Mar 25, 2014

Most Beautiful Villages: Saint Albray


On France's unfailingly accurate list of the "Most Beautiful Villages of France," so many of these villages are in the Dordogne, there's simply no way to see them all. But in our time there, we've managed to wander, photograph, shop, and eat at some of them. Besides Beynac and Castelnaud, home to wonderful castles, one of our favorites is the medieval, hill-top village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, which is basically prounounced "San Seer La Poopie," and is therefore as much fun for Pippa to say as Les Eyzies (a.k.a "the penises").

Much lower to the ground, la Roque-Gageac has a fantastic view of the Château de la Malartrie at the end of the road, along which are built more of those houses built into cliffs that we love. It doesn't hurt that the town sells good ice cream we can eat, slowly, as we walk up the hill for a better view.

We like Belvès with it's medieval market roof that used to hang a cage for prisoners. Nowadays there is a sample cage which, inexplicably, has a grubby Santa Claus doll in it. What is the world coming to when Santa himself is on the naughty list? The photos don't do it justice, but trust me, it's magical.


Domme is quaint, and a fine place for lunch, but it is the town of Sarlat (officially called Sarlat-la-Canéda) that really steals our hearts. The medieval section of it is hilly and twisted and cobbled, just as you would hope. It's got great old architecture, (yet more) good ice cream, and the largest doors we've ever seen -- replacing a huge stained glass window in an old church that's been converted to a market.

Sarlat is also home to what may be the cutest house ever in recorded history. I mean, seriously; If you saw this house in a movie, with it's dormer window, tiled roof, stone walls, colombage details, pointy-capped tower, rose bushes, and ivy-covered trellises, wouldn't you roll your eyes in comtempt at how fake and over-the-top it was? My only disappointment is that it's a private house, and not open for tours. I would love to see inside it (but just hope it isn't decorated with IKEA).
Right outside Sarlat are beautiful gardens, high up on the mountainside, the Jardins de Marqueyssac.

The smallest town we see is not actually on the list, but we love it nevertheless because it has the biggest name: St.-Félix-de-Reillac-et-Mortemart. It takes longer to say it than to drive through it. And that's not an exaggeration. You see a sign indicating you are entering St. Félix; then about 10 tightly clustered houses and an inexplicably large church (photographed through a rainy windshield, so excuse the droplets) that looks like it could hold several hundred people; then the sign indicating you have left St. Félix.
I guess some of the other "Plus Beaux Villages de France"  -- like Saint-Amand-de-Coly, Saint-Leon-sur-Vézère, Limeuil, Monpazier, Monflanquin, Turenne, Saint-Robert, Collonges-la-Rouge, Carennac, Loubressac, and Autoire -- will have to wait till our next trip.
THE CHEESE: Saint Albray
Saint Albray is an industrial, pasteurized cow's milk cheese made in the southwest of France, in the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. It's a soft-ish cheese, but more rubbery than creamy. The cheese has a pronounced smell, but a relatively mild taste. It has a texture and flavor that are frankly common to industrial, pasteurized cheeses everywhere, even the supposedly stinky ones.

What is most distinctive about it is the shape. The color is also very pretty, a light orange crust around a basic creamy yellow interior.


Along with the list of the Most Beautiful Villages, France also keeps track of the Most Flowered Cities and Villages, "Les Villes et Villages Fleuris."  Among those that are listed in the region, we visit Perigueux (four flowers) and Sarlat-la-Canéda (three flowers), which is therefore on both lists.
This cheese is made in the same region as the Périgord (region of Aquitaine), and while it is not one of the most beautiful or special cheeses, its flower shape does bring to mind one of the most beautiful and flowery villages in France. Coincidentally, I actually taste this cheese in Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, which is a village in Normandy that is also on the list of the most flowery villages in France.


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