Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Restoration Progresses at Azay-le-Rideau

The major restoration of the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau, a three year project due to be finished next year seems to be right on track. The main wing has emerged from its scaffolding cocoon and is looking very spiffy indeed. (To see the work being done this time last year, go to our blog post here.)

The main staircase has been revealed and now it's the turn of the right hand wing to be covered up and minutely inspected and restored by the conservators.

This year the Centre de Monuments Nationaux has been calling for donations to help restore the highly decorative metal finials (Fr. épis de faîtage) on the pepperpot roofs and gable ends of the chateau. The campaign is called 'Ma pierre à l'édifice' (literally, 'my stone to the building'), a phrase that means 'a contribution'. The finials are a rare survival and will cost €10 000 each to restore. Half of the money has already been raised and it is planned to restore four of the finials.

The finials are about six metres high and appear to have been made in the first half of the 19th century, but incorporating much older elements. They are suffering from rust and other corrosions, and need consolidation and repair. The first stage is to identify the different metals they are made of. This will be done by the guild of master roofers, who have the knowhow to work with these metals and will also consolidate the fixations. Then they will be carefully cleaned and treated with a product to prevent the rust and corrosion returning.

To read more about the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau, click here for our other posts on the subject.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Simon took this photo because he was amused that I appeared to be wearing an outfit carefully chosen to blend in with the surroundings. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Cote Cour Restaurant, Azay-le-Rideau

Azay-le-Rideau is an attractive village on the Indre River. For such a small town there are a lot of restaurants to choose from (at least fifteen in a town of 3100 residents). As far as we are concerned by far the best restaurant in town is Coté Cour, situated right by the gates of the chateau.

Pavé de merlu, céréales gourmandes et petits légumes.
Hake, gourmet grains and diced vegetables.

It is run by husband and wife team Fréd in the kitchen and Sandrine doing front of house. He's from Corsica, she's from Paris. They live above the restaurant. Both of them speak reasonable English.

Duo de melon et tomates, tranche de jambon cru.
Duo of melon and tomatoes, slice of air-dried ham.

The menu is limited and focused on fresh local produce. It's a mixture of year-round staples and dishes that come and go as the seasons wax and wane. It is one of the few restaurants in the area that we can happily take vegetarians. Fréd only needs to be asked and he will whip up something delicious and plant-based. He told me once that he thinks French chefs should take diners who prefer plant-based dishes much more seriously than they currently do, and I'm sure he enjoys the challenge of creating something new that makes the diner happy.

Tranches de gigot de porc et légumes au wok.
Slices of leg of pork and stir-fried vegetables.

Salade d'épinards, magrets et oranges.
Spinach, fat duck breast and orange salad.

Fréd in his surprisingly small kitchen.
Unlike several French chefs I know, Fréd is always ready to be photographed in his kitchen and does not put me off with 'oh no, it's too messy in here at the moment...'.

The interior of the restaurant.
Sandrine designed the interior and a local artist created the decorations on the light fittings.

The lunch menu recently.

Sandrine at the reception desk.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Pasticceria Marchesi

Mondays in Milan / Les lundis en Lombardie

I photographed this building in Milan last year because I am interested in sgraffito. At the time I had no idea that it was one of the oldest and best known pastry shops, confectioners and cafes in the city. Consequently we didn't go in, and I guess that's our loss.

According to their website, the business was started in 1824, operating from this 18th century building. In the beginning they just made and sold cakes, biscuits, pastries and confectionaries, but in 1900 the family expanded their operation to include a bar which served coffee, refreshments and cocktails. They have always prided themselves on their traditional manufacture of classic lines using fresh ingredients. Even today the products sold are made on the site, and the offices are out the back, allowing scrupulous quality control. Today the business is run by the grandson of the original owner, his wife and their children.

For the last twelve months we have written about the northern Italian city of Milan on Mondays. We think it is time to stop now, so this will be the last post regular post on the subject. To read our other posts on Milan click here.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Bush Ingenuity

In 2009 I stayed with my family at Green Cape. This is an isolated penninsular on the New South Wales coast, with former lighthouse cottages that you can rent as self-catering accommodation. It's off-grid and this rather sculptural object on the roof of a lean-to turned out to be the custom made muffler for the large generator which provides electricity for the Green Cape Lighthouse complex.  It was certainly effective, as we never noticed anything more than a gentle background hum.

Our posts on Sunday have an Australian theme. If you would like to read more of them please click here.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Loire From the Chateau of Chaumont

This photo was taken from the wallwalk of the Chateau of Chaumont-sur-Loire on one of our recent heatwave days. The river looked inviting, the swifts were in abundance and zooming around the sky, catching insects and practicing their manoeuvres for their all too soon journey back to Africa. Many of these birds will have left on Tuesday on their big migration south. They appear to have nested in the roofspace of the chateau just beyond the upper left of this photo. Carolyn tells me that the chateau was one of the first places in Europe to install swift nest boxes, way back in 1994. The photo has some blurry patches which are because it was taken through a window with some smudges on it.

There is no doubt that the Chateau of Chaumont has some of the best views of the Loire, and makes a very pleasant visit on a hot day. The park is inviting and full of quirky sculpture. The garden festival always has something of interest and the new garden across the road is vast and has more great sculpture and plantings. Inside the chateau has been much improved in the last couple of years, with more information about what you are seeing and a well thought out blending of historic house presentation combined with modern works of art. The visible storage in the attics is a real favourite with many visitors too. The house staff are eager to help if you look a bit confused (the chateau is a bit of a labyrinth inside...) and happy to talk about the exhibits in French or English. And you don't have to stand in line to buy tickets any more. You can buy them online and print them at home. The online tickets are valid for 60 days.