Wednesday 31 March 2021

Four Fabulous Medieval Fortresses in the Anglin Valley

‘Castles’ in France fall into three broad categories: Medieval fortresses ie proper defensive castles; Renaissance luxury country houses built by the aristocracy, and what most people call ‘chateaux’; and 19C luxury country houses, often closely mimicking their Renaissance forebears, but built by wealthy industrialists.

Most of the attention in the Loire Valley focuses on the 16th century Renaissance chateaux, but if you step just a little outside the UNESCO World Heritage area you could encounter some entirely different chateaux. I live in the south of the Loire Valley, in what was the old province or duchy of the Touraine. If I want a day out I can go north to the Loire then east along the river, to Chenonceau, Amboise, Chaumont, Blois, Cheverny or Chambord. All names you’ve heard of, and chateaux whose appearance you are familiar with.

But if I go south I end up in the Anglin Valley, and in medieval times the Anglin River was a frontier. This is marcher land, once liberally sprinkled with powerful warlords granted many powers by the French kings in return for protecting French territory against the English in Poitou. Obviously the warlords needed fortresses, and there is a string of them along the river.

Here is a selection of them. Most are not open to the public to see the interiors on a regular basis, but some of them offer accommodation, so if you want to put yourself in a medieval setting and fire up your imagination, I highly recommend a couple of nights in one of these wonderful castles.

Disclaimer: I have no particular connection to these castles, other than I live within easy reach of them and genuinely enjoy visiting the Anglin Valley. I don’t personally know any of the private owners.


Chateau de Forges, Indre, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Chateau de Forges.

Chateau de Forges:
Jehan Tyrel de Poix was given the property that would become the Chateau de Forges in 1442 by Charles VII. Today the castle is again owned by the Tyrel de Poix family and offers accommodation. If you stay there remember to ask about how they hid Allied airmen during the Second World War. http://www.chateaudeforges.fr/chambrehotes_en.html

 
Chateau de Forges in the background, vine hut in the foreground, Indre, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Chateau de Forges in the background, an unusual vine hut in the foreground.

 

Chateau d’Ingrandes:

Chateau d’Ingrandes: The original 11-12th century castle here was English, part of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s territory. It was captured by the great French knight Bertrand du Guesclin, and then rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today it is owned by the remarkable Jacqueline Drouart. She and her husband bought it in 1982 and were determined to save it. She is now a widow, but her life’s ambition is to finish the restoration, so that it is not a burden on their children when they inherit it. She offers accommodation. https://www.facebook.com/ChateauIngrandes/

Chateau d’Ingrandes:




Chateau de Plaincourault, Indre, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Chateau de Plaincourault.

 Chateau de Plaincourault: A former stronghold of the Knights Hospitallers although surprisingly, this is a 19th century building. The old chateau fell into such disrepair that it was entirely reconstructed, on the old footprint, in 1872. I have heard that it recently sold for €725 000. It has been a family home, but available for events and filming.


Angles sur l'Anglin, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Angles sur l'Anglin.

Chateau d’Angles-sur-l’Anglin: The ruins of this castle, built to defend French territory in the 12th century, but taken over by the English in the mid-14th century. It looms over the  river on one side and the village on the other. You can follow in the footsteps of the English attackers up the somewhat precarious path ascending the cliff that they took. By the late 14th century it was back in French hands, thanks once again to du Guesclin. The castle is open to the public for visits. https://www.tourisme-vienne.com/en/activite/5/forteresse

Chateau d'Angles sur l'Anglin, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Chateau d'Angles sur l'Anglin.



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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 30 March 2021

Gardens to Open at Easter in the Loire Valley

Several chateaux have been given special permission to open their gardens from the first weekend in April, although the interiors remain closed due to Covid19 restrictions. Here are some photos of the gardens from previous years.

Chateau de Rivau, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Chateau de Rivau, near Chinon.

Chateau de Bourdaisiere, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Chateau de Bourdaisiere, near Tours.

Chateau Gaillard, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Chateau Gaillard, in Amboise.

Tulips in the gardens of Chateau de Cheverny, Loir et Cher, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Tulips in the gardens of the Chateau of Cheverny. This would be my pick for the weekend.

Gardens of the Chateau of Villandry, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The famous formal potager gardens of the Chateau of Villandry.

Pond at the Chateau of Azay le Rideau, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The park around the Chateau of Azay le Rideau.

Show garden at the Chateau of Chaumont, Loir et Cher, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The garden festival at the Chateau of Chaumont will open later in the month.

The gardens of Plessis-Sasnieres, Loir et Cher, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The least known of the gardens, Plessis Sasnieres, will be a good option if you want to avoid the eager crowds.


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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 29 March 2021

Garbure

Garbure is a classic French peasant dish from the south west. There are as many recipes as there are households. Traditionally it was made in a big pot suspended over an open fire on a crémaillere (chimney hook). The pot just stays on the fire all winter, being topped up as the tide lowers periodically. Root vegetables and cabbage were combined with beans and meats to produce a thick nourishing stew. It is impossible to make in small quantities. I made it in a 10 litre boiler and only just got it all in. The quantity will serve 16.

Cheats confit de canard. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Cheat's confit de canard.

To start ours I first cooked some duck legs. These are lightly cured by rubbing a mixture of salt, herbs and spices into the meat and leaving over night or even over 2 nights. Then they are wrapped in foil and cooked extremely slowly for 4 hours in the oven. After cooking they were put aside to cool. It's easiest to cook them the day before you want to cook and eat the garbure. I've posted the recipe here [link].

Homemade garbure. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Boiling on the stove.

Then diced cured belly pork was fried in the boiler, joined by diced onion and crushed garlic. Once they are soft, add diced root vegetables such as celeriac (celeri rave), carrots (carottes), potatoes (pommes de terre), turnip (navets), swede (rutabaga) and leek (poireau) along with copious quantities of cabbage, a large can of white beans and pieces of meat such as lumps of confit de canard (lightly cured duck that has been poached in oil), shredded chicken meat and roughly chopped gizzards (gésiers) . Tuck in a bouquet garni and cover with stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for an hour.

Homemade garbure. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Simple, satisfying and nutritious.

 

Ingredients

2 duck legs, cooked according to the instructions here [link] and broken up into chunks

1 tbsp vegetable oil or duck fat

350 g cured pork belly, cut into 2cm cubes

2 onions, peeled and diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 kg of mostly root vegetables (celeriac, carrots, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, leeks) cleaned, peeled and cut into chunks

A cabbage, washed, stem cut out, and leaves cut into chunks

200 g shredded chicken meat

200 g chicken gizzards, roughly chopped

A large can of white beans

A bouquet garni

3 litres chicken or vegetable stock

Method

  1.  Heat the oil in a large boiler and brown the pork belly slightly.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and sweat until soft.
  3. Add all the other ingredients and bring to the boil.
  4. Simmer for an hour.
 

Yum
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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 28 March 2021

At the Beach

 

Birdwatching on the beach, Iluka, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
My mother birdwatching.

Iluka, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
My mother and Bungee, her Kelpie (an Australian breed of cattle herding dog).

Birdwatching on the beach, Iluka, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Assorted members of my family out walking and birdwatching.

Geology on the beach, Iluka, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A bit of geology.

The beach, Iluka, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The beach at Iluka in New South Wales, Australia.

Saturday 27 March 2021

Bastille Metro and the July Column


Bastille, Paris, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

This photo shows the Place de Bastille surrounds, where the famous prison stood until it was stormed in July 1789 in the early days of the French Revolution, and subsequently destroyed. In the foreground is one of the Art Nouveau Métro entrances/exits for Bastille station. Beyond, in the middle of the intersection, is the July Column, topped by a gilded representation of the Spirit of Freedom. It commemorates the July 1830 Revolution which toppled the restored monarchy. Bastille is pronounced 'bah-steey'.


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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 26 March 2021

Meeting at the Star of the South

When we can we participate in classic car events organised by the Association Nostal'10. They were set up to celebrate the old Route Nationale 10 and are based in Sainte Maure de Touraine. We are friends with several of the organisers and the events are just a little bit mad.

Classic car meet, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Citroen Ami station wagon (Fr. break) in the foreground and a glimpse of some rather charming grafitti on the tiles of the old service station booth.

We were delighted to receive an email saying there would be a gathering at the Etoile du Sud (bring your own thermos and cakes to share). I made choc chip mini muffins. The day turned out to be cold and overcast, but not windy. We nearly couldn't get Célestine to start, but finally we managed it and turned up a good 20 minutes after the allotted time. But cars continued to stream in after us. In the end they had more than twice the number of participants they expected. 

Classic car meet, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Not Célestine.

Everyone was so excited to be able to meet up, and the organisers had done a really good job of making it safe. They had to convince the authorities it could go ahead safely, and we were all asked to respect the rules. Everyone wore a mask and did their best to keep apart from one another. Nobody drove like an idiot, and everyone was considerate when entering and leaving the site, which is accessed from the busy D910, as the N10 became after the Autoroute replaced it as the national arterial.

Classic car meet, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
L'Etoile du Sud, now a pale ghost of its once ultra-modern space age presence.

The Etoile du Sud is an abandoned service station, a real relic of the mid-20th century. It stands on the side of the former N10, once one of the major routes that French families took on their way to summer holidays in the sun. It was erected in 1956, between Sainte Maure de Touraine and Maillé, and branded as a Total, with red signwriting on the white painted concrete ground. The previous building on the site was the Relais Charles Martel. If you were coming from Paris or elsewhere in the North and had left early in the morning the Etoile du Sud is where you might have stopped for breakfast. Both the road and the service station would have been absolutely packed, because everyone travelled on the same few days to reach their beloved summer residences on the Atlantic coast. There were lots of little accidents along the way, lots of moments when traffic slowed to a crawl and all the small towns on the route were jam packed.

Classic car meet, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Laurent, the President of Nostal'10, reminding everyone to behave themselves and passing on club news.

Nowadays long distance travellers use the A10.  It's only locals whizzing up and down now on the downgraded D910. Nostal'10 is working with the municipal authorities along the route to promote the historic value of sites like the Etoile du Sud, and the old N10 in general. Laurent, the president of the Association, announced at this meet that they hoped to reglaze the reception booth at the Etoile du Sud, to protect it more and provide some useful indoor space during events. 

Classic car meet, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The Etoile du Sud is the perfect place to meet up in a pandemic.

At least 120 classic cars turned up to this event, which means there was probably about 300 people there. Because of Covid19 it was simply an opportunity to all park up together for a couple of hours. We arrived from 10 am and had to leave by midday, making sure we didn't inconvenience other road users by causing a traffic jam. All this went off without a hitch. Normally we would drive around in convoy, stage a heritage traffic jam or retro camp. Hopefully by the time the Heritage Weekend comes round again in September all this will be possible again.


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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 25 March 2021

Manoir du Pont, Abilly

Manoir du Pont, Abilly, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The late 15th century Manoir du Pont, with its truncated hexagonal tower, overlooks the village of Abilly. The main body of the privately owned manor house is rectangular, with the hexagonal tower serving as a staircase. There is a big square tower on one corner of the enclosure. There are mullion windows and several carved decorative features such as dragons and fleurons over doors or on the gables.

Manoir du Pont, Abilly, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Manoir du Pont, Abilly, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


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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 24 March 2021

Truffles in the Touraine Loire Valley

Black Truffle Tuber melanosporum (Fr. Truffe noire) is native to the Loire Valley, but has long since disappeared from the wild. According to my expert botanist friend François the best place to find truffles was under isolated oak trees in the middle of wheat fields, but fifty years of modern farming practices and fungicides sprayed on wheat crops have destroyed the habitat for truffles. Nowadays they are cultivated, in orchards planted with inoculated oak trees. Black Truffles fruit in the winter, and over winter there is a series of specialist markets in the otherwise undistinguished village of Marigny-Marmande.



Truffle market, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Me buying a truffle. That's my truffle on the scales. €17.

The first thing that strikes you about the truffle market is the pungent savoury smell. The dealers and big name chefs all get to the market at some ungodly hour and snap up the best quality tubers, classed as Category 2, for anything between one thousand and two thousand euros a kilogram. The market opens to the public at 9am and you need to get there between nine and ten if you want to get a top quality truffle. I’m a bit more relaxed about it though and am happy to get ‘unclassified’ truffles, for about 600 to 850 euros a kilo. These are truffles that have a defect, often just visual and not affecting their flavour, so they are downgraded and sold cheaper. Usually it will be something like a slug has munched on the tuber a bit, or it got slightly damaged when dug up, or even that it is just an irregular shape naturally. Nothing that taking a knife to it won’t solve. A walnut sized unclassified truffle (enough for two people) will cost about €20 and an egg sized one about €30.


View of the Chateau de la Tour de Marmande, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A truffle orchard (beyond the buildings on the right) on the slopes of the spur which the Chateau de la Tour de Marmande sits. This is a typical truffle orchard location.
 
Local growers tell me that alternating wet and warm weather from May to July is crucial to ensuring a good truffle harvest over the winter, from November to February. The markets before Christmas double as general seasonal gourmet markets, with other producers there to sell their venison, snails, nuts and dried fruits, preserves, winter pork and poultry products and cheeses, speciality breads, honey and wines. The markets after Christmas are all about the truffles, with far fewer stalls, and tree whips inoculated with truffle spores available for those who want to try a few in their garden for fun. Serious truffle buyers come in January, when the quality of the truffles is at its best. About 20 – 35 tonnes of truffles are harvested these days in the Loire Valley. Back in 1900 the harvest of wild truffles here was a thousand tonnes.


Cheese and butter, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The cheese on the right is a Crémeux des Citeaux, that has been split and given a layer of truffles. A gift to me from the cheese refiner Rodolphe le Meunier (very well known and respected in France, his products are available in New York I believe). For those of you who need to know, the cheese on the left at the front is a Couronne Lochoise, a goats milk cheese virtually unknown outside my local area. The package at the back is hand churned butter seasoned with traditionally produced salt from the Ile de Ré, off the Atlantic coast of France
 
Anyone with a truffle orchard is playing a long game. The trees will take at least ten years to produce a truffle, and some may never do so. Others will go on to produce truffles for thirty years or more. My friendly local truffle guru tells me that a good truffle orchard has a mixture of the local species of oak, and the evergreen species that is native to the south of France. The local oak is small, deciduous and adapted to the local poor dry chalky soils and will produce truffles earlier than the evergreen species, but is weakened by the truffles and has a shorter lifespan than the evergreens. He owns two lively truffle hounds, a Jack Russell called Pierre, and a wire haired dachshund called Odile. Truffle hounds can be any breed of dog, and are trained by getting them to play fetch with a truffle oil impregnated sparkling wine cork.


Jars of foie gras with truffle bits in a supermarket, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Jars of foie gras with 10% truffle bits in the supermarket just before Christmas.

My favourite way of consuming truffles, by far, is to have them as a thin layer in a creamy cheese. Truffles need fat to bind to and release their flavour. They also need time and a little warmth, or at least room temperature. They are not easy to use to their best advantage. They frequently smell amazing but taste of nothing, and the fact that texturally they are a bit like sprinkling sawdust on your scrambled eggs, they can be a major disappointment if you are not careful.

 
Truffles at a market, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Truffles for sale at the specialist market in Marigny-Marmande.

Truffle market, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Truffle trading at the specialist market in Marigny-Marmande. Buyers on the left, producers on the right.

Brie with a layer of truffle, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Brie that has been split and spread with truffle.

Truffle orchard, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.





A friend's truffle orchard, with a mixture of oak species. He also grows vines for sparkling wine (Crémant de Loire) and saffron, and says if your land is suitable for one of these it will be suitable for the others.
 
Truffles at a market, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


 Unclassified truffles for sale at the specialist market in Marigny-Marmande. Note how the truffles are bobbly, and one has been cut in half so you can see that the interior is in good condition.
 
 
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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 23 March 2021

A Greenhouse by Eiffel

 

Remains of an Eiffel greenhouse, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
 

The delicate iron frame at the back of this building is what remains of the greenhouse supplied by the Eiffel company to the Chateau de Termelles in Abilly. Given that the chateau was built by a foundry owner it seems a bit odd that the greenhouse was supplied by Eiffel. But maybe not. Maybe there was a professional connection and greenhouses are sufficiently specialist that a foundry owner making agricultural machinery would go to a colleague making fancy buildings for his quite grand greenhouse.


Remains of an Eiffel greenhouse, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


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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 22 March 2021

Spiced Walnut Cake

Spiced Walnut Cake. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Spiced Walnut Cake.

 

A gluten free cake to use good French ingredients such as buckwheat flour (Fr. farine de blé noir or farine de sarrasin) and walnut oil (Fr. huile de noix).

Ingredients for Spiced Walnut Cake. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Ingredients for Spiced Walnut Cake.

 

Ingredients

3 eggs

150 g dark soft brown sugar

150 ml walnut oil

30 ml cold water

2 handfuls of walnuts, crumbled into small pieces

100 g almond meal

100 g buckwheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp mixed spice (I used quartre épices, which is not the same mix as Australian or British mixed spice)

2 tbsp walnut liqueur

50 g  icing sugar

300 g cream cheese

 


Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180C and line a 20 cm round cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Using a stand mixer or hand held electric beaters beat the eggs and sugar for two minutes on high speed, so the mixture goes creamy, thick and pale.
  3. Add the oil and water and mix thoroughly.
  4. Stir in the nuts.
  5. Mix the buckwheat flour, almond meal, baking powder and spice together, then add to the batter, mixing gently until just combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 50 minutes.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin.
  8. Mix the liqueur and icing sugar together until smooth.
  9. Beat the cheese with a spoon, not beaters, just enough to loosen it up and lump free.
  10. Add the icing sugar mixture and mix well.
  11. Serve slices of cake with a dollop of flavoured cream cheese.

Liqueur de noix (walnut liqueur) is made from green walnuts, and many people in France, like me, make their own. It is made commercially but you don't see it that often. The Italian version is called nocino.

Like all oil based cakes, this one improves with keeping a day, and keeps very well for several days.

 

Yum 

 
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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 21 March 2021

Australian Magpies

These Australian Magpies Gymnorhina tibicen, photographed at the beach at Iluka, New South Wales, are after a meal. They've obviously learnt that humans mean food scraps. They are a different family to European magpies, which are in the crow family.

Australian Magpie, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A juvenile, hoping for a handout.
 

The warbling and carolling calls of this species are one of the things Australians always miss when they live overseas. Being attacked and pecked on the head by over zealously protective nesting magpies is one thing they don't miss though. They are fondly referred to as maggies, and some people encourage them into their gardens by putting out scraps of meat for them. They will get so tame they will take it from the hand. Individual magpies may live to 30 years old in the wild. Unlike many birds on the ground, they walk, rather than hop. 


Australian Magpies, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A magpie family, female on the left, male in the middle and a juvenile, with dark beak and mottled feathers on the right.
 

Any Australian sporting team that wears black and white is most likely to be known as the Magpies.
 

The magpie population is thriving and ubiquitous in all urban areas of Australia. They live in groups with territory that they defend.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Champs de Mars

 

View along the Champs de Mars from the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

This photo from 2002, taken from the Eiffel Tower, is looking down the Champs de Mars towards the grand Ecole Militaire (military school), and behind it the modern white curve of the UNESCO building. Beyond all that is the smoky glass Montparnasse Tower, generally considered a blot on the landscape.


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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 19 March 2021

New YouTube Channel

We have created a new YouTube channel [link] to give people glimpses of the Loire Valley and encourage them to visit. At the moment there are just a few older videos loaded on there, but Simon and I have been making new content and will put new videos up from time to time. If you would like to be notified of new videos please subscribe to the channel and you will get an email when there is new content.



 
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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 18 March 2021

The Lime Kiln at Bellais

There are lime kilns everywhere in the Touraine [link] and the nearby areas of Poitou. Most of them are 19th century, and there is a whole collection of them on the Creuse and Vienne Rivers near Port de Piles and Les Ormes.

Bellais lime kiln, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The most notorious I suppose was the one at the Vieux Port on the Vienne. In the early 1880s there were several landslides at the site. One of them resulted in 30 deaths, including the manager's wife, two daughters and young son. The limestone cliffs at the back of the site had been heavily mined, leaving enormous unsupported underground galleries on multiple levels that you could turn a wagon around in. In addition, water was pumped from the river to aid the extraction of limestone rubble and the rock was saturated. One fateful lunchtime the cliff came roaring down, destroying buildings in its wake, including the cantine and the manager's house, and burying anyone in the vicinity. The manager and his two teenaged sons were out in the yard and they survived. One son was catapulted into the river, the other managed to reach his father and they sheltered in a lean-to. Two men were hideously burnt when the kiln fires caused the fracking liquid to boil.

Extraction of limestone from the site at Bellais began in 1881. It is only 3 kilometres to the railway station at Port de Piles, so the stone was transported by rail. The factory was constructed in 1903 by the businessman Desfontaines, on the left bank of the Creuse. It made cement, lime and Portland cement (a new product specifically for reinforced concrete, such as had been recently used on the Arms Factory [link] bridge in Chatellerault in 1899 [link]). Desfontaines was authorised to take water from the river, which is very close, for the 100 horsepower steam engine. The extraction galleries were slightly above the level of the river, which meant they were not in danger of being flooded (something that had happened to limestone quarries just downstream in Port de Piles).

Bellais lime kiln, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The square based kilns are quite visible today. They are built of refractory bricks and inside a constant low fire was maintained. Everything on the site was new and modern -- the steam engine, electric light, electric powered conveyor belt and rolling stock. Demountable rails allow wagons to transport the stone to the kilns, with an electric winch and a freight elevator. There was a reservoir for water and two entrances, one under the road which now runs along the front of the site. In 1910 there were about twenty employees. Lime and cement were sent to Paris, Bordeaux, Nantes and Brittany from the station at Port de Piles, changing at Chinon or Port Boulet, as well as going to Le Blanc and Argenton.

In 1911 Desfontaines' businesses failed and the lime kiln was put into administration. The kilns struggled on, producing less and less. When EDF built a weir downstream in 1920 the water in the river rose sufficiently to flood the extraction galleries. After winning a case against EDF for damages the factory was granted free electricity in perpetuity. The business finally ceased in 1936, and in the 1940s the buildings were used as a factory to manufacture wooden shoe soles.


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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.