by Martin Walker
The night markets of the Dordogne region began around a decade ago and have become highly popular and an instant tradition. They also offer an opportunity to explore the region and to discover a whole variety of lesser-known local wines. What’s more, the food and the music can be terrific.
The first of these evening markets took place in the hilltop village of Audrix, between Le Bugue and St-Cyprien, in the shadow of the 12th century church. Initially, only people from the local commune and their relatives were supposed to set up stalls to offer their food and drink. The event was so intimate that the village mayor would cook omelettes on a portable gas stove and if they ran out of chairs, you nipped into the church and borrowed theirs.
The secret weapon was the village’s own baking oven, in the middle of the square, which produced pizzas and bread fresh from the oven. They also boasted the local cheesemaker, Stéphane Bounichou, from the Fromagerie d’Audrix. Then they got fancy, and the local snail farm began offering their own dishes, and another stall began cooking to order foie gras in a heavenly sauce of honey and balsamic vinegar. There were donkey rides for children and an ecolo system of renting proper plates rather than using plastic dishes.
The idea spread like wildfire and now there are several such markets every night of the week, some with seating for a thousand people and more. Some offer Indian, Chinese and Caribbean food along with the usual salads, moules-frites, grilled steaks and duck breasts. And the idea has spread beyond small towns and villages with vineyards getting into the act.
Château de Panisseau is close to Thénac in the western corner of the Bergerac wine district, about 5 km from the boundary with the Bordeaux region, and they are running night markets in the courtyard flanked by the 13th century château, the covered and heated swimming pool and their gîtes with Hicksville Swing as their live band. I had a great evening with friends, and some dancing on the eve of Bastille Day.
The food was great: all the usual fare of grilled meats, duck and chicken, crêpes and strawberries and cheeses, along with a real treat of roasted shoulder of pork served with haricots aux couennes, beans in a tomato sauce with strips of pork rind that add a lovely rich flavour. Being a vineyard, tastings of three types of wine are free, and then they ask 2 euros a glass and a very reasonable 7 euros a bottle. The place is multilingual, and winemaker Emmanuel Guiot has worked in vineyards in New Zealand and South Africa. He makes a lovely Bergerac Sec white and his red was rich and mellow.
Further east at St-Léon-d’Issigeac, the Domaine de Zacharie vineyard (which also raises excellent milk-fed veal) hosts night markets on 31st August and 18th September. They produce good, unpretentious red, white and rosé wines of Bergerac and invite their neighbouring farmers to come and offer their own produce.
Another of my favourite night markets is Beaumont-du-Périgord on Monday evenings through July and August, held in a lovely bastide square with an excellent range of food and terrific music, a different band each week, and there’s always dancing. Best of all, the wine comes from Christian Roche’s Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure, one of my favourite winemakers in the region. At 7 euros a bottle, you are drinking a very good wine indeed.
At Creysse, on Saturday nights, the wine lover cannot go wrong. This is Pécharmant country, which has traditionally produced the finest of the Bergerac reds thanks in part to a deep layer of iron-bearing clay called Tran which defines the terroir. It produces supple and elegant red wines but the white and rosé wines offered by Château de Tiregand (my personal favourite among the Pécharmant vineyards) are worth seeking out.
You can eat at a marché nocturne every night of the week. My recommendations are Beaumont on Mondays, Eymet or Le Bugue on Tuesdays, Belvès on Wednesdays, Badefols-sur-Dordogne on Thursdays, Issigeac or Le Buisson on Fridays, Audrix or Creysse on Saturdays and a giant farm barbecue at Soulaure on Fridays.
Usually plastic dishes and cutlery are provided but take your own glasses, plates and eating irons, and a big plastic bag to take them away.
And if you read this in time, on Saturday evening, 6th August, the city and Vins de Bergerac celebrates 80 years of the appellation contrôlée with a night market and special Bergerac wine bar in the old port with music, dancing and fireworks.
Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac. Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International. He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.