Happy Xmas

Happy Christmas from Lapland – Actually the Leclerc supermarket in Saumur!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS from Le Clos des Guyons in Le Puy Notre Dame!

Here is a toast to the end of a great year with all our guests, friends and family. We think of you at Christmas time with memories of friendship and happy times together!

Of course we are dashing around as usual with the preparations for the festivities and welcoming our new guest arrivals!  Brian is a big help doing the shopping for me as I keep finding that we are missing things for the gîtes and kitchen, etc., problem is he can’t seem to go just for the shopping as each time it necessitates a quick visit to a bar in order to refresh his ebbing stamina!! C’est la vie!!  He holds the world record for going up the road to buy a baguette.  The longest record that is –  just under 4 hours and the boulangerie is only about 1 minute away.

What always reminds us that yet another year has passed is the nativity scenes and the magic in the air which is only found at Christmas. It is in this lively Christmas atmosphere in which, whist walking in the streets of Saumur  and our local villages, that you will find the nativity represented in the various churches and squares.

Each French region has its own tradition, but where the differences are most evident are at the table. where the variety of recipes, from the starter to the dessert,underline the different tastes of the residents of different areas. Christmas is the moment when these culinary differences become more evident when, depending on whether you are sitting at a table in Saumur or in the Cote D’Azur or Corsica, it is very easy to see difference.  And, after eating so much, you have to sip a small glass of whatever local ‘Eau de Vie’ is “de rigueur”.

Christmas markets in France are legendary. Whether these take place in daytime or at night, they are magical and a wonderful experience. Our nearby towns of Doué la Fontaine, Montreuil Bellay and Saumur set up fabulous Christmas markets.  In the rose growing town of Doué la Fontaine it’s’ in the “Roman” arena, in Montreuil Bellay it’s around the Chateau and in Saumur it’s spread all over this historic river-side town. The biggest one, outside of Angers, is in Saumur when its main square becomes a village of decorated wooden chalets, selling all manner of arts and crafts, sweets and Christmas gourmet nibbles. You can do your Christmas gift shopping, buy spiced biscuits and warm your spirits with a glass of mulled wine. The atmosphere has to be experienced to be believed, it is Christmas personified.

The week before Christmas when I should have been concentrating on all things Christmas,, I chose to spend some leisure time having a pleaseant afternoon chatting to a nice group of ladies in Le Puy Notre Dame at a Christmas Fete!  It was a perfect antedote to all the rushing around I was doing and so, together with a  good friend and neighbour, we visited Le Fete Le Club de Peinture sur Porcelaine  in the Salle Saint Louis where there were tables of carefully placed hand painted porcelain items for sale.  I was surprised as  I had no idea there was such talent in the village!  These ladies are totally devoted to producing wonderful designs and, as a native of the Potteries in Staffordshire where family and friends worked for the great names like Wedgwood, Aynsley China, Royal Albert and Royal Doulton, I am always extremely passionate about the delicate hand painted designs. One of my favourite pieces of china is Old Country Roses by Royal Albert of which I have a collection. I took a few photographs of the exhibition and spent a very pleasant afternoon making some new friends. Needless to say we couldn’t resist buying something before we left either!

Although I had many interesting conversations about pottery, for the life of me I could not find the French to explain what a Sagger Makers Bottom Knocker was!  It actually did exist and was a very important and skilled occupation.  As the French say, “A cushion” for the first one to come up with the answer.

In all of this though, the real meaning of Christmas is the religious festival that celebrates the birth of Christ, and this is not lost in France. The wonderful creches, and the church masses are well attended, being obligatory for many families.

This year on Christmas Eve there is a service being held  in our Collegiale Church of Le Puy Notre Dame.  When the bells call out at 9pm the church will slowly fill with generations of families. Note, however, how well organised the timing is for, although called midnight mass, having it at 9pm allows everyone to return home for that sumptuous and elaborate French traditional Reveillon meal afterwards! In fact we have discovered that Doué la Fontaine has two “midnight” masses to cope with the demand!  An early mass at 1800 hrs and a later one at 2100.

With a busy day ahead, this morning I recommenced my Christmas preparations which started with a

The delights of a local boulongerie

The delights of a local boulongerie

trip to the Boulangerie, giving Brian a rest from his excursions!  Sylvie and Franck our boulangers work incredible hard and at no time more than now with an amazing choice of breads to accompany the different courses of food:- pain aux noix, pain aux citron, pain aux jambon, pain aux pomme, pain for the fois gras, pain for the fromage, pain vigneron with the red wine and walnuts and so on and so forth, but also there is the Buche du Noel (a Christmas log), both large and small, this being the popular patisserie equivalent to the English Christmas cake tradition. However, France being France, everything is laced with alcohol, from cointreau, calvados, whisky, to wine, and so on. This is not usually a problem – however, I have to tell you the Boulangerie was like a scene from a comedy sketch because on arrival the shop was full, but there was a very elderly couple at the counter choosing la Buche du Noel for the Reveillon meal tonight and outside the shop was a little white van parked with three large bored chien de chasse, (hunting dogs) inside.  The Monsieur was choosing the petite Buche de Noel for tonight and Sylvie was placing them carefully into the box but only for Madame to ask her husband why had he was choosing the ones with the alcohol as she wanted the ones without the alcohol! On hearing this Sylvie carefully took them back out of the box only for the Monsieur to say, “No no no no no ” (as they do over here, repeating the word NO like a stammer about six times over, as they do with OUI come to that), and so Sylvie tried to replace them back in the box only to find that there was now a full scale argument about whether they had the ones with or without the alcohol!   The husband, being determined to have his own way, made it worse by not being able to decide whether he wanted la Buche du Noel with Calvados or with Cointreau and so poor old Sylvie patiently stood there putting the Calvados ones in the box, then removing them and replacing them with the Cointreau and then, to stop the old lady having a heart attack, decided to remove them altogether only to start all over again.  Whilst this disupute was taking place every time the door to the shop opened for a new customer to enter, the dogs  behaved like rabid wolves and the van started shaking dramatically, probably because they had managed to find a way of relieving their boredom.  Myself and all the other customers in the shop were hysterical with laughter, with one lady with tears streaming down her face, having to hang onto the counter.  The owner of the dogs helped by periodically opening the door and bellowing “ARRET!!!”, at the three dogs, by now thoroughly enjoying themselves, and who promptly redoubled their efforts each time they were told to shut up.  At the same time the elderly couple were, “No, No No, No, Noing” and “Oui, Oui, Oui, Ouing”, for all they were worth.  And, through all this the only oasis of calmness was Sylvie.  I thought she should have been awarded a medal for her patience.  Anyway the end of the story was that Madame had five Buche du Noel without alcohol and her husband managed to get one with the Cointreau for himself despite his doctor had forbidden him to take alcohol. Personally, I would have thought that the amount of sugar and cream would have been a much bigger problem than a drop of Cointreau!!  Anyway I finally got back home and Brian asked if everything was OK.  “Fine”, I replied, “just another normal day in our village”.

This evening it’s time to let Christmas commence!!  We are ready!!  Our Christmas guests have arrived and have got themselves prepared for some pretty extensive apéritifs.  For the next couple of days, it’s noses to the grindstone for us, but, it’s still Christmas and that makes all the difference.

Tomorrow we will start to receive emails and telephone calls from our former guests to tell us what Loire wines they are enjoying over Christmas Lunch whilst at the same time reminiscing of a happy holiday spent in the vineyards of the Loire and Le Puy Notre Dame, tasting wines with Brian and relaxing at Le Clos des Guyons. We look forward to it!

So, here’s a grand toast to you all!

Santé et Bonne Noél a tous!

Sheila and Brian

Vacation lets in the Loire Valley


Another Accolade for the Wines of Le Puy Notre Dame (Village typique de Vignerons)

It’s always nice to hear when wines from our village of Le Puy Notre Dame are awarded prestigious awards and, during the last few years, such awards and recommendations have been falling thick and fast.



The latest is this award from a much respected magazine to La Domaine de la Paleine for their “Crémant de Loire”.  This follows on from a tasting of sparkling wines done a couple of years ago in the French national newspaper ‘Le Monde’ which placed La Paleine’s other sparkler, Saumur Brut Blanc, amongst the best five sparkling wines in the whole of France, including Champagne.

The current award was a result of a tasting of 70 of France’s best organic Crémants.  Not that the owners of the Vineyard, Laurence et Marc Vincent or the winemaker Patrick Nivelleau, put any great stress on the fact that it is organic, on the contrary, the stress is simply on the quality of the wine.  The decision to go organic was merely a natural progression from their traditional methods. The wine was placed second amongst the 70 wine tasted – a mere 1/2 point behind the winner.

The Crémant appellation is a bit strange by French standards.  Most wine regions have one:- Crémant d’Alsace; Crémant de Bourgogne,; Crémant de Limoux; etc.,etc., and the appellations themselves contradict the normal raison d’être of the French system which is to identify ever smaller parcels of ‘terroir’ to identify both the best wine growing areas and the best grapes to grow in them.   On the other hand, for example, the appellation “Crémant de Loire” is huge, encompassing most of the wine growing areas on the 650klm. length of the Loire itself.  This would normally lead to a generic appellation and, in general, mediocre wines.  What makes “Crémant de Loire” so different is that the rules within the appellation are very, very strict indeed.  Just to mention two examples. Machine harvesting is not allowed and quantities pressed are limited to much below what the press could actually take.  In addition, most growers do not usually pile their harvested grapes into trailers but into small containers which take around 20 kilos.  This prevents the grapes being crushed and starting to ferment before they have reached the winery.

Award winning  Crém&nt

Award winning Crém&nt

Anyway onto the wine itself.  It is a mixture of   Chenin and Chardonnay, (60%/40%).  which has spent 2 years during the “assembage” and maturation before release.  I’ll translate the magazine tasting notes as I agree wholeheartedly although I can also detect a little butteryness coming from the chardonnay.

” It is flawless, elegant and refined which are the three words which define the best Crémants.  On the nose it is flowery and briochée, (this means the slghtly spicy, yeasty, honeyed, warm-bread nose you get from brioche).  In the mouth an excellent balance between fruit  and vinosity”.

Les boulles,(bubbles) from the Domaine de la Paleine have always had a formidable reputation.  This is achieved by the natural advantage of the limestone “terroir” which is the bedrock of Le Puy Notre Dame and an almost obsessive attention to detail.

This is just one more fine example but it will certainly not be the last as the vignerons continue to produce that little bit extra!

Here’s a toast to you all!

A votré


Loire Valley Wine Tours and Courses


I’m Cooking for a French Chef!

Given the success of Sheila’s scheme to get me to do most of the household chores which, rather dramatically involved breaking most of the bones in her body over several years, I have found myself not only doing the vacuuming, mopping, bed-making etc. (please don’t cry), but also most of the cooking as well.  Much to my surprise, and even more astonishingly for Sheila’s, I actually found that I loved it!  Our friends, neighbours and Wine Tours guests (who get VIP treatment on the culinary front whilst here) seem to have enjoyed my delightful masterpieces as well.  Although  I have to admit having a great, hulking, ex-rugby player looming over you with a carving knife in his hand does tend to elicit the correct response.  However, overall I am quietly content.

Meal for the team from the Bouchon Pono

Left to Right; Moi, Michel, Mag, Chico, Nicole, Yamina,Jean-Yves. Sheila is taking the photo.

It is, however, a different thing to have to cook for a professional chef and a French one to boot!  Having eaten many times on a personal level  with Jean-Yves, the chef and owner of the Le Bouchon Ponot, and with both his colleague Magelaine and her parents, the time came when it was our turn to cook. Cue long, long, and er …….even  longer discussions about what we were going  to cook to prevent an embarrassment.  My first plan was to arrange the meal in the evening but to meet them all in the village bar at midday.  I would then persuade la patron, Sonia, to slip double vodkas into their drinks and so, by the time they arrived to eat at Chez Nous they wouldn’t have cared less if I dolloped up beans on toast! However, this brilliant idea was scuppered by Sheila who pointed out that, if we were with them for the afternoon, I would most likely be incapable of opening a tin of beans let alone cooking for them.  I had to admit the logic of her response, particularly given the fact that Mag’s mum, Nicole, would be there.  Mag’s Mum is dangerous. She has been the cause of me being suddenly taken drunk on more than one occasion.  She has caused more headaches than Chris de Burgh.  She should be made to wear a warning sign when let loose on an unsuspecting public!

So, we had to get serious.  Le plat principal wasn’t a problem as I have done it several times and it consists of roasted Monkfisk on a purée of parsley, spinach and watercress in a beurre blanc, mustard sauce.  Simple, elegant and a French classic.  The entrée was a bit more difficult to decide but, one night, whilst watching English TV, we came across, of all people, Jamie Oliver doing his fifteen minute meals and so I nicked one of those which was Smoked Salmon on a sort of Yorkshire Pudding cooked with rosemary, a yogurt and horseradish sauce and roasted beetroot glazed with balsamic and honey. Looks great and is not as messy as I find some of Jamie’s recipes tend to be.  I threw in another course of pan fried scallops on a bed of potatoes  leeks and bacon and voila!   I was going to post pictures of each dish but I was too busy panicking at the time.  Anyhow all that, along with some great wines including a Crémant de Loire from La Paleine unusually made from Pinot Noir and, from the same vineyard, an award winning 2010 Saumur-Champigny; Also from our friend Franck Bimont at La Domaine des Guyons a 2010 Saumur Blanc called “Vent du Nord”,  a wonderfully vibrant white filled with that tangy citrus and white fruits which is classic Chenin.  Memorable, we also opened a bottle of sublime Coteaux du Layon, from Le Moulin Touchais based in Doué la Fontaine.  This estate is renowned for it’s old Layons which are never realeased until they have at least 10 years of age.  This particular one dated back to 1960, not, in fact, regarded as one of the great years.  However, this was magnificent with butterscotch and minerals giving additional layers of complexity overlaying the waxy honey. After cheese and dessert we finished with our well known and now famous Eau de Vie de Le Clos des Guyons (actually made by Robert our neighbour) and I call it PPP because it is made from Prunes, Poires and Pêches, (plums, pears and peaches).  It is well regarded by our regular guests and often gives them a type of contentment as they regard the stars in the evening sky and contemplate “life, the universe and everything”.  We then continued for a while until Michel and Jean-Yves resumed their perennial discussion over national politics. Jean-Yves being slightly to the right of Genghis Khan whilst Michel has found a home slightly to the left of Trotsky.  My duty in all this is to throw in a comment when they seem that they are on the point of agreeing – we don’t want any of that.

Christmas 2012

Even Santa got a Santè!!

The only real problem I had during the whole night was caused by, and I don’t want to point the finger, but it was Sheila.  As we were doing the last minute shopping for the Monkfish and Scallops I asked her if we had bought the spinach for the parsley and spinach purée.  She assured me we had.  It was only when I came to use it that I discovered that – we hadn’t.  I then did a fair impression of a headless chicken, put the lights on in the garden and went rummaging around for anything that was remotely green and edible.  In the process I fell over the ornamental wooden wheelbarrow in the herb garden, ripped my trousers and cut my knee when I landed on an earthenware pot.  Did I tell you it was Sheila’s fault?  Oh yes I did, didn’t I.  Anyway I salvaged some late lettuce, sorrel and a bit of broccoli and by some miracle it all seemed to work reasonably well.

So, by the time that everyone had left, some time after two in the morning we  concluded it had been fun and luckily Jean Yves’ verdict was complimentary (or he could have just been kind –  on second thoughts –  Jean-Yves? – no!!), although, to be honest, I secretly think that,by the time we had all finished, I may as well have taken them to the bar in the first place, but at least I didn’t have to stand over them with a carving knife!

Bravo to all you wonderful Chefs out there – we admire and respect you!


Le Clos des Guyons, Loire Valley.


Vineyard Tour

Vineyard Tour

Our Australian guests, David and Carolyn Van Dort, whom we welcomed to Le Clos des Guyons in October this year have notified us to say they have recently read an article in the Travel Section of the MELBOURNE JOURNAL 25/11/12 on places to visit in the Loire Valley France, where it mentions beautiful Montsoreau, Chateau de Chaumont, the Royal Abbeye de Fontenvraud but were then surprised to find it included a paragraph entitled SIP (quite appropriate)! which says;- DOMAINE DE LA PALEINE. “In the heart of the Loire Valley near the magnificent Notre Dame du Puy this family owned vineyard set amongst 14ha of vines is a MUST-SEE!!!”  Actually it’s 35 hectares not 14, but hey!!

From an article entitled, "The Insiders Loire Valley".

From an article entitled, “The Insiders Loire Valley”.

During their stay, Brian took David and Carolyn to the Paleine on one of his guided wine tours and tutored sessions , along with our other guests Jim, Alexandra, Neil and Judith from the UK during their stay here and so the article was of special interest.  La Paleine is one of Brian’s favorite wineries to visit because they not only have a clear reputation for the quality of their wine but, between the owner Marc Vincent and the winemaker Patrick Nivelleau, they have created many different cuvées which enable Brian to show and explain the whole gambit of local wine.

Well our guests certainly have fond memories of a great visit which they mention in our visitors book , to quote:-

“The wine tour and tasting was so informative. We will be much more informed about our wine selections in the future”!

Tutored wine tasting session at La Domaine de la Paleine

Tutored wine tasting session at La Domaine de la Paleine

Here are a couple of photographs (the top one is of everyone having an informal walk around the vineyards and the second one was taken afterwards in the tasting room).

Thankyou David and Carolyn for sending this article!

And to all those Melbourne Journal readers out there – do take the advice of your local paper and come and enjoy our charming village of Le Puy Notre Dame and  its vineyards.  Brian will be happy to advise and escort you!

Brian and Sheila


Gite Accommodation & Wine Tours in the Loire Valley at Le Clos des Guyons, Le Puy Notre Dame, France.