Thursday, 3 September 2015

Wine tasting

Throughout the summer and autumn many different opportunities are offered to improve your wine tasting skills (well that's one way of describing it!) Towns hold large wine events such as those held in Chinon or Saumur. Individual vignerons hold events, offering their wines and a range of accompanying food. Last week we attended the Domaine de Navas which is unusual as this event offers the opportunity to taste and buy not only local wines but also Champagne and wines from Bordeaux as well as wines from across the Loire region.  They also offer a very good lunch for 12 euro, which includes an entree, main course, cheese and dessert plus of course it would not be complete without a bottle from one of the vignerons. We asked our cottage guests if they would like to join us for the day and  they were happy to come along to such a good and FREE event.

Tasting some very nice Sauvignon
Our cottage guests Mike and Carol with Maureen
The meal was excellent with tables arranged under the trees as it was a rather hot day.

Lunch in the shade of the trees

We were joined by a local French couple who provided some great additional 'chatter'
 At the end of lunch two vignerons were inaugurated into the Confrerie des Vignerons des Coteaux du Cher
The officials

 Maureen managed to sneak a photo with the officials

So a great day was enjoyed by all and we even managed to buy some excellent wine for the cellar.

STOP PRESS - mother and baby doing well!

The first of the autumn lambs have arrived in our neighbours small holding

My lamb is beautiful mother bleets

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Make the most of it!

One of the joys of rural France is the bounty of fresh produce on display in the local markets. Beautiful vegetables grown with TLC by local families, an amazing variety of fresh fish and of course cheese of every description with an emphasis on locally produced cheese. Le Blanc market is no exception and when we can we visit on a Saturday morning and invariably buy some oysters. Apparently £28 a dozen is considered good value in London so I suppose 6 euro (£4.30) a dozen from le Blanc market must be considered almost free? So lets push the boat out, how about a DOZEN oysters and a BOTTLE of pink champagne? I see a London restaurant offers half a dozen oysters plus a glass of champagne for £64, no doubt in luxury surroundings.

Well here in central France the super fresh oysters are just over 6 euro a DOZEN and a BOTTLE  of pink Champagne is  around 18 euro (£13.50) so that's a grand total of £17.80........and some people say France is expensive! 

Nothing better than oysters with some of Maureen's Bloody Mary relish (made with a dash of Vodka)
Down the hatch!
As you will have noted this BLOG post is entitled 'Make the most of it' so its wise to eat your oysters, or whatever makes you happy, when you can as life moves on as we discovered yesterday.

Mid afternoon and we were enjoying an afternoon cuppa when we heard the unmistakable beat of helicopter blades -  a very low helicopter.  We dashed out onto the rear terrace and a yellow SAMU (Emergency services) helicopter was heading this way and we quickly realised he was looking for a landing spot! He descended towards the field adjoining the bottom of our rear garden but this contains three horses which became spooked so up he went again. I dashed into our small field and waved to indicate that maybe he could land here? Down he came and within seconds tthree nurses jumped out carrying bags. We then realised that there was a SAMU ambulance at the neighbours house so Maureen guided the medical people through our garden to the spot.

Fortunately our rear lawn is a good size.

Its not every day you have a helicopter in the garden
The sad news is that the neighbour, who was not in the best of health, did not recover despite the best efforts of all the medical specialists at the scene.

So maybe the title of this post needs to be remembered whilst we all have our feet on this good earth. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Summer life in rural France

It takes time to learn how to slow down and enjoy the pace of life in rural France, a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of urban life in the UK. If a meal with the neighbours takes 4 or 5 hours, so be it, enjoy! 

That patient and paced mental attitude needs to be remembered, especially when it is the weekend of the hamlets' annual Mechoui. The neighbours' barn, usually full of ancient but regularly used farming equipment, has been cleared when we arrive to help set up the previous afternoon. However everything is not well as the 60 year old combine harvester has a collapsed bearing so half a dozen people are working hard to remove and replace the bearing so Alan the farmer can complete the harvesting and of course clear the remaining area of the barn for the mechoui. As is usual with any event there is always a hard core of helpers who volunteer to carry, wash and unpack all that is required to feed 60 plus hungry souls and here in France we, as relatively young senior citizens, make sure we do our best to help out.

Tables set and organised.
The following morning we are there again helping out although the two sheep have been turning on the spit over the oak logs since 7.30am. All the ladies in the hamlet have been preparing all manner of items for the days feasting, and the children have spent house preparing the canapes.
Serving as well!
The format is typical of a rural French event, planned to commence at 12.00noon but actually its 12.45 before we get under way, bottomless supplies of food and drink all afternoon with the roast sheep as the highlight then at about 5.30 we start a petanque (boules to you and me) competition.This continues until 9.00pm, with those not participating or those eliminated playing cards, UNO or other strange games only understood if you have lived here for 100 years or more!
People mill around talking before things get underway
And we are off!
Young and old all enjoying chat, simple good food and wine
The roasted sheep arrive
After the 'lunch' some play cards
or petanque
or read
After all the card playing, petanque, reading or for some an afternoon nap - we need sustenance, so by 9.30 the tables have been relaid and everyone sits down for the evening meal - more of the same and this continues until the early hours.

Lights on and the chat continues
So the evening goes on, slow and steady. Maureen and I serve wine, clear plates and wash dishes and feel privileged to be part of a lovely country community.

The next morning we return to clear up and guess what - yes there is enough left to provide lunch for 20 clearers and helpers.

You may well ask who pays for all this? Over the winter months three traditional 'tea dances' are held in the local town and the money raised pays for the mechoui.

It's a bit of a marathon, but we enjoy it all the same! The secret is to pace yourself!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Chaumont Chateau Garden Festival 2015

Les Deux Platanes is surrounded by some amazing chateaux and invariably our guests make some time during a stay to visit some of them. Recently we spent a good half day visiting the annual international garden festival at the Chateau Chaumont which runs from April to November (exact dates on website - link below). This is an annual event, every year they have a different theme for the garden creations. Universities, schools, colleges of agriculture, art schools and specialists from all over the world create a stunning variety of small gardens for this event.

Fortunately we had made a visit to the actual chateau and grounds earlier in the year and that was also a good visit and even before the garden festival opens the chateau gardens were a magnificent carpet of white flowers.
A small part of the grounds with an array of white flowers
See BLOG posting in May for more photo's of the earlier visit.

 Our return to the 2015 International Garden Festival proved to be worth while once again with an amazing display of gardens all set around a theme - extraordinary collections. I suppose its a little bit like the Chelsea garden festival but on a smaller scale.

My photos fail to do justice to the amazing and varied garden displays.

Our friend Peter admires the mists in the valley garden
Exotic plants in transit

Of course we all know they will be doing very well to match the cottage garden at les Deux Platanes!!

 So if you are here before the festival closes in November and you have an interest in gardens you could do worse than spending a half day wandering the gardens of Chaumont.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

July flowers in the garden of les Deux Platanes

I promised some photo's of the flowers in the gite/cottage garden in July so here they are taken today, Tuesday 21st July. As you can see we have managed to conserve the flowers through the hot weather and the current temperatures at around 23c are perfect.

Last year the garden was in the finals of the best flower garden (gite / holiday cottage) category in the area and this year we think its even better so you never know what might happen ! 

REMINDER: If you click on any picture with your mouse arrow the photo in the BLOG should enlarge so you can see it in better resolution.

Wallace & Grommet have a good route on the motorcycle!
The cottage garden has two terraces, this one catches the evening sun.

Hope you enjoyed the photo's.


Summer 2015

A gentle reminder arrived yesterday to say our BLOG was far from up to date so here I am up bright and early producing an update - thanks for the reminder.

This summer here in central France has been very hot and dry so far, late May, June and the first two weeks of July have been very hot, up to 40c,  so much so it has been a struggle to keep some of our flowers alive. However some careful nurturing and removing some plants into the shade of the Platanes has done the trick and the cottage garden is looking magnificent once again for our many guests to enjoy during their stay.

These photos taken early June show the flowers developing

Pictures in July will follow in the next BLOG.

Epine production 2015

The local aperitif of the area is a drink called epine. This is made at home by the majority of our French neighbors so naturally over the years we have been taught the secrets of manufacture. The basis of epine is home made 'alcohol' (eau de vie) and ours is produced from our plums and distilled by the official visiting distiller who arrives in May every year . An absolutely vital ingredient is the 'epine' tips picked fresh from the blackthorn hedgerows, wine of your choice and other 'secret' items plus some sugar.  This year we are very pleased with our 2015 vintage, even our French neighbours gave it the thumbs up.
The blackthorn tips collected in a three week window during the spring
The mixture soaking for two weeks
Filtering then into the bottles
We very much hope we have the opportunity to introduce you to 'epine' during your stay at les Deux Platanes.

40 years celebration

2015 marks our 40 years coming to Chatillon and Le Breuil so we decided to hold a celebration lunch for the hamlet's inhabitants, many of whom we have seen grow up and have families of their own.

Our marquee set up for the event
32 of the 35 inhabitants arrived for lunch and we were very happy to see them all.

 We tried to dream up a good 'English' themed barbecue for the occasion, Maureen did a great job and the meat / sausage brought from our butcher in the UK was very well received by everyone.

Célébration barbecue de 40 années

Entree / Apéritifs -

* Pimms Number 1, apéro traditionnel d’Angleterre pour une journée d'été chaude!
* Les Deux Platanes 2015 Epine
Barbecue a volonte:

Anglais agneau de printemps de notre agriculteur local au Royaume-Uni
Anglais saucisse de porc et poireaux
Anglais piment et la coriandre saucisse de porc cercle
Anglais poulet mariné au miel, de citron, l'huile d'olive, l'ail et l'origan.
Des pommes de terre avec la crème sure et sauce à la ciboulette
Carottes (Offert par Monique Royaute) 

pain à l'ail
Sélection de fromages anglais avec un fromage français de bonne compagnie
Déserts anglais typiques:
Pudding anglais d'été
fou de groseille a maquereau

We really love the sense of community here in rural France, your neighbours are so important and unfortunately we find this very different from some parts of the UK where in many places everyone seems to choose to live in isolation.

Annual  hamlet concert

Every year the local brass band arrives to provide a concert in the farmer's barn just down the road from Les Deux Platanes and true to form they arrived in early June to perform once again.

Everyone waiting for the band to commence playing!

Work continues on the renovation.

Our renovations on the house continue with 2015 hopefully seeing the finish of almost 10 years of enjoyable toil. The rear terrace required tiles so with the assistance of my neighbor we set about laying 25 square metres of tiles which we completed in two days.
It was 28c so we used a parasol to provide some shade during the work.

More or less finished on day 2

So that's it for now but look out for more updates SOON - I promise!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

May warms up to 31c

Yes it was 31c here in the 11th May, now 31c is not very good for the new flowers that have just been planted out so we have been monitoring everything and it seems OK. For 2015 the cottage has received a facelift in the form of new lime based rendering and new stone around the main entrance door. In addition Maureen has been splashing out on new colour matched tubs for all her new plants. 
Les Deux Platanes with new powder blue flower tubs and of course the new rendering for 2015
The cottage lawn has responded to its spring feed with a nice deep green colour

Other parts of the cottage garden are starting to bloom

A variety of spring colours in the border
Maureen insisted I included this for the colour
We have however had other visitors to our own private garden, Poppy our 9 year old Labrador was not amused.
What is this jumping animal she wonders!
After 10 years of mixing my very inexpensive cement mixer is starting to feel the strain. The bearing on the main drum is very worn, so much that the gears often fail to meet and the drum stops turning. However I have come up with a temporary fix, using a base from my tower scaffold, a long bolt and a plastic wheel.

The low cost modification - engineers be impressed!
This wheel prevents the drum from moving and the gears engage all the time, so the old thing is working again.

So that's it for now.