Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Repairs to a Leaky Church


The current church of Saint Ours, founded originally as the collegiate of Notre-Dame, is the property of the town of Loches and was classed as a historic monument in its entirety on the first listing of 1840.

Concerned by the poor state of the former collegiate the town of Loches did a study prior to its restoration by the heritage architects of Atelier 27 in November 2015.

Restoration of the Church of St Ours, Loches.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Their report recommended a programme of work to be delivered in three phases.  The current second phase is to repair the dubes (the unique pyramidal roof structures).

This second phase involves:

  • restoration of the facing for the dubes
  • removal and reinstatement of degraded structural elements of the dubes
  • sealing of the dubes gutters with a lead lining
  • treatment to consolidate the interior and exterior roof flashing
  • restoration to the interior surfaces of the dubes
I've written to the Loches town council and every one of the contractors involved in this project to remind them that the church is home to a colony of swifts. They nest in the roof, belltower and walls every summer and it is illegal to destroy their nests and disturb the birds. I pointed out that the swifts are a delight that are just as much an attraction as the church itself. I've also sent them a link to an excellent booklet written for architects and builders by a Swiss swift conservation organisation.

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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. 

Monday, 30 December 2019

Magrets et Mogettes


Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

One of the by-products of raising ducks for foie gras is the delicious morcel known as magret de canard (fat duck breast).  They are widely available in the late autumn and winter, as the foie gras ducks are slaughtered for their livers to be prepared for Christmas.

Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Duck meat is traditionally often paired with white beans in France, with the southern dish cassoulet being the most well known recipe. White beans go under a variety of names in French. They might be mogettes, lingots, cocos or haricots blancs. 
 
Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Here I am combining a simple way of cooking duck breast with a simple winter side dish of white beans and vegetables.

Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Ingredients:
2 fat duck breasts (magrets de canard)
Salt
Duck fat
Half a celeriac, peeled and thinly sliced
6 chard leaves, coarsely shredded
A large can of white beans
Pepper

Method:
  1. Place a cast iron pan in the oven and turn the temperature up to its maximum.
  2. Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towel.
  3. Score the skin of the duck in a diaper pattern then rub a pinch of coarse salt into the cuts. Put aside at room temperature to cure a bit.
  4. Heat some duck fat in a large frying pan.
  5. Saute the celeriac for a few minutes until just cooked and starting to brown.
  6. Add the chard, cover with a lid and wait for it to wilt and cook.
  7. Add the can of beans with their liquid, mix well and cook for a few minutes until the beans are heated through.
  8. Once the cast iron pan is smoking hot, place the duck in the pan, skin side down.
  9.  Cook for 10 minutes in the oven then remove, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
  10. Season the beans and vegetables with pepper.
  11. Slice the duck breast and serve with the beans. Serves 4.
Fat duck breast and white beans. Photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Excellent local duck breast can be purchased from the farm shop at Maison Perrin. The vegetables for this recipe came from my local market garden Les Jardins Vergers de la Ferme de la Petite Rabaudière, who sell from the farm every Tuesday evening or from a stall on Preuilly market every Thursday. The SuperU supermarket at La Roche Posay stocks locally grown and processed white beans sold in glass jars.

Fat duck breast. Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

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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.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Bushfires


Bushfire chronology pole, National Museum of Australia, Canberra. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

This year the bushfires in Australia have been horrendous. The worst anyone can remember, in terms of amount of area burnt, the length of time fires have burnt, the pall of smoke overhanging seemingly everywhere, the unusually early start to the fire season and the extreme dryness of the country.

Bushfire sign, National Museum of Australia, Canberra. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Bushfires have been a part of Australian country life since white colonial settlement began. Now it's a part of urban life too, and that's a whole lot more people to point the finger at the current climate change denying government.

Fire danger chart, National Museum of Australia, Canberra. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The National Museum of Australia has a small section dedicated to bushfires and I've included some photos from their display in this blog post. 

We've written about bushfires before:

Bushfires

Canberra Recovers

The Tathra Pub

Going  Bush


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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. 

Saturday, 28 December 2019

No to the Fast Train


High up on the mountainside above Ascain in the Basque country we noticed a giant message in forty metre high letters had been cut into the vegetation. We quickly deciphered it as saying 'LGV NON'. In other words, 'no to the Ligne Grande Vitesse'. Also cut into the bushes is the Basque word for 'no', 'EZ'.


This message has been up there for ten years, and there now seems little likelihood of the plan for the fast train line from Bordeaux to extend down into Spain, first proposed more than twenty-five years ago, to actually go ahead. The Basque community does not want it, arguing that it will do irreparable damage to a Natura 2000 listed site, and the 300 million euros required for a five kilometre tunnel and several viaducts is not justified. The current plan seems to be to improve the existing lowland and coast hugging train line between Bayonne and Hendaye rather than blast a new one through the mountains. Since last year permission has been granted for new houses on plots that would previously been too close to the proposed new line. This seems to indicate that the project has been quietly canned.

Whatever improvements to the railway go ahead, the aim is to get goods onto trains and reduce the endless stream of big trucks thundering up and down the autoroutes.


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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. 

Friday, 27 December 2019

Coeur de Francais


A small plot of Coeur de Francais grape vines.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Our neighbour Gilles inherited his father's little plot of vines on the edge of town. I regularly see Gilles walking up our street towards them to do some maintenance, or freewheeling his bicycle down the hill towards home for lunch. When we first moved here, Gilles father was still alive, always up for a chat, but suffering from some dementia. He'd had a hard life, having endured the forced labour camps in Germany in the Second World War. He still spoke a little German, and would rather proudly demonstrate by counting to ten, or tell a story about living on nothing but potatoes in the camps. Finally he had to move to the Aged Care Facility due to his frailty and Gilles being at work all day. I remember Gilles was deeply upset to have to take this step, and his father only lasted a few months in the nursing home before he died.

Gilles makes wine from the grapes, which he tells me are Coeur de Français, grafted on to Riparia rootstock. I was rather flattered that Gilles didn't explain further than that, assuming I would know what the information meant. Rootstocks from a selection of the American grape vine species Vitis riparia are very commonly used here. They make vines resistant to phylloxera, reduce vigour in the grafted variety and tolerate saturated clay soils well.

Whilst I was reasonably familiar with the rootstock, I'd never heard of Coeur de Français grape variety and can't find out anything about it. It's quite likely I have misremembered the name slightly, or misheard it. I suspect that if it is a commercial variety it is called something else in the wine industry and Coeur de Français is a local name for it. Or perhaps it is not used commercially at all, and only people making their own wine for personal consumption grow it. It must be a black skinned grape, as Gilles' wine is a rosé.

Next time I have time for a chat with Gilles I'll have to quiz him about the grapes. That will be interesting, since he speaks very rapidly and even other French people have difficulty understanding him. 

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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. 

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Mushrooms and Health


The legendary toxicity of certain mushrooms is well known. The Death Cap, a deadly species, is still too often confused with other species and eaten. It is one of three deadly Amanita species which are responsible for more than 90% of deaths linked to the consumption of mushrooms.

Death Cap Amanita phalloides (Fr. Amanite phalloïdes).
Death Cap Amanita phalloides. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

From a medical point of view, mushrooms don't only have beneficial effects. They are implicated in numerous dermatological conditions and infections (eg thrush, athletes foot).

Due to their metabolic richness they have great pharmacological potential. The historic (and accidental) discovery of antibiotics by Alexander Fleming from strains of Penicillium is famous.

The large 'bruise coloured' mushroom second right is a 
Lingzhi Ganoderma lucidum (Fr. Ganoderme luisant).
Bracket fungi. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

What we no longer know is the centuries old use of certain species in the Chinese pharmacopia, such as Lingzhi Mushroom, which has demonstrated results recently.

Effectively, lentinane and other polysaccharides found in abundance in mushrooms directly stimulate the immune system.

 French based Chinese microbiologist Guanglai Zhang works with White Ferula Mushroom Pleurotus eryngii var nebrodensis.
Photo courtesy of Louisette Chaslon.

Oyster mushrooms have effects even more impressive on the regression of cancerous cells (at least in the lab).
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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. 

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Merry Christmas 2019


Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Christmas tree decorated with Twisties, an iconic Australian snack.

Merry Christmas to all our readers.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Christmas Eve Dinner


Last year's Christmas Eve dinner for two:

Flashed beef flank steak from our local butcher topped with homemade foie gras, served with roasted cherry tomatoes, peas and pommes boulangère.
Flashed beef flank steak topped with foie gras served with roasted cherry tomatoes, peas and pommes boulangere. Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

Christmas cake with winter spiced custard.
Cooked and photographed by Susan from Loire Valley Time Travel. https://tourtheloire.com

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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.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Tarte Normande


Our neighbours across the road live in the mountains in the north-east of France. Their house in our street is their holiday home. They bought it cheaply from an old woman who went into the retirement home and they are doing it up in their vacations. Long ago, it used to be a mattress factory as well as a family home.

Anyway, we've always been on friendly terms with them and on their last visit we were invited to dinner. I was already planning to make the French classic apple tart called Tarte Normande so offered to contribute this to the meal. Laurent didn't tell me exactly what he and Claire were going to serve, but he checked several times with me that we liked cheese. I thought we were going to get raclette, but I was wrong.

 Tarte Normande (recipe here).
Tarte Normande (French apple tart). Baked and Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

We turned up at the specified time of 6.30 pm, for drinks, only to find that no one answered the door. Eventually Laurent appeared at an upstairs window and lent out. 'What's the time?' he asked. 'Six-thirty', we replied. 'Oh, we aren't ready -- come back at seven-thirty!'. 

So we did, to find one of our other neighbours, Gilles, already installed at the table, and a delicious looking frying pan full of diced potatoes and chopped onions sizzling away in bacon fat on the stove. Nibbles were put out and drinks were served -- pineau de Charentes for me, Gilles' homemade rosé for Claire and Simon, and a brand of pastis from the north-east for Laurent and Gilles. After we'd consumed our fair share of toasts and crisps, Guillaume turned up. Gilles departed because he wasn't staying to dinner.

Finally, the potatoes were ready. They had been gently sizzling for well over an hour. Served with them were two Mont d'Or cheeses that had been melted in the oven in their boxes and some grilled Montbeliard sausages. Potatoes were served, sausages on the side, and liquid cheese spooned over the top. Simon was in absolute heaven. Claire kept apologising that it wasn't really cuisine de chez nous but a dish that had become popular in the 1970s or 80s at the earliest. Her native cuisine, as someone from Belfort, is sauerkraut. Laurent was tickled by my story of how we came to know Mont d'Or cheese.

Over the course of the evening we discussed various television programmes and movies, especially 'Six Feet Under', which came in for a lot of attention because Claire works for a funeral directors. We talked about Guillaume's work (he's a landscaper and gardener who has worked for France's richest man, who he clearly despised, and now works for an old school hardman builder, who he clearly respects). And kimchi, Korean cuisine and language was the surprise subject of the evening. Turns out Claire reads and writes Korean, although does not speak it well as she's never been able to find a suitable language partner.

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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. 

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Sunshine Harvester


The Sunshine Harvester was invented in Australia in the 1880s by Hugh McKay and was the first commercially viable combine harvester in the world. By the early 20th century it was manufactured in the largest factory in Australia. Within a couple of years McKay's workers were on strike for better pay. They won the right to a living wage and the case forms the basis for minimum wage legislation.

Sunshine harvester in the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.
Sunshine harvester, National Museum of Australia, Canberra. Photographed by Susan Walter.

Combine harvesters are designed not only to bring in a number of different crops, but to combine the three tasks of reaping, threshing and winnowing in one machine which can perform the operations simultaneously. 

The McKay family sold the business to Massey Ferguson in the 1950s and in the 1970s production ceased in Australia and moved to the Northern Hemisphere.

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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. 

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Manech Tete Rousse


The Manech tête rousse is a breed of sheep indigeneous to the French Basque country. Their origins are not fully known, but they have been raised in the western Pyrenees for a very long time, found mostly on the hillsides, and certainly developed in the Pyrenees, not imported from elsewhere during the Moorish invasions, for example. They are dairy sheep, the most productive in the Pyrenees, and their milk is most notably used in the production of the local brebis cheese (AOC Ossau Iraty, which is a type of tomme). They are sheep with hanging fleeces, white with red heads and legs. They are particularly hardy and well adapted to the transhumance and long treks along the steep slopes of the Pyrenees.

Manech tete rousse sheep on the slopes of La Rhune, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

They bear no characteristics whatsoever of Merinos, and are quite different to other local breeds of sheep. Their locks grow to about 25 centimetres long. They are hornless, with long narrow faces, drooping ears and sturdy legs. A ewe will stand about 60 centimetres tall at the shoulder and weigh about 50 kilos.

The ewes are milked for 125 days of the year and in that time will produce 150 litres of fat and protein rich milk. The herds are more or less impervious to bad weather, rain as well as snow, and variations in temperature. They have trouble free births in the spring and lactate all summer. The floral richness of the pasture they eat is reflected in the milk and the end product, cheese.

Manech tete rousse sheep on La Rhune, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Manechs are raised using a system of a short three to four month transhumance (and sometimes no transhumance at all). Lambing takes place from December to March and they are milked from December to July. It is collected by the industrial producers or processed on the farm. Milking commences when the lambs are weaned at 35 days. Lambs are sold to fat lamb producers in Spain, or raised on the farm and sold as Label Rouge agneau de lait des Pyrénées.
Manech tete rousse sheep in the western Pyrenees, Spanish-French border. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

There is a breeding programme, established in 1975, to improve the herd. 56 000 ewes are involved, artificially inseminated with sperm from the best rams. In total the national herd is 200 000 ewes, all located in the Pyrénées-Atlantique, in Basse-Navarre and lower Soule.

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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. 

Friday, 20 December 2019

The French Coiffure Crisis


I've often seen on expat forums complaints about how difficult it is to get a decent haircut in France. I've always assumed it was just that in France they do things differently and the complaints were probably not justified. After all, Simon and I have no complaints about our hairdresser. She is our next door neighbour and comes to our house to cut our hair once a year. My hair is simple, but Simon has very wavy thick hair, and she clearly understands the tricky nature of hair like his. But it seems that complaints about hairdressers are just as widespread amongst the native population, so something must be up.

In France there is an average of one hairdressing salon for every 720 people, and French people make an average of four to seven visits to the hairdresser a year. Preuilly sur Claise (population 1009) has three salons and a mobile hairdresser (our neighbour), which I've always thought quite remarkable.

Hairdresser.  Loir et Cher, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

About a million people visit the hairdresser on any given day in France, spending €85 000 a year in a sector worth six billion euros a year overall. But -- the sector is declining and salons are starting to close at a rapid rate. Women are not going to the hairdressers as much, and they are opting for less complicated, lower maintenance styles. Since France is the world's leading producer of hair care products, it's got companies like L'Oréal rattled -- to the point that they have announced the opening of a new academy where students will study for a Bachelor in hairdressing and business. The aim is to reinvigorate a better business approach and improve training.
Hairdressing salon.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Since 2011, the sector, employing 90% women, and second only to becoming a baker as a career choice for school leavers who want to do an artisan trade, has been declining. There are 10 000 vacant posts in hairdressers across France. Twenty or thirty years ago there was a swathe of French household name hairdressers setting the trends and making their fortunes but now, good hairdressers are becoming rarer and rarer.

Hairdresser.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Technical training for apprentices concentrates on colouring and styling. There is very little on how to cut. Bad haircuts are the result, cleverly disguised with artful blowdrying and use of the curling tongs, only to disintegrate at the first wash. Some women still go to the salon every week for 'le brushing' (a blowdry) to maintain their style, but it is becoming much less common. Most women are just opting for simpler styles, either very short or like me, all one length and long enough to pull back in a simple pony tail.
Hairdressing salon.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

There are a number of problems in the salons. First of all, what the apprentices are taught, which hasn't changed since the fifties. They learn how to do perms and chemical colours, but what the clients want are organic vegetal tints. They find themselves doing a lot of thankless sweeping up and learning obsolete skills. Some salons focus on selling a lot of product at the expense of the cut itself, so the apprentices have no sense of artistic achievement. L'Oréal says it wants to inject a sense of striving for excellence into the job. These days, many women can do better job on their own hair just using tutorials on the internet rather than a professional hairdresser. In the old days women learnt about new products at the salon, but now hairdressers are no longer the innovative ones. They are seen as old fashioned, dowdy, and expensive. 

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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. 

Thursday, 19 December 2019

What Are Fungi


Neither vegetable, nor animal, how do they eat, grow and reproduce?

The Symbiotes: Sixty percent of fungi live with trees or grass in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship, using mycorhyza as intermediaries for nutrition passing in both directions (ie the tree feeds the mushroom and the mushroom feeds the tree as they are able to process different nutritional elements). This includes boletes, russules (brittlegills), amanites, lactaires (milkcaps) and chanterelles.

Boletes.
Boletes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Brittlegills.
Russules.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Amanita.
Amanita.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Milkcaps.
Lactarius.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Chanterelles.
Craterellus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


The Decomposers: Thirty-five percent of fungi digest dead vegetable matter, dead animals and faeces. These species make the leaf litter and humus in the forest and include agarics, coprins (inkcaps), cortinaires (webcaps), lentins (shiitake), pholiotes and pleurotes (oysters).

Agarics.
Agaricus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Inkcap.
Coprinus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Webcaps.
Cortinarius.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Shiitakes.
Shiitake.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Pholiotes.
Gymnopilus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Oysters.
Pleurotus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


The Parasites: Five percent of fungi digest still living vegetation and animals. They include polypores and ganodermes (brackets), collybies, and armillaires (honey fungi). They regulate the forest.

Polypore.
Heterobasidion.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

 Collybia.
Rhodocollybia.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

 Ganoderma.
Ganoderma.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

 Honey fungus.
Armillaria.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


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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. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

A Sporting Lunch


Our swimming group is a great bunch of people who care about one another and don't just hang out at the pool together. This summer Philippe and Marie-José had their 50th wedding anniversary, so naturally there was a party at their place (on a Thursday of course, when the pool is closed).

I made beetroot and walnut hummus. (Recipe.)
Beetroot hummous. Prepared and photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

I'm not sure what Philippe is up to with this water butt arrangement, but knowing him it's a genius idea.
Water butt. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Toasting Marie-José and Philippe.
Toasting. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Presenting Marie-José and Philippe with a bottle of bubbly.
Presenting a bottle of bubbly. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Left to right: Jean, Paola, Marie-José, Claire, Ingrid, Yohann's daughter, Chantal, Christiane, Yohann, Huub.
Lunch picnic party in a garden. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

I also made a vegetable terrine, from the recipe on Taste of France.
Vegetable terrine. Prepared and photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Many of the swimming group also cycle.
Fixing a bike tyre puncture. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The young female owner of this bike with a puncture was visibly unimpressed when the old white guys took over the repair. As she pointed out, if she'd wanted to repair it this way she could have done it herself. I think André ('fifty years of riding bikes in France') forgot he was dealing with a Dutch woman. The metal detector is for trying to locate the metal valve that pinged off somewhere into the pine needle ground litter (never to be found again, even with the aid of metal detecting technology).

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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. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Chapelle de Plaincourault


Mérigny is in the middle of nowhere in the Brenne, on the border between Poitou and Berry, but once upon a time there was a great medieval castle there, and surviving still, a few hundred metres away, a small but rather wonderful chapel. The chateau estate is in private hands and the castle long ago demolished and replaced with something more modern (still a couple of hundred years old though). After a parlous few centuries the chapel, now on an island between two rural roads not much more than tracks, is now loved and protected, owned and maintained by the Brenne Park Authority.

The apse.
Apse of the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The chapel building dates from 1110-20 and is a harmonious Romanesque structure of great simplicity sheltering some remarkable wall paintings. Because of its location it is hardly known outside the local area, and its history is a bit mysterious. It is worth a bit of a detour to see the interior and we treated it as a day out with friends in the summer, especially as the resident guide is my friend Sylvain. 

St Eligius shoes a horse in a miraculous way.
Wall painting depicting a scene from the life of St Eligius in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The paintings were done between 1170 and the 15th century in several phases. They depict fantastical animals, medieval legends and visitors are invited in to a rich and appealing imaginary world.

Once part of a Commanderie of the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem (now the Order of Malta) who would have come here every day for mass. Almost by chance it has remained intact, except for the loss of the Poitevin style stone spire on the belltower. Some of the early paintings, such as the Tree of Knowledge, are of exceptional interest, as are the 14th or 15th century animal characters from fables such as Reynard the Fox (the Roman de Renart in French) and legend of Saint  Eligius (Saint Eloi in French).

Floral decorative wall painting.
Floral decorative wall painting in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

But in 1632 the Hospitallers departed and the chapel was abandoned for three centuries. It got turned into a barn, storing piles of hay and beets, as well as sheltering animals. During the Revolution it was extensively damaged.

 Detail of wall painting depicting the Roman de Renart.
Detail of wall painting depicting the Roman de Renart in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

In the 19th century it was bought as part of the chateau estate, but now a road separates the chapel from the rest of the chateau park. The construction of the road meant the chapel started to lean dangerously, as its smooth stones started slipping towards the road. 

A Plantagenet lion.
Wall painting of a Plantagenet lion in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Declared a Historic Monument in 1944, and at risk of ruin, the chapel was purchased by the Brenne Park Authority for one franc in the 20th century. They then set about an extensive programme of stabilising, restoring and conserving the building and installing interpretation panels. 

From the outside, we can see an archway with a geometric or vegetal decoration surmounted by an open bay in the triangular gable crowned with an antefix cross. Only the facade and the apse are broken by openings for windows. The rest of the chapel doesn't have direct light, leaving space for large expanses of wall ideal for painting.

Inside there is a single nave with three bays, a narrow choir and then a semi-circular vaulted apse. The bays are separated by paired arches resting on columns with carved capitals.

 The Chapelle de Plaincourault.
The Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The paintings from the 13th century use cobalt and copper oxides to obtain blue and green. Before that they are mostly ochre pigments. The colours are still well preserved.

 The Garden of Eden.
12C wall painting depicting the Garden of Eden in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The oldest painting in the chapel depicts the Garden of Eden, with the Tree of Knowledge looking rather like a giant mushroom. The few scolars who knew about the chapel in the 19th century were very taken with the idea that the mushroom tree represents a shamanic reference to Fly Agaric Amanita muscari. Not everyone took this too seriously though, as there are some wry comments about how Eve looks as if she is suffering from colic rather than shame.

Next to the Garden of Eden is the Virgin, seated on a throne with the baby Jesus in her arms and surrounded by a mandorla.

 Crucifixion.
12C crucifixion wall painting in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

On the other side of the Virgin is a 12th century crucifixion, clearly influenced by earlier 9th and 10th century paintings, with the cross arms ending in 'T's (a style that ceased in the 10th century). The rather unusual representation of Jesus on the cross is also a clue. He is shown with open eyes, still alive, unwounded and his feet are splayed, not superimposed.

This wall painting shows a pentimento.
Wall painting showing pentimento in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

On the left hand wall we have a scene from the life of Saint Eligius, from the 14th century, showing him miraculously shoeing a reluctant horse, having removed the horse's hoof for convenience. He has a halo, with a hammer in one hand and the hoof in the other. A man holds the leg of the horse whose hindquarters can still be seen. Two men show their amazement behind the saint. Check out the gigantic hands of the characters in relation to their faces: a device used to give an effect of perspective.

We also see traces of a pentimento next to the face of one of the men: pentimento refers to a part of a painting that has been covered, to mask or modify certain details. Most often, pentimenti can only be seen on X-rays because they are hidden under several layers of paint. But in some cases, like this,  you can see it very well.

A depiction of the fable the Roman de Renart.
A wall painting depicting the fable the Roman de Renart in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Next to it, we have a scene from the Roman de Renart from the end of the 13th century. Renart plays the violin. Very worn, we see a dog standing on its hind legs (perhaps Roenel the big mastiff), a rooster (Chantecler) followed by a peacock.

On the dome of the apse, we can see Christ surrounded by the animals of the four evangelists.

Mystery coats of arms.
Mystery coats of arms in the Chapelle de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Not to mention a portion of the wall covered with coats of arms, the study of which in 2013 did not  reveal much, despite modern techniques of lighting and magnification being applied for meticulous examination. The scientists wanted to establish the stages of creation, what techiques were used, how many artists there were and to photograph the work for ease of study.

For details of opening hours for visits and how to get there, see the Berry Province website.

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