Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Well, it gets even better...
In the autumn of 2006, when opening my letterbox, I found a standard note left by my postman Bart saying that he had a registered letter for me. I could come and pick it up the next day at our local postoffice. Registered letters rarely bear good news. In Belgium they are mostly associated with getting your 'C4'. C4 is the name of the form your employer gives or sends you when you are being laid off. As the company I'm working for had been taken over by a competitor in June of that same year, I feared the worst.
Village street in Candes-Saint-Martin
In spite of the note saying that I could pick up the letter the next day I was too impatient and worried to wait. I jumped into my car and drove to the postoffice. I walked in a handed the note at the clerk at the frontdesk. He looked at it and said: "You're too early. Your postman Bart hasn't returned from his daily round yet and he still has the letter. You'll have to come back tomorrow." Feeling desperate, I walked out. On the sidewalk I bumped into a returning postman on his bike. Unlike French postmen, who have long distances to cover, most Belgian postmen still deliver the mail by bike. Only in rural areas, where there are few houses scattered over the countryside, postmen have a scooter or a little van. So you can safetly assume that in Belgium postmen are in excellent physical condition!
"Are you Bart?" I asked. He looked surprised. "No, I'm Walter. Bart is still on his way." I apologized and said goodbye.
I drove home, thinking and fearing about the origin and content of the letter. I would have to wait another 24 hours before knowing.
(more to come)
Monday, 29 June 2009
When opening the envelop I found a card with a kind (typewritten) message thanking me for taking the quiz on their website. With the card came a handsome cardboard box with an elegant label on it. The box contained, smartly laid out on a velvety surface ... a fashionable keyring containing some sand from the Loire River banks.
There also was a parchement-like note saying: "Real Loire River sand. A gift from Touraine to help you dream of your holiday."
Call me sentimental, call me silly, but since that day that keyring goes with me where ever I go. My house and car keys are attached to it. It helps me to keep the dream alive when I'm stuck in a traffic jam!
Do you want to own a keyring with real Loire Valley sand? Check in to www.tourism-touraine.com and take the quiz!
Sunday, 28 June 2009
One day during our 2004 stay, after a long afternoon of ‘château’ hopping, we stopped in the quiet little village of Vernou-sur-Brenne, east of Vouvray. Opposite the church and the village square is a typical French bar called ‘le Vers Nous’ (which is a clever play of words as it means ‘towards us’ – Can you think of a more inviting name for a bar?)
We started chatting with some of the other patrons about the weather and the winegrowers in the area. None of the men or women present could tell us exactly how many winegrowers there are as the 2.000 hectares AOC Vouvray area spreads out over the commune of Vouvray and the neighbouring villages of Chançay, Noizay, Reugny, Rochecorbon, Sainte-Radegonde-en-Touraine, Vernou-sur-Brenne, and part of Parçay-Meslay.
Getting to Chançay we found the winery deserted. We waited around for a little while and finally decided to ring at the door of the house opposite the ‘cave’. A woman appeared from behind the house, saying that Jean-Charles was working in the vineyard, but that he was on his way: “Il arrive!” (He’ll be here presently).
Only 5 minutes later M. Cathelineau arrived on his tractor. He opened the door to the winery and took us on a guided tour. The particularity of his ‘cave’ is a little museum. Over the years he, and his father and grandfather before him, have been digging deeper and deeper into the rock to expand the cellar. Incrusted in the limestone they have found numerous fossils of prehistoric insects, amphibians, plants, etc. He has put them on display along the walls of the tunnel that runs several hundreds of meters into the rock.
Another charming feature is the row of small alcoves in the walls. When asked what they were, J.-C. told us that the wine in the niches had been bought by people at the occasion of the birth of their child(ren). At the parents' request Jean-Charles is stocking these bottles for them in the best conditions. The aim is to drink the wine, which has been produced in the child’s year of birth, on his or her wedding day. Although this tradition is apparently very frequent in the Loire Valley and other grape growing regions of France, I’ve only seen these individual alcoves in Cathelineau’s winery.
• Sec/Dry: goes well with fish and shellfish.
• Demi-sec/Half dry: to accompany charcuteries and fish dishes in a cream sauce.
• Moelleux/Sweet: to enjoy as an aperitif or to accompany a foie gras
Méthode traditionnelle (fine bubbles)
Brut/Dry and Demi-Sec/Half dry: a festive bubbly that requires no special occasion.
We left the winery after buying 12 bottles of Jean-Charles’ excellent dry white Vouvray … the perfect ending of another perfect day.
Friday, 26 June 2009
Wallis had been the Prince of Wales’ mistress for many years. Although the English royal family as well as the English Parliament disapproved of their relationship, everybody thought that the Prince would come to reason once that he was faced with the responsibility of ruling his country. It was completely unthinkable that Wallis would become the royal consort who was to produce the next heir to the throne.
After the death of his father and forced by prime minister Stanley Baldwin to choose between the crown of his country and Wallis Simpson, Edward surprised friend and foe by choosing the latter! In an emotional radio speech on December 11th, 1936 he told the whole nation that he couldn't carry the heavy burden of ruling a country without the ‘woman he loved by his side’. So he abdicated, leaving the throne to his shy brother George, father of the actual Queen Elisabeth II.
Hardly six months after his abdication, on June 3rd, 1937 Edward and Wallis got married in the Château the Candé, in Monts, south of Tours. They were close friends of the millionaire Charles Bedaux, who at the time owned the castle. Wallis travelled ahead and stayed three weeks at Candé, before Edward joined her. After the wedding reception the couple left Candé immediately. They didn’t even spend their wedding night there.
The Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor sold Feb. 19-27, 1998. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's. Notice the staircase ... it's the same as the one on the left in the first picture.
In 2007 the Château de Candé commemorated the 70th anniversary of the (almost) royal wedding with of what at the time was to be a temporary exhibition. We visited Candé on a rainy Thursday morning. We were the first visitors to arrive and were only joined by a couple from the French Alsace to take the guided tour. It started with a video presentation of the events that had let to the abdication and the wedding. The actual visit took us through most of the rooms of the castle where the new Duke and Duchess of Windsor (a title that King George had bestowed on the couple) had celebrated their wedding. The guide showed us where the couple had engraved their names in the wooden panelling of one of the downstairs rooms. We saw their separate bedrooms with gigantic and colourful on suite bathrooms … quite unusual for that period.
The most striking part of the exhibition, however, was Wallis’ original wardrobe. Cloths, shoes, handbags, gloves and some replicas of her jewels, among which the famous leopard broach, were on display. The gowns were by far the most spectacular: Dior, Balmain, Chanel … each and every dress or suit had been created and tailored by one the great French couturiers of that time. Wallis, who was said to suffer from anorexia, had what we call nowadays a size ‘zero’. A man could easily have encircled her waist with both hands. The tour guide told us that after a dinner party the Duchess used to eat one boiled egg per days for several days to lose the excess calories and keep her frail and childlike figure!
In 1951 Charles Bedaux’ widow donated the castle to the French Republic, which on its turn gave it to the Département de l’Indre-et-Loire in 1974. After the successful commemorative 2007 exhibition the Conseil Général du Département bought all the clothes and other items that had been part of the exhibition. Until then most of them belonged to private collectors. They are now on display all year round. Each year in June, the Château de Candé hosts a recurrent event based on the theme of the Thirties. There is picnic open to all. The only condition is that you dress up in Thirties costumes. This year, it’s scheduled for July 5th.
So if you want to marvel over the Duchess’ clothes or experience what life was like in the Thirties, just drop in at the Château de Candé. You won’t be disappointed.
Near the bridge over the Cher River we noticed ‘Le Relais du Moulin’. The parking lot was packed and several cars were parked by the side of the road. By the door stood the postman’s scooter. “Why is this important”, you’ll probably ask? Well, my friend has this theory that postmen, who evidently know the area very well, only eat and drink in the best places!
The windows of the restaurant were steamed, which was another sign that there were many patrons inside. All this was very reassuring, and we decided we’d give this place a try. When opening the door, we were greeted by a clatter of voices. People were obviously having a good time. The door led into a bar room containing three small round tables, two of which were taken. At the bar, several clients were chatting with the landlord, who was serving draft beer and tiny glasses of rosé wine.
To the left was a large dining room. All the tables were occupied and we feared that lunch hour was almost over and that we were too late. We asked the landlord whether it was still possible to have lunch. He gave us broad smile, and beamed “Mais bien sur!!!” And pointing at the only empty table near the bar, he said “Attendez là-bas. Il y aura bientôt une table qui va se libérer.” (Just wait there, a table will be available soon. ») With a sigh of relief we sat down and ordered two draft beers.
Hardly ten minutes later four ‘ouvriers’ left the restaurant and a buxom waitress showed us to their now empty table. She cleared the remainders of their meal, and disappeared into the backroom, which was obviously the kitchen.
We were waiting for her to return with the menu card and discussing whether we would have beer or wine with our meal, when all of a sudden she showed up with a half litre pitcher of red wine. She put it on the table in a very decisive manner. By doing so she automatically solved our beer/wine dilemma.
My friend was about to ask her for the menu card, when she put her clenched fists, knuckles down, on the table, leaned over to us and said: “Aujourd’hui, c’est une salade de tomates en entrée et un steak-frites comme plat.” (Today we’re serving a tomato salad for starters and a steak with French fries for main course.” And gone she was. We looked at each other completely flabbergasted. After a moment of stupefied silence, we burst out laughing. This woman was beyond believe!
Okay, I admit it. I'm cheating a little, as this wasn't the steak we had in June 2000 at the 'Relais du Moulin' as I didn't take any pictures of our meal there. But it is close enough.
The meal itself was delicious. The tomato salad was the best I’ve ever had, made from juicy, sweet tomatoes, covered in a light vinaigrette dressing. The sirloin steak was tender and the fries crispy. At the end of the meal our busty waitress returned and asked whether we would have cheese or desert. Not having a sweet tooth, we both took the cheese. She came back with a platter containing at least six different types of cheese. We asked if we could have some more wine. Image our surprise when she walked over to a nearby table that had recently been evacuated by a party of 5, and took the pitcher with what was left of their wine and firmly set it down in front of us. “That’s on the house”, she said.
Almost the same thing happened with the cheese platter, which was handed around by the clients, without help of the waitress. When you felt like an extra slice of goat cheese or camembert, you‘d just ask your neighbour to pass you the platter.
Thursday, 25 June 2009
With an area almost 18 times bigger than Belgium (30.528 km²), workers in France (543.965 km²) are often called to work at several 100 kilometres from their home. As travelling up and down everyday would mean losing precious time, they set off for a week or even longer to join a building site. They stay in cheap lodgings offering only bed and breakfast. So to make sure that they get at least one decent meal a day, they go to a ‘routier’ (truck stop restaurant) or some village ‘café’ or ‘bar’ to have a so-called ‘menu d’ouvrier’ (workers menu).
You’ll find this type of restaurant in almost every town and village and along the main roads in France. They are very popular with the locals too, which is not surprising as the ‘menu d’ouvrier’ is a sturdy three course meal at a ridiculously low price.
We had our first ‘menu d’ouvrier’ in 2000 in a restaurant called ‘Le Relais du Moulin’, near the Cher River in Saint-Aignan. It was kind of a head spinning experience as we don’t have this kind of restaurant in Belgium.
We returned to Saint-Aignan on day 2 of this year’s stay. We had been invited for lunch by blogger friends Ken and Walt, who live at only a few kilometres from ‘Le Relais du Moulin. We reached Saint-Aignan by 10:30 a.m., which was a bit early as Ken and Walt expected us by 11:30. So we decided to stop to take a few pictures of what used to be the ‘Relais du Moulin’.
Former ‘Relais du Moulin’ in Saint-Aignan.
The place still exists but is run these days as a hotel without a restaurant. The name has changed too. It is now called the ‘Hotel du Moulin’. There was no one in sight so we peeked in through the windows and found that the interior had drastically changed as well. There was wall to wall fitted carpet and the lounge had leather chairs. Except for the outside, which was mainly the same as ten years ago, the place had undergone an important face lift.
We looked around for a while, took some pictures of the hotel and the nearby bridge over the Cher River. After this short stop we drove into the centre of the town to buy a baguette for our picnic supper later that day. We had a quick drink on the terrace of a bar in front of the local ‘Mairie’, before setting out to join Ken, Walt and their houseguest Chm for lunch. It had stopped raining but the weather was too cold and damp to have the outdoor barbecue that was initially planned. We had a lovely indoor meal instead, expertly prepared by Ken and Walt, who are both real ‘cordons bleus’. You can read all about it on Ken’s blog ‘Living the life in Saint-Aignan’.
(to be continued)
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
All of a sudden we heard the roar of airplanes moving in from the West. Then I remembered reading about an air show in the nearby town of Tours. A few moments later we saw the ‘Patrouille de France’ roaring over Vouvray. Being as high up as we were, it was if we were sitting in front row seats!
Living near the Belgian national airport of Brussels, and being the daughter of a former Sabena flight engineer, I’ve always been fascinated by airplanes. After 9/11, however, my love for flying has cooled down considerably.
Do you (still) like flying?
Monday, 22 June 2009
La Géline is a rustic bird. It’s a descendant of ancient breeds (Noire du Berry, Courtes-pattes) that used to be very popular in the French ‘Centre’ region. It’s appreciated for its gustatory qualities and delectable and tender meat.
Till the 18th century ‘La Géline’ was very sought after by gourmets. It was prominently present in the Halles of Paris and on the market stalls in its native province. The 19th and first half of the 20th century weren’t very kind to our lady. Lucky for us, she has made a fulgurating come-back, thanks to the continuous efforts of a small group of admirers, who never stopped believing in the exceptional qualities of ‘leur dame’. In 2001 ‘la Géline de Touraine’ finally got the recognition she deserved: the precious ‘Label Rouge’. However, Susan and Simon from Days on the Claise told us when we were visiting them last week, that the organization responsible for acquiring the label had given it up since, as it was too expensive to maintain.
I had La Géline ‘Coq au Vin’ style, with a sauce made with red Chinon wine, in ‘Le Val Joli’. You’ll find this lovely restaurant on the main road in Vouvray.
Last Sunday, on the day of our arrival, the place was packed with several families with small children celebrating their ‘petite communion’. They were all dressed up in their Sunday best. Some of the children looked liked tiny adults in their very sophisticated frocks. The main dining room was very noisy and hot.
We were lucky to get a small table by the door, away from the crowd. Every now and then a refreshing breeze floated in through the open window.
The meal was delicious: a ‘planchette’ of local ‘charcuterie’, followed by the Géline for me and another local specialty ‘une beuchelle Tourangelle’ for my friend. The meal ended with a small selection of savoury cheeses. Being in Vouvray we imperatively drank a bottle of sec Vouvray wine.
An excellent start of a yet another great holiday.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
As soon as you reach Blois, driving down the A10 motorway, signs by the side of the road indicate the nearest Château: Blois, Beauregard, Beaugency, Cheverny, Chambord …
In 1999, we decided to leave the motorway at the Amboise/Château-Renault exit, instead of driving straight on to our destination, Tours. After our horrifying and stressful thunderstorm experience earlier that morning, we felt that a relaxed drive through the country would be beneficial to our nerves. Happily chatting and marvelling over the many interesting sites we would be visiting over the next few days, we leisurely made our way towards Amboise.
Suddenly my friend said: "Look there is yet another Château!" I studied the map that I was holding in my lap. (I’m the co-pilot, by the way. And although I am a woman, I CAN read roadmaps!). It turned out to be Amboise. The spears of the castle towers proudly stood out against the now clear blue sky.
In the background Amboise castle, the way you see it when driving into Amboise over the Bridge Général Leclerc.
As we got closer, we could easily distinguish the many windows. The reflecting sunlight made the castle sparkle like a delicately cut diamond. I think it must have been at that precise moment that I fell in love with the Loire Valley and its ‘darling little girl’, the town of Amboise.
Ever since then, we always start our annual journey in Amboise, where we visit the weekly market to stock up on picnic supplies. Next stop is the sidewalk terrace of the bar ‘Le Château’ for a refreshing pre-luncheon drink after our long drive. We complete this yearly ritual with a quick visit to the ‘cave coopérative’, a troglodyte tasting room carved out in the rock underneath the castle. We always pop in on our first day to see if our friend F. is there. We met her in 1999 when we went to try some of the Amboise wines that are being promoted in this ‘cave’ by the local wine-growers. By now, F. has become used seeing us every year in June. She always gives us a big smile when we walk in. "Je me demandais justement quand mes petits belges allaient arriver." (Just now, I was asking myself when my little Belgians* would arrive!)’, is her standard greeting.
This year was slightly different as F. wasn’t there to greet us! However, the two ladies behind the bar reassured us immediately. F. was alright, but exceptionally not working that day as she was looking after her grandchildren. She would be in tomorrow, though. So we left a little note for her saying that we would be back the following day!
(*) The French often call us ‘les petits belges’. Most of the time it is meant affectionately, but it can also be used as a mockery. It all depends on who’s saying it and the context it is being used in. With F., it’s clearly a sign of affection.
Saturday, 20 June 2009
Sunday, 14 June 2009
5 am: off to the French Loire Valley for the 11th consecutive year.
Brussels – Amboise: Approximately 550 km – 5h15min.
Toll motorway: 30,90 euro.
Sunday is market day in Amboise.
Sightseeing in the area around and south of Blois.
Market day in Bourgueil and wine tasting in Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil and Varrains.
Sightseeing in the South of Touraine.
Sightseeing in the Cher and market day in Selles-sur-Cher.
Time for some last minute shopping.
Time to leave the Loire Valley!
Overnight stop in Chantilly, just north of Paris.
Approximately 320 km – 3h30min.
Toll motorway: 16,50 euro
Almost home! Chantilly – Brussels.
Approximately 300 km – 3h.
Toll motorway: 10,10 euro
Saturday, 13 June 2009
We always try to get to and through Paris as early as possible to avoid the usual traffic jam on the notorious ‘périphérique’, the ring way around Paris. By leaving Brussels between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m we usually arrive at the ‘Porte de la Chapelle’ north of Paris by 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. Perfect timing as it seems, as most Parisians are still in bed at this early hour on a Sunday morning. It usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to reach the ‘Porte d’Orléans’, which is the ‘gateway’ to the Loire Valley!
We take a ‘pit stop’ at the first rest area to have breakfast. That’s exactly what we did in 1999. After having a ‘jambon beurre’ and an orange juice (for me) and a croissant and an espresso (for my friend, who likes his coffee VERY strong, Italian style), we set off in the direction of Orléans.
The A10 motorway passes through a region known as La Beauce. Its main features are the endless wheat fields and the windmills. It’s very beautiful and early on a sunny Sunday morning, when there are hardly any cars on the motorway, you have the impression of being the only people on earth.
Well, during this first trip, we didn’t see any of this … although we did feel quite alone. Halfway we ran into this horrific thunderstorm moving north. I’d never seen anything like it before, and I hope never to live a similar experience again. The sky was pitch black. Rain and hail were bashing down on the car. It was if barrels of water were being thrown against the windshield. Even at their highest speed the windshield wipers were unable to clear the view. View? Which view?
By then we had slowed down to about 15 km an hour. I urged my friend to stop under the safety of a bridge. But he said that it would be far more dangerous to stop by the side of the road, where another car could bump into us, than to continue at a very slow pace. Looking back, I suppose he was probably right ...
After about ten seemingly endless minutes, the rain turned into a normal shower and the sky began to clear, as we left the thunderstorm behind us. Arriving in Amboise, we heard people talking about the bad storm that during the night had done a lot of damage to the vineyards. And on the evening news we saw how it had caused floods in Paris.
We got to see the windmills and wheat fields on all our following passages through the Beauce. And I hope we will this year too. I’ll tell you in a week or so, as soon as we get home. See you then!
Friday, 12 June 2009
June is the time of year when schools in France and Belgium tend to take their pupils on an annual instructive and recreational outing. In the morning they usually visit sites of educational interest: a museum, a temporary exhibition, a botanical garden … If you’re really lucky and your teacher likes animals, you might end up visiting a zoo or a farm.
The fun part of your annual school outing, however, starts in the afternoon. You get to spend the rest of the day in a playground, a Disneyland type park, a swimming pool or a movie theatre showing the latest Disney production or Shrek-like animation film. When you are a 6 to 10 year old, you can’t wait for the morning to be over. After eating the scrambled egg sandwiches your mother has put in your knapsack (that was in the sixties, nowadays kids eat a hamburger or a slice of pizza at the local snack stand), you can finally start enjoying your day.
Well, for the educational part of the excursion, teachers in central France often take their pupils to see the Châteaux de la Loire.
On that particular day in 1999, entering the grounds of Chambord castle, we saw an enormous swirling cloud of yellow dust moving towards us. At first we thought that the dry dust of the gravel path was being picked up and tossed around by a small whirlwind. But getting closer, we heard the excited twitter of children’s voices. One by one they appeared out of the dust cloud, a large group of 7-8 year olds on their way to visit the inside of the castle! Reluctantly following their teacher, who was trying to impress them with her knowledge of the splendours of Chambord, they trudged along, pushing each other around, dragging their feet and kicking up the dust. Anxious to get to the playground or other entertainment in the afternoon, they were clearly not enjoying the cultural part of their school outing.
So, if you don’t want to find yourself suffocating in a dust cloud or trampled over by deadly bored schoolchildren … avoid visiting Chambord on a hot morning in June!
Do you have memories of school outings that you would like to share?
Thursday, 11 June 2009
This impressive and yet elegant castle was commissioned by King François I. The typical Renaissance design is thought to be by the Italian architect Domenico da Cortona. Some, however, claim that it was Leonardo da Vinci, who drew the original plan. With its 440 rooms, 365 chimneys and 1036 windows it’s the biggest royal dwelling in the Loire Valley. It was never completed in François I’s lifetime, as it took well over 150 years to build. The last French monarch who commissioned work to be done was the Sun King Louis XIV, before abandoning the project to focus on the construction and embellishment of the Château de Versailles.
On our first visit to the Loire Valley in 1999, we were still behaving as ‘obedient’ tourists, doing things by the guide book. Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny … you just couldn’t get around them. At the time we were staying in a hotel in Tours, and it took us well over an hour and a half by ‘routes départementales’ to get to Chambord. The sight of dozens of tourist coaches in the immense parking lot should have warned us of what was about to come …
* Note to avid Chambord fans: Don’t let this title upset you. You’ll understand when you will have read the second part of this post tomorrow.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Noble Joué is one of the lesser known Loire wines. It’s produced by only a dozen wine growers situated between two of the Loire River’s tributaries: the Cher and the Indre. They are scattered over 5 villages south of Tours: Joué-les-Tours, St. Avertin, Chambray, Larcay and Esvres.
This unusual full-bodied Loire rose, also called ‘vin gris’ or ‘oeil de perdrix’ (partridge eye), is an assembly of three ‘Noble’ pinot grapes:
- ‘pinot meunier’ or ‘gris meunier’ for 50 to 60% gives it its fruity flavour.
- 'pinot gris’ or ‘malvoisie’ for 30 to 40% adds body.
- 'pinot noir' for 10 to 20% gives the wine its typical character.
We visited ‘Les Frères Rousseau’, who probably are the most prominent producers of Noble Joué in Esvres, in 2006. Bernard and Michel are the forth generation of a family that has been producing Noble Joué since the end of the 19th century. The wine itself goes way back in time. It is said that this ‘vin gris’ could already be found on the table of Louis XI.
At ‘Rousseau Frères’ , it being a family business, we were warmly welcomed by Catherine, wife to one of the two brothers. Besides the traditional tasting session, she showed us around the winery, where they were just in the middle of bottling last year’s (2005) production. Then she took us on a guided tour of some of the vineyards, explaining and showing us the difference between the different Pinot grapes.
Besides Touraine Noblé Joué, the ‘domaine’ produces a. o. a pleasant red pinot noir, a Malvoisie, and a very attractive pink ‘bubbly’: Brut Sensation, made according the famous ‘Méthode Traditionnelle’. We tasted all of them … and, of course, couldn’t resist buying several bottles. Mrs. Rousseau senior makes her own hazelnut oil … and we bought a bottle of that too. It‘s great for flavouring green salads.
It was almost lunchtime, and we had already bought the food for our picnic that morning at the covered Halles in Tours … all except for the wine. When we asked Catherine whether she would sell us a bottle that had already been cooled, she immediately grabbed one out of the fridge. ‘It’s on the house’, she said handing us the already opened but still full bottle. And then she showed us on a map where we could find a sunny picnic area on the banks of the Indre river.
As all wines, Noblé Joué should be drunk with moderation. Especially as it has a very high alcohol content up to 13,5%. It’ll make you tipsy before you know it.
Monday, 8 June 2009
Le ‘Musée du Chat’ in Richelieu is housed in a stately house on one of the town’s main streets. No tourists’ crowds here, but just an elderly lady who opens the door after you’ve rang the bell.
Are you at cat or a dog person?
Sunday, 7 June 2009
To the general public he’s best known as the scheming leader of the ‘bad guys’ in Alexandre Dumas’ novel ‘The three musketeers’.
It must be said, however, that the man had his merits as well. One of them was erecting, some 20 km south of Chinon, in the middle of the countryside, a town according to a concept that was quite revolutionary and unseen in that day and age. Being the humble (hum) man he was, he named the town after himself: Richelieu. The Cardinal’s palace does no longer exist, as it was badly damaged during the French Revolution and completely dismantled some decades later. Only part of the well-tended gardens remains. But you can take a virtual visit of the castle on the town’s website.
We’ve visited Richelieu on two occasions. The first time we only took an outside tour, discovering the symmetrical and rectangular pattern of the town. On our second visit we saw the ‘Musée du Chat’ (The cat’s museum). Apparently, Richelieu was a great cat lover. In his enormous palace he used to surround himself with dozens of feline creatures. This tiny, privately owned museum pays tribute to cats in general, and the Cardinal’s cats in particular.
(to be continued)
Saturday, 6 June 2009
You can mandate someone to vote in your place, when you’re abroad, bed ridden or too old to go the voting bureau, etc. But it requires a lot of red tape, signatures of all parties involved and approved by the mayor of your village. Moreover, you have to present sufficient proof of your ‘inability’ to vote yourself.
So when we learned in the beginning of the year that the date for the European and Regional* elections was set for June 7th, we immediately decided to postpone our annual trip to the Loire Valley for a week. So instead of leaving tomorrow, we will be packing our bags next Saturday!
As it turns out, this is not too bad. Looking at the weather forecast for central France, a lot of rain and low temperatures are predicted. Sunday 14th, however, (and let’s hope the following days as well) is said to be sunny and warm. Keep your fingers crossed!
(*) Belgium being a federal country, we have 5 governments! A federal one, for which the election will be in two years time and 4 regional ones: Flanders, Walloon, Brussels and the ‘Oostkantons’ (German speaking community). Each Region or Community has his own government. This makes for a hallucinating number of Ministers for a small country with just over 10 million inhabitants!
Friday, 5 June 2009
This year’s programme:
- Friday, June 5th at 9 p.m.: Opening gala "Celtic Concept Show".
- Saturday, June 6th: contest, open-air concerts, street animation in the town centre. Closing gala at 9 p.m.
- Sunday, June 7th: street animation in the town centre
Twice our annual arrival in Amboise coincided with the last day of the festival. The first time, we hadn’t a clue of what was going on. We were having a drink on the sidewalk terrace of the bar ‘Le Château’ at the foot of Amboise castle, when we heard the music. It got louder and louder, till finally we saw a Brass Band from the French ‘Landes’ region walking towards the stage in front of the spot where we were sitting. The band members were all dressed in white. A black beret and a bright green scarf completed their outfit. They made a cheerful and colourful sight walking up the street in a disorderly way. They stopped in front of the stage, where they played several lively tunes that made the gathering crowd feel like dancing.
In the meantime another brass band was mounting on the stage. In their black outfits the musicians of this group looked a lot more serious. And so was their music. It definitely was of a higher musical standard than the tunes played by the previous band, but it didn’t incite the audience to jump up and dance.
Both performances had attracted a lot people. As the crowd got bigger, we started to feel a little claustrophobic and so we left the terrace to go and look for a restaurant to have lunch.
Last year, we came prepared! We knew that the town would be full of musicians. Another colourful band, this time with red scarves an berets was performing amongst the stalls of the weekly market on the quays of the Loire River. We followed the group along the sidewalk cafés. Every now and then they stopped to play for the patrons sitting there in the sun sipping their drinks .
They even ventured into the courtyard of the local hospital where they entertained the patients that had come out on the balcony of their rooms to watch the spectacle. Musicians as well as patients were obviously having a good time. A trumpet and a trombone player went up to one of the balconies to deliver a duet. Judging by the smiles on these ladies faces, music can definitely have a healing effect.
Well, he wasn’t really a king, but he played the part beautifully and convincingly well in the 1956 movie: “The King and I”, by the side of the lovely Deborah Kerr. It's Yul Brynner, of course.
This is also the answer to the recent quiz question in the sidebar. Congratulations to those of you who got it right!
In 2005, when we visited Yul Brynner’s tomb, the nearby Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Bois was in very poor repair. Inside the chapel ruins you could see that some renovation work was being done. But it was clear that it would take a lot of time, effort and money to restore it to its former glory.
Outside the ruins was a tiny sign showing the way to the cemetery. There was no one in sight, and the place looked completely deserted. After a short walk through very high grass, we reached a small group of trees. Between them stood a few tombstones. I don’t remember exactly how many there were, but there couldn't have been more than five or six. There were at least two small ones. In one of the bigger ones was carved the name of Yul Brynner. A small bunch of flowers lay at the foot of it. It was all very peaceful and completely deprived of Hollywood glamour and glitter.
Did you know that the Russian born actor held French citizenship? Moreover, his third wife, to whom he was married from 1971 till 1981, was French. And the first house that he ever owned was the Manoir de Criqueboeuf in the French Calvados (Normandy). Maybe all this explains why he wanted to be buried in France, in a region that had always been favoured by Kings. Because in his own way, he was a King himself!
If you want to visit Yul Brynner’s tomb, you’ll find it near the tiny village of Luzé, close to the town of Richelieu, some 30 km southeast of Chinon, in the Indre-et-Loire department.
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
Last year, upon our arrival in Amboise, we went to a restaurant called ‘Les remparts’. It has two small dining rooms with wooden beam ceilings. At the back there is a cute courtyard that holds no more than 6 or 7 tables. Several pots and hanging baskets offer a colourful display of flowers. In a sunny corner a midget banana tree is successfully attempting to survive outside its usual habitat.
The menu offers a fine selection of Touraine classics, such a ‘La Beuchelle Tourangelle’ and ‘Suprème de Géline de Touraine aux morilles’.
If you’re into meat offal preparations, go for the ‘Beuchelle’. It’s a fricassee of veal sweetbread and kidney in a cream sauce, flavoured with cognac. I know, meat offal is an acquired taste. Either you like it, either you hate it. My friend just loves it!
It goes without saying that when you’re in the Loire Valley you drink Loire Valley wine. Our favourite is Saumur Champigny, a light and affordable red wine that goes well with fish, meat and poultry. Always ask the waiter to chill it for you before serving it. This might sound a bit unusual, but it brings out the wine’s fruity flavour.
Monday, 1 June 2009
In the old days there was a lot of rivalry amongst noble families. Their main objective was to acquire more land and gain importance. The most gallant way to do this was to marry your son to your neighbour’s daughter. When there were no eligible daughters around, another option was to try and sign a pack with your neighbour stipulating that you would inherit his property if he were to die without offspring.
If none of these solutions were available, you simply went to war and raided the castle you were after. Before attacking the fortress or castle, you ravaged the surrounding villages and farms for food and young maidens; simply to keep your troops fed and entertained.
The lord of the castle had the duty to protect the villagers against these attackers. If they had the chance to flee their homes before the enemy arrived, they would find sanctuary within the castle’s ramparts.
And this is probably what happened at Brézé castle as well. The interior courtyard made a safe haven for the frightened peasants, who moved in stock, lock and barrel. Sometimes the siege would last weeks and even months. And I can very well image the countess one morning complaining to her husband:
“Cher Ami, these peasants and their cattle and poultry are so smelly and noisy. How much longer do we have to put up with them?”
The count was puzzled. On the one hand, it was his duty to protect these people. But on the other hand, he wanted to keep the countess happy as well. And then he looked at this empty moat. He decided to move the people to the subterranean part of the castle, which gave access to moat. And so the countess was happy, with the villagers well out of sight and yet protected against the invaders.
Back to the present! When you visit the Château de Brézé you certainly get your money’s worth: a sumptuous 16th century, beautifully furnished castle and impressive 11th century subterranean halls, animated by a subtle light display. The best part, however, is the moat. It runs all the way around the castle and troglodyte dwellings have been carved out in its outer walls. There are storage rooms, a bakery with a gigantic oven, stables … a complete village hidden from the outside world.
When we visited Brézé the weather was sunny and pleasantly warm, but with a chilly breeze. Yet, down in the moat, protected form this breeze, it was extremely hot. There is a lot of stair climbing to do, and the glass of wine that you’ll get offered at the end of the visit is very welcome indeed. Believe me, the Château the Brézé is a real MUST when you’re visiting the Loire Valley.