Recently I had the pleasure of helping three National Trust wardens from the Ebworth Estate in the Cotswolds, who were on a study trip to France. I'll write more about their project later, but I thought I would first write an overview of how we spent our day on Friday 6 June.
Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra.
After picking them up at Les Limornieres, the local gite I had recommended they stay in, we set off for le Grand Pressigny. Yohann Sionneau, the river technician based in Preuilly, had let me know that he and his team would be surveying fish in the Claise that morning, so we went along to observe.
Yohann and his gang electric fishing in the Claise at le Grand Pressigny.
Then we drove over to Panzoult and visited a site where the Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra grows. This is a rare orchid in the Touraine, and even rarer in Britain. David, Richard and Tim are part of a team working on saving the species in Britain, so they wanted to see it in places where it thrives. After a nice mooch around the limestone slope spotting orchids and other rare plants, taking lots of photos and notes about the habitat, we repaired for lunch in the village.
Richard admiring a patch of Peach-leaved Bellflower Campanula persicifolia.
These are uncommon in the wild now, although widely planted as garden cultivars.
The restaurant, called La Sybille, looks distinctly ordinary from the exterior, and the impression is not improved on first glance inside. However, the €14.50 menu ouvriers (workmen's lunch) was excellent -- buffet starter which included avocado, fish, salads and charcuterie, three choices of main (steak, lamb kebabs or fish baked in foil) served with chips, rice, pasta or green beans, followed by cheese and classic desserts, all washed down with Chinon red or rosé. It was a particularly hot day (30+ degrees), so we opted for rosé and eschewed the cheese and coffee.
Tim photographing a Red Helleborine.
Then back out onto the limestone slopes for more botanising and ecological studies. It was just lovely to be out with people who really get it.
An Asp Viper Viperus aspis, about half grown, on a limestone slope.
The Touraine Loire Valley's only venomous snake, this was my highlight for the day.
Once we'd seen all we could of the Red Helleborine habitat it was still a bit early to return home. All work and no play makes very dull botanists and ecologists, so we decided to visit a winery. The south facing slopes along the Vienne at Cravant les Coteaux and Panzoult produce some of the most highly regarded of the Chinon appellation wines. The Red Helleborine site is sandwiched between the Cave Touristique and Domaine de la Mariniere. We decided the Cave Touristique would give us the chance to taste wines from different winemakers, plus they wouldn't mind that we didn't have an appointment.
Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris on a limestone slope.
A ferocious predator and difficult to photograph as they are very skittish.
It turned out to be an excellent choice. Our guide did a super job of taking us through the Panzoult winemakers association's cave, which is an underground events venue for wine fairs and corporate entertaining. Inside she related the story of Rabelais' third book of Pantagruel, which is partly set in Panzoult and illustrated by sculptures around the walls of the cave. When we came out she confessed that it was the first time she had ever done the tour in English. We gave her the benefit of a short tutorial on how to pronounce 'cheat' (which as Anglo French speakers will have guessed, she was pronouncing 'shit'...) but apart from that she did brilliantly.
Large Venus's Looking-glass Legousia speculum-veneris,
an uncommon 'arable weed'.
We then proceeded into the visitor centre for a tasting session -- a white, a rosé and two reds. None of us liked the white (Chinon makers have a tendency to not leave any residual sugar in their chenin blanc and it doesn't do this grape variety any favours) but we loved the rosé and all bought some. Both reds were good and I bought a couple of 2009 vintage (a very good year here).
Richard, David and Tim entering the Panzoult winemakers' cave with our guide.
When we came out a thunderstorm was rumbling to the east and we went up to the viewing platform to look out over the valley. Then it was on the road for home and a very welcome apéro with Simon.