The Tarte Tatin or upside-down apple cake is a very popular dessert in France, usually served warm with fresh cream. It is one of my favourites.
We are driving from Blois to Gien, where we are taking back a secondhand dishwasher which, sadly, does not work. We are usually more successful with leboncoin.com. At least the sellers are going to give us our money back but this is our second two-hour trip!
As we go through the town of Lamotte-Beuvron, I look up from my knitting (we are going to see my little grandson next month) and see a typical brick and stone building. It’s a hotel called Tatin. “Like the tart”, I say. “Yes”, says Jean-Michel, “I think that is where it comes from”. So I check out my phone. It does, indeed.
Tradition has it that two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin, who ran a hotel in Lamotte-Beuvron at the turn of the 19th century just opposite the train station, invented the eponymous tart when Stéphanie, run off her feet by the hunting season that had just started, was making an apple tart and forgot to line the pastry mould and only put the apples in. When she realized her error halfway through cooking, she simply added the pastry on top of the apples and finished baking it.
Another version says she dropped a regular apple tart when taking it out the oven so served it upside down.
Even this doesn’t seem to be true. The tarte Tatin is a Sologne special from way back, popularized by the Tatin sisters in their hotel restaurant.
It was later served at Maxim’s in Paris where it is still a speciality today. The story goes that the chef from the iconic restaurant took a job as a gardener at the hotel Tatin so he could spy on what was going on in kitchen and “steal” the recipe.
So what is the secret? You are really supposed to use a copper tart case but I doubt if anyone really does. You grease the bottom of the pan with a generous amount of butter followed by a layer of granulated or powdered sugar.
Then you add firm apple wedges sprinkled with sugar. A thin layer of shortcrust pastry is then placed on top of the apples. Cook in a hot oven. Turn out and serve hot.
We decide to stop and take a photo on the way back as it will be 5 pm and time for tea and cakes by then.
After taking the photo, we drive into the town centre which I recognize from our previous visit. We had stopped for coffee at the local PMU café where they sell lotto tickets and you can bet on the horses. I never buy lotto tickets but I was feeling lucky so I bought a 2 euro one. I didn’t know how to play so I had to watch a video!!! And I won 4 euros so am able to pick up my winnings. The lady seems surprised that I don’t buy another ticket. But I reckon you should quit while you’re ahead 😊.
We find a pâtisserie and ask if there is tarte Tatin. There is only one for six people which costs 22 euros so we buy some other individual cakes instead and eat them in the little square opposite the unusual-looking town hall.
At least the second dishwasher trip wasn’t entirely wasted …. Now I know where the Tarte Tatin comes from.
And there you go – another year has just flipped by. Admittedly, we did spend a whole three months travelling – first to Australia and India in the winter, then to Italy, Austria and Germany on a cycling holiday in the summer, especially the Romantic Road, and finally New York and Boston in the autumn. As usual we are starting the year in front of the fire at Closerie Falaiseau but with below zero temperatures outside.
Jean Michel is halfway through installing an automatic watering system so we can create a mini-Giverny. However, everything is taking longer than it should and the cold weather has come too soon. The back garden is full of clay which makes digging trenches deep enough to stop the pipes freezing is a complicated busines. We’re hoping it will be ready to go by spring.
I have just bought a studio flat in the historical quarter of Blois to rent as holiday accommodation to overseas visitors. It’s wonderfully situated and there is even access to a little garden to relax in after an exhausting day visiting the Loire Valley châteaux. Another project to keep us busy!
Our travel plans this year are a week in Cyprus in the spring (any suggestions about accommodation and places to see are very welcome), our usual month’s cycling in June (the destination will depend on the weather) and hopefully a week in Istanbul in the autumn (provided things have quietened down by then and our home exchange still exists).
The world situation is not very inspiring at the present but we believe the best remedy is to remain positive and enjoy life to the fullest. We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful region that is a constant source of discovery by bike or on foot.
On the professional front, as well as being a sworn translator for the Blois Tribunal de Grande Instance, I am now an expect sworn translator for the Orléans Court of Appeal. I’m still freelancing as a legal and technical translator full time, with another two and a half years to go before retirement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to leave me much time to do much apart from cycling, gardening and travelling which explains why I don’t blog a lot these days.
My second blog, Loire Daily Photo, gets a bit more attention because it only takes about 10 minutes a day to post a photo and a short text in French and English. It also continues to get me out and about on days when I might tend to stay inside too much.
We are continuing our intermittent fasting twice a week and it is very much a part of our normal routine. With our homemade foie gras on the menu every evening from Christmas to New Year, our fast days brought welcome respite! We certainly feel it helps our general state of health.
We have definitely shelved our “little house” project and have received our demolition permit. Now we just have to move every thing out of it that we have been storing since we bought Closerie Falaiseau. But the second barn needs to be fixed up first :). A lot of things will be going to the next garage sale.
In the meantime, I’d like to wish all my readers a very happy and fulfilling 2017. Thank you for following me and sharing through your comments.
Susan Walter from Days on the Claise was wondering recently about the use of gigue and gigot when referring to a leg of venison or lamb.
I was not aware of the term gigue as I don’t often buy venison! So I checked on the etymology and learnt that it comes from Old French gigue (1120-1150) meaning a musical instrument with 3 strings, which in turn comes from high German giga, a stringed instrument.
The shape of the instrument appears to have led to the use of gigot to describe a leg of deer or lamb which was then used jokingly to describe a person’s leg, particularly when dancing as in remuer le gigot, literallyto shake a leg which, in English, of course, means to get a move on.
There seems to be no real explanation for the modern use of gigue instead of gigot in the case of venison (gigue de chevreuil), first attested in 1838, while gigot is reserved for lamb and mutton.
The term gigot also appears in the expression manches à gigot to describe mutton-leg sleeves which were first seen in the 1820s and early 1830s. By the time Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837 however, they had completely disappeared in favour of a more subdued style. They came back in again towards the end of her reign in the 1890s more overblown than ever – much to the ridicule of the media – until 1906 when the fashion once again changed.
Although it looks very similar, gigoter is a bit more complicated. Gigoter means to wriggle around. You’d use it for a baby moving its arms and legs all the time, for example, or a little child who can’t stay still:
Il n’arrêtait pas de gigoter dans mes bras – He wouldn’t stop wriggling when I picked him up.
Arrête de gigoter. Il faut manger maintenant. – Stop wriggling about. It’s time to eat now.
Etymology-wise, there are two possibilities. It is either a derivative of gigot or it comes from the Old French verb giguer meaning “to kick” (1694) or “to move its legs around” (1718, when speaking of an animal in agony). It also used to mean “to dance” but has lost that meaning now. Guincher, which is slang for “to dance”, may be derived from the same word though.
Which (naturally) makes you think of jig, a form of lively folk dance which developed in 16th-century England, and was quickly adopted on the Continent where it eventually became the final movement of the mature Baroque dance suite (from French gigue; Italian and Spanish giga).
My apologies to Susan for not coming up with a better explanation!
There is a popular belief in France that nectarines and their cousins, brugnons, are combinations of peaches and other fruits such as plums and apricots. Jean Michel was quite adamant before I was able to prove the contrary. He even flatly refused to accept the definition in the Larousse dictionary but he says that he has always been told that they were a hybrid.
The Larousse dictionary says that a nectarine is a peach with a smooth skin whose stone does not adhere to the flesh. A brugnon is a variety of peach with a smooth skin whose stone adheres to the flesh. My personal experience is that nectarines have a yellowish-orange flesh and are sweeter than brugnons whose flesh is pale and tastes a bit tart. I don’t actually like peaches because of their fuzzy skin but I can eat nectarines if there isn’t anything else.
The adherence/non adherence of the pit has given the terms “clingstone” and “freestone” in English.
It’s the wrong time of year to be able to use one of my own photos so I’m borrowing them from Wikipedia.
So where do the words pêche, peach, nectarine and brugnon come from?
Peach (and pêche) come from Old French pesche meaning “peach, peach tree” (Old North French peske), and directly from Medieval Latin pesca, from Late Latin pessica, a variant of persica “peach, peach tree,” from Latin malum Persicum, literally “Persian apple,” translating Greek Persikon malon, from Persis “Persia”.
In ancient Greek Persikos could mean “Persian” or “the peach.” The tree is native to China, but reached Europe via Persia. By 1663 William Penn observed peaches in cultivation on American plantations.
Its meaning in English of “attractive woman” is attested from 1754; that of “good person” from 1904. Peaches and cream in reference to a type of complexion is from 1901. Pêche in French does not have any of these meanings. The most common metaphorical meaning is avoir la pêche which means to be full of beans or in top form.
The word nectarine dates from the 1660s and means “of or like nectar”. It was probably inspired by German nektarpfirsich “nectar-peach.” It first appeared in English as nectrine before becoming nectarine.
Brugnon, on the other hand, is borrowed from the Occitan (southern French) prunhon from vulgar Latin “prunea” meaning plum. It first appeared in French as brignon (1600) then brugnon (1680). Maybe its origin partly explains the hybrid belief I mentioned earlier.
In the middle of the 19th century, brugnon was used for all smooth peaches and the stone-adhering/non-adhering was introduced later on.
Did you know about the brugnon/nectarine hybrid belief?
It’s roast chestnut season. If you come from Australia, you probably think there is only one kind – the edible sort you read about in English novels. Not so! In French, there are two different words: marron and châtaigne and the distinction is rather complicated.
There are basically two sorts: an edible sweet chestnut that is easiest to spot if it is still in its husk, which is spiny and needle-sharp. Its scientific name is Castanea sativa. It’s very distant relation, the toxic, inedible chestnut, also called the horse chestnut, has a husk that is much smoother, with only a few warts. Horse chestnuts are the ones commonly found in forests and backyards. Its scientific name is Aesculus hippocastanum.
So you would imagine it would be easy in French. Let’s start with the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). The tree is called a marronier d’Inde or marronier commun. It actually comes from the Balkans and has nothing to do with India. The fruit is also called a marron.
That’s the easy bit. Now we have the tree called châtaignier whose edible fruit is called une châtaigne. But people talk about eating marrons chauds and marrons glacés. Why? It’s because there are two kinds and the larger (and (tastier) cultivated châtaigne is called a marron!
The cultivated marron only contains one fruit in each husk whereas the wild ones have two or more, with an annoying skin called a pellicle between them. The ones in the photo as the wild ones. We had to discard half of them because they were too hard to eat. Next time we’ll make sure we buy marrons!
Marron is also the usual word for the colour brown.
Marron has, of course, given the colour maroon in English, which is not brown at all, but a dark brownish red colour, what the French call bordeaux. It you have ever seen a 20-year old bordeaux wine, you’ll understand where the colour comes from!
What about brun? I can hear you saying. Yes, you’re right, it also means brown. You say des cheveux bruns (brown hair), des yeux bruns (brown eyes), une peau brune (a swarthy skin), le tabac brun (dark tobacco), un ours brun (a brown bear) and bière brune (brown ale).
But brown shoes are chaussures marrons and a brown shirt is une chemise marron. Marron can also be used for eyes and hair. Some people argue that les yeux marrons and les yeux bruns are the same thing but others disagree. The same applies to les cheveux marrons and les cheveux bruns.
I’ve even heard les yeux noisette used to mean brown eyes, even though une noisette is a hazel nut. The problem with hazel eyes is that they are a mixture of green, brown and amber and the mix can vary according to the person, so two people can have hazel eyes that are very different.
What other examples can you think of? How do we say a brown dog in French? What about a brown horse and a brown coat? Or a brown car?
We are up bright and early at our beautiful Shahpura House Heritage Hotel in Jaipur so we can have breakfast and be ready to leave at 8 am because today is a big day – my first elephant ride! Our excellent Himalayan driver, Rajendar Negi from Trinetra Tours, is waiting for us with our new French-speaking guide, Praveen Agraval, our best guide so far. A native of Jaipur, his French is excellent and he is obviously very experienced. and knowledgeable about his city.
We start with a photo shoot of Hawa Mahal, or the “Palace of Breezes” so named because it was built so that the women of the royal household could observe street festivals without being seen from the outside. Made of the ubiquitous red and pink sandstone of Jaipur, it is on the edge of City Palace. Praveen helps us to cross the street, telling us to keep to his left so that he is screening us from the traffic so that he will get hit first – there is no other way to do it!
Our next destination is the Hindu temple of Govinda Dev Ji devoted to Lord Krishna. Praveen asks us to go quickly through Tripolia Bazaar so don’t miss prayer time. We leave our shoes and follow the massive crowd. I stand with the women in front, a full head above the others, while Jean Michel stands with the men behind. There is music and singing and much joyous jostling.
As the prayer ends and people start to leave, a woman in front of me turns round and says “Happy holi” and smears pink powder on my forehead and cheeks. Holi, we learn from Praveen, is a two-day spring festival of colours or sharing love held held at full moon in late February/early March. This year it starts on 23rd March just a couple of days away.
We drive out of town 11 kilometers to Amber Fort also called Amer Palace, located up on a hill and ruled from 1550 to 1614 by Raja Man Singh I. With its extensive ramparts and many gates, it overlooks Maota Lake, the main source of water for the palace. Made of sandstone and marble, it is laid out on four levels, each with its own courtyard.
The cobbled path up to the fort has become a major tourist attraction because the main way up is by elephant. Praveen goes to get our tickets while we stand in line. A staircase takes us up to a platform so that we are on the same level as the elephants. A bar is lifted so that we can slide backwards onto the elephant then lowered so that we won’t fall off.
I am pleased there are two of us because the elephant sways from side to side and it’s a bit scary. It’s hard to keep my iPhone steady so I take the video that I have published in my previous post. The ride takes about 20 minutes. We have to move over towards the edge of the ramparts to let the descending elephants go past which is somewhat nerve-wracking. From time to time, Jean Michel is told to sit back for better balance.
It’s a relief to get up to the top of the hill and into main courtyard where Praveen soon joins us, having walked up from the other side. The palace consists of the Hall of Public Audience, the Hall of Private Audience, the Mirror Palace and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over a water cascade within the palace.
At the entrance to the palace there is a temple dedicated to Sila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult, and given to Raja Man Singh when he defeated the Raja of Jessore (now Bangladesh) in 1604. We remove our shoes, hand over our camera and enter. We are just in time for a ceremony in which the statue of Ganesh, the elephant, is covered with garlands of flowers and a gong is struck very loudly for ten mind-boggling minutes. I am surprised that the babe in arms next to me makes no protest, but I guess he’s used to it!
The palace is extensive with many different areas and fine details, the most beautiful of which is the Mirror Palace.
We learn more about Praveen. He has two grown-up children. His daughter is a French teacher and recently spent a year as an assistant English teacher in Rouen during which time her parents went to visit her for three weeks. His son has taken over his grandfather’s pottery business.
By now, the sun is at its zenith and amazingly hot. Praveen suggests we stop off at a fabric store to see the traditional printing process. He assures us that we don’t need to buy anything. After demonstrating the process during which I am asked to perform a couple of basic tasks, the vendor takes us down to the showroom. I nearly buy a tablecloth but unfortunately he doesn’t have the colour and pattern I want in the right size. Nearly all of patterns include elephants which I don’t really want.
We then go to the Grand Peacock restaurant at Jorawar Singh Gate for lunch. We choose our usual dal, sweet and sour pumpkin, jeera rice, naan and plain curds. It’s the best meal we’ve had so far and only costs 1000 rupees (13 euro).
Our next stop is Jantar Mantar, a fascinating collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king, Sawai Jai Singh and completed in 1738. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it has the world’s largest stone sundial.
Each time Praveen explains one of the instruments, he takes us into the shade because the temperature is well over 30°C. However, the full sun is perfect for observing the sundials and other masonry, stone and brass instruments built using the astronomy and instrument design principles of ancient Hindu Sanskrit texts. One of the sundials is accurate to within 2 seconds.
We move on to the City Palace next door, built between 1729 and 1732 by Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber, who planned and built the outer walls. Later additions were made by subsequent rulers up until the 20th century.
It includes the Chandra Mahal and Mubarek Mahal palaces in addition to a large number of courtyards, gardens and other buildings, and isthe seat of the Maharajah of Jaipur. Praveen explains that when the two flags are present on the Mubaret Mahal, which is still a royal residence, it means the Maharajah is present.
We visit the museum in the Chandra Mahal palace, which mainly includes clothing and weapons such as swords and guns.
By now, we’ve reached saturation point and have no desire to go shopping in the bazaar, no doubt to Praveen’s relief, as he nods off in the car on the way back to our beautiful Shapura House Hotel.
We take a shower and have a welcome cup of tea and a couple of bananas that Rajendar has stopped off to buy for us. We then relax until the nightly live show in the restaurant below starts up again. This time we take a look from our balcony. There are two musicians and a dancer. The restaurant is mainly occupied by groups who are not necessarily staying in our hotel. Not exactly our scene so we have a gin and tonic next to the pool before retiring early as we have another early start tomorrow which includes a long drive to Agra and a visit to the Red Fort.
Our guide: Praveen Agrawal, email@example.com, member of the World Federation of Tour Guide Associations
It’s that time again – the anniversary of the day Jean Michel and I met. We’re up to nineteen years. I have friends celebrating their 40th wedding anniversaries but not everyone is lucky enough to meet the right person the first time round. Last year, we tried out some new wave cuisine at Pertica in Vendôme but were not impressed although we did like the pâtisseries at Rodolphe’s. We’d also like to have a little village or a château to visit after lunch which restricts the choice somewhat in winter as lots of places close between All Saints (31st October) and Easter (beginning of April), so we’re starting to realise.
Friends have told us that Lavardin and Chateaudun are worth a visit. The only possible restaurant near Chateaudun (we’re looking for a little gastronomy here, which excludes pizzerias, crêperies and coussousseries) is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Le Manoir de Saint Quentin which isn’t far from Lavardin keeps popping up but the menu on the website doesn’t look very interesting. In the end, all the positive reviews we keep seeing (plus the absence of any other likely restaurant) convince us. We phone and leave a message, backing it up with an email. Next day we receive confirmation.
The restaurant is in a town with the impossible name of Saint-Quentin-les-Trôo. We rightly assume that it is connected to the word troglodyte as Trôo is the undisputed troglodyte capital of Loir-et-Cher. It turns out that Trôo is derived from the pronunciation of trou (hole) by English occupants during the reign of the Plantagenets in the 12th century.
As we drive through Lavardin on the way, we see a very large number of cars parked along the road which can only mean some sort of festivity. The fact that it’s the first round of the regional elections today can’t possibly be an explanation. Sure enough, there is a marché de noël this weekend. We don’t know whether that is good or bad. Most of the Christmas markets we’re seen in recent years in Paris and the Loire have been very dismal.
We arrive at the restaurant a bit early – 12.15 (it’s a little less than an hour from Blois) – and there is not a soul in sight. The weather is not conducive to staying outdoors and the door is locked so we ring the bell. A tall, harried looking Asian man answers and we apologise for our early arrival. That’s OK, he says, in heavily accented French, adding apologetically, “we’re not very busy at the moment”.
He takes us through to a room where two tables are laid and we choose the one next to the window. That’s when I remember why I bought a woollen pullover a couple of years ago – it’s to put under a woollen jacket and over my Damart when we go to restaurants in the country in winter. Unlike Parisian restaurants, they are not overheated. The large radiator is on though so I assume it will get warmer as time goes by.
The decor is minimalist. The tablecloths are plastic simili-linen with plastic woven mats and melamine Andy Warhol plates. The serviettes are good-quality fabric. There are several large acrylic paintings on the wall and some more Andy Warhol plates in a niche. There are no menus.
Jean Michel orders our usual celebratory glass of champagne before I have a chance to remind him that we have decided to always order local bubbly when we eat out in the Loire Valley. Our host/chef/waiter brings back a half bottle of Rothschild which gives me the chance to change the order. I learnt the first time I visited a champagne cellar in Reims that you should never buy half bottles (even though they sell them) because the champagne can’t mature properly and develop good fizz in a half bottle. We ask for a bottle of champenoise method vouvray instead and happily stay with it for the rest of the meal.
The chef, who turns out to be from Hong Kong and does not recognise my pronunciation of Cheung Chau island, tells us that he will be serving a dégustation menu. He then describes the different dishes with some difficulty as his French is a little basic. He says that cheese is optional. We say it won’t be necessary considering the rest of the menu which seems to have an amazing number of courses.
To accompany our first glass of vouvray, we are given a little slice of the chef’s own foie gras on a small piece of toast, followed by some little vertical spring rolls that we don’t manage to identify.
The two amuses-gueules are followed by no fewer than five starters: pumpkin soup, mackerel rillettes, cold prawns with curly lettuce, artichoke hearts topped with guacomole on a smoked salmon bed arranged to look like a snail, and foie gras which isn’t bad but we prefer our own salt-cooked melt-in-the-mouth Christmas foie gras that we’ll be making on Thursday with our friends as we did last year.
By the time the main course arrives, we know we will have the restaurant to ourselves. A very tender breast of guinea-fowl is served with potato purée, turnip and carrot and a tasty foie gras sauce.
By now, I don’t think I can eat another morsel. We refuse the cheese once again and wait for the dessert. Jean Michel says there are three. Fortunately they all turn out to be on the same plate. First, homemade raspberry ice-cream which we don’t manage to identify because we’ve never had it before. In France, they only have raspberry sorbet. I prefer the ice-cream. Second, a delicious chestnut soft-centred cake. Third, several lightly caramelised slices of apple.
We finish off with an excellent espresso. The bill comes to 97 euro, which we declare is very good value for money (36 euro each for the menu, 20 euro for the Vouvray and 2.50 for the coffee). We’re glad we didn’t have any breakfast and are now going to get a bit of exercise walking around Lavardin.
We both agree that it was an excellent choice for an anniversary lunch due to its originality. All the food is made by the chef and fresh – we even saw him go out in the garden to pick some fresh herbs; there were no strange combinations, but nothing was outstanding.
The sun is starting to come out when we leave the restaurant, which is a relief. We arrive at Lavardin by a back road, which is fortunate, because it means we can park quite close to all the activity instead of miles away on the main road. Lavardin immediately strikes us as being a pretty little town, especially with the ruined castle on the hill, 45 metres above the Loir River (not to be confused with its second cousin, the Loire).
The Christmas market, however, has little to offer. The stalls are spread out through the town, including the castle, which is a good idea, but prevents us from having a proper visit though we do see a bread oven hollowed out from the limestone. There is nothing original at the market and very little is handmade. We are not tempted to buy.
Founded by the Counts of Vendôme in the 9th century, the feudal castle was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th century by John 1st of Bourbon-Vendôme. After being occupied by members of the Catholic league, it was captured and dismantled on the orders of Henri IV in 1590.
All that is left of the castle is a 26-metre high ectangular keep with flat buttresses topped with crenallations. The only remaining part of the two walls built in the 14th and 15th centuries is the entrance flanked by two circular towers and a drawbridge over a moat.
We walk up the hill to the castle and out onto the promontory. Unsurprisingly, the blow-up Santa Claus does not seem to appeal to many of the children present. A couple of teenagers try to hug it while their mother takes a photo.
And somehow, I can’t really imagine that the real one with his terrible white dreadlooks sauntering down the street talking to his mates is very convincing either.
However, Lavardin certainly has potential. We’ll come back on our bikes in the spring and cycle around the area, maybe starting in Vendôme, less than 20 km away, as there are several places to visit, including nearby Montoire-sur-Loir, the manor house where Pierre Ronsard, the Renaissance poet, was born, the historical train station in Montoire where Pétain and Hitler met up during the second world war, the Saint Gilles chapel with its beautiful frescoes and the troglodyte village of Trôo. Perhaps you’d like to join us?
Sunday is cool and rainy so we have reserved our weekly cycling excursion for Monday which dawns bright and sunny. We are off by 10.30 am to Montrichard on the Cher River, about a half an hour’s drive from Blois, via Chaumont. We are going to get cycle maps at the tourist office.
They don’t have any. That’s a disappointment but we have seen on the Internet that there is a cycle path to Thésée about halfway along the 20 K route. We find a parking lot near the river and set out.
Initially the path is promising and we’re happy to be on our bikes again. The lack of maintenance, however, soon becomes obvious (read : the path is often rutted and you have to keep your eyes on the ground all the time). When you glance at the scenery, it’s quite bucolic, marred only by the smell of pollution caused by ever-increasing green algae.
We go past several locks, all of which seem to be functioning and automatic. Most of the lock houses seem to be converted into holiday rentals. From time to time, I get off my bike and walk over a rough patch, rather than find myself face down on the gravel in front of me. “Don’t worry”, Jean Michel consoles me, “after we get to Thésée, there’s a real bike path.”
Well, yes, there is a sort of a bike path between the river and the railway line but the maintenance isn’t any better. On the other side, we can see many troglodyte houses built into the limestone cliffs, but it’s not really scenic.
Nor is the modern version of a cathedral, aka a grain silo. It even has a pseudo bell tower.
The approach to Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, however, which we’ve never visited, more than makes up for the mediocre ride. The château stands on the hill just opposite the bridge with the collegiate church to the left.
Jean Michel points out a sign on the bridge that says “1940-1944 Here was the line of demarcation. We will remember them.”
Now comes the important bit. Lunch. It’s 1.15 pm and it’s Monday (read : most restaurants in France, particularly in the provinces, are closed). Now my idea of a restaurant when we’re cycling is a pleasant, inexpensive, non-touristy-looking place, with shady trees over the outside tables and a direct view of the river. The sort they have in Germany all along the Danube.
The only problem is that it seems to be a rare commodity in France. We cycle through the village and only discover a kebab place near the church and an indoor crêperie. We ride along the river in both directions and finally have to resign ourselves to coming back to L’Embarcadère which fronts onto the main road and doesn’t have a terrace. However, with a four-course menu for 13 euro, it’s definitely inexpensive.
I have stuffed tomatoes, steak (small piece) and chips, cheese and ice-cream. It’s all palatable though nothing special. Jean Michel has the same thing except he has beef flank (hampe) instead of steak. Just in case you’ve never discovered this, the piece of meat that’s called steak (often written steack) in France is not what Australians call steak. It’s a specific cheap cut of grilling beef. It is NOT fillet or entrecôte.
We’ve finished our coffee so we set off to visit the town, starting with the tourist office because we’d like to find a better route to cycle back to Montrichard. Disappointment once again. They don’t have any cycle maps either. They give us a map of the town indicating 20 places to visit, but with explanations for only two of them : the castle and the collegiate church.
We’re just next to the road leading up to the château and we debate whether it’s worth it. We decide to make the effort. Halfway up, we talk to a man with a truck sweeping up dead leaves. I can’t believe there are already autumn leaves in August but the man tells us the trees have a disease. That’s a relief (not for the trees of course). Needless to say, the chestnut trees are already shedding their leaves everywhere. Sigh.
The château is privately owned, but visitors have free access to the courtyard. What a discovery! We’re so glad we made the decision to go to the top of the hill.
The château with its 9th century tower, Renaissance château with its scallop shells and François I salamanders, was once the home of several generations of Duc de Beauvilliers.
It has a wonderful view and lovely proportions. I particularly like the large stone urns with their blue flowers and immediately decide to plant them at home next year. I just have to find out what they are …
We ride back down into the town and visit the 11th century Collegiate Church which has two interesting features. On the front there is an inscription that says « République française Liberté Egalité Fraternité ». Now, you must admit it’s original! The church was auctioned off during the French Revolution and given back to the Catholic Church in 1800.
The other attraction is the tomb of Jeanne de Perellos, with its recumbent statue. She was banished from the church for seducing Louis II of Chalon, Count of Saint-Aignan from his legitimate spouse in 1420. What a claim to fame!
Opposite is a monumental staircase leading up to the château.
We cycle back through the little town with cobbled streets and several very old houses and down to the river. I have checked the map and found a little white road that runs roughly parallel to the main road and will take us back to Montrichard. Jean Michel has approved it.
Well, it might run parallel to a main road, but it’s still a 90 kph road and we have to ride one behind the other which isn’t much fun. At Pouillé, which is roughly opposite Thésée, we see an interesting church with an archway on the right. Initially built in the 11th and 12th centuries, it was bombarded in 1940 but has since been restored. There are no cafés.
We continue on our way until Angé which has a few historical houses but more importantly, a café with a shady terrace out the back. By now it’s 30°C and we’ve been riding in the full sun since leaving Saint-Aignan. A cold drink is most welcome.
Jean Michel studies the map again and tells me we’ll be able to leave the main road soon and take a smaller road. It does not happen. The smaller road is now part of an industrial estate. However, we are nearly at Montrichard which has a beach on the Cher and, best of all, ice-cream.
It’s like being at the seaside ! We go to a restaurant bar appropriately called La Plage which even has a live band playing old time songs – not particularly melodious but it all adds to the ambiance. We have an excellent ice-cream from a smiling waitress before mounting our bikes and riding back to the car: a round trip of 46 K and 3 ½ hours in the saddle.
In recent times, I have sadly neglected my once-weekly blogger round-up due to my very busy life since moving to Blois last October but three posts caught my eye recently that I would like to share. The first is Simply Sara Travel‘s method for selecting the perfect airbnb accommodation which I’m sure you’ll find helpful not only for Airbnb but also for home exchanges. The next is Experience France by Bike‘s excellent report on luggage transfer when cycling, particularly in the Loire Valley. The third is a very interesting history of New World vegetables in France – potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and peppers – by Days on the Claise that I’m sure you’ll find fascinating. Enjoy!
My Method on How to Select the Perfect Airbnb Accommodations
by Simply Sara Travel, a girl from New Jersey who traded in her bagels for baguettes and moved to Paris. The aim of her blog is to inspire readers to travel, embrace a new culture, and open their minds to new perspectives.
How people travel is shifting. With sites like Airbnb, more and more people are moving away from staying in traditional hotels and towards a more local experience of renting apartments/houses or shared spaces with residents. There are lots of pros to using Airbnb for lodging – it’s often less expensive than a hotel (especially when split among a larger party, and if there is a kitchen that allows self-servicing some meals) and allows for a more local-feeling experience. There’s a lot of great material already written on this – like Adventurous Kate’s How to Use Airbnb and Have a Great Experience for a detailed explanation of the site, or Expat Edna’s post on 6 Airbnb’s I Loved Around the World to give some inspiration on the cool places you could stay worldwide. Read more
Luggage Transfer – A Great Bicycling Indulgence
by Maggie LaCoste from Experience France by Bike, an American who loves biking anywhere in Europe, but especially France, which has the perfect combination of safe bike routes, great food, great weather and history
No matter how much you love bicycling in Europe, you’re probably not a big fan of carrying all your clothes in panniers. But for cyclotourists, panniers are a necessary evil, a small price to pay for complete independence on the road. Despite how carefully I choose every piece of clothing and technology that I pack, my panniers still end up weighing between 32-35 pounds, something I curse every time I go up a hill!
This summer, for the first time in 20+ years of bicycle touring, I used a luggage transfer service for 4 nights along the Mosel River. It was a fantastic indulgence, enabling us to easily bicycle the 200 km in 4 days with lots of stops during the day. Read more
Monsieur Parmentier versus Deadly Nightshade
by Susan from Days on the Claise, an Australian living in the south of the Loire Valley, writing about restoring an old house and the area and its history and running Loire Valley Time Travel.
When potatoes and other New World members of the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, aubergines, chillies, peppers) were introduced to Europe they were treated with great suspicion. The intrepid explorers who brought them reported that the South American natives they encountered ate freely of these exotic plants.
But French peasants weren’t convinced. These plants were clearly related to Henbane, Deadly Nightshade and worst of all, Mandrake. No one in their right mind would eat these dangerous plants, associated with witchcraft and capable of killing or sending you mad. Due to a curious twist of evolution, many Old World Solanums are amongst the most poisonous of all plants, but many New World Solanums are safe, nutritious and delicious. It’s true the New World species also contain some dubious compounds, but they are easily dealt with by simple everyday culinary techniques and pose no serious risk to consumers. Read more