Friday, 23 July 2021

Seeing out my 60th year in Style

Susan and I are in Cauterets, in the Pyrenees. It's a 19th Century spa town with older roots, as it is on one of the old roads into Spain.

Yesterday we went for a walk down a hill, We caught the cable car and ski-lift up to Cirque du Lys (2300 metres) and walked back down to Cauterets (970 metres) in 30C plus heat. It was tiring but interesting; a walk of 12km, downhill on a combination of sheep paths and shale scree roads. Being so high, there was no shade, so we were pretty rung out by the end of it.

You can follow the path back to where we started, centre right on the horizon

We lunched at lac d'Ilheou

I can only imagine how disheartening the walk up must be
the Cascade du Ilheou

Thursday, 22 July 2021

La Grotte de la Vierge, Paulmy

We got taken to a rather extraordinary site today, one that we didn't even know existed, despite having lived in the area for more than a decade.

19C Calvary constructed of reinforced concrete, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A calvary, constructed of reinforced concrete.

It is a faithful copy of the grotto at Lourdes, built in the 1860s out of reinforced concrete, hidden away in the woods in the park of the Chateau of Paulmy, 20 kilometres away from where we live.

Basin in a 19C shrine complex, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The basin.

The grotto was commissioned by Gertrude Stacpoole, Marquise d'Oyeron, just a couple of years after the original sanctuary was created, and made by a master rocailleur (landscape scale artificial rock artisan) from Tours. She had visited Lourdes often, and so decided to have her own version made. In addition to the grotto there are rustic bridges crossing the carefully landscaped stream, a circular basin and a mound that acts as a calvary.

A 19C bridge with faux wood rails, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Bridge with faux wood rails and a cascade.

The site now belongs to the municipality of Paulmy, but can't be accessed without permission. These days it is like walking into an ancient Mayan site, barely cleared of the encroaching jungle. Fallen trees lie at all angles, victims of a hurricane in the 1990s.

Reproduction of the shrine at Lourdes, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The replica shrine, with a mature oak tree fallen on it.

Gertrude, who was the daughter of a duke, came from a fabulously wealthy but disfunctional Anglo-Irish-French family. Her father abandoned his English wife and numerous children in Rome. He then went on to set up home with a couple who were close friends in England and left the bulk of his fortune to them. Much of his collection of art and fine objects is now in the Wallace Collection in London. Gertrude married Auguste Fournier de Boisaigrault, who inherited the Chateau of Paulmy estate, and whose mother was a member of the powerful Voyer d'Argenson family, who owned multiple grand properties around Les Ormes.

A stained glass window made at the end of the 19th century by the famous Tours based artisan Lux Fournier depicting the grotto can be seen in the church in Paulmy. There was an annual pilgrimage to the shrine on 15 August from 1885 to 1955, which several thousand people participated in. I was interested in how much at pains my French companions were to let me know that this was a Catholic tradition and not something they knew much about.

A 19C "Lourdes shrine", Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The stream is divided to create islands, with the shrine in the background.

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Types of Oysters in France


Oyster farm, Arcachon, Atlantic Coast, France.
An oyster producer in the Arcachon basin on the Atlantic coast.

There are four main varieties of oysters to look out for:

Oysters au naturel. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Oysters au naturel prepared by Cédric the sous-chef at the Hotel Clos d'Amboise.

La Plate ('the flat'): for centuries this was the only oyster to be had on the coast of France, but a disease caused their disappearance in the 1970s. Quite rare today, you find them sold as belon in Brittany and gravette in the Arcachon Bassin and Bouzigues. The wild variety is called pied-de-cheval ('horse hoof'). L'huître plate can be recognised by its round shell and grey-white flesh. It has a full-bodied flavour, very salty and should be prepared with the greatest simplicity.

Tile panel in Tours train station, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
An historic painted tile panel in Tours train station. Once upon a time you could catch a train from Tours to Arcachon.
La Creuse ('the hollow'): This is by far the most common and the most affordable. They vary subtley in flavour depending on their geographical origin - salty and nutty from Normandy, iodiney and recalling the shallow estuaries in Brittany, delicate and invigorating from the Atlantic coast. Allow 6-8 oysters per person if you are eating them raw, and 5 if they are served warm. They are numbered from 0 (the biggest and fattest) to 6 (the smallest). On a platter, numbers 3-4 are ideal.

Oysters au naturel. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Oysters au naturel prepared by me for an al fresco lunch.

La Pousse en Claire ('the saltmarsh grown'): A little gem from the Charentes, protected by a Label Rouge certification, this is the most desirable variety, unlike any other. Raised from 4 to 6 months in shallow water, only 2 to 5 oysters per square metre, they acquire an almost crunchy firmness. Generously filling out their semi round shell they have a mild sweet taste. If you find them, eat them as they are, as they need nothing to enhance them.

Oyster boats heading out to the oyster beds, Marenne Oléron, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The flotilla of oyster boats heads out to the oyster beds from Bourcefranc, in the Marenne Oléron marine park.

La Fine ('the fine'): A speciality of Marennes and Oléron, these oysters are finished in the old salt marshes. The fines stay there a month, 20 oysters to a square metre. An even more deluxe version, the spéciales, are only 10 to the square metre and stay in the saltmarsh twice as long, developing more flesh with a very sweet flavour. The vertes (green fringes) are very prized, retaining traces of a microscopic algae. They are eaten plain or with a drop of lemon juice, a trace of shallot vinegar and bread and butter.

Oyster, Ile de Ré, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A big fat oyster from the market at Ars-en-Ré, probably the best I have ever eaten.

Oyster producers' huts, Ile d'Oléron, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Oyster producers' huts on the Ile d'Oléron.

Oyster finishing pools (claires) in the Brouage Marshes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Claires, or oyster finishing ponds in the Brouage saltmarsh.

Opening oysters. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Me opening No 2 Speciales (large saltmarsh finished oysters) in our freezing cold kitchen before we renovated.

Box of oysters, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A 3 kg (3 dozen) box of No 2 speciales, with opener.

Oysters at a market, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
No 2 Oysters from the islands off the coast of the Atlantic coast, brought 2 hours inland to Preuilly sur Claise in the Touraine Loire Valley for the Saturday market. €5.40 a dozen.

Oyster beds, Ile de Ré, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Oyster beds on the Ile de Ré.


For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. You may also like to check out our YouTube channel. 

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Medical Deserts

Rural France is struggling to ensure that everyone has access to adequate medical services. At the moment Preuilly is doing better than many communities, in that we still have a general practitioner, an ambulance service, a pharmacy and we are within half an hour of at least one hospital. But our GP is due to retire soon and there is no sign of a replacement. 

Banner welcoming a new village doctor, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
This municipality in the neighbouring county (Fr. département) of Vienne was clearly excited about getting a new doctor. The sign says 'he arrives in June'.

We probably won't have a new doctor set up in town. Preuilly and several adjoining villages are negotiating a solution though. Le Grand Pressigny has had a GP retire too, and so the plan is to set up a multi-discipline medical centre in Le Grand Pressigny that will serve Yzeures-sur-Creuse, Preuilly-sur-Claise and Le Grand-Pressigny. So whilst I won't have to go far to see a doctor, I will have to drive, whereas now I can walk.

Monday, 19 July 2021

Cheesy Beef Empanadas

Homemade cheesy beef empanadas. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Homemade (including the pastry) cheesy beef empanadas served with salad and fromage blanc battu (the closest thing to sour cream I've come across in France).

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Walking in the Mountains

I mentioned yesterday that we were heading up into the Pyranees this week.

The intention is to walk in the mountains: there are plenty of trails, and infrastructure is in place so that you only need walk one way. Which is good, because last time we went walking in the mountains it was in Australia, and I "blew up". [link] The weather on the border with Spain is expected to be kinder than the weather in Australia, as well.