Follow up to Let's Go Bake in France
This is a follow up to my message of last month asking if anyone wanted to go to southwest France and learn more about wood-oven baking via Pilgrims au Pain. Pardon the long message.
I attended the Pilgrims au Pain session from May 23 to 31, 2017, and what a trip!
Pilgrims au Pain is a joint effort of Ann Lokey (incredible hostess) and Pat Hains (master baker), and it's located in Saint Cirq Lapopie, France's “Most Beautiful Village”.
I highly recommend the experience.
The baking lessons were everything I hoped for: mixing, shaping, baking baguettes, batards, bagels, brioche, focaccia, pizza and flavored breads that were then baked in the ancient wood oven at Ann's house.
Pat is a knowledgeable and patient instructor, and she taught me a number of new baker's skills and provided some wonderful recipes. In addition to baking in Saint Cirq, we also visited a local farmstead and participated in baking various loaves in a very rustic wood oven. The Lot region abounds with wood ovens, from ancient to new, and wood-fired oven baking is a well-practiced part of the French baking culture.
The non-baking aspect of the trip was unexpected, and delightful. I was graciously welcomed into Ann's home and into the fascinating community of ex-pats and native Francois in Saint Cirq. I felt instantly accepted into a very friendly group, who attend local village markets together, enjoy aperitifs together, and generally enjoy the French style of “living every day”. Several neighbors joined us on pizza day, to try their hand.
Ann's centuries-old stone house is near a medieval gate, looking up at the village and down on the Lot river. What is it about centuries-old houses that feels so calm and serene?
Each day started with Pat cooking breakfast, a skill she honed during years of B&B hosting, followed by well-organized baking lessons. Doughs prepared the day before were readied for baking, and new doughs mixed for the following day. There were two students in this class, and room for more. There were frequent day-trips to local village markets. Other excursions are available, from boating to bicycling, hiking, etc.
When the class ended and goodbyes were said to my new friends, I spent another week exploring the Lot and Dordogne and Catalan regions of France. There is much to see in those beautiful areas, from Sarlat, Conques, Figeac and down to Collioure on the Med. I sampled the amazing breads at every market I visited, and I've returned to the U.S. with a renewed joy of baking.
You are a very lucky man. Your trip sound fantastic!
Thanks for the update.
Oh, that all sounds simply wonderful. We lived in the UK for six years and travelled as much as we could in Europe while there, but now we're back in Western Canada it's a bit of an expensive trip to get there. I really miss these lovely old villages and would absolutely love this whole trip and experience! Thanks for sharing.
I agree with you - I love those old european homes with well worn stone steps that have been worn by the foot falls over the centuries, reminding me that whatever my important 'problem du jour' it's insignificant in the grand scheme of life. It sounds like you've had a remarkable trip! I've book marked your message. I would love to do this one year! Here's hoping..
I have family in that region of France and it is beautiful. However, that trip of yours is one that I definitely would like to do one day! Thank you for getting back to us and sharing!
Trip sounds fantastic. I'm trying to get a friend to go next oct. Any tips on the travel?
I have lots of tips, but everybody does France their own way, yes? I flew into and out of Toulouse airport instead of Paris. It's much closer to Saint Cirq LaPopie, and airfare is the same to either airport from the U.S. The 30 hour flights-plus-wait-time from my home in Hawaii was so tiring (I'm elderly) that I wish I had allowed a couple of days to rest and adjust to the new time zone before diving in to class. Most trips from the mainland won't be nearly that long, but if you also find travel tiring, consider flying into either Paris or Toulouse and spending a couple of adjustment days, and then making way to Cahors and Saint Cirq LaPopie.
I rented a car from Sixt at Toulouse, but it sat idle for almost the entire week of the baking school, except for little trips to local village markets. For two weeks after class, the rocket BMW M3 I rented got lots of use on the country roads and turnpikes in southern and southwestern France. The Lot region around Saint Cirq LaPopie is very rural: farms, rivers and rolling hills, dotted with ancient villages and small towns. Beautiful country.
Before or after class, if you have time pre or post-class, you are within a day's drive of many cool medieval towns like Cahors, Figeac, Sarlat, Conques, and a couple of prehistoric cave sites. I spent the final part of my trip on the mediterranean coast, in a charming little seacoast town called Collioure. Spain is also within easy striking distance. Your travel month, October, is great. I went in late May. I think the summers would be uncomfortably hot, but the "edges" like May and October are beautiful.
As the French say, even when you're leaving their shop, "bonne journee".