Mairies, music and meandering

This week I thought I’d share with you my slight obsession with the mairie (or town hall) also known as the Hotel de Ville. Wherever we have been (with only a couple of exceptions) the mairie has been the most impressive building in the whole village, town or city. I love the flags and the motto: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité*” which is often emblazoned across the façade. I actively seek  out the mairie in each new town and try to take a snap so here is my collection so far of Melle, Néré, Aigre, Cognac, Rochefort, Aulnay, St Jean D’Angély, Niort, Chaniers and Aubigné.

*I recently saw scrawled: “Liberté, Égalité, Beyoncé” and it made me laugh way more than it should have!

We have also been meandering this week. We found a lovely arboretum walk about half an hour away in Melle. We went back this week to explore it a bit further and the autumn colours are really stunning. I loved the little book exchanges that were dotted along the way. Perhaps this is another way of protecting the trees by reusing books rather than buying new ones all the time! The mural at one end of the walk also caught my eye (to add to the alliterative M theme perhaps…).

The week culminated in a concert of two choirs held at the local church here in Aulnay. Choralacoustic is a local choir of around 60 adults and we enjoyed Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluyah” and Antonín Dvorák’s “New World Symphony” (or the theme from the Hovis advert to you and me)! The other choir was a Russian group of around 40 teenage girls (and a couple of lads) from the Victor Popov choir in Moscow. The highlights for me were J.S. Bach’s “Ave Maria”, “Panis Angelicus” by César Franck, “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah” and a brilliant interpretation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”. It was a magical musical evening in a fitting location and I enjoyed every minute of it.

À bientôt, bisous.

From Bordeaux to Beaujolais!

Since I last wrote, we have had a mini road trip taking in Bordeaux, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Rocamadour. We stayed overnight in Bordeaux with Kath and Kay en route to Toulouse for their return flight. We found a city hotel right in the centre and booked a restaurant for the Sunday night on a recommendation from one of Kay’s friends. What a little gem it was too! We had platters of cheeses and charcuterie to choose from and drank very nice Bordeaux wine all in a cute little restaurant tucked away in a back street. The desserts were delicious too. I’d recommend it if you ever find yourself in Bordeaux: Ô P’tit Bahut.

 

After waving off K&K at the airport the next day, we made our way up the motorway to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France (I’m not just saying that, it really was voted the winner of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France in 2012). See what you think:

 

After a night in a little family-run hotel, we continued our road trip to Rocamadour which I had visited as a child. We checked in to our hotel right in the centre of the medieval quarter and explored the city climbing up and down numerous steps.

 

 

We tried to drive around the area to get the best view of the city and Google took us down a track which I was, to put it mildly, dubious about. There were leaves strewn all across it and, when we had to cross a rickety bridge, I became very concerned. We got over without a problem and continued on the apparently deserted track. It was only when we reached the other end that we looked back and, much to my horror, saw a sign that read:

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Basically NO CARS ALLOWED! Yikes. Bloody Google! I promise you there was no such sign on the end where we joined the track…

Google failed us again the next day as we headed home and came up against roadworks which involved a massive detour virtually back to where we started! The silver lining was that we got to see this little gem, Lacave, perched on a hill just before we were turned back:

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Another stop en route took us to Uzerche in the Corrèze departement where we stretched our legs. It’s a big country, France! To be fair to Google, we have used it pretty much everywhere we have been without a hiccup and we are now getting used to the Google lady’s anglicised French pronunciation!

 

Finally back home, Rich vowed to have a day without using the car so, as it was Thursday and fish n chip night, I was more than happy for us to toddle down to the local bar, especially when I realised it was Beaujolais Nouveau day! They release this new wine at 12.01am on the 3rd Thursday of every November and then it’s basically a race to see who can be serving it in their restaurants and bars that very day. Well, our little bar in Aulnay did not disappoint. What a perfect end to our road trip: a few glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau and a fish supper. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

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À bientôt, bisous.

 

Kath and Kay’s capers

Well we have welcomed our first visitors to the château. Rich’s mum and sister have been with us since Monday. It has been lovely to show them the château and to celebrate Richard’s birthday and our 20th wedding anniversary all together.

We went to Toulouse to pick them up and decided to stop over for the night. We booked an airbnb and headed off down the motorway. We were pretty impressed with the standard of motorway service stations when we stopped for coffee and then lunch en route. We really enjoyed the autumn colours in the car park of the second stop:

A quick shout out to Richard A (who loves his Flunch) and Malin (when I saw this sign and thought of you):

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We continued on to Toulouse but the rain beat us to it and so we didn’t do much exploring that evening, just took refuge in the pub opposite the airbnb called Le Frog and Rosbif (!) which actually did a very nice burger (and the football happened to be playing on the big screen so Rich was in his element)!

The next day dawned brighter and we did manage a bit of sightseeing (and shopping for more Winter clothes) before heading off to the airport to pick up Kath and Kay. Yes, I have to confess that I did succumb to the Starbucks in Toulouse (the first one I have seen since arriving in France). My excuse is that they have just started serving their Christmas flavours!

After the epic journey back to Aulnay, we gave K&K the grand tour to many “oohs, ahhs and wows”! Nothing quite prepares you for the château in real life no matter how many photos you have seen or how much Google Street View you have experienced…

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Together this week we have visited the Château de Crazannes (allegedly the inspiration for the Puss in Boots story by Charles Perrault):

 

It really is a fairytale castle and, by the look of the thousands upon thousands of fairy lights that were draped over every surface of the château, it looks as though it will be quite magical after dark this Christmas…

We have explored the towns of Cognac, Niort and St Jean d’Angély in our Winter woollies and coats as the temperatures have been hovering around 10ºC most days but we have enjoyed ourselves nevertheless.

We celebrated Richard’s birthday and our 20th wedding anniversary with a lovely meal at La Bonne Étape in Dampierre-sur-Boutonne (after exploring the château there on the way back from Niort).

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Then today we wanted to find a service of Remembrance as 11th November is a Public Holiday in France to mark the end of the First World War and to remember those who died in all conflicts since then. We went to our local Mairie at 11am and, sure enough, there were the gendarmes (police) and the sapeurs-pompiers (fire brigade) all standing to attention while we had a minute’s silence, a speech from the Monsieur le Maire and a playing of La Marseillaise. I felt privileged to be part of a local ceremony but also part of a national day of remembrance. As we drove to Chef Boutonne this afternoon, we noticed flowers and flags at every Mairie and on every War Memorial in every village. Those who gave their lives to ensure our freedom have not been and will not be forgotten.

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À bientôt, bisous.

 

Trick or treat, Toussaint and tartiflette

Well the clocks have now gone back and the mornings are lighter but the nights are of course now drawing in. We’ve had a couple of stunning sunrises and the moon was HUGE last night:

 

We went out to a local restaurant on Saturday night and I ordered the French speciality from the Savoy region called tartiflette (pay good attention, Susanna Lynam, you will be interested in the ingredients). It is made with potatoes, onions, lardons (chopped up bacon to you and me) and … reblochon cheese! Yes it is as yummy as it sounds.

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On Tuesday night we geared ourselves up for any potential Halloween trick or treaters by buying a bucketload of toffees… sadly no-one knocked on our door so we’ll just have to eat the toffees ourselves, ho hum.

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The next day was a Public Holiday for La Toussaint (or All Saints’ Day). We went on a jaunt to Surgères, a pretty town about 35 minutes away set around an impressive church and gardens. Families were out and about, enjoying the time together and we definitely noticed the colourful bunches of chrysanthemums when we passed any cemeteries as it is traditional in France to honour your ancestors by laying these blooms on their gravestones on 1st November. I also love the fact that every day is dedicated to a different saint, in fact our local weather forecaster tells us which saint is having their day every time we check the weather. We got a free calendar and I spent ages looking up which saints are celebrated on which days. Check out December 13th:

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If you want me to check out the saint for your birthday, just drop me a message in the comments and I’ll look it up!

À bientôt, bisous.