THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS IN THE LOIRE!

The creche in the medieval church of Le Puy Notre Dame

The Créche in the medieval church of Le Puy Notre Dame

Bonjour and Christmas Greetings from not too cold Le Puy Notre Dame.
Many parts of France have snow already particularly in the ski resorts and so for the Alps holidaymakers this is a fun time of the year for them, but for us in the Loire Valley we have lovely blue skies and rays of sunshine to keep us happy. I’m passionate about France and all its seasons but I wanted to say that France really is a magical place to be at Christmastime not only for the beautifully decorated  and illuminated villages, towns and churches, but all the lively Christmas markets. It’s certainly an experience and what could be better than strolling around all the cute wooden chalets, eating and drinking gastronomic treats offered by the stand holders and bumping into friends along the way, then afterwards just relaxing and engaging in people watching over a hot coffee or hot chocolate in a nice cafe. It’s heartwarming!
Each country has its own Christmas traditions and customs but one thing in common all the world over are the beautiful Nativity scenes displayed in our churches. Above is a picture of the marvellous Nativity scene in the Church of Le Puy Notre Dame.  The Créche was created by a dedicated team of retired gentlemen in the village at the weekend who give their time to the design and construction (verified afterwards by their wives I am told, to make sure everything is in place and no shepherd or animal missing), celebrated ‘ensemble‘ afterwards with some well deserved glasses of wine and a slice or two of cake! The church in Le Puy Notre Dame is on the pilgrim route to St Jacques de Compostelle and with its magnificent architecture of the 11th century is famous for holding a relic of the Virgin Mary.  At Christmas there is always a huge sparkling star towering above it which can be seen from miles around looking awesome in the night sky.
Today village activities are taking place for Christmas with  ‘Portes Ouvert’ at many wineries and a Christmas Market being held in the Mushroom Caves of St Maur in Sanziers, coupled of course with degustations afterwards of wines from the family Domaine.  This place is very atmospheric with its incredible galleries of caves, a perfect venue for a market as well as its main activity of  mushroom production.  After lunch we have an invitation to view the newly opened ‘Shiatsu’ Cabinet at a local Domaine just around the corner, afterwards dégustations of the Domaines wines and that famous creamy and delicious Crèmet d’Anjou Dessert!  (Hopefully I will get the recipe). I know very little about Shiatsu therapy but perhaps it may be of interest to our guests during their holiday in 2014!
There is no busier time of course than in the kitchen right now, lots of new recipes to try in advance of the big day, and of course lots of shopping expeditions to the local supermarkets where there are so many delicious choices of food and wine to find!  Shall we have Canard, Porc, Venison, Sanglier, Goose, Chapon, Veal, Turkey, what a decision?!  Brian’s main Christmas contribution, however ……. (yes I am sure it is!),  is the purchase of our festive wines!  We always buy our wines locally in the village of course being as there are bucket loads of accolades won every year by the vignerons and so the choice is phenomonal.   Yes, very time consuming work doing the ‘wine route’ of Le Puy Notre Dame for Brian!!  In fact it’s a great village for wine tasting holidays which is probably why Le Clos des Guyons is a popular choice for a self catering holiday.
We are on countdown to the Christmas Eve Réveillon (a million and one things yet to do but we will be ready)!  It’s the busiest day in France as this is the main celebrating day not Christmas Day! Families get together, restaurants are packed at lunchtimes and then follows evening mass and that wonderful platter of seafood, along with smoked salmon, escargot, fois gras and of course the Buche de Noel with glasses of refreshing Sparkling Brut amongst many including the Coteaux du Saumur which is absolutely obligatory!! And then time to collapse into bed!
And so Christmas Blessings to all.
Joyeux Noel and a bientot to all our guests who we will be welcoming back in 2014!
Sheila and Brian
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20th SALON DES VINS AND GASTRONOMIE – ANGERS

Salon de Vins et de la Gastromonie at Angers

Salon de Vins et de la Gastromonie at Angers

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than relaxing  having fun, wine and food …  gastronomic food at that!

Although the main tourist season has clearly finished there are many festivals of food and wine which run throughout Autumn and up to C hristmas.  So, on the 24th November, we headed off to one of the largest, the  ’20th  Salon des Vins and Gastronomie’  held at the Exhibition Centre in Angers. This event attracts very large numbers of visitors  from all over the country, not only professionals but locals too, everyone a food expert and everyone taking a keen interest in the field of eating and drinking – and that included us!

The halls were absolutely packed with people but despite the difficulty in moving around we were definitely not disappointed as we happily wandered around the different exhibitors from regions all over France.  It was a fine opportunity to taste their free offerings of delicious cheese, sausage, ham, paté, fresh bread, croissants, chocolates, nougat, honey and … even commercial snail producers, (a surprise because here we get them from the garden).

We should give a mention to Sylvia and Franck from our village boulangerie, who won a silver medal, against huge competition, for their Pain d’Epices, a fragant, spicy bread which is eaten with Foie Gras.

There were wine tastings galore and, surprisingly we found the vignerons were from other significant wine producing regions which gave us a chance to sample the likes of Nuits St George, Chateauneuf du Pape, Alsace, Cote du Rhone, Provence and the Lanquedoc and Champagne amongst many.

It was a memorable day and it didn’t fail to make you realise just how large and varied a country France is in terms of its gastronomy.

There were lots of ideas for Christmas presents and we did succumb to buying some mouthwatering delicacies including some long thin sanglier sausage from Corsica …. before heading home exhausted!

Below are a few photographs for you to enjoy!

a bientôt

Sheila

Wine Tours of the Loire Valley