27 April 2010

2010 Public Holidays in France

2010 public holidays in France, are as follows:

1 Jan New Year's Day

5 Apr Easter Monday

1 May Labour Day

8 May 1945 Victory Day

13 May Ascension

24 May Whit Monday

14 Jul Bastille Day

15 Aug Assumption

1 Nov All Saints' Day

11 Nov Remembrance Day

25 Dec Christmas Day

5 April 2010

The smart guide to... the Dordogne

{rue de Sarlat}

The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Sunday Times......

Sunday Times March 28, 2010

The smart guide to... the Dordogne
If you want to celebrate the best of France, head to the southwest and experience the beautiful Dordogne region

Anthony Peregrine

Head to Sarlat for cobbles - and cheese from its Wednesday market

I’ve been to the Dordogne many times and never once played cricket. Despite what you’ve heard, this place really isn’t a summertime extension of the home counties. Remote in the French southwest, it has only just been tamed, and then not entirely. A twist in the track and you’re lost among forests, cliffs, rivers and caves leading darkly to prehistory.

The region has ever been beautiful, backward and insurgent. (All those castles weren’t just ornamental.) It’s only 140 years since peasants in Hautefaye roasted and ate a noble.

The dining’s improved lately, though it remains meaty, and a tough past has mellowed into a honey-stoned heritage of sunlit valleys and recreational canoeing. Yet it’s still better known locally as Périgord, the ancient name, than as Dordogne, and it still runs to farming rhythms. Give yourselves a week, minimum, to fall in with them.

The plan

Head first for Sarlat, among the finest historical centres in France. Its network of tiny streets, passages, squares and fancy buildings articulates an idealised medieval and Renaissance past for present times. It’s outstanding, as are the hill-topping bastide town of Domme and La Roque-Gageac, wedged wonderfully between golden cliffs and the River Dordogne.

Slightly north, the Vézère valley was bountiful Euro HQ to Stone Age man. He left dozens of prehistoric sites. To avoid grotto fatigue, we’re suggesting just three. First, Lascaux II (Montignac; 00 33-5 53 50 70 44, semitour.com; £7.90), where the world’s greatest cave paintings are reproduced. Second, the Abri Font-de-Gaume (Les Eyzies; 05 53 06 86 00, hominides.com; £6, book ahead), where the original polychrome cave art includes a stag licking a doe’s face. Its message of tenderness connects across 17,000 years. Finally, La Roque St Christophe (Peyzac-le-Moustier; 05 53 50 70 45; £6.50), a kilometre-long cliff into which man built his home from 55,000BC through to the Hundred Years’ War. You may roam and climb in his footsteps. The kids will love it. So will you.

Castles, too, come by the truckload. Here are two favourites, both in the Dordogne valley. Castelnaud (05 53 31 30 00, castelnaud.com; £6.80) is a medieval item that soars high and mighty above village and river. It’s full of arms and war machines. Nearby, the Renaissance Milandes (05 53 59 31 21, milandes.com; £7.40) traces the bittersweet story of its former owner, France’s great interwar topless artiste Josephine Baker. This is significantly more interesting than peering at period furniture.

No space here to do justice to the Jardins d’Eyrignac (Salignac; 05 53 28 99 71, eyrignac.com; £8.30) or the Jardins de Marqueyssac (Vézac; 05 53 31 36 36, marqueyssac.com; £6.30).

Trust me: both are stunningly sculptured homages to French gardening formality.

Where to eat

In the Dordogne, locals are either eating or talking about eating. Even in France, they’re noted for it. They like to eat fat ducks. And fat geese, truffles, salads with gizzards and potatoes in goose fat. Yet they aren’t fat themselves, and don’t have heart attacks, because they also drink their red wines (best are Côtes de Bergerac and Pécharmant). That’s the French paradox.

The best way to appreciate the abundance, and stock up the villa, is at markets. Most villages have them, but the key one is in Sarlat on Wednesdays and Saturdays. (Get there early or you’ll be parking in Calais.) Reward yourselves with a confit de canard lunch at La Petite Borie (12 Rue Tourny; 05 53 31 23 69; menus from £13), in the heart of town. Further unjustified indulgence can be had under the cliffs of La Roque-Gageac, where La Belle Etoile (05 53 29 51 44; from £25) has a more stylish take on similar traditions; or up in Domme, at Restaurant Cabanoix & Châtaignes (05 53 31 07 11, restaurantcabanoix.com; menus from £19), which marries local and exotic in a surprisingly funky little bistro.

When it comes to pushing the bateau out properly, though, hie to Lacave and the perfectly lovely Château de la Treyne (05 65 27 60 60, chateaudelatreyne.com; menus from £85). The 17th-century terrace by the river is where you propose to the loved one. If she refuses in this setting, save up and bring someone else next year. It’s bound to work eventually.


Do make the short trip to the Sarlat suburb of La Canéda, following signs for Gorodka (05 53 31 02 00, gorodka.com; £7). The artist Pierre Shasmoukine has executed an extraordinary conceptual assault on the wooded hillside, with totems, a dragonfly made from a real helicopter and much else besides. No idea what’s going on, but it’s absorbing.

Now action. You’ll want to canoe because everyone does, and it’s glorious — past cliffs, castles and forest on the Vézère or the Dordogne. At the confluence of the two rivers, Limeuil is a pretty base, and Canoes Rivières Loisirs a competitive company (05 53 63 38 73, canoes-rivieres-loisirs.com; about £13.50pp for 3.5 hours.

Getting there

Handiest airport is Bergerac, which is served from 13 UK airports and Dublin. Airlines include Flybe (0871 700 2000, flybe.com), Ryanair (0871 246 0000, ryanair.com) and Jet2 (0871 226 1737, jet2.com). A week’s car hire starts at about £190 with Alamo (0871 384 1086, alamo.co.uk) or Hertz (0870 844 8844, hertz.co.uk).