the weekend of May 15th.
Perched on a rocky hill at an altitude of about 758 meters with a spectacular view of the entire Vallee, Gourdon offers more than good food. Built in the XII Century, rebuilt in the XVII, Gourdon is a real feudal town with part of a rampart still surrounding the city. The Chateau de Gourdon, which has disappeared, used to dominate the town. Today a magnificent Church has replaced the Castle. Visit the old quarters surrounding the church with old houses with ochre colored walls that reflects the rays of the sun. The view from the church is breath taking.
Every Saturday there is a lovely farmers market alongside of the ramparts, filled with local fruit, vegetables, poultry, foie gras, honey, and wine.
After the market, take a leisurely walk on the winding streets of Gourdon, lined with stores selling local artisanal products. The best, and most popular stores are the charcuteries, whose windows are filled with foie gras, sausages, local specialties, and prepared dishes. These are the jewels of Gourdon. They make roast duck stuffed with foie gras as well as duck and goose sausages.
Have lunch, at the Café Valette for the best foie gras in Gourdon and samplings of regional specialties. You can have a cold white Graves, but the food goes best with a red — try the wine from Cahors that is usually served cool. Foie gras is served on toast with a salad or try confit de Canard ou d’oies avec une confiture d’ognions. It is also served” sauté “with Les“Pommes de Terre Sarladaises”. There is a smooth and rich goose rillette, or try the smoked duck breast sliced very thin like smoked ham.
On Saturday visit the caves of Cougnac, about 2 km from the town and admire the different types of megaliths.
The next day after lunch, drive or take a taxi to L’Abbaye Nouvelle in the commune of Leobard. This is an idyllic hamlet of less than 40 homes, all with a view of a 13th Century Cistercian abbey. In the early part of the 20th century, the Abbey was in ruins and had become a stone quarry. The inhabitants, with the help of the local notables, formed an association to rebuild and save this magnificent structure. The association was able to attract not only a large public to view the Abbey but also the attention of a government entity involved in restoring old monuments and churches.
They did that by creating the Fetes des Plantes (the fair of plants) which takes place every year on the third Sunday of May. This year they are celebrating the 21st anniversary. This year theme is “Water, Plants and Life.” Every year, growers from all over the area have participated year after year. The hamlet with the help of the “Batiments de France” has raise money to restore the bottom portion of the church (“La Salle Basse”) and consolidated other parts of the Abbey, which were about to collapse.
The hamlet also established a music festival held every August with two concerts, one of classic music the other of jazz. The theme of the August 2nd concert, lit with candles, is Cordes et Ames. The program will include Spanish and South American music (Manuel de Falla, Granados, Villa Lobos…) presented by Sara Chenal and Olivier Pelmoine. This year the concerts are directed by Procol Harum‘s American conductor Gary Brooker, who has a house in the area. Their hope is to raise enough money in the next few years to restore the actual abbey, especially the cloister whose walls are crumbling.
After visiting L’Abbeye Nouvelle, return to Gourdon and spend the night in a charming stone hotel, L’Esplanade, whose terrace overlooks the entire valley. Have dinner in the hotel’s restaurant while admiring the view sampling the best dishes of the area.
The next day, before leaving for Paris, take a ride to Cahors, a lovely XIV Century town. Visit their XIII Century cathedral, and then sit in its main square sipping one of its great red wines.