A Morning Stroll Around Le Puy Notre Dame

Gites in Loire Valley

Part of the old village walls of Le Puy Notre Dame

 Le Puy Notre Dame 2Le Puy Notre Dame 2 Le Puy Notre Dame 2It was the beginning of July and the day had started dry and hot.  I felt it was time to take my morning stroll around our village of Le Puy Notre Dame, in the heart of the Loire Valley, a beautiful part of the world we have been lucky enough to call home for the last seven years or so. I imagine all French villages have a character unique to them, but Le Puy too has a certain quirkiness which I find delightful for many reasons (not just because of its reputation for making fantastic wines)! As I start off, I hear a cockerel’s serenade accompanied by hens clucking contentedly from a nearby shed, obviously enjoying telling the world what clever creatures they are in laying their eggs, as hens do! I walk along the narrow Rue St Jacques, just a one minute’s walk from Le Clos des Guyons, it’s such a tiny rue with no real significance, except, that is, until you start to reach the top and then you get it … the lovely smells drifting from the boulangerie.  Smells that get your taste-buds into overdrive, you know the kind I mean, of delicious croissants, pain au chocolat, brioches and warm dough, all en-route to the shop counters from the kitchens where Franck, the village boulanger, is beavering away by the hot ovens ‘tres content’ and proud that the villagers are happily buying his bread.  People are to-ing and fro-ing armed with little paper bags, ornate cake boxes and loaded with armfuls of baguettes, probably not all for themselves, orders are for neighbours, sons, daughters and husbands who will be arriving home for lunch very soon. I call in, take my place in the queue and finally reach the counter to greet Sylvie, the wife of Franck the boulanger, to order my own baguette and then placing it under my arm I bid the customary ‘Aurevoir Monsieurs/Dammes’ and everyone reciprocates.  Now, with hot bread under my arm, I begin to feel the day has begun. As I walk on further, I begin to experience the rhythm of this relaxed village. There are ladies still in dressing gowns opening their wooden window shutters. I see the postman, unlocking the post boxes to distribute the mail, (no-one here has an individual post box – we all simply walk to the cluster of boxes at the end of our rue, where our names are printed on them). Such a good idea because we all know his arrival time and then we head off to collect our letters knowing it is time to converse with neighbours, to talk about the weather perhaps or state of health, especially in my case over the last year when I have made many friends enquiring as to my progress, or Brian’s during last year, when he dislocated his shoulder.  Today the conversation will be about the iniquities of the French Tax system because it is those that Monsieur Le Facteur is placing in each post box. I pass by opened windows and hear conversations of family and friends, the clattering of  pots and pans and drifting smells from kitchens as they are preparing dejeuner – of course the most important part of their day!  They see me and shout ‘Bonjour Madame’ as if I was a long lost friend.  Of course, I respond accordingly, smiling and think how friendly everyone here is and how happy I am to be so well accepted.The pleasantries in France are a delight which I always enjoy.  I am prepared for the normal ‘Bonjour Madame’ or, wickedly, and said with a cheeky grin, ‘Bonjour Mademoiselle’, as the French love to joke, but then I wait to see what else they will think of next.  There is ‘Bon Appétit’, of course, but it will then depend on the time.  Almost every greeting from about 11.30am. is ‘Bon Appétit’, a simple assumption that from midday onwards everyone will be eating.  In my case it can sometimes be ‘Bon Sante’, or on  passing a friend who is working it will be ‘Bon Courage’, then after lunch it will be ‘Bon Apris Midi’, or even ‘Bon Peinture’ if you are working with paint, ‘Bon Jardinage’ if you are working in your garden or ‘Bon Arrosage’ if you are watering plants, it goes on, always finding something to wish you!  Sometimes it is just ‘Bon Ap’, which kills two birds with two stones covering ‘Bon Appétit’ and ‘Bon Apris Midi’ at the same time! And everywhere a pause for a handshake or, from people you know well, four kisses, two on each cheek and then a little chattering to follow! As I approach the top of Rue Notre Dame I reach the Eglise, our lovely church in Le Puy Notre Dame, an incarnation of angevine gothic architecture with its tall triple steeples, seen from far afield because it is of great size and importance, being on the route of St Jacques de Compostelle.  I hear music and a choir singing, pushing the never-locked door open I stand on the top step and for a few moments watch the people inside practicing for a concert at the weekend, it brings alive this old building, and makes me wonder what was it like when the pilgrims flocked to it on this very road, many centuries ago, to see the sacred treasure brought back by the Crusaders from Jerusalem in the XIIth century. The treasure is the Holy Virgin’s Waistband  made of linen and silk.  The story is that Anne of Brittany, and Anne of Austria, who later bore Louis XIV the future King of France, borrowed the relic which they believed encouraged fertility.  Even now, young mothers can be seen in their praying for a safe childbirth and each year there is a pilgrimage to Saint Ceinture with an evening of prayers and singing.  It is important for this village not to forget its treasure and the many centuries of history.  It is also typical of this most complicated of people, how they seem effortlessly to combine the aggressive secularity of their state with a deep if undemonstrative reverence for the Catholic Church.

Le Puy Notre Dame

Resident of Le Puy Notre Dame

As I enter La Poste to take my letters and cards for posting, I find lots of people patiently waiting their turn and, in the meantime, wishing ‘Bonjour’ on entry and ‘Aurevoir’ on departure.  And, because time is now ticking on, the odd ‘Bon Appétit. The time has come now to start thinking of returning home for dejeuner, in fact, I decide to return by a different route and head down a small, narrow road called Rue Sainte. On walking down this steep old road, with its marvellous vista of fields and vineyards, framed by a tall turret at the side of a small Chateau, I pass little houses and some residents here have their duvets and blankets dangling casually from the bedroom windows (a custom you see so often over here in villages – giving the bedding a blow of fresh air) and there are many opened windows, again with fine cooking smells pervading. As I get towards the bottom of the hill I quite unexpectedly start to hear someone chiselling, probably at the old tuffeau stone, and then I hear a man singing an old French song in time with his banging.  His deep voice is just a delight to hear, so tuneful, and I have to slow my pace so I can enjoy his repertoire; little does he know he has an admirer! The flowers either side of the old tuffeau walls are hollyhocks buried deep into the ground and are waving high above my head.  Blue, pink, maroon, white, yellow, then there are the little orange poppies and blue cornflowers attracting colourful butterflies interspersed with bees skilfully and single-mindedly collecting their pollen. The sun is now shining strongly as we approach midday and I see a tiny brown and white dog with remarkably pointed ears tranquilised in the sunshine, sitting on the ledge of an upstairs window, watching me curiously as I stroll by. There are other dogs too, either sleeping contentedly in the heat or barking in their courtyards and gardens, letting you know they are bored and waiting for the owners to arrive home for lunch – after all it has  been a long morning for them too since they were given their petit dejeuner! Finally, I have reached my home in Rue du Moulin, the last house in the village that rests at the side of a walnut grove and a sea of vines. All is peaceful here and our neighbours Robert and Jeanette, with their little grandson, Joshua, are wishing ‘Bon Appétit’ as I pass their door, Joshua makes the sound of an angry lion and threatens to eat me, a repertoire taught to him by Brian when they both got bored over a particularly long meal the other week.  With my baguette still under my arm, I am finally greeted by Meg, our border collie dog, jumping for joy that I have returned. Brian too is eagerly awaiting my return, after all it is noon and our turn to eat! As I make our lunch, I think how strange it is that chores like buying the baguettes and posting letters can become such a pleasure and delight. Soon our lunchtime hunger will be sated and, in a spirit of solidarity with the rest of the village, there will be time for a short siesta.  That’s the way daily life evolves here – and we’re not complaining!Le Puy Notre Dame 2

Bon Appétit Toute le Monde!

Sheila Warren-Barcroft (alias Madame Brian souvent) !

 

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Restaurant Review, Le Baccarat – Doué la Fontaine

Le BaccaratThe Chinese are opening one mammoth, coal-fired power station every month.  Apparently each one of these emits more carbon than the rest of the known universe. And then some. 

Which is why I decided to replace my ancient electric razor with a traditional wet one, thus doing my bit to combat the peril from the east.  All we need to do now is to stop cows farting and we are on a roll. 

So on, one of my rare sorties through SuperU Hypermarket in nearbye Doué la Fontaine, I purchased something called a Gillette Mach or Macho Razor or some suitably masculine sounding thing.  Surprisingly; it appeared to be the only item in the Men’s Hygiene Department which had no picture of David Beckham or Zinidan Zidaine stuck on it, (thankfully), but it did have a futuristic ultimate war machine on the front, or perhaps it was just a razor painted like a futuristic, ultimate war machine.  Anyway, the razor did the job excellently although, the first time, it left my face looking like the back of a self-flagellating Opus Dei monk.

(Incidentally, whilst typing this I missed the k out of Beckham and Microsoft Word told me I had spelt it wrongly. After inserting the “k” it gave me the all clear.  How did it know this?  Is David Beckham now so famous that even a computer software programme knows of his celebrity?  There must be people called Becham, without the “k”. So how did Word know I wasn’t talking about Mr. Becham and was talking about St. David of the Goldenballs himself)?!!!!  Bloody weird if you ask me.

Eventually, of course, one has to buy new blades for a razor but it is at this point that one realises that although SuperU sells the razor, by some sort of convoluted logic, they do not actually sell the replacement blades to go with it. Don’t ask me why.  It is beyond all human reason.  I havn’t bothered to ask in case the answer causes me to lose the will to live.

Now Sheila, on one of her Voyages of Discovery, or ‘shopping trips’, as they are also known, actually found out that the replacement blades were sold in Intermarché, the other large supermarket in Doué la Fontaine.  They do not, of course, seem to sell the razor!! 

But the problem is that I rarely enter through the portals of Intermarché as I find the interior dismal, their foodstuffs lacking in range, not offering the variety of goods that the discerning buyer may expect in the early years of the 21st Century and the staff/customer ratio seems to be totally out of balance…..Oh, and it hasn’t got a bar either.

I could ask Sheila to buy me a packet but she would forget and bring me a banana.

So I have therefore been reduced to buying packets of disposable razors from our local shop in Le Puy Notre Dame.  These razors are perfectly functional when it comes to shaving the hairs on the front of my face but, surprisingly, are about as much use as a chocolate teapot when it comes to tackling  the softer hairs under my chin.  Thus, over a period of a few weeks, I acquired a noticeable layer of thick felt under the jaw, which serves no noticable purpose whatsoever, except for hiding the odd malignant mosquito, and also looks decidedly odd. 

So, finally, it  became necessary to either call a carpet layer or to go to the Intermarché to buy replacement blades for my Macho Turbo Thingy.

Well, on arriving on the car park you could have knocked me down with a pain au chocolat.  Not only had the whole store been renovated but someone has bunged a brand new bar/restaurant on the front of it.

I am sure it wasn’t there when I passed it last week.

Now, at this point, may I thank all of you who actually thought this posting was about a restaurant  for staying with me!  We have now arrived at the establishment itself.  Le Baccarat

Le BaccaratLe Baccart gites in loire valleyIt is called the ‘Le Baccarat’ and is cleverly situated so that you do not actually feel that you are in the supermarket itself.  It is brand, spanking new and has a sun terrace in front, together with tables and sunshades.  Service is pleasant and attentive and the quality/food ratio is superb.

We chose the €11,00 four-course Menu, (€16,00 over the weekend).  This consisted of a self-service salad/entrée bar followed by a “plat principal”, followed by cheese and dessert.  The entrée included things like crevettes, spiced sausages, prawns, boudin noir, fresh salads, dressings, etc., etc. The main courses had about six choices including fish dishes, beef goulash, roast beef and braised ham.  I had the ‘Beef Goulash’ which was subtly spiced and very tender.  Sheila had the ‘Roast Beef’ which was done to perfection; rosy/red in the centre and, again very tender. The round dessert table was groaning, under a very large selection, sitting on a bed of ice.  Sheila chose a huge slice of Lemon Meringue which, Harry Potter like, she magically made invisible, (only House-Elves can do this without a wand)!  I, being of much sterner stuff, chose to have neither cheese nor dessert – Well, it gives you a certain feeling of moral superiority.

With a perfectly acceptable half pitcher of Anjou Rouge and Coffee, the total bill was €25,00. I didn’t even bother to negotiate a lower price to acknowledge the fact that I had not had the last two courses from the fixed menu.  I thought it was pretty good value as it was.  

They also do an à la carte which includes grills, (steaks etc.), enormous salads and there is a choice of ten different pizzas.

So, in short, excellent food, incredible prices, pretty good choice and clean, pleasant surroundings. Ideal for a family lunch, without breaking the bank.

You can also do your shopping there.  That is, of course, unless you want to buy a Gillette Mach II Turbo Razor Thingy with the Ultimate War Machine on the front.  You can get the replacement blades though!

Bon courage et à plus,

Brian

Loire Valley Gites  Read all our restaurant reviews

Do I Cause an Allergic Reaction?

I’ve always thought that we have fitted in quite well around here but now I think people are developing an allergy to me.

J’explique.

Normally on Bastille Day we toddle off to Saumur where we eat a gargantuan meal in one of our favourite restaurants and then afterwards watch the firework display over the Loire. We then retire to the square in front of the theatre where we dance a bit or, at least, Sheila dances a bit, whilst I twitch and jerk for a while, waiting for someone to come along and ask Sheila to dance. This always happens and I then promptly retire to a nearby bar when I normally fall into some esoteric conversation with someone whilst keeping an eye on Sheila in case she is dancing with a holidaying Belgian mass murderer, (even psychopathic killers need a holiday).  Incidentally, last year, I passed a pleasant hour or so trying to convince a local gendarme who had once holidayed in Cardiff, that it was situated in Wales and not near Edinburgh as he was insisting.  I think I agreed with him in the end, he had a revolver!   

Anyway, this year, Bastille Day fell on a Saturday.  This is always difficult for us as we have to prepare our gîtes for new guests arriving and welcome them with aperitifs, thus we are never quite sure when we can get away.  Not that we normally do want to get away you understand, we quite like our guests.

By coincidence we had, in the village, for the first time in twenty years, a Bastille Day Fête, held alongside the Church.  It was quite late when we got there, together with Gemma and Nick, our two guests from Manchester.  Whilst they were sitting down at one of the trestle tables enjoying a very talented live band, I was standing by the bar talking to one of my acquaintances in the village.  I first became aware that there was a slight problem when he was telling me about the difficulties his parents were having in the nearby village of Chavannes because a neighbour had moved in with seven dogs. Or, as he continually put it, his seven parents had a problem with dogs that had two neighbours.  He then promptly fell over and collapsed at my feet.  I helped him to his feet, told him the bar was closed and gently pushed him in the general direction of his house.  He staggered off through the crowd, receiving helpful support and slight corrections to his course, rather like a billiard ball bouncing off the cushions, until he finally disappeared down a side street.  Ah well, I thought, C’est la vie, after all he had been drinking for about ten hours,…. On reflection,  in his particular case, make that about ten years!

A minute later I was joined by someone else and, as I leant forward to emphasise a point; he simply fell over backwards, as if I had displaced a mass of air which had rushed up against his body and propelled him backwards.  I helped him to his feet, gently pushed him in the direction of home etc. etc.  I was getting quite good at this by now.

I then started to get a bit worried, was it me?  I even sniffed under my armpits, they were reasonably OK, in fact a rather fetching odour of Brut I thought (Special offer from SuperU, 20% Extra, just on that one variety, it was obviously one that they were not particularly proud of and were trying to sell off).  But, being that all deodorants smell the same to me, I was quite happy to take them up on their largesse. Now, if they did one, like, for example, essence of ‘Cabernet Franc with a hint of oak’ perhaps…….  

I had a bit of a wander round and passed a few words with various friends and neighbours. I was pleased to note that no-one keeled over again at the sight of me and eventually finished back at the bar.  There were three young lads there who I vaguely knew through my perambulations through Doué la Fontaine. We shook hands, and the lad in the middle immediately started to wobble, spilling Calvados everywhere and, in what was an obviously well rehearsed move, was grabbed by the other two before he hit the ground.  He we go again, I thought.

They half carried their friend out of the square to the car park and returned in a few minutes.

“Is he OK?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’ll be alright, it happens all the time”

“Two glasses of wine and that’s it’, said his friend.

“Will he be OK in the car?”  I asked.

“Oh, we haven’t put him in the car, it’s new, we’ve left him alongside it.”

“We put him in a big dustbin the other week”, added the other, matter of factly.

“A dustbin”!! I said incredulously. Sounding disconcertedly like Lady Bracknell saying, ” A Handbag”!!!

I was really starting to enjoy this conversation.

“Yeah, and then we lost him”.

“In the dustbin?!

“No, not in the dustbin, he just wasn’t there when we went back for him”.

“He was alright though; he was back home before we were”,

“How did he do that?”  I managed to splutter,  in between gusts of uncontrolled laughter.

“They emptied the bins and one of the bin men knew him and gave him a lift home”.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask whether being found in a bin was a regular occurrence.

Given that by now I had laughed so much that I was in danger of collapse myself I shook hands, wished them good evening and started to head back to Sheila.  Suddenly, a thought struck me. I returned to the bar.

“If he collapses after two glasses of wine, why was he drinking Calvados”?

“Well, it happens whatever he drinks; wine, beer or spirits. So he says he may as well drink the good, strong stuff and enjoy it”.

And we all sagely nodded our heads in agreement at the incontrovertible logic of this statement.

à plus

Brian

Loire Valley Gites