Monday, June 5, 2017

Sunday June 4 - Montreuil-Bellay

We have to be around by about 4 pm today as Tom and Terry arrive, we think around dinner time. So we head off to Montreuil-Bellay today to visit a castle.
Another Foulque Nerra fortification, this castle began as a citadel in the 11th century to protect and control traffic on the Thouet River just below the castle walls. As the Thouet joined the Loire further downstream, this rocky promontory was a strategic military site already when Foulque Nerra's vassal, Gerard II Beray (later misspelled as Bellay) held out 3 years before capitulating to Geoffrey Plantagenet in the 12th century. Old walls know the secrets of those years.

In the 17th Century, Henry II's wife, Geneviève de Condé was exiled here for her part in the Fronde. (Briefly, a period of French civil war that ended feudalism and created an absolutist monarchy in which no one could question the king's authority.) The château was used as a prison for women in the French Revolution and as a hospital for wounded soldiers in the first world war. Today it is still lived in by the Grandmaison family who have owned the property since the end of the French Revolution.

650 meters of fortified walls with 13 turrets and a barbicon entry remind of the Foulque Nerra fortress.

The 15th century château neuf (new chateau) is visited starting with the wine cellars where grapes were dropped down through a hole above and stomped by feet into the juice that would later become wine.

grape stomping  area
A "modern" wine press eliminated the need for foot-stomping.
A 3-litre wine jug called a sac à vin (wine sack) is the precursor to our modern box wine. It was part of the ceremonies of the Confrerie du Sac à Vin (Brotherhood of the Wine Sack) which apparently still exists, but likely uses the more modern French BIB (Bag in Box).

We're not allowed to take photos in the remaining rooms of the château, but as you can expect by now, they are decorated lavishly with beautiful furnishings, painted ceilings, paintings, tapestries, and historically important chests.

The kitchen was once attached to the Château Neuf by a covered passageway that allowed bringing food from the kitchen directly to the family quarters.
The kitchen is at the left, the canon's apartments are the round turrets, and the stairway of Honnor in the Château Neur is at the right. The lower courtyard is behind the well in the center. The Court of Honor is in front of the well.

A very modern stove with copper pans

The center chimney lets smoke escape from the kitchen. Like at Fontevraud.

One of the two major fireplaces for cooking
This passageway separated the lower courtyard from the court of honnor, the main entrance to the château. The lower courtyard was where servants managed the life of the castle and was not used by the family.

The family chapel was large and was set up as a collegiale - a church in which a group of canons performed the daily divine rites and other spiritual responsibilities.
Collegiale church

Thus, besides the church, the castle provided 4 individual apartments for the 4 canons who lived on site. These apartments each had their own spiral staircase entry which opened onto the lower courtyard.

And then there's the view from the ramparts of the castle overlooking the Thouet River. Most delightful.
view toward Thouet River (beyond trees)

The old part of town opens past the castle. Today there's a brocante (flea market) along the main street and while the town isn't packed, there are plenty of people sitting in cafés or perusing the wares of the vendors.

flea market near the castle

Home again by 4 pm, in time to make a ratatouille for dinner. Tom and Terry arrived about an hour later than we thought, but we were still able to enjoy a lovely dinner outside into the late evening.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

June 4 - Time flies and the landscape changes

It's hard to believe, but a week from today we'll be home. God-willing and the creek don't rise, as they say. Chris and Ron left yesterday for their week in Brittany and our last guests, Tom and Terry arrive tonight.

Yesterday was a flurry of activity at home. Chris and Ron bought some groceries to tide them over in Brittany this weekend and Chris made sure the bedroom and bathroom sparkled for Tom and Terry's arrival. The day was grey and misty, so drying the sheets indoors took some time, but by late afternoon all was ready, even a bread pudding made to use up the old, dry left over bread from the past week.

On Friday evening we came home from La Rochelle to a re-vitalized garden with new plantings. Beautiful geraniums had been planted around all the doors.

And over the past week the low bush roses by our table have popped into a profusion of blooms.
The hedge that threatens to overgrow the table is now in its second flowering of wisteria and the bees are loving the beautiful bush next to it that is covered in clumps of small white flowers.

There have been several hikes the past week and we can report that the colza has set beans
Colza plant (brought home from the field)

Colza beanpods
and the grains are turning golden already.
Farmers have had their second cutting of hay. And of course the vines are doing well. François Plumejeau from the Gonordorie winery tells us they have been especially busy. Typically, they take a week to cut off extraneous leaves and branches that haven't set grapes in order to have the plant's efforts go into producing the grapes. Then they come through the vineyards a second time to be sure the vine tendrils are growing along the wires set in place. However, this year, because we had a week of cold weather 2 weeks ago, there was no new growth on the vines, so now they are having to do both tasks at the same time this week now that the weather has turned hot and sunny.

There have been several visits to Brissac château in the past couple of weeks.
Brissac Château
I haven't yet taken the tour, which includes wine-tasting at the end - what am I thinking?
wine tasting in the cellars

oh, what a beautiful arrangement of wine bottles
But I can share photos taken by Dave who has both toured the château and walked the château grounds.

Grounds of Brissac Château

What I can tell you, is that the château is the tallest in France with seven floors, still privately owned, and the tours are only in French.

7 stories tall - yikes

Sunset is getting later and later - it's now light until well past 10. Evening after-dinner walks have become usual for Dave and guests.
I've been wanting a sunset photo with these "puffy" trees since the first day we arrived and Dave took some great sunset photos of them for me yesterday.

It's going to be sad to say good-bye to this wonderful place where we have had such a relaxing spring (if you don't count Dave's propensity to want to see "just one thing more" every day. He's willing to have aperos at 8 and dinner at 10, à la français, but I'm ready to crawl in bed by 10 pm even if it is still light out. Thank goodness we have so many friends and family visiting so I can bow out of some of his over-filled touring days.).

And, it never fails, we're saying we'll never find a place as great as this one and maybe we'll have to just come back here next time. We're surprised how comfortable we were living in the country where even getting bread in the morning involved driving. (You could walk, 20 minutes each way, but that's something only Judy and Janis tried.)

Time will tell.
hard to beat having coffee in this garden

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Tuesday May 30 - Villandry Encore and a new game

Our neighbor and egg lady got all excited when we told her we had learned about a game called boule de fort, a bocci or pétanque game unique to this region. It seems she plays on Tuesday mornings from 9-noon in Vauchrétien (town 5 miles away that we visited the first day here). We were invited to stop in to see the game in action this morning. I promised we'd try to make it.

Our goal for the day, Judy's last day, is to re-visit Villandry, famed for its gardens.
It's on Chris' must-do list as well and I wanted to see it again, knowing how much it would have changed since our early spring visit. So off we go via Vauchrétien.

Most towns have a recreation center for people of all ages. They vary in size and function, but generally they are where the local activities are held. A large multi-function room provides space for meetings, dinners and other social activities. Often there are other rooms devoted to some particular purpose such as computers with Internet access. This community center houses a court for playing La Boule de Fort just behind a room with a bar and tables.

A Boule de Fort court needs its own space much as a bowling alley does. The court is curved, a bit like the hull of a flat-bottomed boat used on the Loire. Some claim that 19th century Loire sailors invented this game, but there is no real evidence of this. This sign greets you on entry:
We ask spectators not to discuss the way players play although they should feel free to applaud well-played points by the teams.

After greeting us at the door and making somewhat vague introductions, we enter the court to watch the game in progress. Two teams of three each are playing a game to 10 points where the boule (ball) closest to the small white ball (maître) wins the point.
Each person has 2 boules - wooden balls with a steel band around the center each weighing between 1.1 to 1.5 kilos (2-3 pounds) whose center of gravity is weighted to one side or another.

The skill of those throwing the boules is quite amazing as both the ball and the court affect the trajectory in ways mysterious to us.

Some throw slowly, others fast with a loud crash of balls flying at the other end. Those playing are very gracious in explaining the game and answering all our questions. But we must be on our way, Villandry is calling.

Driving two cars because of our number, the six of us arrive at Villandry just in time for lunch which we eat at our "usual" picnic table next to the grassy parking lot.
This school group was arriving at the picnic spot just as we were leaving.

The four who have never been are sent off to tour the château interior
 while Dave wanders the grounds

and I find one of the lovely shaded arbors to watch the garden and passers-by while knitting.
the arbor covered in roses. Me with my back brace and cane. sigh. getting old is hard work

what a lovely place to knit
The arbors are now covered in roses of many shades and with the soft splashing sounds of the small fountain, it's a place so soothing, I almost fall asleep.
the gentle fountain in front of my arbor

Among the visiters are school groups. This group had booklets made and were writing and drawing in them as the teacher pointed out architectural details.

Once we join up again, I see how much the kitchen gardens have filled in.

Careful plantings of lettuces, cabbages, and other vegetables within the geometric hedges provide a chessboard of colors in the vegetable patches. Rose trees are in full bloom at intersections within each patch.
The outer "hedge" of each patch can now be seen to be apple trees trained horizontally on low iron supports. I would never have guessed that.

the tree trunks at the end with the metal bars they are tied to
But the apples are proof.
a single branch is trained horizontally along iron supports

The gardeners were ever present - this time replanting the the flower gardens.
New plantings are laid out

Gardeners at lunch in the barn area. Do you suppose they are cooling their feet in the fountain?

And the pear trees in the corners of the gardens have set pears now. 

A few more pretty flower pictures from Villandry and then home. 

intrepid flower seekers, Nancy, Chris, Ron and Judy

An after-dinner walk in the neighborhood vineyards for the 9:45 sunset.