Category Archives: Blois

A Gift of Rabbit Ears

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Today is the anniversary of our first Covid19 lockdown in France. We arrived home from our holiday in Crete at 2 pm, just two hours after the closure of all non-essential venues, with outings restricted to one hour a day for exercise and essential shopping. At the present, in Blois, mask-wearing is compulsory in built-up areas, while restaurants, cafés, bars, hypermarkets, museums and all cultural venues are closed and there is a curfew between 6 pm and 6 am. Vaccination has begun but we are too young and too healthy to qualify.

The view from the Wedding Room at Blois Town Hall

This morning, I am off to the Town Hall to interpret for a wedding, limited to 30 people, with everyone wearing masks. There are about 15 people present altogether in the big empty “wedding” room with its stunning view of the Loire. In France, marriages must take place at the Town Hall first, even if there is to be a religious ceremony. If either of the spouses does not speak French, an sworn interpreter must be present. The bridegroom today is a professional basketballer from the US and the bride is from Belgium.

I arrive early and park next to the Bishop’s Gardens (the Town Hall used to be the bishop’s palace) and wander through my favourite mauve and white garden, which is beginning to show signs of life with the coming of spring.

Stachys lanata

I notice a flourishing plant that seems to be sprouting up everywhere and take a photo. I’m always looking for new plants for the garden at home and our holiday rental garden.

A little further along, I see a municipal gardener walking towards his truck. I ask him if he can identify a plant for me on my phone. He immediately says, “That’s stachys lanata – rabbit’s ears (oreille de lapin). It has a white flower and grows about 30 to 50 cm high, but it’s mainly used for its decorative leaves. It doesn’t need much watering.” I thank him and repeat the name of rabbit’s ears. He adds that it is also called bear’s ears (oreille d’ours).

The communal compost bins

I ask if it works well in clay soil. He assures me it does. He then proposes to give me some but can’t find his shovel and looks around for a substitute. I explain that I have to go and interpret for a wedding so will hide the plant somewhere so I can get it on the way back. He points to some compost bins at the other end of the garden near where my car is parked and says he’ll put some in a bag for me and leave it behind the bins.

After the wedding, which is a very joyful affair despite the Covid restrictions, I see the gardener again and he tells me the bag is waiting for me.

The rabbits ears with flowers about to open taken last year in the same spot

When I open it, I discover that I have enough plants to cover quite a large stretch of border in my garden! In English, oreille de lapin is known as lamb’s-ear or woolly hedgenettle.

Now wasn’t that nice of him?

Happy New Year for 2020

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This post was written early January but somehow didn’t get published! It started by saying that I was earlier this year than I was last year in wishing you all the best for the coming but I was sad to say that my ideas of writing more blog posts have not come to fruition! I do have more spare time than before but it is mostly spent on welcoming family and home exchange friends, gardening, going on holidays, cycling and making the most of our yearly pass to Château de Chenonceau!

Our first trip of the year, in late March, was to Sicily which had been on my list for a long time. We rented a car and drove around the island, but I have to admit we were disappointed. On the whole we found the country very dirty and dilapidated and not particularly welcoming. We did have one wonderful evening though watching the sun set over the salt marshes near Marsala with good friends from my Fontenay days who just happened to be there at the same time.

We then stayed at home in Blois until the end of June, getting in as much cycling as we could in preparation of our summer holiday. Jean Michel built a beautiful stone retaining wall in the back garden where we dine al fresco as often as we can during the fine weather to make up for all those indoor winter months. Gardening has become one of my great pleasures but we have clay soil and a large slope at the back to give us that extra challenge. I retired on 30th June from my main translation work but am still doing 10 to 12 hours a week of certified translations.

We began home-exchanging again this year after a break of two or three years. I was able to arrange a one-week exchange in the outskirts of Copenhagen through quite easily. In mid-July we left for Denmark by car with our e-bikes behind us via Belgium with a first stop at Namur along the Meuse. It was the first time we’d cycled in Belgium. Our spirits were a little dampened by the awful weather but we managed to cycle every day and one of the highlights was Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Saxe with all its saxophones from different countries. The cycling paths in Belgium are of uneven quality and are often conspicuously absent.

We then headed for Germany, visiting Aix-la-Chapelle, Münster and Lübeck. Even the north of Germany, with its industrial reputation, has lots of pretty villages and towns and the entire country is truly a cyclist’s paradise. Wismar, for example, is a world heritage site on the Baltic Coast from which we cycled to the neighbouring island of Poel joined to the mainland by a levee where I had the best meal since we left France in a little restaurant next to a marina – a seafood platter with scallops, calamari rings and shrimp, all very fresh. We went to the tip of the island where people were swimming in the Baltic but we didn’t join them even though the outside temperature was a good 22 degrees

After a final stop in the north of Germany, during which we visited Lübeck and Schwerin Castle, inspired by our own château de Chambord but built much later, between 1847 and 1857 by Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, we headed for Copenhagen. Because we had not thought to book ahead, we were not able to take the ferry  so went the long way adding an extra 200 km to our journey, 500 km in all, via the 18 k_long Storebaelt bridge with its 33 euro toll.

We were very happy with our home exchange despite the small bedrooms, but the living area downstairs was very spacious and we had a large garden and an enclosed winter garden. Our first day in Copenhagen was somewhat marred by the overcast sky and three short downpours but it was easy to cycle the 13 km from Bagsværd to the centre of the city as the bike paths are excellent, although a little busy and frightening at times. I counted 35 bikes waiting for a green light. We managed to photograph the Little Mermaid without too many tourists.

All in all, I have to say that Copenhagen and Denmark were disappointing. We did not find the architecture very attractive and the countryside, with a few notable exceptions, was flat and uninteresting. It was also generally unsuitable for cycling apart from Copenhagen itself. We did enjoy our ride up the coast to Helsingor, site of the Elsinor Castle of Hamlet fame, and Frederisksborg Castle was quite stunning.

On the way, we went through a couple of little villages with quaint thatched cottages.

One of the policies in Denmark is to tear down old buildings and replace them with new ones rather than retore them. The town of Aarhus in Jutland houses an open-air museum called Den Gamle By (the old town) started by a teacher and translator, Peter Holm, in 1914, to save the mayor’s 16th century house (second photo) from demolition. Today there are 75 buildings from 20 towns, many furnished and often illustrating traditional services and trades. Not far away, in central Jutland, is my favourite modern building in Denmark – the Wave.

We decided to spend the next ten days in Germany, which is one of our favourite countries for cycling, visiting the Lake District, the spa town of Bad Bevensen where we treated ourselves to whirlpools every day, the Harz district with its stunning wooden churches, Marburg and Lahntal before returning to Blois via Sedan and Charleville Mézières where we cycled for an hour and a half in pouring rain!

We came back to the hottest summer on record although we had escaped the worst of it. Our poor Danish home exchangers were not as lucky! We weren’t even allowed to use our well water so our lovely green grass slowly turned a sad brown. Since then, I have studied up on all the flowering shrubs that don’t need much water and am planting lots of them in the spring so that, if we have another hot summer, we will still have flowers. We had a bumper tomato crop though!

And after the sun came the rain. After a few days cycling in Brittany late September we weren’t able to cycle very much. But the grass turned green again ….

The new rental studio apartment in the historical quarter of Blois, Châtel Rose, got off to a good start and was occupied for several months by an Australian retiree who wanted to live the French life and improve her language skills. I think she had found more friends than I have in five years by the end of her stay!!! Our aim is to give holiday makers a near-perfect experience, offering top-level services and an in-depth French experience.

This coming year we are buying a yearly pass to Château de Chaumont ncluding its wonderful garden festival. The permanent garden is already a great  inspiration to me and the interior of the castle is richly furnished.

Our next travel project is Crete in March where we will be using our home exchange “guest points” to stay in Chania and Agios Nicolaos.

Thank you for remaining faithful despite my infrequent posting. I would like to wish you all a very happy new year – health, happiness and optimism!

Happy New Year 2019

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This is my absolute last chance to write my New Year post and wish you all a wonderful 2019, as tomorrow is the first day of February. I have an exciting year ahead – I am going to retire on 30th June (although I shall keep up my certified translations for a few more years). Retirement will, I hope, give me more time to blog.

The view from our rental in Senglea

Travel continued to play a big role in our lives this year, with our first trip away in February, to the island of Malta, where we stayed in a flat called Marine View in Senglea with a most stunning view both day and night. There were many interesting places to visit and the weather was wonderful, but Cyprus, where we went last year, remains my favourite Mediterranean island.

Château de Chambord in the snow

A snowfall on our return provided the occasion for my most stunning photo yet of Château de Chambord which remains high on the list of our cycling destinations in summer and a great place to walk in the winter.

The bridge between La Rochelle and Ile de Ré

In April we went to La Rochelle for a long week-end and had a truly unforgettable experience at Christopher Coutanceau’s 2-star Michelin restaurant followed by lots of cycling on nearby Ile-de-Ré. It’s a very busy and lively town and it’s a great place to shop in comfort (especially for a non-shopper like myself). There’s lots of activity at night along the waterfront which made a bit of a change from the Loire in winter.

The main square of Krakov

We spent the whole of June in Germany and Poland, on our power-assisted bikes clocking up 800 kilometers for 16 days’ cycling. As ever, Germany was a pure delight. It is just so geared to cyclists with all its bike paths and rest-stops and I adore the colourful half-timbered houses in all the little towns and villages!


Poland, however, was another story. Although the major cities such as Poznan, Gdansk, Warsaw, Krakow and Wraclow have an amazing network of bike paths, as soon as you get out of the built-up area, you have to take either the main road or go on mountain-bike trails for 20-year-olds in top form. One unforgettable ride through a very sandy forest had me preferring the bitumen and traffic! There are practically no pretty villages which was a great disappointment. The only exception was Gdansk which we really loved. We had an apartment outside the town and were able to cycle happily up and down the coast through the seaside vilalges as well as into the city with its beautiful baroque façades.

Miltenberg on the Main

After two weeks in Poland, we were relieved to get back to Germany and follow the Main River! Poland, despite its drawbacks, is a country on the rise economically and that was obvious everywhere we went. It was difficult to have much contact with the locals though, as they were not very welcoming on the whole.

Stunning azulejos in Porto

Our week’s holiday in autumn this year took us to Porto with Ryan Air (never again!) from the nearby city of Tours. We enjoyed the first three days in Porto, by which time we had exhausted its possibilities, including a rather hair-raising bike ride along the coast. For the next three days, we took day trains (about one-hour each way) to the very interesting historical towns of Guimaraes, Aveiro and Braga. Poland may be on the way up, but Portugal is definitely going in the opposite direction. It’s very sad to see.

A favourite view of Blois when cycling along the Loire

On the home front, we continued to cycle throughout July, August and September nearly every day, often in the evenings for a picnic on weekdays thanks to the long twilight and the amazing weather. We are now up to 5000 kms since we bought our power bikes in May 2017.

Winter walk along the Loire on a rare sunny day

The winter, so far, has been cold and rainy. I’ve been forcing myself to go for an hour’s walk every two days but it’s not very attractive. We have a yearly pass to Château de Chenonceau though which makes a welcome change.

Jean Michel kept on with the renovations at the studio flat in Blois most of the year and it is now ready for holiday accommodation on I amused myself with some of the decorative features but my brilliant ideas always turned out to be more time-consuming than expected. As it is in a very old building, Jean Michel had to face up to a lot of challenges as well.

Château de Chenonceau from the walking path on the other side

This coming year, especially once I have retired, we went to do more home exchanges as well. And in case anyone is wondering – we still follow the 5:2 diet twice a week and are in very good health! I miss my blog and hope that retirement really will bring me the time and energy I need to write more often! In the meantime, I would like to wish everyone a very happy and fulfilling 2019 and maybe see you over at!

Secret Blois #2 – Wars Wounds and Fountains

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At the end of Secret Blois #1, I left you in Place Louis XII, the most animated part of Blois and home to a twice-weekly fresh produce market. You may have noticed a certain uniformity in the buildings around you. During World War II, Blois was occupied by the German army which invaded the city on 18th June 1940. It was liberated by American soldiers during the last two weeks of August 1944. On both occasions, the town was bombed for several days particularly after the Normandy landings, destroying more than 1500 buildings, especially in the area around Place Louis XII, the railway bridge over the Loire and Gabriel Bridge.

The entrance to Rue Saint Lubin with the castle on the right
The entrance to Rue Saint Lubin flanked by two postwar buildings

The château was saved by a pragmatic decision taken by the local authorities. The German bombs started fires in the city and the chateau was in danger so some of the mediaeval houses around the chateau were deliberately blown up by the locals to form a firebreak to protect the château. The Germans were aiming for the bridge in order to stop people fleeing south. In those days there was a steady stream of refugees crossing at Blois and other places.

However, if you continue along the narrow street of Rue Saint Lubin keeping the Loire on your left and the castle on your right, you will find yourself in a much older area dominated by the 13th century Romanesque church of Saint Nicolas with its tall spires. Follow Rue des Trois Marchands noting all the little speciality shops along the way, many of which are on the ground floor of half-timbered houses that fortunately survived the war.

Continue along Rue des Trois Marchands to n°11. Initially called Auberge du Cigne, this inn, which was built in 1573, became Auberge des Trois Marchands in 1669 and gave its name to the street which was full of hostels and inns: l’Ecrevisse (opposite the pharmacy at n° 17), La Fontaine (the site of the Tuile d’Or, today n° 19), La Croix Blanche (n° 21) and many more which have now disappeared.

Fontaine de Saint-Laumer or Fontaine de Foix next to Saint Nicolas Church
Fontaine de Saint-Laumer or Fontaine de Foix next to Saint Nicolas Church with Laumer Abbey through the door on the right

On the right of the church of Saint Nicolas when you are facing the entrance, you can see a fountain built into the wall of the cloisters of the old Saint Laumer Abbey. Foix or Saint-Laumer Fountain was the only one not supplied by the Gouffre, a reservoir gouged out of rock to which a 529-metre long aqueduct brought rainwater and seepage water collected on the limestone plateau. The Gouffre is at the bottom of the staircase called Degrés du Gouffre which we will visit on another occasion. This is the third fountain we have seen so far out of the seven that still remain in a city once renowned for its “glorious fountains” to quote the historian Noël Mars, writing in 1646.

On the next corner on the right is the Musée de la Résistance, another reminder of Blois’ war history. Turn right in front of the Auberge Ligérienne Hotel and onto Place de la Grève to find the best-known and most elegant place to stay in the 17th and 18th centuries: Hôtellerie de la Galère. At that time, it was right on the quay, near the old river port of Grève. at 3 place de la Grève. It was first mentioned in 1611 and finally disappeared in 1825. Its illustrious guests include Nicolas Fouquet (Louis XIV’s finance minister who got too big for his boots and built Vaux-le-Vicomte), Madame de Sévigné, James II of England, Philippe V, the Prince of Wales in 1711, Mehemet Effendi and the Spanish Infanta. Sadly, all that is left today is a window with a balcony and a carriage entrance at 6 rue de la Grève.

The rear façade of Hôtellerie de la Galère on Rue de la Grève
The rear façade of Hôtellerie de la Galère on Rue de la Grève

Back on Place de la Grève, turn left to walk along the river towards Pont Gabriel bridge and past Saint-Laumer Abbey which now houses the region’s administrative offices.

A little further on, on Place Jacques Lob, you’ll see a building with two comic characters on the front – La Maison de la BD. A BD is a bande dessinée ou comic strip, an art form that is extremely popular in France among both children and adults. Blois holds a comic festival every year called BD Boum. This year (2016), it will take place on 17 and 18 November. The characters, Bill & Boule, first appeared in a Belgian comic book called Spirou in 1959.

Boule and Bill on La Maison de la BD
Boule and Bill on La Maison de la BD

If you take a short deviation left into Rue des Jacobins on the left, you will see the front entrance with a drawing by François Bourgeon. Millions of copies of Bourgeon’s albums have been sold. He’s particularly well-known for his heroines. The BD centre runs temporary exhibitions and comic strip classes for teenagers and adults.

Back on Quai de la Saussaye, you will come to Square Valin de la Vaissière on top of an underground parking lot. A black marble monument to Colonel Henri Valin de la Vaissière on the edge of the square closest to Place Louis XII is yet another reminder of World War II. Born in 1901, Vallin initially trained as an air force officer. After his unit was disbanded in 1942, he joined the ORA (Organisation de résistance dans l’armée) where he was known as “Valin”. Unfortunately, he was assassinated by a deranged subaltern in December 1944, after a regiment of Resistance fighters under his orders expelled the Germans from their barracks and liberated Blois on 16th August 1944.

War memorial to Valin de la Vaissière
War memorial to Valin de la Vaissière

Before the Germans left, they decided to blow up Jacques Gabriel Bridge which you can see on your right. Two piers and three arches collapsed but the rest of the 18th century bridge resisted. The only way that the daily traffic of 1000 vehicles and 4000 pedestrians could cross the river was by ferry. As a result, a temporary wooden bridge was built in less than 3 weeks. It was used for a year while a second wooden bridge capable of carrying greater loads was being built next to the stone bridge.

Despite enormous problems– flooding, lack of materials, very cold weather, etc., construction of the second wooden bridge began during the winter of 1944 and was completed on 2nd September 1945 on the 1st anniversary of the total liberation of the city. The new bridge was pronounced safe by the engineers but vehicles were asked to limit their speed to 15 kph and only trucks under 10 tonnes were allowed to cross. After three years of good and faithful service, the wooden bridge was finally replaced by the newly reconstructed stone bridge. If you cross over to other side of the road just to the right of the bridge, you can see the remains of the wooden bridge during low water periods next to the central arch.

You can see the remains of the wooden piers of the temporary bridge near the middle stone arch
You can see the remains of the wooden piers of the temporary bridge near the centre stone arch

Cross back again and turn left just after the Société Générale bank into Rue Emile Laurens. Take the first street on the right, Rue du Commerce, the main shopping street of Blois. On the first corner, you’ll see a couple of half-timbered houses that miraculously survived the Second World War.

At the top of Rue du Commerce, turn right into Rue Denis Papin and you’ll see a sunken fountain on your right on Place du Marché au Beurre, once the butter market. The original street level has now been raised, and the fountain is partially hidden by the terrace of the Saint Jacques Restaurant. It was given to the town by Louis XII under the somewhat uninventive name of “Neighbourhood Well Fountain” and renamed Saint-Jacques Fountain after a collegiate church that has now been destroyed. Since its construction, it has been fed by the Gouffre mentioned above. That is our fourth fountain.


The fifth is located further along Rue Denis Papin just before you get to the corner, on the opposite side of the street almost at the foot of the stairs. It has an interesting history. Called the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) Fountain, it used to be located on the wall of the old 15th century town hall, on Rue Foulerie. which was destroyed in June 1940. The fountain was found among the ruins and kept in the Lapidary Museum across the river in Vienne until a local historical association, Association des amis du Vieux Blois, financed its re-installation at the foot of Denis Papin stairs in 2005.

Now walk down Rue Denis Papin towards the river, staying on the right-hand side. You’ll come to three enormous metal keys on the corner of Rue des Trois Clefs (Three Keys Street), so named because of the many locksmiths who had their shop fronts on this once narrow street, widened after the 1940 bombings. It was in 1979, when the pedestrian precinct was created, that the municipal workshops produced the monumental metal sculpture consisting of three keys, 3 metres high and each weighing 420 kilos, in less than three months.

The Three Keys sculpture in Rue des Trois Clés
The Three Keys sculpture in Rue des Trois Clés

We’ve come to the end of our second tour of Secret Blois. Next time, we’ll cross Denis Papin and explore another old quarter of Blois with its many mediaeval façades, winding streets and staircases.

If you’re looking for something to eat or drink close by, you can go to Appart’Thé for tea/coffee or lunch at 12-14 rue Basse (Rue Basse forms a triangle with Rue Denis Papin when it turns the corner), dinner or lunch at Au Coin d’Table, 9, rue Henri Drussy or for lunch, dinner or a drink at Le Douze which is a cellar, restaurant and wine bar, Place Ave Maria, 12 rue du Poids du Roi, or F&B opposite, all of which are on the other side of Rue Denis Papin.  


Secret Blois #1 – Around the castle

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If you are like me, when you visit somewhere new, you don’t just want to see the main attractions. You want to see the hidden face behind the castle or the museum, the little details on the way. You want to eat in the sort of restaurants the locals go to. You want to understand how the town or village grew and developed, what sort of people live there. My husband and I chose Blois as the place we wanted to live in after his retirement and have set about discovering its every nook and cranny. Because we love it so much, I’d like to share with you our secret Blois by taking you on a personal guided tour. If you have binoculars, I suggest you take them with you!

Steps leading up to the royal garden Steps leading up to the royal garden

Let’s start at the train station and discover the historical centre together. We’ll be walking down Rue Gambetta towards Blois Royal Castle and for those you are joining us by car, we’ll meet you in the open-air parking lot on the corner of Gambetta and Chanzy. Across the road from the parking lot is a high stone wall and at the top is the King’s Garden (Jardin du Roi).

The first thing you will see when you enter the garden is a statue of Diane of the Chase by Anna Hyatt Huntingdon. An article in our local paper, La Nouvelle République, tells the story of how the Salon de Paris art exhibition in 1910 refused to give first prize to Anna Hyatt for the statue on the pretext that “It’s far too big and beautiful for a woman to have made it!” How wonderful to be a female in those days!

Diane of the Chase Diane of the Chase

Born in Massachusetts in 1876, Anna Hyatt Huntington lived to the ripe old age of 97, and is one of American’s greatest 20th century sculptresses. She was very popular in France. A copy of her Joan of Arc was presented to Blois with great pomp by the patron of the arts, J. Sanford Saltus. It met with considerable success and Anna became famous. I’ll take you to see it a little later on. It’s in the Bishop’s Garden.

Anna had such good memories of France that Hubert Fillay, president of the Ecole de la Loire Academy of Art, learnt in 1933 that she wanted to donate a statue of Diane to the city of Blois. The 2.5 metre high statue, which is stunningly beautiful from whichever angle you look at it, was eagerly accepted. Anna Hyatt even paid the 1,000 dollars needed to erect it. “I would be happy to find a place in the château’s beautiful historical gardens”. And so are we!

If you look over to your left after going past Diane, you’ll see a very pointed slate roof atop a little brick and stone pavilion. With the Orangery, which you can also see, the Anne de Bretagne pavilion is the last trace of the royal gardens of Blois Castle. Built in the “lower gardens” it is a unique example of early 16th century construction. Despite the presence of a private chapel, it was probably a royal pavilion with various purposes relating to the gardens – a place of meditation, a venue for private meetings, romantic trysts, etc. It is no longer open to the public but you can sometimes see inside when there is an exhibition.

Anne de Bretagne pavilion on the left Anne de Bretagne pavilion on the left and Saint Vincent de Paul’s church in the middle

From the end of the garden, you have one of the best views of the rear façade of the castle. The Royal Castle of Blois is a real mixture. It consists of four castles comprising four different eras and four architectural styles around the same courtyard: 18th century gothic; flamboyant gothic and introduction of the Renaissance; 16th century Renaissance with François I, the Renaissance superstar, and the classical architecture of the 17th century.  This is the Renaissance façade with its Italianate galleries.

On the left, is the beautiful church of Saint Vincent de Paul. It was built between 1625 and 1660 on the site of an old chapel and is part of the Catholic Counter-Reform movement in Europe. Construction progressed slowly until Gaston d’Orléans stepped in. His initials, like those of his daughter Anne-Marie, are inscribed on the façade. After falling into disuse during the French Revolution (which often happened to churches), it was used as a stable and fodder storage area before being rehabilitated in 1826 and restored between 1847 and 1877.

You can now walk to the right and down the steps until you are on the same level as the castle. In front of you is a grassy patch with a view of the Loire River and the 14th century church of Saint Nicolas on the left.

The road leading down to the castle The road leading down to the castle

Walk down the hill towards the castle and then up the ramp that runs along the Renaissance façade. You’ll see the tourist office down on your left and can get yourself a map of the town. Next door is a little restaurant called Les Forges du Château which has become very popular but is often full. What I like best about it is the 15th century wine cellar downstairs on the right has you enter. It has dust-covered vintage bottles behind iron grids and is worth a visit in itself! You can buy some of the local Touraine, Cheverny and Cour Cheverny as well.

Now walk up the stairs to the Place du Château. I will let you visit the inside of the castle on your own (you can refer to and the official documentation for more information) but I’d like to point out a couple of interesting features outside.

The hexagon and compass rose, in the middle of the court of honour will be helpful in understanding the different parts of the castle. Clockwise from left bottom: TERRACE – Panorama and tower 13th century; GASTON D’ORLEANS 17th century; FRANCOIS I 16th century; STATE ROOM 13th century; LOUIS XII late 15th century; CHAPEL late 15th century.

Hexagon in the castle courtyard Hexagon in the castle courtyard

Now follow the direction of the SALLE DES ETATS and look up at the window on the brick wall to the left of the staircase entrance. You’ll see two little figures called cul-de-lampe.

Sculptors of public and religious buildings often used local dignitaries as models for faces, sometimes rather humouristically. The face on the right is easily recognizable to locals as Jack Lang who was the mayor of Blois from 1989 to 2000. The rest of the body has not been changed. Jack Lang was also the French minister of culture from 1981 to 1991 and is known by many people as being the founder of the “Fête de la Musique“, the very popular music festival held in France on the summer solstice every year around 20/21 June. Jack Lang’s face appeared during restoration of the castle in the 1990s opposite another local figure Martine Tissier de Mallerais.

Tower with Jack Lang's cul-de-lampe on the first floor window Tower with Jack Lang’s cul-de-lampe on the first floor window in the middle of the photo

Madame Tissier de Mallerais became curator of Blois Castle in 1967 at the age of 27, a post at which she excelled up until 1991 when she succumbed to Jack Lang’s determination to change the main cultural officers after his election in 1989. Finding themselves opposite each other on the façade of the castle must have been somewhat of a shock.

Now go in the direction of the chapel and, leaving it on your left, walk through to the round Tour du Foix, which is a vestige of the 13th century feudal fortifications. It offers a panorama of the city of Blois, the Loire River and the church of Saint Nicolas. In the middle ages, the tower defended the south-west corner of the castle and the Porte du Foix entrance at the foot of the rocky spur.

Note the fat squat looking animal near the tower. I’ll point out a similar one a little further on.

Mysterious animal near Tour de Foix Mysterious animal near Tour de Foix

When you leave château you might feel like an ice-cream. The Marignan on the left is practically the only place in Blois where you can find an after-dinner take-away ice-cream – but only from May to September and not too late! During the day there are several vendors in the streets off Place Louis XII.

Opposite the castle is La Maison de la Magie or House of Magic Museum in honour of Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, the famous French illusionist born in Blois in 1805. “Was he Houdini?”, I can hear you say. Houdin had a theatre in the Palais Royal in Paris where he was highly successful. However, it was a man called Ehrich Weiss born in Budapest 1874 who took the pseudonym of Harry Houdini after emigrating to the United States at an early age and became one of the leading magicians in the world.

Before descending the steps to the right of the House of Magic, walk to the edge of the terrace and up the stone steps to get a magical view of Blois with the cathedral in the distance. Below is Place de la Vaissière where the excellent Saturday morning market is held.

Follow the path down through an archway to the steps. On the left, almost at the bottom, you’ll see another archway with a blue door, once a chapel.  Dedicated to the hermit Saint Calais, the Chapel, consecrated in 1508, was the private place of worship for Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. The nave was demolished in 1635 during the construction of the Gaston d’Orléans wing of Blois Castle. The painted vaults and tiled flooring date from 1869. The present-day stained glass windows by Max Ingrand, dated 1957, replaced those destroyed during the bombings in 1944.

Saint Calais chapel Saint Calais chapel

In front of you, at the bottom of the steps and if it’s not market day, you can see a swan pierced with an arrow on the pavement.

Called a cygne transpercé, this emblem was used by both Louise of Savoy and her daughter-in-law Claude of France. The symbolism is complicated and now poorly understood. It includes references to the white colour, meaning purity. Claude’s most commonly used emblem, the ermine, is also white. Louise often used wings because the word for wings, ailes, is pronounced like ‘L’, her initial. The meaning of the arrow is the most obscure part. It is probably linked to love, like Cupid’s arrows. When Louise uses it, it may refer to the loss of her husband. If this is the case then there is a link to the white colour of the swan, white being the royal colour of mourning. Louise sometimes used a swan emblem to refer to her daughter Marguerite too.

Saint Martin's fountain Saint Martin’s fountain

On the right, you’ll see Saint-Martin’s fountain, very similar to the squat fat animal near Tour de Foix.  It has a crown while this one doesn’t. The name “Saint Martin” refers to a parish church built in the 13th century that has now disappeared. After the second world war bombings, the square was reconstructed and this fountain, consisting of an old gargoyle and a small pool, was designed.

There is another interesting fountain a little further on your left on one side of Place Louis XII. The Fontaine de l’Arsis des Comtes de Blois, known as the Louis XII fountain, was reconstructed in 1511 by the distinguished engineer Pierre de Valence. Up until the 19th century, it was located a little further away, on the corner of Saint Lubin and Bourgmoyen streets. However, when the houses behind it were destroyed to build the Louis XII square in 1820, it was transferred to the southern corner of the square which is why it looks a little out of place. After being damaged during the Revolution, it was restored in 1890. It is one of seven fountains in Blois, all supplied with water from the same reservoir, called a “gouffre” and located under Saint-Vincent’s.

If it’s market day (Saturday), I suggest you read my two posts describing our favourite vendors: and

By now you’re ready for a break anyway! If you are looking for lunch or coffee and cake, Douce Heure on the other side of the Place with its red awnings and chairs will probably do the trick, especially if you like hot chocolate! For lunch (but you will have to get there early!) you can join the local lunch crowd at Le Coup de Fourchette by walking left towards the river, then left again. They are my closest recommendations. You’ll find other suggestions at the end of each Secret Blois post.

Les Forges du Château, 21 Place du Château, 41000 Blois. Open 11 am to 10 pm from June to August, 11 am to 9 pm April to November and 11 am to 6 pm November to April. Closed on Wednesdays. 02 54 78 33 70.

Douce Heure, place Louis XII, 41000 Blois. Open all year round. 12 noon to 7 pm. Closed Sundays.

Le Coup de Fourchette, 15 Quai de la Saussaye, 41000 BLOIS, 02 54 55 00 24. Open Monday to Wednesday, lunchtime only and Thursday to Saturday, lunchtime and evening.

All_About_France_blog_linky_xmasI’m entering this post in Lou Messugo’s All About France montly link-up. For other entries click here.

A Walk Along the Loire

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It’s Sunday and we’ve been looking forward to having a break after a week of kitchen renovation (Jean Michel) and seismic concrete translation (me).  During breakfast we look at the weather report. The temperature is below 20°C and rain is predicted so cycling is out. We decide to go for a walk along the Loire. By the time we dig up some potatoes for dinner and get ready, it’s our usual 12 noon.

Purple flowers along the banks of the Loire
Purple wild flowers (lythrum salicaria) along the banks of the Loire

We turn right after leaving the house, then left at the end of the street so that we can cross the main highway along the Loire and join the path on the other side. Jean Michel immediately wants to push through the vegetation to the edge of the Loire but I insist that we walk along the path to the right until we see a suitable opening. We soon do. It takes us to a sandbank that is usually underwater but with the recent lack of rain, the level of the Loire has diminished considerably.

The sandy bank with its vegetation
The sandy bank with its vegetation

We walk onto the uncovered sandbank. It’s almost like being at the seaside, a very strange impression. The sand is soft and vegetation has already sprung up.

The banks of the Loire with Blois in the distance
The banks of the Loire with Blois in the distance

Far down to the left we can see Mitterand Bridge and the spires of Blois.

Yellow wild flowers
Yellow wild flowers

I’m intrigued by the wild flowers. I don’t know these yellow ones. We later discover they are Ludwigia peploides or floating primrose-willow, which is an aquatic plant and, sadly, Susan from Days on the Claise, expert in such things, tells us it’s an invasive alien.

The second bluish-purple flowers
The second bluish-purple flowers

Nor these purple ones on the path beneath our feet. They look vaguely like cornflowers. Susan tells us they are long-leaved lungwort, which normally flower in late spring.

Some spiky flowers
Spiky Field Eryngo which Jean Michel thinks is thistle but in fact, it’s not. It’s in full bloom and is related to carrots and parsely

As predicted there is rain, but every time we think it’s more than just a few spits and put our jackets on, it stops ! And we get hot if we keep them on when it isn’t raining …

Jean Michel resting at Fosse aux Poissons
Jean Michel resting at Fosse aux Poissons

We continue along the path which provides glimpses of the Loire from time to time until we get to Fosse aux Poissons (the fish pool) where there is even a log to sit on – which we do because my feet are starting to burn.

The fisherman in the kayak
The fisherman in the kayak

While we are resting, a kayak comes past. Jean Michel scrutinises it. “That looks like a great idea for a fisherman”, he says, “not that I have any time for fishing this year.” I can hear regret in his voice.

The highway - you can see how dry the grass is at the moment
The highway – you can see how dry the grass is at the moment

We start thinking about going back as we’ve already been walking an hour and a  half. There is a parking lot at Fosse aux Poissons so we walk up the embankment to the highway and cross over. On the other side, there is a steep grassy bank that leads down to another path. We scramble down (well, I scramble – Jean Michel is a very practised walker and takes it in his stride).

Flowers that Jean Michel calls combs
Flowers that Jean Michel calls combs – you can see the embankment I scrambled down

I notice a strange flower waving in the wind. “We call them combs”, says Jean Michel, but they look more like brushes to me. It appears to be a Dipsacus fullonum or teasel.

The berries used to make
Blackthorn berries – the young shoots are used to make a local liqueur

We’re hoping the path goes as far as the Chouzy-sur-Cisse turnoff which we seem to have overshot. Jean Michel tastes some unripe mirabelle plums and then points out the black thorn bush to me. It’s tender shoots are used to make the liqueur that we tasted when we bought our three tonnes of free stone. “The berries are very bitter”, he tells me. He doesn’t taste them.

Little mirabelle plums not yet ripe
Little mirabelle plums not yet ripe

Our path ends with a very closed looking gate so I have to scramble up the bank again. Fortunately we only have to walk about 200 metres alongside the 90 kph highway before going left towards Chouzy to take the walking path to the right that will take us home.

The very closed gate at the end of the path
The very closed gate at the end of the path

By now my feet are killing me so we find a useful little stone bridge to sit on while we eat some biscuits. It starts raining in earnest so we finish our excursion with our jackets and hoods on.

A very wet end to our walk
A very wet end to our walk with the last of the Tour de France going under the rail bridge

I’m glad to get back after walking 9 K in 2 ½ hours which is not very fast, I know, but quite an exploit for me !

May Flowers in the Loire

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I have never had any doubts about moving to Blois despite the dreary winter but spring in our garden and the surrounding villages and countryside is just so wonderful that I don’t think I could ever spend it anywhere else! Let me share some of our May flowers with you starting with the traditional lily-of-the-valley that Jean Michel picked for me in the garden.


Next come the Ronsard roses, viburnum and irises outside our front gate.

ronsard_irisesFollowed by the first rose to bloom – the Peace Rose. It has no scent but I love the colours and the story behind it. Only one flower seems to bloom at a time.

peace_roseThe climbing roses on the half-timbered tower at the corner of our house flowered next. They don’t have any scent either but are very romantic.


I love the weigela for its abundance. It grows at one end of our vegetable garden and is a little bit hidden away but will be very visible from our future kitchen side window.


And just look at the next one – it’s wattle, isn’t? I brought back seeds one time but had no success. Then I discovered we already had one in our little wood!


I took this photo on a rainy day. You can see the clematis on the wall which we planted two years ago and are very proud of. However, there is an armandii clematis which has been less successful. I accidentally broke the flowering end and it’s been sulking ever since.


These are the peonies in the little house next door. I’m going to try dividing the tubers in autumn.


The roses below are my favourites and bloom right up until December but May/June is the best period.


And below is the view out of my office room this morning – it corresponds to the window on the left in the photo above.



All_About_France_blog_linky_xmasThis my contribution to this month’s AllAboutFrance link-up proposed by Lou Messugo. For other posts on France, click here


Why I love the market even when it’s cold or rainy #2

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We are halfway through the Saturday market (you can read #1 here) and having our coffee, waiting to hear about the Chambord second-hand and antique fair on May 1st from a lady who was an exhibitor.

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor
Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

“I slept the night in my car”, she explains. “It was very cold – it rained all night. The first buyers turned up at 4.30 am. I wasn’t even up ! (Who’s to blame her ?). During the day, it was so wet, I changed three times”, she adds. “I don’t understand why anyone would come on such an awful day. The ground was completely soaked.” When the friend on her left asks how much  money she made, she replies “About 150 euro. I usually make 800 to 1000 euro at Chambord.”

The brocante in Chambord two years ago on a perfect day
The brocante in Chambord two years ago on a perfect day

We were lucky when we went three years ago at the suggestion of Mr and Mrs Previous Owner. It was a beautiful sunny day and the place was absolutely crowded.

We’ve finished our coffee and the story’s over so we move on, after being invited to attend two forthcoming brocantes, one combined with the local horticulture school’s annual exhibition. We’ll definitely be going to that one ! Let’s hope the weather is better …

The Turkish fruit and vegetable stall
The Turkish fruit and vegetable stall

Our next stop is a Turkish couple who sell good quality fruit and vegetables. Initially we didn’t get much of a smile from Madame but now that we have become regulars, she has opened up. Her husband loves a good joke and sometimes joins us for coffee. They own a grocery store in Vendôme.

Our cheese monger
Our cheese monger

Next comes the cheese monger. We buy a selection of cheeses about every three weeks and have a cheese meal once a week.  We’d much rather do it that way than just have a little bit at a time. The French custom of having cheese at every meal is gradually dying out because of the high calorie content and lack of physical activity. We have a large bowl of lettuce and a piece of fruit to follow.

The honey vendor just opposite has a wide selection of local honey.

The honey vendor having a conversation with the clothes seller next door
The honey vendor having a conversation with the clothes seller next door

The fishmonger is next in line and there is often a queue. We buy fresh mackerel whenever we can (an oily fish in Europe unlike the Australian fish of the same name) and cook them whole. I usually buy several pieces of wild salmon at a time and freeze them. There are three fishmongers at the market but we’re not really satisfied with any of them, unlike the market we went to in Paris which had a wide variety of freshly caught fish at reasonable prices.

The kitchen stall. Imagine packing and unpacking it all every time!
The kitchen stall. Imagine packing and unpacking it all every time!

The kitchen stall a little further along is where we buy our kitchen knives and vegetable peelers which disappear mysteriously from time to time. Jean Michel is convinced that when he next adds the compost to the vegetable garden, it’s going to be full of knives.  We can also have our knives and scissors sharpened although a knife grinder turned up at the market recently with a very neat outfit indeed.

The knife grinder
The knife grinder

Depending on the season, we might then find a stall just selling asparagus, artichokes or strawberries all of which are local specialities.

Specialised asparagus sellers appear in season
Specialised asparagus sellers appear in season

We never miss having a chat with Damien, our local biscuit maker. He is quite passionate about his trade and is always trying out new recipes. He seems to know half the people in Blois as well and entertains us with the local gossip.

Damien and his Les Grouets biscuits
Damien and his Les Grouets biscuits

The last on the list is a man who sells fruit and vegetables grown by local producers. I sometimes go by his stall at the beginning of the market to see what he’s selling so that I don’t double up at the other stalls.

So those are are regular stalls, but there are plenty of others who are either permanent or come and go according to the  season. And you never know what else might be going on as well. Today, for instance, there were folk dancers teaching the locals! Would you have joined in?

Why I love the market even when it’s cold or rainy #1

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We go to the fresh produce market in Blois every Saturday in Place Louis XII no matter what the weather. You never know what you’ll find! We arrive any time between 10 am and 11 am and park in the underground parking lot nearby.

A brass band in winter
A brass band in winter

Over the last 3 years and particularly since we moved here permanently six months ago, we have developed a set routine to include our favourite vendors.


In winter, we start with the oyster vendor and buy two dozen spéciales as these are our favourites. At 7.20 euro a dozen, they are considerably cheaper than the ones we used to buy in the 1st arrondissement in Paris. Our vendor and her husband live and raise their oysters in Charentes and come to Blois three days a week. Between them, they cover the Amboise market on Friday and Sunday mornings, two markets in Blois on Saturday morning and various selling points on Friday and Saturday afternoon, from the beginning of September to the end of April.

The saucissons vendor on the market with local varieties such as deer and wild boar.
The saucissons vendor on the market with local varieties such as deer and wild boar.

Next stop is the saucisson seller with local varieties such as deer and wild boar. Saucisson in French corresponds to dry sausage of the salami type as opposed to saucisse of the frankfurter type. Saucisson is one of our favourite appetizers.

One day there was even a donkey to attract donations for children with cancer
One day there was even a donkey to attract donations for children with cancer

The chicken and rabbit vendor  comes next. Rabbit is one of Jean Michel’s specialities that we buy from time to time and have with chasselas grapes or prunes depending the season.

The mushroom vendor who sells button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and Japanese shitake
The mushroom vendor who sells button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and Japanese shitake

After that, we have the mushroom man. He works with a partner who grows button mushrooms (called Parisian in French) , shitake and oyster mushrooms. He loves joking and talking to each customer. He always wants to know what you are going to do with the mushrooms and selects them accordingly – very firm to be eaten uncooked, large if they are to be sliced, tiny to accompany a roast.

The egg lady who is part of the fruit & vegetable stall
The egg lady who is part of the fruit & vegetable stall

The next vendor is the organic baker. The vendors (a young man or a young woman) are not very friendly, but Jean Michel prefers their baguette with his oysters – I prefer the multi-grain bread I make myself.

one of the philosophical signs on the fruit & vegetable stall
One of the philosophical signs on the fruit & vegetable stall

A large self-serve fruit and vegetable stall comes next. The owner of the stall is a farmer himself and all the produce he sells is fresh and local. In between the cardboard boxes are little signs with philosophical quotes such as “Humility is like a pair of scales. The more you make it go down on one side, the higher it goes on the other”. The lady behind the scales writes everything down on a piece of xcrap paper and then adds it up. They also sell free-range eggs so we take along our empty cartons.

Three generations of Italians run the stall
Three generations of Italians run the stall

Next on the list is the Italian stall. It’s very popular so we always buy four types of ravioli and some tagliatelle and freeze them so we won’t have to queue as often. You can plunge the pasta directly into boiling water still frozen and cook it like fresh pasta. The stall is run by three generations and their produce comes directly from Italy.

When it's no longer scallop season, they sell fresh fish, shells and prawns
When it’s no longer scallop season, they sell fresh fish, shells and prawns

In winter, we often buy scallops (coquille Saint Jacques in French) from a stall run by two young men. Their hands must be frozen by the end of the morning, after opening literally hundreds of scallops. For the last two or three weeks, a young woman has been present, cooking scallop kebabs on a gas-fired griddle plate. She has a little sample plate cut into small pieces with a couple of whole scallops. Jean Michel thinks they are for sampling too ! I explain to the woman but she just laughs and says “don’t worry”.

The red & black coffee stall
The red & black coffee stall

Now comes the best bit. The coffee stand. Not only can you buy coffee grains, you can also buy fresh espresso, tea and hot chocolate. We order our two cups of black espresso and hand over our empty packets to be refilled with colombie and déca (decaffeinated coffee). There’s the usual banter between the lady who serves the coffee and the man who owns the stall. He pitches in when it get busy but spends the rest of the time talking to all his mates who stop by.

The make-shift coffee tables behind the stall, also red and white.
The make-shift coffee tables behind the stall, also covered with red and white table cloths.

We take our coffee to the trestle tables and benches behind the stall. It’s just started to rain so we appreciate the awning. By now the tables have filled up as it’s the weekly meeting place for a group called “On Va Sortir” (let’s go out) but there are still a couple of places left. We say hello to the others at our table and listen in on a conversation about the famous Chambord brocante held the day before during which it rained solidly.

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor
Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

They have a friend who had a stall. She suddenly arrives with her daughter and sits down in the space next to  Jean Michel. We were very keen to hear about her “wet” experience. Rendez-vous in my next post to hear her story!

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