Tuesday 31 August 2021

Closed Lines

I wrote on Sunday about the closed railway line (now a walking path) in Trentham, and mentioned that closing railway lines is a common theme across the world. What is amazing is how many railway lines there used to be in the area around us.

The map below shows the current state of play:

  • the purple line are LGV, the train lines dedicated to high speed trains (mainly TGV)
  • the pink lines are main lines, either inter-city or regional
  • the orange lines are tourist railways
  • the red lines are lines open for freight only (mainly seasonal)

Add in the closed mainline services (green). These were lines run by SNCF, the French national railway system. They were mainly standard gauge (1435mm), but there were also some narrow gauge services (mainly 1 metre) run by the SNCF.

Then a real shocker...

Most of the départements had CFD - Chemins de Fer Départementaux.  Some were passenger lines, some were lines of exploitation (freight), but many were trams, winding their way across the countryside or along roadsides, connecting villages with nearby towns. These are shown in yellow.

Most of the tramlines closed between 1900 and 1939, and many of the mainline services ceased between 1965 and 1990. Some mainline services struggled on until the start of the 21st century, and some (Chartres to Orleans) are being reopened as shown by the light blue line.

In some larger towns and villages that had stations on the edge of the built up area the railway track bed is now the route of the rocade (bypass). In other places old train lines are being opened as voies vertes: bike and walking paths. The new path through Preuilly is one instance of this. Soon much of France will be accessible by bike on paths built on old railway lines..

Monday 30 August 2021

How to Eat While Travelling in France...

...and some comments on how the locals do it, so you can emulate them if you want...

Remains of amuses bouches at a restaurant, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Remains of the amuses bouches (pre-lunch nibbles) at Le Clos aux Roses in Chédigny.

These are my personal tips for dining in France, with the benefit of having lived here, in the Loire Valley, for more than a decade. Other people may approach it differently.

Village bakery, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Our local bakery.


Breakfast: If your accommodation has breakfast included, take advantage of that and eat your fill. If breakfast is extra then I suggest you go out and find a café or bar. If you just order a coffee (café) you will be served an espresso. If you want something other than an espresso you need to be specific about it eg if you want a coffee with milk in a larger cup, order a café grand creme (the term 'café au lait' will also be understood, but 'latte' will not). Not all cafés serve pastries (properly called viennoiseries). If they don't they will direct you to the nearest boulangerie (bakery) for you to buy something there that you bring back to your table and consume in the café. Expect to spend about €3 - €5 per head all up.

Local sheeps milk cheese and black cherry jam at a restaurant in Saint Jean de Luz, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Local sheeps milk cheese and black cherry jam in a restaurant in Saint Jean de Luz, Pyrénées-Atlantique.

Lunch: The main meal of the day in France, and strictly 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm. If you arrive earlier you may get to sit around for a while because they are not quite ready to receive customers. If you arrive later than 1.30 pm most places will turn you away saying service has finished. If you have had lunch in an establishment there is no problem with lingering beyond 1.30 pm, especially on a Sunday. My advice is to do as the French do and make lunch your main meal in a restaurant. Lunch is cheaper than dinner. Many restaurants do an a la carte menu (known as 'la carte') and a daily changing limited choice 2 - 4 course fixed price menu (known as 'le menu' or 'la formule'). My advice is to always choose 'le menu' as it will be seasonal and what the chef wants to prepare on the day, and easily the best value.
The daily changing menu will usually consist of a choice of a couple of entrées (starters), a choice of 2-3 mains (sometimes, and increasingly, one of the choices will be vegetarian), cheese (often from a shared cheese platter with 2 - 6 cheeses that does the rounds of the restaurant), and a couple of choices of dessert (very often one fruit based, one dairy based).

Cheese counter in a grocery store, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Our friend Charles at the cheese counter of his grocery store in Esves sur Indre.

French diners do not spend a long time agonising over what they will choose to eat. Mostly they will opt for 'le menu', trusting the chef to produce something delicious and balanced. This difference in time spent choosing what you eat between local French diners and foreign anglophone diners is really noticeable, and is a cultural difference that I suspect drives French waiters nuts because from their point of view it is inexplicably time wasting. Requesting dishes on the menu but with some element changed will also be viewed as peculiar and time wasting.  

Local oysters, prawns and white wine, Ile de Ré, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Local oysters and prawns on Ile de Ré, with chardonnay wine from just across the water on the mainland.

Do not expect your coffee to come with your dessert. Even if your French is good enough to indicate you would like your coffee served with your dessert, it will most likely not happen. It disrupts the rhythm of the waiter's work, and again, is seen as such a peculiar request that they can't believe that's what you really meant, so won't do it. If you are happy with espresso you could order a café gourmand for dessert, which is a small platter with an espresso and three different mini desserts. If you want a coffee other than an espresso, see the section on Breakfast and how to order. You can also ask for a larger black coffee (café allongé will be the closest to a filter coffee). Decaffeinated coffee is widely available. Artificial sweeteners are not, so remember to bring your own. 

Cheese platter in a workers restaurant, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Cheese platter at Le Relais d'Azay sur Indre.

Wine, beer and a limited choice of non-alcoholic drinks will be offered. The house wine will almost always be good, and the best value. You may be asked if you would like an aperitif, which typically might be a glass of bubbly, or a kir (white wine with a dash of blackcurrant liqueur). There is no need to buy bottled water. By law you must be provided with a basket of bread and a carafe of tap water, although occasionally you may have to remind the waiter to bring the water. 

Roast pork and stir-fried vegetables in a restaurant, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Roast pork and stir-fried vegetables by our chef friend Fréd at his old restaurant.

Look out for 'workers restaurants' who cater for ordinary working folk who eat lunch in a restaurant every day. These are often not open on the weekends or in August, but the good advice you will often hear is to look out for the white vans gathered in the car park of a restaurant by about 12.15 pm. That's a sure sign it's a good workers restaurant, serving hearty traditional meals to tradesmen and labourers. The establishments catering for office workers tend to be a bit more sophisticated and located in the centre of towns, rather than on main roads where there is space for large car parks. You may find you are the only anglophones in workers restaurants.

Starters buffet at a workers restaurant, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Starters buffet at Le Relais d'Azay sur Indre.

Typically at workers restaurants you would walk in and ask for a table (or say you have a reservation) and you'll be seated -- so far so regular. The menu du jour will often be on a board, sometimes you will be handed individual menus to choose from, usually the waiter will arrive and run through the menu then ask what you want to order. Be ready to say how you want your steak done if that's on the menu. You may also be asked what sauce you want with steak, and whether you want chips/fries (frites), salade (dressed lettuce) or vegetables. Usually all they are interested in is what you want for main course and what you want to drink with the meal. Often the starters are a buffet, so once your order is taken, you get up and serve yourself from the buffet. Don't take too much, as the main is likely to be generous. The waiter will come back to clear away your starter plates, but your cutlery will be left on the table and you use it for the main too. The main will be served, then cleared, including the cutlery. You may be offered a cheese course. If you are having cheese the waiter will get the platter of cheeses from whichever table currently has it and pass it on to you. You cut yourself about 3 small pieces of cheese each and the waiter will come back and move the cheese platter on to the next diners who are ready for it. When the cheese is cleared  the waiter will ask what your dessert choice is. When the waiter clears dessert they will ask if you want coffee. The whole process is set up so that the meal will take an hour to an hour and a half.

Owners Chef Armande and front of house Julien Pascal, Le Clos aux Roses restaurant, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Owners Chef Armande and front of house Julien, Le Clos aux Roses, Chédigny.

Expect to spend about €20 - €25 per head for the menu du jour plus coffee and a glass of wine. When you want to pay and leave, simply get up and go to the cash register. Most people don't tip in workers restaurants, but you can leave a few coins on the table (€2 - €3).

Wisteria covered restaurant terrace, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The wisteria covered terrace of Le Clos aux Roses, Chédigny.

Booking is not essential in most cases, but is appreciated (likewise, if you book and then can't make it, cancelling is appreciated). Many workers restaurants do not have websites (so they don't appear on popular online platforms such as The Fork/La Fourchette) or email addresses, and some only do lunch service. Booking is mostly done by phone, but diners often just walk in.

Chef Fréd Sanchez in his restaurant kitchen, Azay le Rideau, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Our friend Chef Fréd, in his old minuscule restaurant kitchen in Azay le Rideau.

Dinner: For the locals eating at home this would normally be quite a light meal -- a salad, some soup, a bit of cheese. Eating out at night tends to be for a celebration, so a bit special. This leaves anglophone travellers with a few issues -- restaurants don't open until later than some travellers would normally dine; dinner is more expensive; and it's more food that travellers really want to eat. 

Restaurant interior, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Restaurant interior, Azay le Rideau.

One solution, if you are here when the days are long and the weather fine, is to picnic -- buy a baguette, some charcuterie, some cheese, some of those beautiful patisseries that you've been eyeing off in the bakers all day and a bottle of wine, and find a nice spot to sit and eat. Don't forget to pack travel cutlery, a couple of acrylic tumblers, a corkscrew and paper towel if you are going to go down this route.
If you dine in a restaurant my advice is not to get sucked in to having another three course meal if you already had one at lunch. It will be too much food and a waste of a delicious experience. Just opt for a single course or whatever looks lightest. Choose from 'la carte' for this meal because it will have a wider range. This will save you money and save you from an uncomfortable night with too full a belly. You will thank me in the morning 🙂 

Restaurant menu board, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Menu board.

Don't turn up at the restaurant before 7.30 pm because they probably won't be ready for you and might not even be open. When you want to leave, ask the waiter for 'l'addition'. You will be sitting there a long time if you don't ask for the bill, as the waiter will assume you are lingering by choice and will politely let you do so without interruption. Booking is expected, although you can get away with not doing so in most places. Restaurants that open for dinner usually do have websites, email addresses and sometimes even online booking systems. Usually, someone on the restaurant staff will speak at least some basic English.

Restaurant reception, Azay le Rideau, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Our friend Sandrine, manning front of house at her and husband Fréd's old restaurant in Azay le Rideau.

Expect to spend maybe €10 - €15 per person if you picnic; and about €20 - €25 per person for a main course and a drink in a restaurant. Most people will tip somewhere between €2 and €10 for an evening meal for two.

Creperie, Montparnasse, Paris, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Creperie de Pontivy, near Montparnasse train station in Paris, one of several owned and run by Breton families who arrived in the 19th century.

Snacking: Generally the locals will avoid snacking, but kids are always offered a 4 pm snack, called le goûter -- usually a biscuit or two, a yoghurt, a piece of fruit or some chocolate or chocolate spread sandwiched in a piece of baguette, and a glass of water. There is no tradition of eating between meals or of eating multiple small meals at irregular hours. To be hungry is viewed as a good thing, making you appreciate the next meal all the more. French people don't obsess about being hydrated either, rarely drinking large mugs of hot liquid or cans of coke. If they are thirsty during the day they'll mostly have a small glass of water. If you do snack it is considered distinctly unclassy to do it on the hoof (ditto for drinking large milky takeaway coffees). The locals sit to eat or drink anything (or stand at a bar). English style tearooms are currently trendy, and these are probably your best bet for a mid-afternoon sit down and snack with a drink. Bars don't offer snacks and restaurants usually don't do continuous service (closing between lunch and dinner) and generally don't offer anything other than full meals. Your other option is somewhere like the cafeteria chain Flunch, associated with Auchan supermarkets. They serve everything from full cooked meals to the lightest of fruit or dairy snacks and drinks -- a real rarity in France, and amazingly inexpensive. (Don't bother trying to get the best deal by opting for one of their menus. They are incomprehensible, you will make a wrong choice and be charged more than you expected for sure. Just choose what you want, and it will cost at most a couple of euros more than the menus.)

Le Garage, Saint Jean de Luz, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Le Garage in Saint Jean de Luz, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, an informal dining venue with multiple concession holders.

If you are used to grazing you can buy supplies of nuts, dried fruit, snack bars, chocolate, biscuits, fruit, crisps and so on in the supermarket, carry it with you, and find a nice bench to sit and consume it. But frankly, you'll spoil your dinner...

Burger menu at Le Garage, Saint Jean de Luz, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Burger menu at Le Garage, Saint Jean de Luz, Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

Apéro: There is a strong tradition of gathering for a pre-dinner drink. If it is at home it will often be with friends and include a range of nibbles, sometimes very simple, sometimes quite elaborate. The older generation opt for drinks like pastis and pineau de Charentes, Suze, Lillet or sparkling wine (usually not champagne). Younger people will drink beer. Apéro is usually about 6 pm and typically lasts about an hour -- enough time for a chat, a single drink and a few morsels of some simple nibbly thing (one tiny bowl per table of, for example, peanuts, olives, crisps). But as a form of home entertaining it can go on for several hours and be more like tapas, in which case it is known as apéro dînatoire.

Drinks at Le Garage, Saint Jean de Luz, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Drinks at Le Garage, Saint Jean de Luz, Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

Allergies: In general just say to waiters that you are allergic to something. They will take it seriously and advise you accurately what you can and can't eat on the menu. Say 'je suis allergique à fruits aux coque (nuts)/produits laitiers (dairy)/gluten'.

Kids menu, Mamie Bigoude, Chambray les Tours, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Kids menu at Mamie Bigoude restaurant, Chambray les Tours.

Restaurant staff are properly clued up about coeliac disease and will make sure you are as safe as possible. It doesn't hurt to ask if you are unsure about a sauce or some other aspect of a dish. However, no regular French restaurant can guarantee gluten free dishes. There is bread everywhere and always the possibility of inadvertent cross contamination. Do not say you are coeliac, instead say you are allergic to gluten -- that will be better understood. My brother-in-law is coeliac and I've never had any trouble getting him suitable food. He did tell me that it is much harder when he has to negotiate it on his own, with no French. For a limited selection of GF products, go to the Diététique (health food) section of the supermarket (Australians and anyone else from somewhere that GF is generously catered for as standard -- you are in for a shock!)

Mamie Bigoude restaurant, Chambray les Tours, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The quirky and informal Mamie Bigoude restaurant in Chambray les Tours.

Just about everything in the North has butter in it. In central and south-western France the fats of choice are lard and duck, but butter is still used quite a lot. In the South it is much more olive oil. French cuisine is much less cream laden that decades ago. I've had the occasional lactose intolerant client and they have always been OK, often just by judiciously choosing dishes for themselves off la carte that they would expect to be low dairy or dairy free. Don't expect to encounter milk substitutes in cafés and restaurants. The very occasional trendy coffee shop in Paris might have soy milk, but that's about it. Places in the provinces won't have it, although you can buy it and almond and oat milk in every supermarket now, and dairy free yoghurt. Plus sorbets are a popular and widely available alternative to
ice cream. There won't be any vegan cheese anywhere, but you can get non-dairy butter substitutes in any supermarket.

American visitors at a workers restaurant on Epiphany, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Young American medical students on one of our tours, enjoying an Epiphany tradition at a workers restaurant near Chenonceau.

Sunday 29 August 2021

Trentham's Voie Verte

The Domino Rail Trail is a stretch of ex-railway line that connects Lyonville with Trentham, in the state of Victoria, Australia. Much like the small rural rail lines in France (and other countries) the line was closed in the 1960's, but only relatively recently has it been designated as a walking path.

We visited the station in Trentham when we stayed with Leon and Sue, but the weather was awful and we didn't walk.

Saturday 28 August 2021

Ségur-le-Chateau, Correze (Limousin), Nouvelle-Aquitaine

La Tour Saint-Laurent, Ségur le Chateau, Correze, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
La Tour Saint-Laurent.

One of the officially designated 'plus beaux villages de France' we discovered Ségur-le-Chateau by accident, as a result of continuing our journey home from the Pyrénées after having missed our scheduled visit to the Lascaux prehistoric painted cave.

On the left, La Maison Henri IV, on the right La Maison Boyer, Ségur le Chateau, Correze, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel..
On the left, La Maison Henri IV, on the right La Maison Boyer.


We stopped for a picnic lunch on a warm sunny day in July. There are several picnic tables in a shady park by the river, as well as one up by the church. It was busy with tourists who were wandering around enjoying the many picturesque medieval buildings, and it was hard to find a parking place for the car. The restaurants that were open all appeared to be full.

Looking across the river from the park to the chateau ruins and houses in between. Ségur le Chateau, Correze, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Looking across the river from the park to the chateau ruins and houses in between.


The village is very small and every house a splendid example of medieval architecture, all different and quite higgledey piggledey.

It made a great lunch stop and we were delighted to have discovered the place.

Old doorway, Ségur le Chateau, Correze, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Manor house, Ségur le Chateau, Correze, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Friday 27 August 2021

Écueillé nestling in the trees

I took this view of Écueillé when we were there to see the Tour de France last month.

Thursday 26 August 2021

Covid19 Stats For This Week in the Loire Valley

 I thought readers might be interested to see the latest figures on Covid19 for the Loire Valley (strictly speaking, the Département d'Indre et Loire, the 'county' around Tours) where we live.

Getting Covid19 vaccination at the GP's surgery, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Simon getting his first jab from the GP back in March.

Cases are at 109 per 100 000 in the département and falling. The incidence is 157 per 100 000 in the City.

2.2% of people tested are positive.

87% of adults have had one dose of vaccine.
78% of adults are fully vaccinated.
60% of adolescents have been vaccinated.

Wednesday 25 August 2021

The Martyr's Memorial

On 25 August 1944, Paris was liberated. But down in the Touraine, a village was being massacred.

That month the Paris-Bordeaux train line had been sabotaged three times. Also that month the inhabitants of Maillé rescued a downed Canadian pilot and successfully hid him from the Germans. He was never captured. Then an arms drop was intercepted by the Germans. Finally, on the evening of 24 August there was a fire fight between Resistance fighters and German soldiers at a hamlet near Maillé. The German commanding officer received orders to enact reprisals.

Memorial to the Maillé massacre, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The next morning Allied bombers attacked a German convoy at Maillé. The Germans blocked all access to the village. They then systematically moved through the village, killing everything that moved and setting fire to the houses. By midday they were done and they left. Two hours later German artillery fired 80 mortars at the village. Of the 60 houses in the village, 52 were destroyed. Of the 500 inhabitants of the village, 124 were killed. The youngest was a three month old baby, the oldest an 89 year old grandmother. Forty-eight of the dead were children under the age of 14.

One of the common threads to the testimonies of those who survived is that no one came to help, either while the attack was going on, nor afterwards. The survivors were left to deal with the dead as best they could. Some bodies lay outside long enough for dogs to start chewing at them, and the best that could be done for some was to be doused in bleach to try to keep the bodies in some sort of state of preservation before they could be buried. They ordered coffins from Tours, and only 40 were delivered. No one in authority came to offer their condolences and pledge support. The villagers were left to rebuild the houses on their own and today you might not even notice that something terrible took place 77 years ago. Except that there is a modest museum dedicated to the massacre, and a large memorial on the turnoff on the main road into the village.

The memorial was carved by Gaston Watkin, working in collaboration with his wife Marguerite Griset, and erected in 1947. Some years later he would go on to make the memorial to the students who were members of the Resistance, in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

The Seven Executed by Firing Squad at Ingrandes

 Who were les sept fusillés d'Ingrandes?

They were all members of the Resistance network code named 'Cram', set up by Marc Farineau. Three of them, Jean-Claude Moreau, Robert Chevalick and André Rigaud, were 18 year olds from Montmorillon. René Demousseau was also 18, a blacksmith from Lathus. Pierre Séjot was the oldest, at 25, and came from Brigueil-le-Chantre. Erwin Creutzer, known as Marius, was a malgré-nous ('against our will'), a deserter from being forcibly enlisted into the German army in Moselle. Edouard Kerhir was 20 years old and came from Brittany. He had dodged the draft into the forced labour system set up by the Germans and had joined the Resistance in the Vienne in order to escape the authorities.

Memorial to 7 executed Resistance fighters, Ingrandes, Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Memorial to Les Sept Fusillés. Sculptor Paulette Richon.

Enlisted in the army in 1937, Marc Farineau was mobilized in 1940, then taken prisoner by the Germans. After three attempts, he managed to escape from the prison camp. Back in the Vienne, in Montmorillon, he created the resistance movement "Cram", his first name spelled backwards. At the beginning of 1944, he received weapons and uniforms via Allied parachute drops. In the summer of 1944, volunteers flocked in. The group trained in the Bois de Flamagne, in the commune of Bourg-Archambault. 

On August 24, 1944, about thirty members of the "Cram" group showed up at the hamlet of Varennes to ask for lunch. In one of the farms, the maquisards sat down in the courtyard, as reckless as they were enthusiastic. Louisette Savatier, now 91 years old, recalls that her  mother-in-law served them rabbit and an omelette.

Around noon, Émile Gaillard, an inhabitant of the village, alerted the resistance fighters at the table that a German patrol had left for Oyré and would no doubt return shortly. Unworried, tired and hungry, the young men ignored the warning. It was already too late. Louisette Savatier recalled that the Germans saw a sack placed at the entrance to the farm, on a large stone. They went in and searched everywhere, under the beds, in the cupboards, in the attic. Some of them escaped, thanks to Emile Gaillard. His daughter Claudette, now 86 years old, remembers that her father took several guys behind the farm and they managed to escape. She remembers that day as if it were yesterday.

But the others were caught. The Germans ordered the maquisards to get into a cart driven by Louisette's fiancé. Her father-in-law intervened and took his son's place. At one point he heard a noise in the cart, and he thought one of them had jumped off, but he couldn't turn around in case it gave it away.

La Mégane, Ingrandes, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
La Mégane.

The maquisards were brought to the courtyard of  La Mégane, a large bourgeois house in Ingrandes. The mayor attended the interrogation. The seven men were sentenced to death within minutes in a mock trial. They were left with only their trousers on and taken to the banks of the Vienne. The mayor was forced by Captain Schmitt to attend the execution. The mayor's wife brought white sheets to cover the bodies.

The inhabitants feared reprisals, and the Germans talked about burning down the whole village.  Those present recall that the Germans had cans of gasoline. The inhabitants spent a night of terror, many of them not daring to sleep in their homes. A few days later the same unit of the German army would be partly responsible for the Maillé massacre, about 20 kilometers to the north.   

The memorial stands on the spot where they were executed, in a public park.

The sculptor was Paulette Richon, who lived in Preuilly. [Link] She is also the sculptor of the monument to the martyrs of Maillé, Christ the Redeemer overlooking Chinon, the  memorial on the end of the bridge at Descartes to another group of Resistance fighters [link], and the stations of the cross in the church at Ferrière Larçon.


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 August 2021

It's Summer, but you wouldn't guess that

It hasn't been the hottest of summers in this part of France France this year. There have been one or two very warm days, but it's never really been properly hot for more than two days at a time. It's times like this when people start asking if we miss Australia and sunshine. The answer is we don't miss Australian summers at all - they can be far too hot - and besides, Australian summers aren't all sunshine, either.

Summer storm on Sydney Harbour

Wet kangaroos in Trentham, Victoria

Saturday 21 August 2021

Pech Merle Prehistoric Painted Cave, Cabrerets, Lot (Quercy)

Pech Merle is one of a number of caves in different regions of France that have Prehistoric paintings. It was one of the first to be discovered and is one of the few where visitors get to see the real paintings. Its most famous painting is of a pair of spotted horses. The site is owned by the nearby village of Cabrerets.


Cabrerets, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
 The English word 'cave' translates as 'grotte' in French. The Pech Merle cave was discovered in 1923 by three adventurous children who crawled in, lighting their way with candles stolen from the local church.

To get there, drive to Cabrerets (not far from Cahors in the Lot Valley) then follow the distinctive signs up the hills to the cave site. There is an upper and lower parking area, already full by late morning when we visited and we were lucky to get a park. If you are fit and keen it is also possible to catch the bus to Conduché and walk along the trails through the hills above the river to the site. The walk is uphill all the way and takes at least an hour.

300 year old oak tree, Pech Merle, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

This 300 year old oak tree near the Pech Merle visitor centre survived a drought in the mid-20C. Speleologists realised that it must have its roots in moisture, which indicated another undiscovered cave beneath it. Now when you visit you get to see its roots underground.

Visits are by guided tour only, limited numbers, and last 45 minutes. Tickets must be bought in advance online. You are strictly instructed not to take any photographs, even without flash, and not to touch anything (not just the paintings, but rock formations). There is a hefty fine for damaging anything. You are also instructed to put on a warm layer as the caves are 12C. 

Sandstone cliffs, Lot Valley, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Make sure you arrive a good half hour before your tour is due to start, and you can go directly into the excellent small museum, or the meeting point for tours, bypassing reception. Tours are frequently booked out days in advance. One tour in English is offered daily, at 11:15 am. Tours are announced over loudspeakers about 10 minutes before they depart underground, which gives you time to get to the meeting point if you are in earshot.

Once underground you will see not just Prehistoric artworks, but geological formations and evidence of prehistoric animals who lived in the cave. The guide will describe how the caves and the paintings were created.

Entrance to Pech Merle Prehistoric painted cave, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The artwork is awe inspiring, both in terms of draftsmanship and age, and it was a great privilege to experience it. I highly recommend a visit to these caves.

Pech Merle Prehistory Centre and Cave [link].

Where to eat afterwards: We had lunch at the Hotel Restaurant des Grottes du Pech Merle, in the village of Cabrerets, on their lovely spacious veranda overlooking the River Célé (passing canoeists got friendly heckling from diners). We didn't have a reservation, and were lucky to get a table. We chose the three course Formule du jour, 19€, which featured seasonal and local ingredients. The starter of a cold summer vegetable crumble, served with a green salad dressed with a slightly spicy vinaigrette and fruit and nut bread, was exceptional. I tried a sparkling wine I had never heard of before, from nearby Gaillac. It turned out to be very distinctive and drinkable, with very strong green apple notes (so much so that on my first sip I thought I had accidentally been given cider).

Some other Prehistoric painted caves in France:

Lascaux -- this is the most famous of these caves, in Dordogne. Don't do what we did and put 'Lascaux' in your GPS. You will end up in a small village an hour away from where the cave is and miss your tour. They are actually near a village called Montignac. Tickets can be booked online. One English language tour is offered per day, at 11:10 am. Visits are to a site called Lascaux IV, a faithful reproduction of the real thing.

Chauvet -- the most recently discovered cave, in Ardeche. The site you visit is the largest reproduction of a prehistoric painted cave in France. Contains a marvellous naturalistic frieze of lions hunting bison and rhinoceros. It is next on my list!  

Friday 20 August 2021

The Liberation of Loches

Loches rather curiously celebrates its liberation from German occupation on 20 August, but on this day in 1944, the Germans actually retook the town. That day in August 1944 was more tragedy than triumph, although not as bad as it could have been. Due to the negotiation skills of local surgeon Martinais, architect Rigaud and headmaster Belièvre with Oberleutnant Kleine a German act of reprisal such as was seen in Maillé [link] or Oradour sur Glane [link] was avoided.

The Donjon.
The Donjon, Loches. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

In mid-August of 1944 the German army was in retreat. On 15 August the German troops occuping Loches blew up their stocks of ammunition, set fire to their barracks in Place de la Justice and withdrew from the town. Whereupon the next day the maquis group known by the code name of their leader as Lecoz (real name Georges Dubosq), decided to come to town and 'liberate' the population. They arrived firing in the air and were drunk by lunchtime, but they were welcomed as heroes. They executed a police inspector and locked dozens of suspected collaborators in the Donjon (castle keep).

The streets of Loches were packed with celebrating people on 20 August 1944, when shots rang out.
Loches. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The Resistance had been specifically forbidden to operate in towns, for fears of retaliations against the civilian population. Loches was a strategic location for German troops fleeing from the south-west and on 20 August several German units turned up and assaulted the town with heavy artillery.  The maquisards had blocked the roads, but only had light weapons. In the fighting forty people were killed, twenty of whom were maquisards. Twenty civilians were taken hostage by the Germans to halt the fighting. Local historians today consider that Lecoz's actions were foolhardy and Dubosq got his men killed for nothing.

 There are bullet riccochet marks in the gable end of the Logis Royal.
Logis Royal, Loches. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

By 2 September Loches was no longer of any strategic interest to the Germans and the last of them withdrew. The town was liberated for a second time, by a different Resistance group and in a very different mood. Lecoz/Dubosq was later arrested for his actions in Loches and executed.

 The house on the right foreground also has bullet riccochet pock marks.
Loches. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Initially the Lecoz group had pulled off some spectacular successes with their Resistance activities, but at his trial Dubosq was revealed to have been a double agent. Before the War he had been a burglar and possibly a murderer. He spent part of the War passing himself off as a doctor in the hospital at Beaulieu lès Loches. After the Germans withdrew Dubosq used his Resistance group to run a protection racket for a couple of months until his arrest. 


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 August 2021

Field Mouse-ear


Field Mouse-ear (Chickweed) Cerastrium arvense, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Field Mouse-ear (Chickweed) Cerastium arvense (Fr. Cériaste des champs) a very widespread species occuring at all altitudes (well, from under 100 metres to around 2600 metres to my certain knowledge).

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Next Time I Order Gravel...

...I am getting it from these blokes.

With any luck they would be able to deliver it directly to where I want it, thus removing the need for wheel-barrowing.

On previous days in the Pyrenees we had seen the helicopter wizzing around, either carrying bags or trailing its hook. It was pure chance that had us in the car park of a restaurant on the Col De Tourmalet, looking for coffee, when the helicopter arrived to reload. The restaurant wasn't yet open, but the helicopter was almost as good.

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Butterfly on the Scree


Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae on Dwarf Alpine Hawksweed Crepis pygmaea, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly Aglais urticae (Fr. La Petite tortue) on Dwarf Alpine Hawksweed Crepis pygmaea (Fr. Crépis nain), at 2350 metres, Hautes-Pyrénées. The butterfly is widespread and found at all altitudes. The plant is found above 1600 metres in slate or schist scree.

Monday 16 August 2021

Fours Banaux

A couple of weeks ago Susan wrote about bread ovens, and mentioned communal ovens, or Fours Banaux (the singular is Four Banal).

A few weeks before that we were in Écueillé to see the Tour de France pass through, and I took this photo. I can't believe Écueillé was big enough to require two communal bread ovens, so maybe they had one for bread, and one for meat/potato dishes?

Sunday 15 August 2021

Whistling Kite

I was looking through our photos from the last visit we made to Australia, and I came across this pic of a Whistling Kite scavenging fish guts in Broken Bay, just north of Sydney.

Saturday 14 August 2021

Short/City Break Report: Cahors, Lot, Occitanie

Lot River, Cahors, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Cahors sits in a big loop of the Lot River.

We spent two nights in Cahors in late July, on the end of our trip to the Pyrenees. It is a small city with an attractive old central quarter which has been largely restored in recent years (and some older restorations). The City has gone down the route of restoring medieval buildings and thus providing a lot of social housing. The neighbourhood demographic of this section of town is pleasingly mixed.

Pont Valentre, Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Pont Valentré.

We stayed centrally, opposite the train station. There is a good range of restaurants and cuisines within walking distance. Many restaurants have large terraces, and there are lots of take aways. Cahors is the centre of an increasingly well regarded wine region, considered these days by many to be better value than Bordeaux (certainly for 'daily drinkers', although they don't yet compete in terms of the really high end product). Cahors is also in foie gras country, with many producers in the surrounding farms. Foie gras means lots of other duck dishes too, especially smoked fat duck breast (magret de canard fumé), which often features on salads in the city.

Tourist Office, Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The Tourist Office, on the main square, Place Gambetta.


There is a large hospital in the area and clearly a bit of a substance abuse problem which put me on alert when I was alone in the evening. During the day there were plenty of tourists and it was entirely safe.

Medieval building, Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Medieval buildings.


The medieval quarter is full of impressively historic and nicely crumbly brick merchants houses and warehouses. There are many narrow alleys with jettied first floors nearly touching above you as you walk down them. The cathedral has an intact cloister which is a lovely cool and calm visit.


Old doorway, Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Old doorway.

It's not a city I would recommend for first time visitors to France, but if you are here for the third or fourth time I would suggest it as an option, particularly if you use it as a base to explore the Lot Valley and are into hiking and water sports. The river plays an important part in the life and history of the city and the gorge it flows through is quite dramatic, with its towering sandstone cliffs. For those of you who are French speakers, the local accent can be a bit difficult to understand, especially in these masked up days.

An alley in Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Alleys intersecting.

Medieval building, Cahors, Lot, France. Photo Loire Valley Time Travel.
A medieval building.

Creation story wall painting in the Cathedral, Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Creation story wall painting in the Cathedral.

Street in Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A pedestrianised shopping and residential street in the old part of town.

Memorial to Jacques Chapou, Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Jacques Chapou, a hero of the Resistance. A teacher who was fired by the Vichy government, he joined the Resistance, leading and organising many successful operations, which ended when he was wounded in a skirmish, finally shooting himself rather than be captured.

Cathedral cloisters, Cahors, Lot, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The Cathedral cloisters.