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Posts Tagged ‘Saumur’

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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Syb & I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary here in November. We had lunch in this petit resto before moving on to the aerodrome at Saumur, and a surprise flight in a light ‘plane over the Loire, the chateau and our home at Le Chant d’Oiseau!

We’d heard nothing but good reports about the place from guests here, and we’ve always said we’d give it a go ourselves one of these days. We’ve recommended it to others, purely on the strength of guest’s say-so too, without actually trying it for ourselves – naughty, I know! That’s the way it so often happens here though. We’re usually too busy to venture far in the season, and too tired out of season! For our 25th though, I thought that should change!

This restaurant is set back out of town a little way, on the route de Chinon. Just follow the southern bank of la Loire for a while, until you see signs to turn right for the chateau, and then take a left along a cute little ruelle. There it is, on the right. There’s quite a large car park a little further up, which serves the nearby lycée. Or, you can park on the street if it’s not too busy.

Approaching the restaurant, it’d be easy to miss. A very small terrace out front, with billboards either side of the door advertising the menus. We studied for a few moments, the smells of good home-cooking wafting beneath our noses! There was a gaggle of smokers huddled around the door, and they parted to allow us in.

The place is a gem.  We instantly loved it – the feel of the place, and its ambiance. This was a lunchtime, so many places were taken by office workers, fonctionnaires and probably teachers from the lycée just a couple of hundred yards away. The décor inside is a mixture of tastes and styles. Everything’s a jumble, but for us it works really well. there are things to look at, to point to and to generally stimulate good conversation. Essentially, food & good conversation go together like…well, like ‘Food & Drink’! Old crates were stacked to one end of the room, above a gantry which, I surmised was above the kitchen. These crates had corks from untold numbers of wine bottles overflowing here and there. There were ironwork baskets hanging from the ceilings, again filled with corks! Pictures on the walls were of local scenes and the huge blackboard was advertising food in a jumble if hand-written styles, some crossed out (popular) and some added to (newer ingredients?). It all worked really, really well. We felt at home.

We chose our dishes, starters and mains, from the menu, and plumbed for two glasses of local champigny, rather than a bottle. I didn’t know how bumpy the flight was going to be, and the last thing I wanted was for Syb to be airsick! She still didn’t know what I had planned!

We both chose the same starter, simply because we love mushrooms, and this area is famous for them. We chose the ‘galipettes farcies’. Basically, two huge stuffed mushrooms, filled with what can only be described as the tastiest meat filling, but the gravy. Wow! It has to be the tastiest gravy (or sauce) that I’ve ever, ever had. It really was special. This alone was pretty filling, especially given the size of the funghi, and the amount of bread we used to mop up this wonderfully rich, and aromatic gravy.

Syb went for a fish dish, and I a meat one for main. Syb chose the sandre. Locally caught and cooked in a butter sauce. I went for chicken, pan fried in a white wine sauce. Pretty quickly though, the owner, Olivier was back at our table to explain that there was no more zander, and recommending instead another white fish, cooked in a garlic sauce.

No problem, and Syb was happy to go with Olivier’s recommendation. When the mains arrived, I realised that we’d not have long before we needed to make tracks for the aerodrome, and our date with the pilot! So unfortunately we didn’t manage dessert. We did see plenty of them brought out though, and they looked super. The chicken was well cooked, nicely garnished with fresh vegetables, namely haricot verts. There was also a side dish of frites to accompany this, and they were thick, juicy and beautifully done! Syb’s fish, the name of which was almost unpronouncable was served on a bed of couscous, with a garlic sauce ‘moat’. She enjoyed the fish, but the garlic was just a little too overpowering, and spoiled the dish a little.

But overall, we enjoyed our meal here. The service was good, and we took a little time to chat with Olivier at the end of the meal, before we had to dash off.

After finally visiting and sampling the Pot de Lapin, we’d happily recommend it to anyone who stays with us. The ambience, the smells from the kitchen, the setting – in an older part of town, close to the river, and nestled under the escarpment where the chateau sits above, is fantastic. It’s definitely on our list of places we’d like to return to. Unfortunately, there are no pics of the dishes this time, as I’d left the camera in the car. Next time though, I promise I won’t forget!

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 year, as I’ve possibly mentioned before, Saumur parades its wines before an adoring public. Many vignerons gather together in the town for the first weekend of September to celebrate their ‘metier’, their craft. There’s a whole host of associated trades that take stands there too making for a very enjoyable afternoon in the town.When you need a break from the rigours of sampling some delightful wines, you can take a tour of this beautiful chateau town ‘en calèche’, a horse-drawn carriage, to discover the reasons why Saumur makes for such a popular holiday destination year on year.

So – to the wine fair.

What happens is this – you buy a commemorative glass, inscribed with the legend ‘Vins de Saumur’, and you hawk it around the 40-odd stands, tasting here & there. It’s fantastic! And after the initial €5 for your verre, it’s all free! Result! Now obviously, you’re being treated only to Saumur wines, and nothing else, so it’s all a bit biased, but it’s a great way to get to know the different appellations of the region. It’s also a great way to find those vignerons that are willing to offer you free tastings chez eux.Some of the vineyards are old. Very old. Often the places you’ll visit for a free tasting are stunning old family chateaux, nestled deep in the vines. Often you’ll taste far more wines than normal, as it simply isn’t possible to offer the full range of vintages at events like the Marché des Vins.

We wandered from stall to stall, meeting the vignerons, and having them explain their wines to us, we tasted quite a few and found more than a few that were worth a punt! Generally, the vignerons are very patient with their prospective clients and we noticed many that were attempting to communicate with non-french speaking tasters. English voices were all around us, giving the lie to the story that Brits were having ‘staycations’ this year. We’ve attended this event for the past few years, and I think that this year we heard far more English being spoken than previously! Go figure!

Some of the vignerons were a little ‘worse for wear’ after a long morning of opening bottles, and tasting both to see if the bottle had ‘corked’, and having a taste with clients! One in particular, on the Langlois Chateau stand managed to pour most of his Crémant de la Loire over my hand, rather than in the glass! Funny! But no offence taken, it’s a hazard of the job!

Our friend Gérald was there with his wife and adorable son, and doing very brisk business in the sunshine. We passed a few verres with them, chatting about life in general, business and of course, wines….

Incidentally, keep an eye out for an announcement in the not too distant future for an exciting new venture from Gérald, Sarah-Jane and Le Chant d’Oiseau (our business, in case you weren’t aware)! Shhh…….

The town was bustling with happy people, listening to the crooner on the small stage singing Sinatra (very well, too), chatting, laughing, drinking, eating. There was the usual fouée stall doing a roaring trade, and normally we’d have sampled a couple ourselves, (to soak up the wine, you understand) but as this was a Sunday, (no rest for the wicked), we’d promised guests back home that we’d light our very own bread oven and cook fouée for them ourselves!

The Saumur Wine Fair is an excellent way to spend a very warm and sunny Sunday in the Loire Valley. Here’s a few shots to whet your appetite for next year!

Saumur Marché des Vins.

Saumur Marché des Vins.

Gérald doing a brisk trade!

Gérald doing a brisk trade!

Look into my eyes.....

Look into my eyes.....

Ingenious use of old vines!

Ingenious use of old vines!

There's always cheese...

There's always cheese...

...and a mobile four a pain for fouée!

...and a mobile four a pain for fouée!

All in all, with the restaurants along la Loire doing good business, the cafés bristling with people enjoying the wine & the weather, Saumur is THE place to be on the first Sunday of September! So, make a date for next year, and we’ll see you there!

Until the next time, hic, au revoir!

TBC

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

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I know. This ‘blog should have been written before the last one, but I’m just useless at getting things done just lately. I do have a list, but it’s so long I’ve forgotten where the end is. So, I just do things as and when the time and inclination are together in the same universe! So, the barn raising (a la ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’) was a huge success. But, before that the fireworks and celebrations for Bastille Day both in our small village and our nearest large town were just so very impressive! In my rush to get a ‘blog out there for our faithful followers (you know who you are, er…Enid) I just plain forgot to tell you all just what you’re missing if you’re not in France for the Fete Nationale!

This year, unlike other years before it Mouliherne decided to celebrate a couple of days before. I think part of the reasoning behind this is due to the fact that Saumur has such an impressive display, and events all day that many of the smaller communes feel ‘left out’. Many of their inhabitants, visiting guests and holidaymakers preferring to visit the more picturesque and larger displays in the major towns.

Mouliherne traditionally holds a hog roast, dancing to live music and a fireworks display down at our local plan d’eau – it’s a recreation area centered around a lovely lake. Most communes in France have a plan d’eau. Ours has a fantastic barn structure there too, available for hire to all and sundry, and the focal point for many a ‘do’ throughout the year, from boules competitions to hog roasts, to weddings and other events. Anyway, we were told by friends that the feu d’artifice would be going off (literally) at around 10pm. So, off we went. We arrived there at around 9.45, parked (no meandering nor nodding though, as we were among the first to arrive in the carpark) and unloaded the wheelchair for Syb’s mum. We then found a likely viewing point on a grassy knoll overlooking the lake and barn. Lovely. Not long now. A few minutes of watching the ‘ooh, aah’s’ and back to Chateau Oiseau for a swift nightcap! Friends arrived and stood with us for a while for a chat, and together we commented on the noise emanating from the barn. A stage had been set up in there and there was dancing to a live band. Now, I used to be a musician and I know the difference between a live band and something akin to a can of marbles being gargled by a pre-pubescent teen fighting with a gorilla. I have no idea what kind of ‘dancing’ is done to this kind of ‘music’, but images of some long forgotten (or even undiscovered) Polynesian tribe spring to mind. (Insert apology to Polynesian pre-pubescent gorilla fighting teens here…)

It was dire. And I know dire, believe me. I’ve been in dire bands before! Many times!

But, when the noise stopped the anticipation grew. Only to find the pre-pubescent gorilla fighting teens were taking a short breather in search of the lost chord. I think they found it. Several, in fact.

10pm was a dim & distant memory by now, my patience was wearing thin. There was a flicker of red torchlight close by where we’d noticed earlier that there was a temporary cover constructed for the techniciens d’artifices. All of a quiver, we counted two, no three red torchlights swaying back and forth. They’ve lost their matches, surely? Red torch number one went to the left of the lake, while red torch number two went to the right. Red torch number three (obviously Red torch leader), stayed put in the tent thingy. Moments later, they all came back to the same point. We were wondering whether this was indeed the display, as it seemed to be so well co-ordinated. But no. They’d misplaced the button thingy, perhaps? Or even their matches after all?

11pm came and went. Red torch leader dispatched his troops once more left and right.

Pre-pubescent teens, having at last conquered the gorilla had stopped playing. The applause was rapturous and it was a close call whether the audience was thankful for the silence, or appreciative of the ‘band’.

11.30 and a tangible air of anticipation now as whoosh…..it started!

And wow! What a display! 15 minutes of world war three. Chest thumping maroons, huge sprays of sparks coloured the night and we ‘ooh’d’ and ‘aah’d’ with the best of ’em! For such a small commune, this was indeed a fantastic show, and an obvious highpoint in the social calendar here. After a thrilling 15 minutes, we looked at one another, made a mental note to be here for the Bastille Day celebrations next year, and forgave the pre-pubescent gorilla fighting teens everything. They were the best band we’d heard in ages!

By complete contrast, two nights later we found ourselves sat on the hill overlooking the Loire in Saumur, the chateau to our left and the town below us. There was the most fantastic sunset which seemed to last forever. The chateau glistened in the evening sunlight before being lit from the ground as night fell. When we arrived, there were a few folks dotted here & there, picnics in full flow. Wine glasses chinking, laughter and soft music filling the air. It was a very calm atmosphere, a very warm, sultry evening. As the time passed, more and more people came and found a spot to sit, the mixture of languages adding to the carnival atmosphere that was slowly replacing the calm of earlier. From somewhere in the crowd, drums began to play. There sounded like there were a few of them, and very tuneful it was too. After each ‘piece’ the audience clapped, whooped and hollered! Each ‘piece’ seemed to be louder and more frenetic than the last, helping to create the most fantastic sense of anticipation. Small versions of the fireworks we were waiting for were being thrown about the sky by small boys, their trails helping to illuminate the assembled gathering. Suddenly, the drumming stopped, the crowd cheered and the lights in the town below went out!

What followed was nothing short of brilliant. Bigger, more impressive and longer than the one we’d experienced a couple of nights before. We’ve been coming to Saumur for Bastille Day fireworks since we moved here, three years ago but we’ve always been down on the bridge, the Pont Cessart. That’s where it all ‘happens’, apparently. The crowds gathered there though make it difficult for Syb’s mum to see very much, apart from the backs of people’s heads! So to sit up by the chateau, perched high above the town below meant that we saw everything. I got some great shots too. So, Bastille Day in France 2008. Two very different experiences, both absolutely wonderful, and we’re eagerly looking forward to next years. I hope the band get some practice in before then though…

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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You’ll have to forgive the huge grin I’m wearing at the moment. It’s not because I’ve had a great weekend with friends who took time out from their holidays in Brittany to come and see us. It’s not because I’m really, really happy with some of the shots I took at the fete de la musique event in Saumur. It’s not because I’ve completed the walled garden, and installed the stone barbeques for guest’s use.

It’s simply because I’m an uncle for the very first time. Our new baby nephew’s arrived, safe and sound at last. It was a stressful weekend of worry and homesickness for us; worry, lack of sleep, fear, anxiety and pain for my family in the UK. After a difficult and complicated delivery, both mum and baby are doing fine, and we can’t begin to tell you how happy we all are at the news.

Welcome to the world, Noah Andrew Cordon. may your life be blessed with happiness, good health and whatever you wish for.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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