Wednesday 31 October 2007


The market town of Richelieu is about an hour away from Preuilly sur Claise. It is a planned town designed for Cardinal Richelieu by Jacques Lemercier.
One of the Gates of Richelieu
Cardinal Richelieu bought the village of his ancestors (nice to have money.....) then obtained the authorization to build "a closed wall borough and ditches and to build a market" from Louis XIII. Approval was also given to hold four annual fairs and two markets per week. The town was built between 1631 and 1642, then building stopped, mainly due to the Cardinal's death.

The design is Hippodamian (look it up!) and laid out on a symmetrical grid of 500 x 700 metres. The plan is centred around 2 squares: la Place Royale, and la Place du Cardinal on which is the town hall and a covered market. It is surrounded by walls (made up out of the back walls of the outer ring of houses) and and a moat (now mainly grassed over). There are three monumental gates, with a fourth, ornamental gate, built to maintain symmetry. The rules for building in Richelieu were very strict - the purchasers of land had to commit to building there within 2 two years, and the house had to be built according to plans held at the clerk's office. Furthermore, anyone building had a choice between only 2 builders who were authorised to carry out building work. A register still exists which shows the list of the owners and all the works involved in building the town (and presumably which of the builders they chose).

Place du Cardinal
We have been there twice, and it is still being resurfaced
On the main street there are still 28 of the identical hotels (mansions) built under the plan and these are the grandest of houses, presumably for the grandest of people. One is open for visits, so one day we will have to do that. On the streets behind them there are smaller houses on smaller plots of land, also built to the masterplan. Further out against the town walls are the workshops, factories and some of the less salubrious businesses such as butcheries, but even these are to the plan.

The original market hall still exists, and is a huge oak and sycamore building which has been well maintained, but never really imporoved or renovated. This gives a real idea of the effort that went in to making Richelieu the most modern and comfortable of towns.
The Market Hall
Like many planned towns (even today) it was anticipated that they would have problems attracting residents and businesses, so the cardinal exempted the town from tax.

Outside the walls, the Cardinal built his palace, which was intended to be the largest in France. Most of the stone came from the Chateau at Saumur (which is why large parts of the ramparts of Saumur are being rebuilt, one assumes). The chateau no longer exists, but the gardens are still there, and you can hire bikes to ride them, or boats to explore the ornamental waterways.

My parents in the Cardinal's gardens.

A arial photo of Richelieu can be seen here.


Tuesday 30 October 2007

Place de l'Abbaye

I previously posted an entry about Jean Dufy, showing his painting Place de l'Abbaye.

I have taken a photo from about the same place. I even took it at about the same time of day, judging from the colour of the sky in the painting. Unfortunately, the sunset wasn't quite as glorious on the day I took my photo.


Saturday 27 October 2007

Hotel de Rallière

The Hotel de Rallière is an unfinished chateau dating from the 17th century. It was built for Samuel Gaudon, a native of Preuilly, who made a fortune from farming and needed a new home to reflect his rise in status. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for his religious beliefs (he was Protestant) in January 1649, which bought the building program to a rapid end.

It has been used at various times as a prison, girls school and retirement home, but has been empty since 1992, when the new retirement home was built.

Gaudon also built the rue des Pavillons, a row of (originally) identical houses leading towards the Château du Lion


Sunday 21 October 2007

Les Papillons de Jour

The area around Preuilly, with its mosaic of habitats, abounds with butterflies. The best butterfly spots are the flowery chalk grasslands, the heaths and the woodland glades. There are about 125 species of butterfly in France (compared to about 60 in Britain and 420 in Australia). I have recently purchased Les Papillons de jour de France, Belgique et Luxembourg et leurs chenilles by Tristan Lanfranchis, and a quick trawl through this excellent volume reveals that in Indre et Loire we could expect to get 94 species. Of those, 18 are species for which our départment is clearly a refuge, as they are extinct in the surrounding départments. Only 2 species have gone extinct in Indre et Loire, and there are another 8 rare species that it might be possible for us to get occasionally.

Here are some of the beautiful butterflies that are easily seen on a summer visit to Preuilly and surrounds:

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta (in French le Vulcain ie the Roman god of fire). These can be seen anywhere at any time of year, but are particularly noticeable in the autumn coming to the ivy flowers on sunny days.

Painted Lady V cardui (in French la Belle-Dame ie the Beautiful Lady). This species is cosmopolitan, and very similar to the Australian Painted Lady V kershawii. The French Painted Ladies are well known for migrating to England in large numbers most years, presumably to provide an element of bon gout to the English countryside.

Comma Polygonia c-album (in French le Robert-le-Diable ie Robert the Devil). Robert le Diable is a vicious and cruel character in a French medieval tale. In the story he undergoes an epiphany and performs many acts of penitance. The name has become associated with Duke Robert of Normandy, father of William the Conqueror. I have no idea what the association between Robert le Diable and the butterfly is though. The English name refers to a feature that you mostly will not even notice - a tiny silver comma shaped mark on the underwing. Fortunately, this is a distinctive butterfly, easily identifiable by its deeply scalloped wing margins. Often to be found sunning itself on bare ground, and quite obligingly easy to photograph in this situation. This one is near le Chameau at Chaumussay. Le Chameau is supposedly the most beautiful natural rock formation in all of the Touraine - I'm afraid it doesn't say much for the others if it is true. Le Chameau does provide an amusing fountain head for la source St Marc though, and the box (Buxus) covered hillside above is an orchid hotspot.

Lesser Purple Emperor Apatura ilia (in French le Petit Mars changeant ie the small changeable Roman god of war). 'Changeant' refers to the way the irridescent blue of the males upperside changes with movement and light conditions. This one is female. The species can be distinguished from lookalikes by the yellow tips to the antennae. These are surprisingly obvious, but curiously none of my books mention the feature. This species does not occur in Britain.

Marbled White Melanargia galathea (in French le Demi-deuil ie the Half-Mourning). The French name smacks of the 19th century, and presumably refers to the fact that the butterfly is only half black (half mourning dress was usually grey or pale lavender - subdued and respectful but not as gloom-ridden as black. You switched to half morning at some suitably discreet time after the death of a loved one to indicate that you were no longer paralysed by grief and were returning to society and could be invited to parties, so long as they weren't too much fun. Queen Victoria famously never managed the transition into half mourning.) These butterflies are very much a species of flowery chalk grassland.

Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus (in French le Bel-Argus or l'Azuré bleu-céleste ie the Heavenly Blue, with two different words for blue, just to make sure you understand how very blue it is). Argus was a 100 eyed monster in Greek mythology and his name is often applied to butterflies - I suppose because they very often have a pattern of 'eyes'. These are another species of chalk grasslands and certainly are 'heavenly blue'. They are quite large as Lycaenid (ie blue) butterflies go and utterly, stunningly beautiful with their intensely blue uppersides. These were photographed, with some frustration at their reluctance to sit with open wings, at the utterly, stunningly beautiful Angles sur l'Anglin.

Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis phaphia (in French Le Tabac d'Espagne ie the Spanish Tobacco). A large and common Fritillary, often seen at flowers such as Hemp Agrimony on the river bank. This one is a male, distinguishable by the heavy dark radiating lines on the upper wing.

Marbled Fritillary Brenthis daphne (in French le Nacré de la ronce ie the Lustre on the Bramble). This one was photographed on the edge of a heathy wood, sitting on a bramble leaf. It was extremely unobliging - nervous and difficult to get a good shot of. There was a lot of cow wheat in the vicinity, which is the host plant for a number of Fritillaries - but not this one. This one's catepillars eat Brambles Rubus spp (Woolly Blackberry/Ronce cendrée, European Blackberry/Mure, Elm-leafed Blackberry).

Clouded Yellow Colias crocea (in French le Souci ie the Marigold). Another grassland species, and another that can come trooping over from France to Britain in good years. I love the touches of pink - very frivolous.

Wall Lasiommata megera (this is a male, so in French he is le Satyre - the Satyr. Females are called les Mégères - Shrews!) This one was photographed at la Réserve Naturelle de Chérine, in la Brenne and owned by la Ligue pour le Protéction des Oiseaux (LPO). I think the rather curious English name must come from the species having a liking for sunning itself on walls.

Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus (in French l'Amaryllis - no idea why). This species is very much associated with hedgerows and undisturbed gardens. Also photographed at la Réserve Naturelle de Chérine. This one is male.

Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria (in French le Tircis. Tircis is a character in a la Fontaine fable.) I fear this one bears a rather striking resemblance to the photographer and co-author of this blog. (Click on the image for full size and best effect.)

BTW, did I mention how amazingly blue Adonis Blue's are?


Saturday 20 October 2007

The Chateau, Le Grand Pressigny

The Chateau at Le Grand Pressigny is closed this year, and will re-open in 2008.

At the moment it is a building site.

Although it looks like they are intent on rebuilding the whole chateau (a la Saumur), they are actually building a new extension to the Archeological Museum. The museum is well worth visiting, as le Grand Pressigny was the hub of a large stone tool manufacturing industry.

On the right of the picture there is a walnut tree. We picked up 4 or 5 kilos of walnuts from under this tree in September 2007


Friday 19 October 2007


One of the things that was most important to us when looking for our new home was that it should have a garden. The other was that it shouldn't need a new roof.

Although the house does have a garden, it isn't big enough to grow all the fruit and vegetables we want, so we always knew we would be looking for a potager - an allotment, or kitchen garden. These can be rented for not a lot of money and are often works of art. Although the French appear to have difficulty with doing lawns and borders, they do know veggie gardens.

Here are pictures of a couple of potagers in Preuilly.Observant readers will have noticed a slightly different look to the blog. We hope it is readable! If you do have problems with colours and contrast, please let us know

Thursday 18 October 2007

Baptistère Saint-Jean, Poitiers

The Baptistery of St John in Poitiers is claimed to be the oldest existing Christian building in France. Built in about 360 but much altered, it is worth half an hour (at least) of anybody's time.

For a plan of the building, there is a good link here, and for more information check out Wikipedia


Wednesday 17 October 2007

Grande Rue - then and now

Two photos of almost the same view, taken 98 years apart. To get exactly the same viewpoint would involve standing right in the middle of a main road, something I might do one day. Maybe I need to wait until summer 2010 and take exactly the same view 100 years apart.

Until then, this is the closest I can get.

Grande Rue, Preuilly sur Claise 1910

Grande Rue, Preuilly sur Claise 2007


Tuesday 16 October 2007

The Streets of Preuilly sur Claise

An occasional series. These aren't pictures of special streets, or even necessarily of pretty streets, but to give a flavour of the ordinary every day views and scenes of Preuilly life.


Monday 15 October 2007

Houses lining Place des Halles

These houses are not at recent as they look. Although the facades date from the late 17th to early 19th century, most of the houses date from about 200 years earlier. There isn't much information available about Preuilly's history, but most sources appear to agree on this as a fact.


Saturday 13 October 2007

The First Step

When M.Chabiosson came to do a Devis for our staircase he said it would have to be a completely new one as what we had was rotten. I didn't think it was in that bad a condition.

Maybe I was wrong.......


Friday 12 October 2007

The Stones of Preuilly

I love this wall; all texture, colour and history. The are a lot of walls in Preuilly, but this is one of my favorites.

Thursday 11 October 2007

The roof from inside

We received the final bill for the roof yesterday.

This means that all work has now finished, and we have (hopefully) a fully functioning, rain excluding, roof with gutters and downpipes.

To celebrate, a photo taken from inside the granary while the slates were off.

In France you do not get quotes for work to be done, you get a devis (pron. devvi) which is a very detailed estimate of costs. Once the devis is signed it is a contract. For large jobs it is customary for one third of the devis to be paid when work commences, one third half way through the job, and the balance on completion. As it is an estimate rather than a quote, the final bill has the potential to be a bit of a fright. Our bill came in under estimate - so we pay less than expected. This is a good thing.


Wednesday 10 October 2007

St Savin

The Abbey church at Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe is world renowned for the quality and quantity of it's frescoes. The building was World Heritage Listed in 1983 because of the paintings. Because of this the church has a huge car park (well - it's really the market square) and a visitors centre.

Something I suspect that isn't seen so often is this view of the oldest part of the church, taken from the river. The original building is the cruciform piece under the tower in the centre of the picture, which was started in the 11th Century. The little chapels you can see were added slightly later.

The huge tower that is usually the feature shown on postcards wasn't built until the 14th century, after the addition (in a couple of instalments) of the long nave.

A full description of the frescoes (in French) are here


Tuesday 9 October 2007

Suffering from withdrawal symptoms

The French have a word for do-it-yourself. The word is Bricolage, and it is a national past-time. No self respecting Frenchman would consider for a moment NOT building an extension onto his house, including doing his own masonary. Mad for it, they are

To cater for this, there are brico stores everywhere - Bricomarché, M.Bricaolage, Castorama, GammVert, Brico Dépôt - and they are only the chain stores. In addition, every supermarket and corner store carries a small range of tools, electric plugs, paint and sandpaper. Many carry a lot more besides.

I have been back in London for 2 weeks, which means I haven't been to a brico for at least two weeks. When restoring a house you can count on visiting a hardware shop every second day.

This is the first in an occasional series of "Brico shops I have visited". This one is Bricomarche in Yzeures.


Monday 8 October 2007

The restored windows

I am rather pleased with the results of my window restoring, even though the architect did ask if I intended replacing them with PVC double glazing. I think they look good, anyway.

(by the way, the answer to the architect's question is a resounding "no")


Sunday 7 October 2007

Chapelle de tous les Saints

All Saints Chapel was built at the end of the 15th Century as a cemetery chapel. The cemetery is now parkland (actually an arboretum) and the new cemetery is across the road.

The chapel is now apparently derelict, but restoration is being talked about, as apparently there are some interesting frescoes inside.


Friday 5 October 2007

Demolition, French style

Removing the last piece of the hangar was so momentuous that I thought it should be preserved in moving pictures. As with all the pictures of the roofing, I had to wait until I was home before I could load this up.

This was taken using my still camera, not a video camera. This is why the quality is a bit hazardous, but it should give a taste of how things are done.


Thursday 4 October 2007

Wednesday 3 October 2007


On a previous post we received a comment about the cyclamen growing under the trees at the chateau.

Here they are.