The Loire in June – and Cauliflowers.

A Loire Valley Vegatable garden.

Me – Cauliflowers, Lettuce and Artichokes in early June. I’ve been trying to produce decent cauliflowers for some years – about 30 to be precise. This year I decided to treat them with the same care that you would normally lavish on aged relatives. I never let them wilt in the heat and I fed them once a week. Not that you only feed aged relatives once a week!  That seems to do the trick thus I think that the secret of growing good cauliflowers is to never, never allow their growth to be checked.

We love our part of the Loire and, to may French people, it is known as ‘Le Jardin de France’ (the Garden of France), and much of France’s vegetable gardens, orchards, mushroom farms, roses and horticultural producers are situated in this rich and fertile region.  June has always been a favourite time of the year for us.  Generally hot, sunny days while the whole region is still vibrant green with ripening wheat fields adding splashes of gold scattered with red poppies.  The sunken lanes and tracks which meander through hidden stone hamlets  are decorated with a profusion of wild flowers.  The vines have flowered and you can see the start of what will be this years bunches of grapes, whilst the vineyards themselves form bright green geometrical patterns over the slopes.  And, floating above the countryside, are the calls of Cuckoos, Hoopoes, Blackbirds and Skylarks and a host of other orchestral members.

Our vegetable garden, like all the others in Le Puy Notre Dame, are starting to yield their produce.  I have already harvested the first potatoes of the year, the old French variety “Belle de Fontenay”, dating back to the 1880’s.  This variety is consistently chosen in trials to have the best taste and is resistant to mildew, at least in our climate.  But my great success this year has been cauliflowers, an F1 variety called “Boris”, huge perfect white florets giving me bragging rights amongst the village, vegetable growing community, even my close friend and veggy competitor Robert has been surprised and has stopped banging on about his cauliflowers as he does most years!  The next round will be tomatoes.   To be fair there have been some problems this Spring caused by the early, unusual amount of rain, (in one night we had six weeks of average rainfall) and which  has led to a profusion of snails which have caused huge setback for the basil plants and for lettuce and roquette although the hot sunshine has now resolved that problem and our guests are now enjoying eating the profusion of salad from the garden.

Here are some other shots of the garden and courtyard:-


Roasted Cauliflower with curry and cumin

Roasted cauliflower with curry and cumin


Sheila’s take on our ‘guest recipe’  for roasted cauliflower which we sampled last year with Denise and Rod from Eugene, Oregan, USA.

It’s so simple, florets of cauliflower roasted in the oven with olive oil and sprinkled with curry and cumin, just delicious! Shown here with some roasted spuds mixed in too and rosemary au jardin.

Bon appetit et bon jardinage!


Gites in the Loire Valley



Saumur festival

It was a night of fun, good humour and Samba with boisterous musicians, thumping drummers and vibrant dancers in beautiful attires as you can see!

Yes …. tonight you could have thought you were in Brazil but actually er no …. this was a very lively Saturday evening in Saumur! It was the Night Parade of the ‘International Festival of the Géants et Masques’ showing off their spectacular talents to the crowds of visitors!

Fête Saumur

As this Brazilian float arrived, there were loud cheers .. but then quickly followed other cheers from a nearby bar with wide screen TV’s, where Brian and friends were ensconced,  as England scored against Italy. There was then another cheer from the same bar but this was the Italian fans. (Sadly England went down to a 2-1 defeat being a disappointing start but there is still hope!

Festival in Saumur

Of course the evening wouldn’t have been right for Saumur without recognition of this superb wine region and it’s two “Grand Cru” of Saumur-Champigny and Saumur-Puy Notre Dame wine appellations too, and so here is photograph I took of a float with the ‘hotteur’ in the vineyard at harvest time! The hotteur is the guy who walks up and down the rows whilst the grape pickers load the “hotte” with their buckets full of grapes. Brian normally does this each vendage – He seizes up and can’t move for the first three days and has now taken to hiding in late September so that various winemakers can’t ask for his services!


The giants of Saumur

The giants of Saumur

Thanks so much to the Saumur organisers and the Géants!  It really was a great evening …. and early morning because it was 2am before we dragged ourselves away from the bars what with all the excitement of the evening and the football chit chat ….. and how extraordinary that was walking alongside a tired and wobbling giant or two down rue St Nicholas on the way back!  If we hadn’t have known better we would have thought it was the wine!

And more Saumur Giants

And more Saumur Giants

Just to say our two self catering gites in Le Puy Notre Dame have English satellite  flat screen TVs but Saumur have organised wide screen TVs for the football!  Ooops – just lost Brian and Bernard again!!!




Loire Valley Gite Holidays

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Vineyard in Le Puy Notre Dame

Photograph of our lovely guests Derek and Mary with Brian in the centre, as he takes them through the vineyard that produces the red wine called “Moulin des Quints” in Le Puy Notre Dame and explains about the special chemistry that exists between a particular terroir, the vigne and climate. (Notice that winemakers are not allowed to use herbicide between the rows).

And so,  after a week of visiting the Loire Valley, its castles, its troglodyte caves, markets and the River Loire, why not stop off in a vineyard too!!  That’s just what our guests did when Brian introduced Derek and Mary to our local vineyards and in particular the “Moulin des Quints” vineyard, belonging to the biodynamic winery of the Domaine de la Paleine  just around the corner from Le Clos des Guyons.

The vineyard, planted exclusively with the Cabernet Franc grape, is located at the highest point in the Puy Notre Dame vineyards (“la butte du Puy Notre Dame”). Here the vines are at the same level as the roof of our huge gothic church and thus are perfectly exposed to the sunshine and the circulating air which produces superb grapes which in turn go on to make a wonderful, single vineyard wine called, funnily enough, “Le Moulin des Quints” !  Afterwards we headed off to visit the winery to meet Patrick Nivelleau the winemaker and to taste wines  – after which a few bottles were squeezed into the back of their car, including of course the “Moulin des Quints” to take

Loire Valley Wine Tours

Our guests and Brian after an extensive wine tasting which hopefully left them more knowledgeable then when they arrived in France.

back home to England to share with family and friends!  Just to explain that this red wine is a beautiful ‘Saumur-Puy Notre Dame’ appellation and has an intense nose of violets, is delicate and complex with rich, black fruits and spices. It’s mouth filling opulent, and impregnated with the aroma of cassis. Simple and rich at the same time – a wine to savour for wine lovers and importantly a wine that wins heaps of awards and medals!

For further wine reading check this Article out about our new wine appellation.

Their  message in our Visitors Book reads:- “Thanks so much for making us so welcome at Le Clos des Guyons.  We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay and we found the area very beautiful and interesting.  Brian’s wine tour was the highlight of our stay …. we learned an awful lot about the whole process.  We may return one day again, who knows”!!! 

Why not come and visit Le Clos des Guyons this summer in France’s Loire Valley and come

La Donaine de la Paliene

A ‘Bon Moment’ in the Tasting Room L. to R. Patrick, the Paleine’s winemaker, Dominic Monnier, Conseiller General Comité Departmental du Tourisme de l’Anjou (who arrived to deliver their recent Gold Medal Award Certificates) and Brian, later than afternoon after work had finished.

and meet our village winegrowers?  We have two fully restored self catering holiday gites to offer in our former winemakers XIII Century house waiting for you and we will be happy to say Bienvenue!  Le Puy Notre Dame is a friendly and delightful place where we feel we have finally found home – we love the village,  people, french wine, food and culture and we are sure you will too!


Sheila and Brian

See our “TripAdvisor” reviews”for each gite ‘Le Sauvignon’ (sleeps 4/6) and ‘Le Chenin’ (sleeps 2/3). Comprehensive details on our  website. and facebook page



Wines of Saumur

Old poster advertising the health benefits of Ackerman’s “Royal” Saumur Brut for combatting gout.

La Maison Ackerman, established in 1811, with its 7 kms of caves carved in the tuffeau, is the Loire’s oldest sparkling wine producer and their home is in Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Florent, on the outskirts of Saumur, in rue Léopold Palustre.   In July 2009 Ackerman Rémy Pannier, the leading producer of sparkling Saumur wines of the Loire Valley bought Ackerman but used the name themselves.  Along with other colleagues in tourisme, we received an invitation to the inauguration of  the 2014


The Caves of Ackerman

At chez Ackerman in Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Florent, just outside Saumur the team have created a mystical, unworldly theme in one of their caves.

‘New Scenography Tourist Circuit’ deep in the caves!  This changes every year and so we were curious as to how different this was going to be compared to last year. We found two new galleries had been opened to extend the usual visit. The inspiration for their new works is the Jules Verne classic ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’. Here called the journey to the centre of a “bubble”!  This year’s artists are sensationally imaginative and one creator is an expert in shaping glass thereby creating many different shapes of  bottles, all reflecting in exceptional colours of light. The display of  this brilliant colour and art is mixed with sails exhibited in different colours and  I have to mention the large jelly fish playfully hanging from the ceiling blowing in a little soft breeze! Quite extraordinary! Oh and then there is a huge Spider Man racing around the tuffeau walls looking for some action!

As well as the New Scenography Circuit the visit is combined with uncovering the history of Jean-Baptiste Ackerman, the pioneer behind the house of Ackerman!  As you walk through the cellars you see interesting old vintages of wonderful old sweet wines such as 1900 Coteaux du Layon as well as bottles of Vouvray dating back to 1945 and 1947. There are pieces of ancient wine machinery exhibited with descriptions of how they were used, reminding us of how wine production has dramatically changed and  all this interspersed with interactive displays of  black glasses to test senses of smell against mesmerizing aromas, so you can see how clever your nose is!  In the last cave there is a ‘boules court’ and table games from five continents – amusing for both children and adults to play for an hour or so!  It’s easy to understand why a house established over two hundred years ago is still thriving today.  It’s run by an innovative and very dynamic team of creative thinking people. At the end of the tour visitors enjoy wine tastings of the different appellations of the Loire Valley, starting with the Saumur Brut and Cremant de Loire.

Garden Party at Ackerman, Saumu

“le Chef” in action preparing his pan fried Foie-Gras with raisons and port

Afterwards, we happily joined other guests at the Cocktail Party held on the lawned area at the front of the winery where there were lots of tables, colourful Ackerman parasols and chairs to rest weary feet! The gourmet cuisine, provided by les service traiteur’ Hotel Les Terrasses de Saumur’, was skilfully prepared, but the highlight was watching the’ Chef’ in action with his ‘pan-fried’ foie gras with raisons and port!  He made it look so easy – that’s Chefs for you!

Well worth a mention is the winery is adapted to receive visitors of reduced mobility and has been awarded the label “Tourisme et Handicap” in fact it is the only winery in Saumur to have this award. They have received a second award too for ‘’L’Accueil d’Excellence des Caves Touristiques du Vignoble de Loire” (excellent welcome).  Parking is easy it’s just across the road.

A visit is recommended if you are staying in or around Saumur or …. better still at our holiday gites at Le Clos des Guyons!   We offer all our guests a FREE PASS to Ackerman’s wine tours and tastings during their stay, plus a generous discount on any purchases made ! There are lovely gift ideas in their boutique to take home too!

Loire Valley Wine Tours

Preparing the “Garden Party” before the guests have finished their tour.

We wish all the Ackerman team a great 2014 season!

Why not visit the new Scenography Tour? – We tell all our guests you won’t be disappointed because this winery offers great fun for all ages in a magical setting.

Bon Visit!


Sheila and Brian

Le Clos des Guyons.  Two quality self-catering holiday gites in the Loire Valley ‘Le Sauvginon’ (sleeps 4-6) and ‘Le Chenin’ (sleeps 2-3) in a former winemakers property with ancient wine chais and caves.

Take a look at our new website and see if we can tempt you to discover the Loire Valley, a great holiday destination with its royal river, pretty villages and host of tourist attractions – there”s something for everybody!  We also offer Loire Wine Tours for lovers of wine (including our popular ‘One-Day Immersion in Wine’ with or without accommodation).

Smelling the essence of Chenin Blanc

Each grape used at Ackerman has an appropriate “smelling machine” as Brian calls them. You stick your nose in each glass and are rewarded with a typical flavour. Here, for Chenin Blanc; lemon, apples, pears, honey etc.

Situated in the pretty wine village of Le Puy Notre Dame, surrounded by vines and little rues boasting an imposing Collegiale church built in 1154 at the request of Aliénor d’Aquitaine and on the route Saint Jacques de Compostelle. Le Puy Notre Dame is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites, a  village ‘typique de vignerons’ with 60 vigneron families working 1500 hectares of vines.  It’s classed ‘Village de Charme’, and ‘Petite Cité de Caracteré’. A superb region, rich in viticultural heritage, architecture, centuries of history and it’s definitely no secret that Brian and I are both very passionate about its charm and enjoy sharing this with our guests who wish to experience our home and gites, including an aperitif of  refreshing Saumur Sparkling Brut on arrival!!