A spring tradition

The French tradition of giving Lily-of-the-Valley flowers on May Day was supposedly to have begun on May 1st, 1561, when King Charles IX of France was presented with a bunch of Lily-of-the-Valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. History does not record who it was that presented the King with this perfumed gift, but he took a shine to this idea and began the custom of presenting Lily-of-the-Valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1st. There was also an old European tradition of “Bals de Muguet” or Lily-of-the-Valley dances once a year, this was a rare occasion for young singles to meet without having to get parents’ permission. The girls would dress in white and the boys would wear a sprig of “Muguet” as a buttonhole. From around 1900, it became traditional in France for men to present a bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley flowers to their sweethearts to express their love and affection.

Nowadays, a sprig of “Muguet” is offered to loved ones and friends on the 1st May, and in the week leading up to May Day you can buy bunches of these delicately fragrant spring flowers in florists, supermarkets and street markets, for just a euro or two, either as cut flowers or as plants in pots .

Of course the “Muguet” is closely related to May Day or Féte du Travail (Labour day) and is a public holiday where post offices, banks and most shops are closed.  It is a perfect time of the year for demonstrators to campaign for workers rights – always popular over here! Viva le Republique!  Truthfully though, the day is generally spent  enjoying a day off work, relaxing, perhaps lunching in a restaurant or enjoying a few drinks with friends in a café watching the world go by!

This morning I had a nice suprise when my young neighbour Laurent, knocked on the door.  He stood there beaming with un petit bouquet de muguet. It is such a charming custom and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of Spring!  Happily, the weather is improving again too.  The blue sky has returned, the sun is shining, the weather is warming up and everywhere is looking colourful particularly with the fields of  brilliant yellow oilseed rape adding enjoyment to the countryside.

“Joyeux Fete du Muguet”!




How did you say you cooked it?

In my last blog I was clearly celebrating the arrival of warm weather a little prematurely.  From having aperitifs in the courtyard, we are now having them in front of the fire!  At least it has not been cold enough to kill any of the bedding plants we took the risk of planting.  However, I can still think of plenty of reasons to visit this lovely region of France – well of course I would say that because I live here!  There are things that I miss about living in England and there are aspects of living in France that drive me mad (namely the paperwork and bureaucracy)! But it is a fantastic experience of which I am not sure what I enjoy the best.  Is it the lovely Loire, countryside, culture, quality of life, people, climate (normally)!, food, the extensive wines or is it the gorgeous night time skies scattered with millions of pearly stars?!  It’s hard to choose.

We are often asked why did we sell the farm and move, lock, stock and barrel with our two border collies Sam and Meg back in 2001?  Well it’s a good question to ask but the answer is simply that we decided that it was the time in our life to move on and look for a new experience.  After eleven years we are still here in this beautiful region of the Loire Valley, convinced we made a good choice.  It’s a softer, slower pace of  life and there are no discussions about material things such as expensive cars and gismos, everyone is much more interested in you and about what you are going to have for dinner that day and what wine you are going to have with it but, more importantly, and this is the big thing, HOW are you going to cook it and this always makes me smile!  For example, everyone has an opinion on the presidential campaign, will we be saying ‘adieu’ to Nicolas SARCOZY for President and will the Socialist rival Francoise HOLLANDE have the majority vote?  If Francois HOLLANDE wins he will be the first Socialist President since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.  But this is small conversation, compared to opinions on the subject of cooking, which is much closer to the nation’s heart!   I remember Brian once telling me of a conversation in the bar in the village that lasted well over an hour about how everyone cooked their artichokes and consequently ever since then he has had to adjust to the fact that most guys have expert cooking skills – or at least think they have – I suspect that their wives may well disagree!  Well if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em and so Brian has prepared some mouth-watering dishes since we arrived in France so I am not complaining! Certainly we have found a good way of livening up conversation in a quiet bar – just mention artichokes and voila! Another topical vegetable is Asperge as we have loads in the garden. We roast them, pan fry them, all kinds of things, but I think our favourite is to microwave and scatter them with pan fried bacon (lardons) and parmigiana cheese but needless to say there will be a hundred and one ways………….!!  By the way, we have to mention Pig’s Trotters, another thing all the guys in bars rave about.  I believe are very nice with a green salad and Brian tells me that his grandmother used to cook them and they were very tasty but, given that there is nothing that he won’t eat, that is not a great recommendation!

Last night we had an impromptu aperitif with our neighbours and tasted one of Le Puy Notre Dame’s recent ‘gold medal haul’ wines from the Domaine de l’Arguray at Chavannes. A beautiful Chenin blanc with a cool 14.5% alcohol level and it blew your socks off!  This was a reminder of the talent in the village and high level of quality and excellence.  To continue with this wonderful aperitif we had a 1990 Coteaux de Saumur that our neighbour made before his retirement, in fact it was the last bottle left of that year in his cellar – what an honour to share this together!   It was a rich golden honey colour, lusciously elegant, sweet and on the first sip it was so delicious it sent a shiver down my spine because it was one of those magical moments – it tasted like pure nectar. We all joked about where we were and what we were doing in that year of 1990 and laughed as we reflected on how ‘Young’ we all were then …… ah dipping into the database of memories we were!  So, for Robert he was of course the owner vigneron at Domaine des Guyons with Jeanette. I was working as CEO Personal Assistant for an international company and Brian was … ‘a young wine professional Brian’ then in the UK wine world, working round the clock for his company, and visiting other countries to source new wines.  In fact, we reflected that quite bizarrely, it was indeed the year of 1990 when I had accompanied him on an official invitation by wine producers in France.  It had been an enlightening experience for me to sample new wines and meet vignerons around Quincy and Vouvray, culminating afterwards as guests of Rémy-Pannier cellars now Ackerman-Rémy Pannier, a highly prestigious producer of fine sparkling wines located in Saumur. This experience was without doubt the beginning of our desire to perhaps one day live in this exciting wine appellation with its huge choice of wine styles, pretty vineyards, grand chateaux, picturesque villages and the lovely Loire.  And I guess we never imagined then where we would be now.  We have had high points and low valleys in life but one thing for sure, it has never been dull and probably the bravest decision of all was to up sticks in 2001 and live and survive by establishing another business in another country – it was not easy to be honest, and we wouldn’t recommend to anyone that they follow the same route without deep thought!

When the 1990 bottle was empty and our aperitifs came to an end, it made us think, that even now as life has moved on and we live happily in France, in a once wine-producing home, in one of the picturesque wine producing villages of the Loire  ‘un village de charme’ , we must never stop looking for adventures!  Life goes along so fast, you have to make every second count!

Finally, I would like to share a toast to ‘Le Clos des Guyons’ on our ‘Eighth Anniversary Birthday’ and a special ‘chink’ to all our guests who have kindly encouraged and supported us during these years of business. Amazing and we feel truly honoured.  Cheers to you all and hope you are still enjoying your Loire Valley wines!



30th April 2012