Chasing Fairy Tales In The Dordogne

words + pictures by Kimberley Lovato

Dreams are often born from the most unsuspecting places. Incredibly, mine happened to be delivered by an editor. The assignment that landed in my lap was to head to the Dordogne region of France and follow a chef and her new culinary tour company guests around for a week. No convincing needed, I immediately got in my car in Brussels and drove 10 hours south.   En route I stopped to fuel up and a postcard caught my eye. A picturesque village was enveloped in fog and huddled against a cliff at the edge of the Dordogne River, with a dilapidated rowboat tied to its shore. On the back of the card, in small black and white print, were the words, La-Roque-Gageac, Dordogne.  If fairy tales were depicted on postcards, they would look like this. I bought the card and tucked it behind the visor of my car.

I arrived in Biron, a village of 140 people, at an old priory that sits in the shadows of a 500-year -old castle.  I recall knocking on the weathered wooden doors of the Priory, and hearing the metal against metal slide of the bolt behind it, then a slow creek as the door opened.  Half expecting Frankenstein, I was greeted, instead, by the face of my host, Florida based Chef Laura Schmalhorst. Since then, Laura and I have met up in the Dordogne every year, bonded by our love of a good adventure, good food and wine, and seduced by the convivial people, their passion for the food and their willingness to share it and their stories with us.

While I prefer to travel by bus or local rickshaw, in the Dordogne, a car is essential.  The 2-lane roads are well marked but signs can be miniscule, especially the hand-painted ones directing you to local farms. Be warned: some signs, like those of a walnut farm I was seeking, lead you like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs only to completely disappear. I have learned not to get worked up over this loss of time. We as Americans are programmed for efficiency and if we don’t get where we are going in a reasonable time, our springs pop out and the brain shuts down, reducing us to cursing, yelling idiots.  In the Dordogne, time itself is on vacation. When you live in a fairytale there is no reason to rush, someone once told me. Sometimes it’s good to get off the time track, or be knocked off.


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