Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sunday April 23 - Changing Pace - Two "Portes Ouvertes" and a Driving Tour

Trees are blooming in the Loire Valley

We are empty-nesters for the first time since arriving. Ben and Emily and Christie and Alex are all safely home. It’s just us old retirees left to wander about the country-side. A bit of research is needed as we have a long list of possibilities. We have discovered two more “porte-ouvertes” in the neighborhood. They are offering snacks of “fouée” a local bread specialty which we’ve never tasted.

We also are in process of washing sheets. And it IS a process. We have a washer/dryer – that is, the same machine both washes and dries.

It seems to dry only by heating the drum, not by passing hot air through the chamber. Our beds use large flat sheets for both top and bottom. So we wash one sheet at a time and spread it out on our drying rack outside where it dries beautifully in the warm sun and breeze.
sheet drying - a bit of Gerry-rigging needed, but it works in absence of a clothesline 

I think it is unusual for visitors to this “gîte rural”(holiday rental in the country) to be doing their own sheets and towels, or for that matter staying for 2 months. Most who rent will be here for a one week vacation. The washer is a convenience for families who may need to wash some clothes during their stay. But we have requested to wash our own sheets and towels because there is an 8 Euro rental fee per person for each week for fresh linens. That would add significantly to our cost and we are certainly able to wash these ourselves. The rental linens of course would be beautifully pressed and our self-washed linens won’t be. But we can sleep on slightly wrinkled linen sheets. The money saved each week easily pays for one castle admission per person that week. A good trade we think.

So the plan developed at breakfast is: Visit the “porte-ouverte” at Domaine d’Asseray in Vauchrétien
in late morning to taste their wines and “lunch” on some “fouée”. Then use the Michelin Green Guide to do part of a driving tour for this area. We will head toward Gennes to look for churches, menhirs and dolmens. Finally, heading back home, we will stop at apero time at the Clos de Mailles to taste their wines and snack on their offerings. It’s a brilliant plan, we think.

At the Domaine d’Asseray, we were welcomed to a tasting station where a delightful young lady, the girlfriend of the owner’s son, guided our tasting.

Our hostess at Domaine d'Asseray in Vauchrétien
She understands English but speaks in French. At first, we had the tasting station all to ourselves and both the owner and his wife greeted us and answered questions about their wines.
The owner on left helping a customer
But suddenly, the number of people in this warehouse setting increased dramatically and the staff was hustling to accommodate them all. Two garrulous French men from about 50 miles south of here joined us and my innocent question about their “vrac” containers (plastic jugs for getting wine straight from the barrel) was answered with a very long lesson in drinking and storing wines – all in French. And then he told us about a 3-star attraction near them called Puy de Feu, an historical amusement park that even the Michelin Guide says is a “must-see” attraction.
wines produced by this producer
The wines here are good and we purchase a few after which we are invited to snack on some “fouée”. Fouée is a local specialty – basically a pita made from flour, salt, and yeast.
Fouée looks like little pitas
It is cooked on a grill, traditionally wood-burning.
Cooking the fouée - notice that the grill is portable - it can be towed behind a car. 

Six fouée lined up on the grill outside.

Mine is filled with rillettes of pork - a cold, shredded pork. Delicious.
It is rolled out into small balls then cooked very quickly on a hot grill (or wood fire) where within one minute it puffs up and is served hot with various fillings. We saw paté, rillettes, cheeses like brie (Dave and Janis pronounce this one delicious.), or jam, honey or Nutella. It’s really good, peasant food that it is. Like all breads here, best eaten fresh and warm.
Now we’re ready to start our outing du jour – chasing part of the Green Guide tour. We’re not going far – 55 km (35 miles) round trip, but we’re traveling little country roads in search of – well, cool things.
Our route for the day - 26 km (about 18 miles) one way

We only get a few kilometres down the road when we come to Coutures which has a small church right where the road curves to the left. We stop and have a look. (This isn’t even mentioned in the Green Guide, but we think it’s cool.) The church is locked but worth a look around anyway. 
Church at Coutures

Small café along the street in Coutures. Not much room for sitting out, but feeling warm and sunny none the less.

We also watch people going to the Mairie (town hall) to vote. Today is the national primary election. We know now that Marie Le Pen and Emmanual Macron will face each other in the national election on May 8. About 80% of the French voted in the primary. They seem to take their democratic responsibilities much more seriously than we Americans do.
Our first Green Guide goal is to find a menhir that is supposed to be near the road just before Gennes (pronounced zhen). We’re watching for signs, but it turns out, the location is no mystery – it’s right on the roadside. [Apologies for the black dot on some of the photos. My camera has developed a spec of dust on the inside lens mirror and the only solution is to buy a new camera. Dave says he can photoshop these once we get home.]

Next we’re looking for a ruined Roman Amphitheatre in Gennes There are signs posted in the town and we are able to find it easily. Only, it’s not open until June and there’s a fence so we can’t see anything. Oh well, on to the next thing – the Madeleine Dolmen, still in Gennes. 
This turns out to be well-sign-posted and visible from the road in a farmer’s field.
In fact, this dolmen had been used to store farm equipment and as a bake oven, so it’s a bit damaged, but still impressive.
(You’ll remember that dolmens were burial sites for Neolithic peoples. They were built by dragging huge stones and setting them vertically then dragging other huge stones over the tops of these standing stones. Quite a feat of engineering.)
There must have been lots of Neolithic people around because we’re seeing quite a few locations for dolmens (and menhirs) in the area.
Could this be a neolithic person?
Next, into the town itself to find the ruins of St Eusèbe. (pronounced ewseb)

This church dominates the hill in town and overlooks the Loire River. Built in the 11th century on the remains of gallo-roman foundations, the church bell tower was bombed in 1940 and 1944.
It is now a memorial to the Cadets of Gennes 60 of whom were charged with keeping the Germans from crossing the Loire, which delay was important in the second world war. 15 of them died and most are buried at this site. It’s a lovely quiet place to sit and appreciate life.
Loire River seen from St. Eusèbe

11th century walls used to enclose the nave of the church

We search out one more dolmen in the countryside around Gennes and almost miss it in the undergrowth that has grown up around it. Oh, and it's not sign-posted. 
We next cross the river to Les Rosiers-sur-Loire to look at another church. 

This church built and renovated between the 13th and 16th centuries boasts an unusual tower. 

The tower is pierced with renaissance style windows on the right.

Onward to the Eglise Notre-Dame de Cunault.
Cunault is a small town that hugs the Loire River’s south bank. This church was once a wealthy Benedictine priory and is quite a surprising size to be found in such a small town.
The front of this church is very plain

Nave of Notre-Dame de Cunault

Main entrance to the church - not handicap accessible, I daresay

The capitals (tops) of pillars were carved and painted

At one time the entire church was painted and remains of these painted walls can still be seen. It must have been quite a treat to the eyes to see all the Biblical stories painted on the walls.
Notre-Dame de Cunault
Painted pillar

Once back at the car, we grab a little picnic snack and watch some locals playing “boules” in the parking lot which is covered in small stones. 

Our last tour stop of the day (wait, how many is this?) is a ruined castle and a church in Trèves.
All that remains of the castle is the crenelated keep. The church was once the castle chapel, but is now the town church.
Nave of the church at Trèves
Outside the church is a cemetery. In France, you rent a cemetery space for some number of years (maybe 20, maybe 50, depends on the church) and at the end of that time, if you don’t renew your lease, the grave is removed – stones and bones both – and the grave is sold to another family. You can see that the stones in this cemetery are quite new.
You can also see the French custom of placing a plaque in honor of the deceased from a loved one. So, small plaques will often say “in memory of”our aunt, uncle, mother, brother, god mother, etc.

Sightseeing done, we head back to Brissac for one more wine open house – this time at the Domaine de Mailles.
We again taste 8 or 9 wines and eat some fouée while chatting with our hostess who is a friend of the vintner.
The vintner (in blue striped shirt) is quite young here. 
Janis, Lynn and Dave tasting Domaine de Mailles wine with our hostess in the back.
The happy campers:
Janis, Clark, Lynn and Dave at Domaine de Mailles

The wines here are probably the best we have tasted so far and we end up buying more wine to bring back to our wine “cellar” – ok, our wine counter in the dining room.

Whew. No wonder I’m tired.

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