The bustling Saturday market in Sarlat-la-Canéda
As a refuge for the religious fleeing persecution, Sarlat was settled in an unassuming position in a dell around 5 kilometres from the Dordogne River. With history visible on worn facades and ancient squares, it is an intriguing town with an independent streak born from its chequered past.
But it’s the Saturday market that transforms the entire village into an artisanal commercial hub. Up early on a crisp October morning, the yellow and orange leaves blowing through the village streets were a signpost for the produce were about to find. Stalls were packed high with pumpkins, squash, parsnips, cured meats, a staggering array of cheeses and plenty of wine to wash it all down with. The highlight was the regions star ingredient – mushrooms.
Blessed with excellent produce and enterprising locals, Sarlat has a reputation for markets. Saturday is the full market, while Wednesday is dedicated to food. The covered market in the Sainte Marie church is open daily (except Thursday) and the truffle market takes place from December to February. The Christmas market is considered one of the best in France.
Creative vegetarian cooking at Le 1862
After a day exploring the ancient rock formations hidden in the nearby mountains, we made our way to Hotel Les Glycines to dine at Restaurant Le 1862. Tucked into a scenic spot in the Vézère Valley, the staff prepared an innovative vegetarian tasting menu. The on-site garden provided the vegetables and aromatic herbs, while the kitchen used a deft hand to exploit the versatility of mushrooms to craft a memorable meal.
A trio of mushrooms with a depth of flavour often missing in meat-free dishes blended creamy luxury with spicy accents and an ingenious beetroot jelly. The earthy flavours of the Dordogne were present in a colourful take on a classic risotto, and a marshmallow dessert presented on a bed of pine needles embodied the rural charm and autumnal tones of the region.
The local Sunday Market at charming Issigeac
Restaurant Le 1862 is fancy food in refined surroundings and the Saturday market in Sarlat is a popular stop on the tourist trail, but the Sunday Market at Issigeac was a sensory overload where we found local farmers selling their fresh produce to discerning locals who know where to get the good stuff.
In this most beautiful of villages, medieval streets curve towards a central square where stalls packed high with fresh seasonal produce enticed local cooks to form orderly queues; patiently waiting in line for the best ingredients. We wandered past stalls of fat, rotund parsnips still covered in dirt; trays of mushrooms in multiple varieties; freshly baked bread and a mind-boggling selection of cheeses.
The Sunday Market at Issigeac is one of the best encounters of food in the Dordogne, and the perfect place to pick up a tasty morsel to accompany the region’s most renowned wines.
The views and wine of Monbazillac
Not far from Issigeac and spread across the slopes of a hilltop just above the Dordogne River, the vineyards of Monbazillac are regularly shrouded in a light morning mist. As the sun burns through in the afternoon, the location creates the perfect conditions for nobel rot; a beneficial fungus that partially raisins the grapes, producing the delicate sweetness that is synonymous with Monbazillac wines.
With mechanical harvesting banned since 1993, the Semillon, muscadelle and sauvignon grapes used in Monbazillac wines are all handpicked. This passion for traditional methods has created some of the finest sweet wines in the world.
A tour of the sweeping vineyards and the hilltop cháteau is a walk through the history of wine production in the area. The in-house museum has a collection of equipment from a bygone era, and an atmospheric storeroom contains 700 dusty bottles from early vintages. But the highlight, is the wine itself. Deliciously sweet, yet versatile, we didn’t need much convincing to leave with a few bottles home.