When we arrived in Le Puy Notre Dame, which seems many years ago now, I often passed “le Société des Arts”, normally when I was en-route to the bar.  Now, I am not adverse to a bit of art and culture but neither did I want to hang around like a spare part while people painted, sculpted and discussed how much formaldehyde it took to pickle a shark or how much detritus you could arrange, ( artistically of course), on an unmade bed.  So I gave it a wide berth.  However I was eventually informed that the  “Art” bit was actually short for Artisan, in other words it was a Working Mens Club.  After this refreshing bit of information I called in one day when Chez Sonia was closed and found, not budding Damien Hirsts or Jackson Pollocks but everyone who I normally passed the time with in the bar.  Wine and beer is very cheap, annual membership is a couple of Euros and inside was a court for playing “Les Boules de Fort”.  Boule de Fort is a game rather like boules itself, which anyone who knows anything about France will know about.  But it is played on an indoor court which is “U” shaped in profile so that the ball doesn’t go in a straight line but progresses down the court in a series of sinuous curves, first rolling up one side and then the other until it finishes close to the small target boule, “le Maitre”.  It is decidedly addictive.

Boules Court

The indoor boules court at le Societé des Arts in Le Puy Notre Dame. You can clearly see the curvature of the court.

Anyway le Société or le Soc – for short, is now a regular part of life and many a happy hour has been spent there.

The scene now shifts to our friend Marcel who, after having taken early retirement, passes the bulk of his time making movies. He rang one day and asked if he could ask me a question.  “Yes”, said I, “of course”.  “Have you got a leather coat?”  “Yes”, I replied cautiously, I have known Marcel too long not to know when he’s building up to something.  “How about a cowboy hat”? “Funnily enough, no”, I replied.  ” That’s ok, I’ve got one” was the next cryptic comment.   “Good, I’m very happy for you”. I retorted, determined not to crack first and ask what the hell he was banging on about.  “What about boots, cowboy boots?  “No, sorry”, I admitted.  “Mmmm…never mind, can’t be helped”, he murmured. “Yes, c’est la vie”, I added.  Slight pause, and then he came clean.  He was doing a film on Le Puy Notre Dame and wanted a jokey ending so he’d dreamed up this idea of a high-noon shootout.  Four dangerous looking cowboys meet in the village and then walk, with murderous intent down to the Societé des Arts where they enter into a winner take all game of boule de fort. ” So can you meet me in the Société at 1400hrs?”. asked Marcel.  “Certainly” I replied, “Who are the others?”  He told me the names of two people I didn’t know and Robert, who lives opposite.  “And by the way” said Marcel, “You need to be chewing gum”.  I asked if cowboys always chew gum.  Apparently, they do.

At five minutes to two I left the house and walked to the appointed rendezvous with Robert who, amazingly, had dug up a pair of cowboy boots from somewhere.  No, I didn’t ask.  The day was weird enough already. We met Marcel who shoved a battered, straw sun-hat on my head and gave me a stick of chewing gum.  We then stalked into the boules court, carefully arranged in height, smallest first.  We then chose our boules and stood still for a moment looking terrifyingly menacing, (just for the camera, you understand).  Then onto the game itself and guess who won?  Why me of course.  Although I’ve absolutely no idea how, given the fact that I don’t know the rules and  that my first three boules thudded into the end-boards with enough force to shake the three steeples of the nearby church.

Boule Fort

Me, making my world famous winning shot and trying to hit,… I mean miss Marcel!, at the same time.

Then onto the section of the film which will appear first which is when we are are leaning on appropriate stone walls around the church looking mean, chewing gum, (I was pretending as I’d swallowed mine in giving a shout of joy when I smashed Robert’s boule away from the Maitre), and waiting for high noon.  We then walked four abreast down the rue to the Société looking very serious and with a “this town ain’t big enough for all of us” mindset, all it needed was some tumbleweed and a passing stagecoach. A passing tractor pulling a trailer full of some anonymous animal manure didn’t really have the same effect.   Marcel had even managed to get a mutual friend, Bernard, to run around with “No Entry” signs so that no passing traffic disturbed his filming.  Of course it was actually counter productive as it caused more delay as everyone stopped their cars/tractors/vans, got out and asked what was going on.

So then to the bar to discuss the days artistic achievement although I was quite disappointed that I wasn’t plied with free drinks being the undisputed winner.  I’ll post a link to the film when Marcel has finished the editing.

Just one postscript: Marcel rang later and said that he though the game lacked some crowd participation so would Sheila meet him in the Societé to play the important roll of “the crowd”.  This she did and each throw of a boule was interdispersed with a shot of Sheila showing various examples of emotion or, as I prefer to call it,  pulling faces!!

Although less majestic than the mighty chateaux, the half hidden boule de fort in the village, gives you an idea of the real Anjou, the people who live here, who work here, and who play here, well away from the tourist hotspots.

The game has been designated a “Loire Heritage Game” by the Ministry of Culture and I raise my glass of rosé, (Cabernet de Saumur of course not Cabernet d’Anjou), to the beautiful Loire and to ‘La boule de Fort’ and to a new friendly rivalry, (although not friendly on camera, of course).

La Boule de Fort is a typical Angevin sport and just one of the memorable experiences  enjoyed by many and one which are regular guests have yet to experience so, for those of you returning this year, it is something to look forward to not to mention the cheap wine.

à votre


Holiday, Vacation lets in the Loire Valley



The History of a Loire Valley Wine Property

Charles et Eugénie Guyons in 1925

Charles et Eugénie Guyons in who took over Le Domaine des Guyon in 1925

The post this week is about the history of our property, le Clos des Guyons covering the last 80 odd years and came about as a result of some intriging converstions with the previous owner and

wine maker…read more

Loire Valley Wine Tours

All About Our Beavers.

European Beaver

European Beaver

Just for once this is a post which isn’t about food, wine, bars or restaurants nor is it about life in our village of Le Puy Notre Dame here in the Loire which, funnily enough, often features food, wine, bars or restaurants!

No, this is about beavers.  To be precise the European beaver, (Castor fiber), or as it is known in French ‘le castor’.

These highly protected animals were reintroduced to the Loire between 1974 and 1976 and have been making a slow and steady comeback.  They are now firmly established at thirty sites on the rivers and waterways between Nantes and Montsoreau.

They are appreciated by wildlife fans of all persuasions for the way in which they transform habitats, making a perfect home for waterbirds and other species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles thus greatly increasing the richness and diversity of that particular corner of our countryside.  However, they are not universally popular as their obsessive work ethic leads not only to a wonderful home for themselves and other creatures but to much gnashing of teeth from local farmers when the beaver-lodges dam a stream and subsequently cause flooded pasture or arable land.  This is exactly the problem which has arisen in nearby Distré (about ten kilometres from here) where hard-working beavers have dammed a tributary of the river Thouet, The Douet, in several places.  .

We once saw two of these creatures swimming in the Loire in Saumur  when we arrived to sign for our first house in France, the memory of that evening has stayed with us forever.  (There was also a pine-martin which was in a tree next to the bedroom window).

Beaver Dam

Beaver dam or lodge on the River Douet at Distré

Anyway the story at Distré has developed in so much that the mayor, Mr. Touron, has now appealed to the Prefecture to permit the village to do something about the problem whilst the LPO, the French (bird protection league), and other environmental groups, are strenuously defending the status quo.  The village argues that the LPO has reneged on its promise to manage the area affected by the beavers whilst one resident has now had to evacuate his cave and pumps have to be continually employed to prevent a farmhouse from being flooded.  The mayor has said that if any resident obstructs the drainage of a village he breaks the law in France and that therefore the castor should be arrested and sent for trial whilst, ominously for the hard working animals, given the propensity for the French to regard the countryside as a larder, someone else has written to the local paper saying that he can remember eating beaver as a child.   That is, he was a child, not the beaver!

Perhaps the solution to the impassé will be found if 2013 reverts to our normal hot and dry weather conditions as the problems of excess water created by the beaver dams may in fact be beneficial in drought conditions.  We shall keep our eye on the situation as it develops but it would be sad if a solution cannot be found to enable this, most charming of animals, to continue their hardworking lives.

à bientôt


Holiday Lets in the Loire





New Year’s Eve traditions in France on the 31st of December popularly called  ‘la Saint-Sylvestre’ mark the last day of the Gregorian calendar and are generally celebrated with friends, being fonder of this festival than perhaps any other in the year. Great wine, great food  and plenty of ooh-la-la dishes welcomes New Year with special five, six or seven course dinners organized called the ‘le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre’. Bottles and bottles of wines are uncorked (a great chance to rummage through your wine cellar to find a few old treasures)  to go alongside those Saumur sparklers of blanc, rosé, rouge and the luscious Coteaux du Saumur, paired with Foi Gras and Rochefort fromage.

In the Loire Valley it’s the time for a popular drink called ‘Soup Angevin’ which is not soup at all but a fabulous cocktail – recipe below if you want to try it some time.

  • 1 bottle of Crémant de la Loire
  • 1 ladle of juice lemon
  • 1 ladle of syrup of sugar cane
  • 1 ladle of eau de vie from oranges (Combiers triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier)
  • :……. and then enjoy!!

In village Salle de Fetes everywhere, there are gourmet gala dinners with orchestras and parties finishing in the early hours of the morning with Onion Soup around 5am if you can keep awake that long!  Of course Le Puy Notre Dame village is no exception with its particular joie de vivre!  We did go to one of these fetes when we first arrived in Le Puy Notre Dame and sorry to say could not keep up with the amount of eating or wine ?!!  I know it sounds odd but have you any idea how much is consumed in a wine village?  Once the bottles are finished away departs a local vigneron and a barrel or two suddenly appear from nowhere!  As for staying awake and still drinking and dancing at 5.00am, well you can imagine the effects of that – think it took a week to recover!!

Also the traditional way of midnight grape picking also marks the celebrations of New Year in France. It is believed that 12 grapes signifying the 12 months of the year are eaten at midnight on the New Year’s eve to bring in good luck and prosperity to the house. The ‘le Jour de l’An’, or the New Year day is welcomed by formulating new resolutions and bidding farewell to the old year.

And then on 6th of January this is the customary cake cutting ceremony of the le ‘Galette des rois’.

Gallete de Rois

Galete des rois (otherwise known as King cake because a King’s crown sits on the top). In Paris and the Loire Valley  la Galette is made from puff pastry or brioche. It’s filled with frangipane, which is a mixture of almond paste and pastry cream. This day marks the end of holidays and New Year celebrations.

The history of the date 6th january was set by Pope Julius II as the official date for the l’Epiphanie which refers to the twelfth night after the birth of Jesus, the night when the three kings – gaspard, balthazar and melchior – paid tribute to the newborn Christ. the king cake is named for these three kings.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to share aperitifs with family and friends.  Sylvie and Franck our boulangers in Le Puy will be preparing these delicious Galettes for everyone, having to open seven days a week by law to provide this cake for the village!  We are actually starting early this year on the 1st January, visiting our friends in Montreuil Bellay on New Year’s Day where we shall probably have several Galettes with different fillings ranging from frangipan to raspberry to chocolate to pomme (sounds rather like a wine tasting) unlike though after the second piece one doesn’t feel inebriated as one does after the second or third glass of wine!  Last year they even threw in another dessert of Millefeuille aux Poires at the end just for good luck! Mon dieu!  Inside the cake there is a little fevre (a charm) and whoever gets this in their slice of cake then wears the King’s crown and hosts another Galette ceremony at their house.  Very convivial and this tradition lasts for the whole month of January (not sure about the affects on the waistline following on after la Buche du Noel, although we always seem to get over it)!

Our clocks are turning midnight and the big old church bell in the village is ringing in the beginning of a New Year.  We can’t wait to see what 2013 brings …….. let’s hope that it sparkles for us all!

Thank you for sharing our “Living in the Loire” blogs this year and we hope you will enjoy future blogs in the new year just as much.

We would like to say to all our guests old and new who have stayed with us, family and friends who have been a special part of our lives this year through our ups and downs, a big, big thankyou to all of you for your support, friendship, sincerity and inspiration given so freely, it has been appreciated.  The best part we enjoy about living in France and  operating our gite/chambre d’hote accommodation and wine tours, is the people who we meet and connect with along the way, in fact, not only from France, England, Belgium and Holland, but from all over the world:- Australia, America, Canada, Thailand and New Zealand, who all leave their mark on our experience and heart forever – you are never forgotton!

Looking forward to a great ninth season at Le Clos des Guyons and more of those shared moments and new friendships!

Andrew et Melissa from Australia

Andrew and Melissa. Our first guests of  2013, from Melbourne, Australia

Here is a picture of our  first guests of 2013!  Andrew and Melissa, from Victoria in Australia, starting their New Year holiday in Le Puy Notre Dame sharing a few glasses of wine including chilled Ackerman’s X-Noir sparkling Rosé from Saumur to help bring in the New Year! What a great start!

a Trés Bonnes Fetes de fin d’Annee and  “BONJOUR 2013” 

Let’s welcome the beginning of a New Year!

A votre a tous!

Sheila and Brian

Vacation Lets and Loire Wine Tours