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I’ve often thought, as I wander the highways & byways of our bit of France, what a beautiful landscape we live in. Because I’m a very enthusiastic photographer, I look at the scenery in awe sometimes, and wish that others could see it just as I’ve just seen it, you know? This train of thought is a constant in my head, and it’s not until very recently that I’ve had the wherewithal to try and realise the ambition to have a few days of informal, but informative photography workshops at our place.

La Loire and Saumur sunrise

The Loire at Saumur at sunrise.

Sure, I have a good eye, and I know how to take decent images. It’s not that difficult really, given where I live, and the types of photogenic landscape and subjects I’m exposed (forgive the pun) to on an almost daily basis. But what I lack is the reputation as a serious photographer. You see, to our guests, I’m just the grumpy bloke that owns the pretty gites and sociable campsite in the Loire Valley. They don’t realise that I do actually know a fair bit about photography, and what constitutes a decent image. If they do, then because of my ‘day job’, they fail to take me seriously if I say I’d like to teach them how to take the kinds of pictures they admire in local galleries etc.

Montreuil Bellay

Just one of the many chateaux within very easy reach of Le Chant d'Oiseau

So, when a guest here last year, Chris, at last took me seriously and put me in touch with his prospective father-in-law, UK based landscape photographer, Anthony (Tony) Blake, my creative juices began to flow again after a long period of hiatus.

To explain. Tony is an award-winning landscape photographer, making a living from his photography workshops held in his home county of Dorset. His eye for the shot is simply fantastic. His clients are mostly beginners or improvers, but he’s comfortable having professionals on his workshops too.

Image copyright, Tony Blake, Dorset based landscape photographer

Beautiful Dorset scene, taken by Tony.

Tony’s been looking into the potential for expanding his horizons, and after being introduced to one another by Chris, we got to chatting via. e-mail and arranged a visit to Le Chant d’Oiseau to get together and discuss the possibilities, and for Tony and his lovely wife, Miranda, to see for themselves just what stunning potential the area has for budding landscape ‘toggers.

They came and stayed in Chardonneret with us for an all too brief few days in April. The weather was beautiful. Warm, bordering on hot with the blue skies and clear light that attracts so many artists to the area. It bode well.

What we’ve decided, between the four of us, is to pilot a three-day workshop, based here at Le Chant, to be held in the week commencing the 24th September 2011. We’re currently looking into the costs involved, but accommodation can either be on the campsite, or in one of the two remaining gites (Tony’s bagged Chardonneret already!).

The autumnal landscape should be in full bloom by then, and the chance to bag images such as the one captured perfectly by Tony, below, shouldn’t be too difficult!

Image copyright, Anthony Blake Photography.

Autumnal splendour.

We’re working hard at ensuring there’s a superb itinerary for the three days, with a range of photo opportunities from landscapes, to sunrise/sunset shots (don’t worry, the sun rises late and sets earlier in September!), chateaux, river scenes, architecture, people, village life…. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination!

Here’s how we think it will work.

We’re planning on the cost to include a pitch on site for two people and their chosen unit, (though Héron & Hibou will be available too) with electric for the week. There’ll be an ample french style picnic lunch and four-course evening meal with wine for those attending the workshop. If partners wish to join us, then there’ll be a nominal fee and they’ll be made more than welcome!  If both people on a pitch wish to take part in the workshop, then a supplement for the second person will be charged. Transport to & from the locations for the three-day course will also be included. The remainder of the week will be yours to explore the area and put into practice what you’ve learned on the workshop!

For me personally, It’s exciting to think that as your guide, I’ll be able to share some of the ‘off the beaten track’ locations that I’ve come to find in the six years we’ve been here. Lots of these would be very difficult to find without local knowledge. It’s great to think that some lucky people will get to take the most gorgeous shots of the area, that they’ll be proud to hang on their walls at home, and that we’ve helped them to achieve that!

Places will be strictly limited, so please register your interest for the Loire Experience Photography Workshop now. You can do this by visiting our website at www.loire-gites.com and scrolling down the home page to the Newsletter Subscription box. Enter your e-mail addresss, and press GO! Then, tick the box marked ‘Photography’ to ensure that we keep you up to date with details of prices and itineraries etc.

Tony & I look forward to seeing you in September!

Until the next time,

Au revoir.

 

 

 

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Twinterview!

Not your normal, run-of-the-mill kind of ‘blog this time. More an invite to watch me try not to make a complete fool of myself on the social media stage that is Twitter!

To explain, I was followed (and indeed followed back), by a guy called Mick Dickinson. Mick’s a marketing expert with a difference. Well, a couple of differences, actually. A) he isn’t full of shit like most of the marketing ‘experts’ that abound on these social sites, and b) he’s a nice guy, doing a great job for his clients. Mick first punted the idea of an interview a while ago and sent me an outline of how it all works. Apparently it’s fairly painless and can be good fun. So, I said yes after chatting with him on the telephone for quite some time at the end of the summer.

To explain a little more, if you use Twitter, and would like to join in, it’s fairly simple to do. Use the hashtag #crosschannel to view what’s being said and to respond, or indeed to ask questions in real time. If it’s not too frenetic, I’ll answer as many of them as I can!

That said, even though I’m still amazed at the level of interest my life in France attracts,  I’m still prepared for a very lonely time drumming my fingers on the desk, waiting for a question other than Mick’s! But, I’m also acutely aware of the power of Twitter. I’m also very, very aware of Mick’s marketing skills which could make this Thursday, at 11am GMT a very interesting morning indeed!

If anyone’s interested in signing up for the reminder of the event, then just nip over to our webpage at loire-gites. Have a look under ‘Breaking News’ on the left-hand sidebar, and there you’ll see the form to sign up. It’s entirely free and no information is kept about you.

Alternatively, you can now sign up from here by scrolling down and clicking on the link at the bottom of the right hand sidebar.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you on the 25th November at 11am GMT! Should be fun! 🙂

Follow the bird on Twitter!

Le Chant d'Oiseau on Twitter

Until the next time,

Au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2010

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One of the things we do in the winter is work hard on the things that make this place a better place to visit for our guests in the summer. It really is like having a full-time job, what with researching useful links with other businesses, trying to forge new and interesting relationships with people in similar lines of work, and generally building on what we already offer. I must admit I enjoy it, I find it refreshing to see different ways of offering the same thing, and I get excited when someone offers to share these things with us.

Here’s a point in case. Our friend Gérald visited Le Chant d’Oiseau each week last summer to offer our guests a unique insight into his domaine’s wines. It’s not simply a case of sniffing & guzzling each wine in turn, nodding appreciatively and on to the next…

What Gérald does is guide you through the process, in English, or French, from the types of soils, to the varietals (the grape used), to how the grapes are actually fermented – not all wines are the same, and how they’re then ‘improved’. There’s been many a time that he’s been sidetracked by interested wine-lovers, by the questions they’ve asked and he’s gladly supplied them with answers. Conversely, there have been so many times that we’ve been asked afterwards if there’s any way to get ‘closer’ to the whole ‘mystery’ of wine-making.

Which brings me neatly on to something we’re pleased to be able to offer this year. I haven’t mentioned it on the website yet, so it’s only readers of the ‘blog, and our Facebook Fan Page that are getting the news so far! Oh, this’ll be syndicated on Twitter too, just as soon as I hit the ‘publish’ button! What Gérald’s decided to do, as well as his weekly wine-tastings here with us, is to offer exclusive tours around some of his own personal favourite wines from his domaine.

This is how it’ll work…

Géralds private wine tour will be an entertaining and informative tour at a well reputed Domaine close to Saumur – where you’ll experience a working vineyard, and learn about as well as sample the Domaines’ exquisite wines whilst discovering what life for a vigneron involves.

Lunch, un buffet campagnard, will conclude your private wine tour & wine tasting.  Comprising of local artisans‘ cuisine and accompanied by a selection of wines, you will have the chance to discuss in greater depth les vins of the Val de Loire with Gérald, whilst relaxing at the delightful ‘Maison du Vigneron’, a charming cottage set amongst the Domaines vines.

The whole experience will last around four hours. It’ll cost just €85 per person, booked through Le Chant d’Oiseau. Now, to me that represents remarkable value. Not only are you in the hands of a respected and knowledgeable local vigneron, you’re also fed! You have your own private guide on hand to ensure you improve on your knowledge of our local wines – among the most respected in the world! The price is based on a minimum of two people attending.

For an extra €5 per person, we’ll take you to the domaine and pick you up when you’ve finished, leaving you to enjoy the day (and the wines) with no travel worries at all!

If this interests you, and we hope it does – please let us know when you’d like to visit Gérald, and we’ll take care of everything for you.

Here’s what one thrilled couple had to say about their day with Gérald.

“A true French experience…..”

“Our wine tour with Gérald was so interesting and informative – so much knowledge!  So much enthusiasm!  We learnt more about wine during our visit than in the last 30 years visiting France

Rose & Jeffery, July’09

We can be contacted by telephone on 0033 241 67 09 78, or by e-mail at info@loire-gites.com.

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2010

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Yesterday was the Fete de Vendanges in Saumur. You all probably know that the Saumur region is famous for many of its wines. What you possibly haven’t witnessed is the annual harvest of the grapes up by the chateau? Neither had we until yesterday! It was spectacular! Along with all the pomp & circumstance surrounding the harvest itself, there’s plenty of other stuff going on too. There’s a medieval village, jousting, archery, horsemanship, static displays of ancient crafts, music, song & dance. It’s very, very photogenic and especially so when the temperatures in the late 20’s on a late September day, the sun shines and the sky is blue!

The grapes looked fantastic, hanging from vines that were mostly still green, just a few beginning to don their autumn colours.

Autumn vines

Autumn vines

Up by the chateau there are the normal two grape varieties, red (cabernet franc) and white (sauvignon blanc). The vendange yesterday concentrated on the cabernet franc.

From the bowels of the chateau, the Confrérie des Joyeux Festivaliers emerged in cortège, followed by crowds of onlookers to wind their way over the narrow bridge above the moat, and into the vineyard.

Conférie des Joyeux Festivaliers

Conférie des Joyeux Festivaliers

At the ends of each line of vines, heavy with the succulent cabernet franc grapes, a bucket awaited being filled by members of the public. Large and small, young and old. Each had beought scissors, secateurs or a knife specifically for the purpose of gathering the fruit. Once the band had finished their marching tune, and the opening speech had been made, the crowd was invited to harvest the vines!

Empty for now....

Empty for now....

Saumur chateau & vines

Saumur chateau & vines

Harvesting the vines

Harvesting the vines

A helping hand!

A helping hand!

After the grapes are picked and placed in the smaller buckets, they’re then transferred into the larger wooden ones, ready to be seperated from their stalks. Here, a worker would use two pieces of wood, scraping the grapes from side to side over a large griddle, throwing the stalks to the ground, leaving just the fruit to pass through.

Seperating the fruit from the stalks.

Seperating the fruit from the stalks.

Young and old emptying their harvest.

Young and old emptying their harvest.

The chevaliers watch on, keeping a careful eye on the harvesting.

A watchful eye.

A watchful eye.

While the band plays tunes, walking around the vineyard, to the delight of onlookers as well as those involved in the harvest itself.

Music to harvest by!

Music to harvest by!

Once the grapes are all sorted from the stalks, it’s time for the cortége to make its way down to the press, situated in the dry moat of the chateau. The head of the Confrérie, tells us all so, waving his ‘sceptre’ of a vine branch.

'Sceptre' in hand, The Boss tells us it's time to press on...

'Sceptre' in hand, The Boss tells us it's time to press on...

So then, following the troupe of vendangers, we head for the moat, the wine press and the first juice…

En cortége.

En cortége.

Hand in hand they go!

Hand in hand they go!

Salut!

Salut!

At the bottom of the hill, crowds part for the princesse, for it is she who carries the first grapes for the press!

La Princesse!

La Princesse!

Crowds gather there to wait for the arrival of the grapes. The band plays, the crowd laughs, cheers, claps and dances along…

Clap your hands!

Clap your hands!

Even the equipment is 'pressed' into service as a drum!

Even the equipment is 'pressed' into service as a drum!

Finally, the harvest arrives and is loaded grape, by grape into the press.

Labour of love.

Labour of love.

Once all the grapes are loaded, or the press is full, then the packing is placed over the fruit, ready to wind down the weight, and squeeze until the very last drop…

The blocks are placed.

The blocks are placed.

Members of the public are invited to help turn the press, and there’s no shortage of willing volunteers to lend a hand!

All hands to the press!

All hands to the press!

The first juices flow from the press, and are handed out to the crowds in plastic cups. This is pure magic. It’s surprisingly cold, the juice – despite the heat of the afternoon! It’s so refreshing too. nature at its best, unspoilt, fresh and tasty!

It's good for your soul, as well as your health!

It's good for your soul, as well as your health!

Nectar, pure nectar!

Nectar, pure nectar!

After the ceremony of the harvest, the pressing and then the tasting, it’s time for a trip around the moat to see what else is going on. There was a medieval encampment set up, with lots to see. Jousting, games, songs and dancing, and later the ceremony to crown the princesse. We couldn’t stay though, as we’d promised friends we’d see them in a local village for the vide grenier there in the afternoon. But, we meandered for a while among the crowds, enjoying the atmosphere on a lovely sunny day. The smell of woodsmoke from the fires lit around the place remind us that it really is autumn, despite what the temperature gauge might say!

Here’s a selection of images from the day. Hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual harvest. It happens at the close of September each year, so for those of you lucky enough to be able to escape at this time of year, why not include it in your itinerary for next years France trip?

Chevaliers, au chateau!

Chevaliers, au chateau!

Just enjoying the day.

Just enjoying the day.

Fantastic horsemanship!

Fantastic horsemanship!

Ambulance - medieval style!

Ambulance - medieval style!

Music all around....

Music all around....

No Monty Python jokes, please...

No Monty Python jokes, please...

A hard day's hunting...

A hard day's hunting...

...but at least there's something to show for it!

...but at least there's something to show for it!

A floral welcome!

A floral welcome!

And finally. One of my favourite views of our local town. Hope you like it.

Saumur. Le chateau, et La Loire.

Saumur. Le chateau, et La Loire.

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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It’s a curious thing. Working here, as we do, we get to tell people where to go for days out alot. We get to tell them that Saumur’s a really, really pretty town. It’s bright, friendly, beautiful to look at (especially the chateau) and close-by. It’s ‘our’ town. But, after four years of living here, I’ve come to realise that I hardly know it at all, and all I can say to guests is that it’s old, has a fantastic market on Saturdays, great wine fair in September, and the chateau is just stunning. Of course, there’s lots more that we know, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it. You know?

So, when I found myself for once, with a bit of free time on a Friday morning in August, I suggested to a friend staying here with us that we could go on a tour of Saumur, given by the Office de Tourisme, and in English too. Dave readily agreed, and wives were duly informed that we were off into town for a while, and we’d be back later.

Dave’s from Newcastle, and he’s hard. You see, this particular morning it was a bit breezy, and overcast. So, even though the forecast predicted high temperatures and sunshine as had been the norm, I’d worn combats, tee-shirt and a fleece. Dave was in shorts and a tee-shirt. I had a spare fleece, but he shrugged the idea off with a “Whay man, ah’m from Neecastle…”

So off we went to meet other inquisitive Brits (among them some of our camping guests) by the town hall to await our guide. Our guide was a young man named François. Dressed in jeans, a black polo shirt and flip-flops, he was obviously from the French equivalent of Neecastle. I pondered removing the fleece, but after taking our dosh, François beckoned us over to the riverside to gaze back at the magnificent building, or buildings that make up the town hall.

Hotel de Ville, Saumur

Hotel de Ville, Saumur

So, we stepped across the road to admire this fantastic building, in three very distinct parts as François described its violent history, and its inextricable links with la Loire, at our backs. The oldest part of the building isn’t actually what you’d think. Instead of the very ornate (and old) looking middle portion, it’s the bit to the left, with the turrets that’s the oldest by far, dating back to the 13th century. The bit in the middle is Renaissance in style – from the 17th/18th century, while the very posh public entrance to the right was added in the 1950’s.

The bit on the left, pockmarked by cannon fire, artillery and small arms from two world wars as well as the Vendée wars of the late middle ages, is actually a part of the old city wall. Saumur was once a walled city, just like the more famous Cité of Carcassonne in the far south west of France. There are parts of the town where the old wall is very much in evidence, and we were to discover these a little later on in the tour.

François explained to us how the origins of the town were born from the river. Monks, escaping persecution on the coastal areas, by marauders from other lands took refuge here after sailing upstream from St. Nazaire. Here they settled, peacably and grew a village that grew a town. In time, the chateau was built by Louis d’Anjou around the mid-13th century, consolidating Saumur’s position as an enviable fortress town.

The old, narrow passageways are still here, tucked away as they are away from the tourists gaze. Stop in the main shopping streets though, leading up to the Place St. Pierre, and you’ll catch glimpses of the narrow, cobbled alleys, with open drains either side, and the buildings rising to the sky, seemingly on a mission to kiss at the rooftops…

Medieval street

Medieval street

It’s surprising, when you’re shown where to look, just how many links back to the towns past there are. Once seen, I realised how many times I’ve simply walked past, not realising they were there. The thought actually saddened me.

The wall reappears here and there, overgrown in parts, crumbling away to dust in others. But it’s there.

The Wall. But not by Pink Floyd!

The Wall. But not by Pink Floyd!

Here and there.

The holes remind us that there were beams placed there once upon a time, supporting homes, businesses and fortifications.

Another brick in the wall...

Another brick in the wall...

And here and there. Too many times there are reminders of how important the wall once was, and how it’s no longer needed. François carried us through the town, and on to Place St. Pierre, underneath the gaze of the chateau (which we’d not have the time to explore on this tour), and told us all about the medieval heart of Saumur. All the buildings here are built from stone, but with ornate wooden decoration to the façades, in true medieval style. Gothic sculpted features, like the ones shown below, of Adam & Eve, abound.

Adam & Eve

Adam & Eve

If only people would look up from time to time. This place is our towns marketplace on saturdays, and every time I visit the market, wandering from stall to stall, I look at these carved figures, and think of the people that created them. And the sheer age of the town fascinates me.

François explained to us all that the church of St. Pierre was undergoing renovations, but the investigations had found problems with the walls that meant that the church had to be closed to the public, as a matter of safety. I’ve been in the church before, and it’s magnificent.

Leading us away from the town centre, François pointed out here and there traces of The Wall, or a door dating from the 17th century…

A 17th century door!

A 17th century door!

For me though, and Dave too, the best was yet to come. As we moved south, well away from the Place St. Pierre we stopped by the Tour Graintière. I’ve seen this thing hundreds of times, wondering what it was, but never getting close enough, being in the car, picking up Hannah from collège. All we expected was the explanation. This was a tower, built behind what was the gendarmerie, in the 15th century. It served as a prison for a long while. The inmates were usually those convicted of avoiding taxes imposed on the trading of salt, an important part of local economy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Life here was tough, as we were about to find out. François had the keys to the castle!

Grain tower, or prison?

Grain tower, or prison?

It stands quite tall, and is obviously well built – built to last. It’s had little or no renovation work carried out on it, and it’s stood the test of time remarkably well. There’s an ancient stairway, built of stone that changes to wood, and leads from one level to the next.

An amazing staircase!

An amazing staircase!

The doors remain in their original state, hanging from the same ancient hinges, creaking open as we gathered in the gloom to see what prison life in 15th century Saumur was like.

A 15th century prison door.

A 15th century prison door.

We were shown glimpses of how the prisoners must have spent their time in the cells here. Grafitti was the order of the day, with names, dates and pictures carved into the stone.

Effral woz 'ere?

Effral woz 'ere?

A reminder of home, perhaps?

A reminder of home, perhaps?

As we reached almost the top of the tower, there was an amazing vaulted ceiling, and then more steps to the very top, and a view across my adopted hometown, towards the chateau, towards Bagneux and the aerodrome, over the town in all directions. It was stunning.

Supreme craftsmanship.

Supreme craftsmanship.

The view towards the chateau.

The view towards the chateau.

This was a definite highlight for Dave and myself, never expecting to have the opportunity to see inside this magnificent tower, and our fellow guidees were equally as thrilled. It’s a sad fact that the Tour Grainetière is seldom used as François explained that the cost of having someone on hand to allow the public access to it at all times was just too high. The cost of heating the place in winter precluded holding functions here too, which is a shame. It’d make a great place for an art exhibition, perhaps? Still, we all felt extremely lucky that we’d been allowed access to one of Saumurs oldest buildings.

The tour was almost over, and we wound our way back to the hotel de ville, our starting point for the tour, as it was the starting point for Saumur as a town, many thousands of years before. On our way back, we were shown the house where Coco Chanel lived for a while in her youth. She lived above the shop where we’ve often bought gifts for our two nephews, and we never knew!

Very old houses were pointed out left and right, and ancient turrets here and there, with plaques attached to walls explaining why these houses are interesting. It was a fascinating insight to our town, and it made me realise once more how lucky we are to have it so close by.

This is a very condensed version of what we learned, and what we saw. The tour of Saumur in English takes place each Friday morning at 10am in July and August. It’s organised by the Cité de Saumur, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I spoke briefly with François after we’d finished our tour and was interested to learn that he’s available for tours via. the Cité outside of these dates, should there be sufficient interest. So, if any of our guests would like to retrace my steps through time, then let me know and I’ll give François a call.

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Each August, a local village celebrates it’s ‘Fete de Plan d’Eau’. There’s all the usual stuff, a vide grenier, a bar, a buvette selling snacks like frites, hot dogs and kebabs and stuff. There are static displays too, like tractors or old farm machinery. It’s all typically French, but this one, Les Loges, is different. The lake is huge. Bigger than the average Plan d’Eau you’ll find on the outskirts of most communes. There’s a campsite attached and there’s a guingette. Like an open air restaurant, the likes of which our daughter & her boyfriend have been trying to convince us to build here! This one does pretty well. Open only during the summer, it attracts the crowds with the promise of dancing to ‘Eddy Morgan’ and his ‘orchestra’ on selected Sunday afternoons. There’s no ‘orchestra’ really, it’s just Eddy, and his disco. Sort of an upmarket Dave Doubledecks! Still, the place is usually full and folks enjoy it.

But, the thing that really makes the fete des Loges stand out, and why it’s really worth a visit is for the annual 2CV races. On the water! Yes, these 2CV’s have been modified for use as motor boats. Veritable speedboats in fact. They can achieve speeds of up to 100km/h! It’s yet another great photo opportunity that we’re too busy to attend, seeing as it’s usually held on one of our busiest summer Sundays. Changeovers are on Saturdays, so the day after we’re still tired, there are still new guests arriving, friends leaving, and all the washing and cleaning to be done. By the end of it all, we’re just too worn out to move far from the fridge! So, as I usually do, I informed guests that this fete was taking place, described how to get there (it’s only 10km or so from us) and they agreed it sounded a fun afternoon out! Off they went, with the promise that they’d take plenty of pics and report back on the event for us!

So, it’s with grateful thanks to Phil (photos), Elaine, Alex (video) & Becky for taking the time and the effort to record all of this for us. Here’s a few images of what you can expect to see next year!

Is it a car? Is it a boat?

Is it a car? Is it a boat?

Definitly a boat......car, no a boat!

Definitely a boat......car, no a boat!

It'll never catch on!

It'll never catch on!

Ever had that 'sinking feeling'?

Ever had that 'sinking feeling'?

Neck & neck! An exciting finish!

Neck & neck! An exciting finish!

I think that next year, we’ll have to make the effort to visit the Fete des Loges at Breille les Pins, it looks like lots of fun on a beautiful summer afternoon in rural France!

Thanks again to one of our lovely guests, Phil, for the loan of the cracking photos.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Each year since oooh, a few years ago, the small village of Le Puy Notre Dame just south of Saumur is the setting for the most amazing collection of vintage motor cars, bikes, three wheelers and the like. Held at the end of July, and fortuitously, this year it was on the 26th – my birthday, which was kind of them! So, the Boss and I decided to have a ride out and take some snaps, soak up the sun on a rare day off and generally forget about ‘work’ for a while. It was baking hot and the drive out to Le Puy is a very pretty one, through fields of sunflowers, maize and barley waving in the gentle breeze, then giving way in the area around Le Puy to the vine. Miles & miles of vines stretching across the plain and almost into the town centre itself!

Vineyards looking towards Le Puy Notre dame

Vineyards looking towards Le Puy Notre dame

Le Puy is small, quiet and very, very pretty. Like most towns & villages in our part of the Loire, the happy creamy coloured tuffeau stone smiles at you from a distance, sunlight reflecting from the walls and beckons you to come closer to explore the narrow streets and hidden corners. The church here is impressive. Old, careworn – some might say ‘crumbling’ as the weather’s certainly taken its toll on the porous stone, the gargoyles defaced by time. Inside is cool and superbly tranquil. A gentle light falling from heaven to earth via beautiful stained glass windows. The pews have been polished by generations of the faithful, and here and there are signs of the age of the place. The huge stone slabs that form the floor are shiny too, worn smooth with the feet of untold numbers of worshippers. The walls inside are beginning to fall victim to the damp and the mildew. No damproof course in those days, see? But it’s still a beautiful place to spend an hour on a red hot July morning. And it was open, unlike so many churches that we’d sometimes try to visit in the UK. I’m not religious in any way, never have been. But I can see the beauty in religious architecture, especially here in the Loire. Just like the Collegiate church of Le Puy Notre Dame.

A Divine light?

A Divine light?

A simple cross. Beautifully lit.

A simple cross. Beautifully lit.

There are gems to be found in almost every direction, small sundials carved out of the stone, set above a door. Gigantic exposed beams supporting the roofs of open barns, still in use as agricultural storage. Le Puy has a mix of old and new, making for an interesting walk around the streets. The school buildings are pretty, one old, but modern at the same time, with a beautifully made sign outside, declaring that it’s a ‘good adventure’ to learn! The other one, a catholic school, has seen better days but looks to be undergoing restoration. What it’ll be afterwards, who can say?

La Bonne Aventure!

La Bonne Aventure!

So, onwards, via the Maison de Tourism, where we picked up a programme of events for the day and had a lovely chat with the nice lady Tourism Officer. She was telling us what a hard year it’s been for the tourist industry in the area this year, with many gites being empty even in July and no bookings for August. It just made us even more thankful that we seem to be doing ok. We bought a commerorative plastic ‘plaque’ like those worn by the vintage cars taking part in the race, and on display to hang on our office wall, and took our lives in our hands as we ventured back out into the streets, which had been transformed into the race track for the weekend! Seriously! Haybales were the order of the day to protect a mass of people gathered to watch these fantastically well-preserved old cars and bikes strut their stuff in centre ville! A throaty roar heralded the arrival of four of the American 50’s style ‘Hot Rods’. To the obvious delight of the crowds, the drivers zoomed past at quite impressive speeds, followed by cameras galore. Luckily, I managed to get a few snaps that I’m pleased with.

50's America comes to town!

50's America comes to town!

Now you see it....

Now you see it....

A wave for the crowds!

A wave for the crowds!

This was the first of a series of circuits held on the Sunday, the Grand Prix Retro being decided later on that afternoon. Unfortunately, the hour meant that we’d miss it as we’d promised hungry guests that we’d be back home in time to cook fouée in our bread oven! Yes! Work! Even on my birthday!

So, we contented ourselves with a beer (or two) and a barquette of freshly cooked frites. Delicious! After lunch we decided to cross through into the ‘paddock’ area to see the cars on display there. Wow! What a spectacle! For those interested in old motor cars, this should definitely be on your itinerary when planning your French holiday in the Loire! It was magnificent. We estimated in excess of 50 vehicles of all ages on static display there. Morgans, MG’s, Motobecanes, Dasault, Renault, Citroen….the list seemed endless, and every single one radiated the love of the owner, and attention to detail of the motor car fanatic.

Here’s a few samples of what I’m talking about…

Into the 'paddock'.

Into the 'paddock'.

Beauties!

Beauties!

Morgan three-wheeler.

Morgan three-wheeler.

And still they came...

And still they came...

Cheeky devil!

Cheeky devil!

There were bikes too!

There were bikes too!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang peut-etre?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang peut-etre?

Flying the flag for Great Britain!

Flying the flag for Great Britain!

How many cars?

How many cars?

A British Bulldog?

A British Bulldog?

As you can possibly tell from this small selection of images that I took on the day, it was difficult, nay – impossible NOT to walk around without a great big smile on your face. The sheer beauty and craftsmanship of these immaculate vehicles was a joy to witness. I can’t wait for next year. Hope you’ve enjoyed looking at the pictures as much as I did taking them!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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