Leaving with a good impression

Art historians consider Impressionism to be the first distinctly modern movement in painting. It started in the 1860’s in Paris and the ideas of the movement spread throughout Europe. Instead of the photo-quality realism of a highly blended finish with invisible brush strokes that was the accepted manner of painting at the time, Impressionists aimed to capture the momentary, fleeting effect of a scene on the eye, especially the effects of light.

Claude Monet Impression, sunrise 1873

Because they were interested in light these artists left the studio and began painting in the open air. And because they painted outside, they had less time to mix colour and had to paint quickly to keep up with the ever-changing daylight. This resulted in work with loose brushwork that looked unfinished or messy compared to the accepted work of the time.

After leaving the Loire we are now making our way to Calais and the Eurotunnel. However we thought we would break the journey with a visit to Claude Monet’s house & garden at Giverny near Vernon, north west of Paris. Where he lived and painted, amongst many others, the now famous water lily painting.

Monet’s bridge

We arrived at Giverny late in the afternoon and found the free motorhome parking where we planned to stay overnight. After the usual cuppa on arrival, Lesley went in to pick up the tickets we’d ordered online hoping to avoid queueing the next day. Following a wander through the colourful museum gardens, Lesley found the house but was too late to pick up the tickets. The village was crowded with people. In a nearby cafe a man was playing smooth jazz on a piano in the courtyard, so although busy this gave the place a nice relaxed ambiance.

Next morning bright and early we were off to beat the crowds and being some of the first people there, I was hoping to get the iconic image of the bridge before it was crammed with with day trippers like us.

It wasn’t long before coach parties started to arrived and the place was buzzing. As one of the first to be let in we started to look round the garden but I soon realised that we’d missed the sign at the entrance directing visitors straight to the ‘Lily pond’. So I back tracked and headed for the water garden to beat the coach parties whilst Lesley lingered in the flower gardens and Monet’s rather eccentric house.

Although organised formally the mixed borders were planned in informal cottage garden style, all very lovely.

As Lesley took the chance to beat the queues for the house, I found a bench overlooking the Lily pond and sat there soaking up the beauty of the place and watching all the various coach-sized slugs of Japanese, American, French and British groups come by to snap ‘the picture’ of the pond and the bridge…

A brief moment of calm

Occasionally there would be a quiet spell for maybe half a minute before the next batch were processed though by their guide with a flag and microphone.

Lyons-la-Forêt

After spending a couple of very pleasant hours we headed off to Lyons-la-Forêt. Stopping there for lunch, we were about to call in at the boulangerie when we spotted a restaurant with pizza on the menu, well, it would have been rude not to go in!

Michelin* starred restaurant

We nearly blew our daily supplies and eating out budget on lunch (I had fresh mozzarella vegetarian pizza) in a upmarket cafe attached to Michelin* starred restaurant.

Previously we had been thinking we might stay in this area, but about this time – a bit like Moley calling out after Ratty in Wind in the Willows – the magnetic call of home started to get stronger. So we went online and changed our booking to bring the tunnel crossing forward by a day.

“The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly, and go. ‘Ratty!’ he called, full of joyful excitement, ‘hold on! Come back! I want you, quick!’

‘Oh, come along, Mole, do!’ replied the Rat cheerfully, still plodding along.

Please stop, Ratty!’ pleaded the poor Mole, in anguish of heart. ‘You don’t understand! It’s my home, my old home! I’ve just come across the smell of it, and it’s close by here, really quite close. And I must go to it, I must, I must! Oh, come back, Ratty! Please, please come back!’

The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly what the Mole was calling, too far to catch the sharp note of painful appeal in his voice. And he was much taken up with the weather, for he too could smell something— something suspiciously like approaching snow.

‘Mole, we mustn’t stop now, really!’ he called back. ‘We’ll come for it to-morrow, whatever it is you’ve found. But I daren’t stop now— it’s late, and the snow’s coming on again, and I’m not sure of the way! And I want your nose, Mole, so come on quick, there’s a good fellow!’ And the Rat pressed forward on his way without waiting for an answer.

Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sob gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under such a test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a moment did he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him for his new friendship and his callous forgetfulness.

With an effort he caught up to the unsuspecting Rat, who began chattering cheerfully about what they would do when they got back, and how jolly a fire of logs in the parlour would be, and what a supper he meant to eat; never noticing his companion’s silence and distressful state of mind. At last, however, when they had gone some considerable way further, and were passing some tree-stumps at the edge of a copse that bordered the road, he stopped and said kindly, ‘Look here, Mole old chap, you seem dead tired. No talk left in you, and your feet dragging like lead. We’ll sit down here for a minute and rest. The snow has held off so far, and the best part of our journey is over.’

The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control himself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so long refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, and then another, and another, and others thick and fast; till poor Mole at last gave up the struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and openly, now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could hardly be said to have found…”

Excerpt from chapter five of Wind-in-the-Willows by Kenneth Graham

Properly stuffed we headed back to Charlie and set off again, this time for the coast. A couple of hours through some lovely countryside took us to an aire at Stella Plage with a gigabyte size beach.

Nice beach but it was still a bit too cold for a swim or a paddle
Charlie parked up neatly behind the beach protected from the sea breeze by the sand dunes.
All very Victorian with a nice splash of colour

We have driven the best part of 6,000 miles around France and Spain. So it came at as a bit of a shock yesterday whilst driving on a straight road though Stella Plage, a car approaching from our right came screeching to a halt at our side blasting his horn. “What was all that about?” I said to Lesley? It was only later I realised that car on my right had intended to drive straight out because HE had right of way (= la priorité)

I can image the conversation that would have ensued had we crashed. “Qui Mousier, Don’t you no ze rules when driving in a small, obscure backwater en France, it is priorité à droite…” My response is probably unprintable, but would have included comments about how un-impressed I was with the French road regulations lack of ******** consistency!!!!

Following a caravan in to the Euro tunnel train.

Arriving back in the UK after 95 days on the road, our first and overriding impression was just how much traffic there is on the UK’s roads. In spite of the recent work to widen or make our motorways ‘Smart’ the shear volume of cars, lorries, buses (and motorhomes) the road network is coping with is staggering. I know France and Spain are twice as Big as the UK by area and have similar population numbers to ours, but even so, it really is absolute madness here!! At some point I’ll right up a summary of our tour with some reflections, observations and statistics (including how many beau villages we visited) But for now I’ll sign off my thoughts with this.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Omar Khayyám

Happy Easter to everyone and Toodle Pip till next time…

Dave & Lesley

Amboise

We woke up to a beautiful, sunny morning in a France Passion site near to St-George-sur-Cher.

Before we set off this morning the owner of the winery Pierre, came by to apologise for the smoking pyres dotted around the vineyard. He explained that they set fire to the straw bales at around four o’clock in the morning. From what I can gather this is a relatively new process, where the smoke from the fires forms a cloud over the vineyard, which softening the sun’s rays as it rises. This is to prevent the first rays of the sunshine burning the buds that are frozen during the night.

Back in Amboise, we collected the bikes and set off on today’s outing, a circular route to the famous Château de Chenonceau.

Another 46 km, will our posteriors ever forgive us!
Flat out (top speed 49.4KPH)

I don’t think even with the added battery power I’m going to make the grade for the ‘Tour de France’.

Great spot near Blére with lots of picnic tables

We found a good location for a quick lunch with picnic tables, however although it was sunny it was still bloody freezing. If we’d been organised bringing one of the flasks with some hot soup would have been a good idea. As I don’t think the Loire equivalent of Wilfs cafe in Staveley near Kendal exists.

The Cher valley

This area is very pleasant indeed, the Cher river is smaller and quieter than the Loire with less development close to the river. That is apart from Chenonceau… although technically speaking, Chenonceau is on the river.

lesley framing the iconic image of Château de Chenonceau

Perhaps the most famous of the many castles in the region, Chateau de Chenonceau is an impressive sight. Spanning the River Cher, it’s an attractive mix of architectural styles and is best known for being the residence of Queen Catherine de Medici. The endless rooms and halls are decorated sumptuously. It’s history is also very accessible through the engaging information provided of the colourful lives of its multiple owners.

Monster oven in the extensive kitchens

Getting good images of the interior of this very popular place without including the backs of peoples heads is really quite difficult. I’ll save you from having to wade through the dozen’s of photographs we took of the interior except this one taken in the briefest of lulls in visitors walking in to spoil the shot.

Château de Chenonceau gardens are huge

Lesley would like a garden with a wall with a gate in it. However I think we should start with a garden first!

Having visited many of the houses owned by the National Trust in the UK I was disappointed with the gardens here. Although the gardens at Chenonceau are very extensive, for my taste I thought they were very formal with the sort of creativity usually reserved for the orderly, symmetrical beds in the middle of roundabouts planted by local council.

Sheep and tortoise (not shown)

Although the French probably can do chic better than most. Their taste can at times certainly be questionable. I can only assume it’s meant to be very tongue in cheek, but faux sheep were definitely very tacky and not up to NT standards and to cap it all (shock horror) neither were the tea rooms!

I much prefer the concrete cows in Milton Keynes cows to a random Green Daisy!
We liked the lilac or was it wisteria growing up this cottage in the gardens

The visit to the Château de Chenonceau had been well worth in spite of the freezing cold (100 kph?) headwinds, at least we’d been able to get some feeling back in our hands, standing by the large log fire in the main entrance hall.

Not another fake… this time as we cycled through a nearby village – I wonder where they got the idea from?

Arriving back at Amboise we had cycled along mainly dedicated cycle ways and quiet back roads though pretty, sleepy villages, clocking up a total of 90km over the two days we had rented the bikes. But we feel quite inspired to get our own ebikes now….

We both had really taken to Amboise and the area around it. Before leaving we planned to visit the popular Sunday market which is meant to be one of the best in the area. Therefore after a comfortable night in the Municipal Campsite on the island we packed up parked Charlie outside the gates and walked over the bridge into town.

Artichokes a speciality of the Loire region

Following the crowds along on the town side levy, we were soon wedged in with the masses getting our ankles bumped with pushchairs as we squeezed between the queues lining up to buy from the stalls.

The fruit and veg on all the stall looked really well presented and fresh., there were also several stalls with huge pans of paella.

Not sure the image really does justice to the variety of fresh pasta for sale.
This chap looked like he tried one too many of his own free wine samples!

We didn’t buy that much, just a few bits of veg, some bread and brioche €6, oh and the strap on my cheap watch broke a few weeks ago so I looked at a few stalls to find a replacement but in the end brought a new watch for €5. That’s a euro less that the bread…! But then you can’t eat the watch.

Time to go!

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

Loire cycle-paths

The Psychopath driving the 40ft artic that careered past us whilst we stopped to change drivers, must have been partially blind and completely deaf. He swerved violently through the town’s 30kph chicane with the full height rear trailer doors flapping wildly, like a crazed scientist in a open lab coat hurrying along on his bike. The driver was oblivious to the van in hot pursuit, frantically flashing his lights and sounding its horn to attract the HGV’s attention. Soon after the chase passed us, further on we saw the lorry parked meekly by the side of road, the artic’s back doors now firmly closed. The red faced driver sitting quietly looking suitably chastened by the experience, contemplating the security of the large buckles on his re-tightened jacket!

Saumur

Well, we’ve had a great few days exploring the Loire valley, which is the official demarcation line between the north and south of France. When I first read this, I thought whoever made that decision hadn’t been able to find an atlas! But I’ve checked the map and they’re probably right, so we’re now definitively in the north.

Château de Saumur

The Vallée de la Loire is famous for several things but most notably the river and it’s Chateau’s. It’s also known as the Garden of France due to the abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards (such as cherries), and artichoke and asparagus fields, which line the banks of the river.

The blossom on the bank of the Loire in Tours, made a special effort to match Lesley’s jacket.
Food in the sun in Tours

I would caution any men planning on going to France specifically to get their hair cut. I have been looking for weeks (in fact for the whole trip) to find a cut anywhere for under €22, regardless of town or region. So now desperately needing it cut and seeing a sign for €12, we thought ‘how bad could it be’. Well the hair cut wasn’t too terrible, but we hadn’t bargained for the fierce looking Islamic preacher holding forth on the large telly dominating the salon. Fortunately for us we didn’t understand a word he was saying, unlike the other waiting innocents who’d just come in expecting to exchange some hair piece material for a bit of chic ‘Tin Tin style…

New hair cut, but brain still needs washing!
Goat Farm near Pocé-sur-Cisse

For the last couple of nights we’ve enjoyed the uncertainty and adventure of what to expect when staying at a France Passion scheme location. Two nights ago it was a small scale biscuit producer, located in a now no longer used rural school. The proprietor was charming and the biscuits (a regional speciality made with wine) were ok too.

No wonder they were furiously wagging their tails, the white pots are filled with local wine laced milk powder… Ok just kidding!

We arrived at the goat farm which is also part of the France Passion scheme, at 5pm just as the goats were about to be milked. It was interesting to watch, the goats knew the routine and apart from a bit of jostling for position they were quickly up the various ramps and connected to the milking machines. This is a family farm and the 3 youngsters 4-6 all played their part. There is no obligation to buy produce, but we bought some goats cheese which nicely complimented our tea.

Leonardo’s view of Amboise

Straddling the widest stretch of the river is Amboise, an inviting town with a fine old quarter below its hilltop château. Reading the guide it says a castle has overlooked the Loire from here since Roman times.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci retired here…just one more of his many brilliant ideas.

The Italian genius came here in 1516 because it was the royal residence of French King François I. Leonardo packed his bags (and several of his favorite paintings, including the Mona Lisa) and left an imploding Rome for better wine and working conditions. Imagine his résumé and cover letter: “I can help your armies by designing tanks, flying machines, wind-up cars, gear systems, extending ladders, and water pumps.”

Another Leonardo site is the Château Royal d’Amboise — the historic royal residence partially designed by the brilliant Italian. The king who did most of the building — Charles VIII — is famous for accidentally killing himself by walking into a door lintel on his way to a tennis match (seriously).

Having spent too long organising our bike hire, we decided it must be time for lunch. Fortunately the bikes came well equipped with D locks and a barrel combination lock to tie them both together.

We came across this lovely street with lots of quaint old buildings which had been turned into restaurants. For a few days I had been in the mood for a galette with some Bretón cider and we found a perfect place. We opted to sit inside as although sunny we were really cold on the bikes. Lesley had a delicious ham cheese and mushroom galette – she was still raving about it days later

Lesley enjoying the cider in the Crêperie Les 4 Saisons
Setting off from Amboise at last
We spotted this mad wall of tea pots stretched for about 100 yards
River Cher

With only half a day we made up our own route, but in spite of a few wrong turnings we still managed to cycle 46kms.

We had a great ride out on the electric bikes but I can’t believe we have agreed to to put our backsides through it all again tomorrow.

Leader Fox – Object of torture

It’s become a bit of a habit but as a reward for our hard days cycling we’ve once again chosen to stay at France Passion. This time at the winery Les Pierres de Aurèle near St George sur Cher. Aurèle the owner was lovely and once we’d parked parked Charlie, she arranged for us to have wine tasting straight away. After tasting 1 sparkling, 2 whites and 2 reds, we decided to take both the whites. Then a fizzy red was brought out and that was added to our basket as well.

Has this image gone fuzzy? don’t think it was the wine…!

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

Our friends electric

Gary Numan sang ‘Are friends electric’….. well not yet. But today we’ve called in to visit two of our friends from the Jive world – Pete & Jane – so we were grateful to plug Charlie into their electric whilst spending a night with them. Pete and Jane moved out to France 3 years ago to ‘live the good life’ growing their own fruit and vegetables in a small, idyllic hamlet not far from the town of Adriers, 50 mins west of Poitiers in the Haute Vienne region.

Pete & Jane bought the house for a bargain price and very quickly realised they had got more than they had bargained for! The house had a good roof… Unfortunately that’s where its positive attributes ended, so they are slowly working through with a tiny budget replacing, mending or making everything else. They’ve made huge progress and we look forward to going back on a future trip to see the project finished.

La Vieux Port

After saying our goodbyes, our plan was to head for Nantes, but someone stood up and said ‘Swansea‘ (**). No they didn’t, they said La Rochelle, so the plan changed and we took a quick 100km detour and found ourselves in a perfect aire in a huge carpark (albeit without services). However there was a boulangerie pâtisserie, an ice cream parlour and a pizza take away and the company of half a dozen other vans to share the view of a smart marina full of yachts.

Anyone familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, will understand we spend most of our time concerned with fulfilling our basic needs. Although we’ve forsaken the comfort of a nice home and shunned the company of good friends and family, as we still have each other we’re still able to achieve a large section of the 3rd level. However I can tell you having a French couple watching you emptying the toilet cassette is a real barrier to attaining level 4 and above.

Today it’s… wait for it Laundry Day. Yes is that part of the blog you wait nervously to hear regularly reported. Thankfully the wishy-washy is in at another convenient location at the back of the car park , which means we can have breakfast in the van rather than get dizzy sitting waiting, watching the clothes go round and round and round (we can’t get BBC TV here!).

A Yelo electric bus

By the time the wash had finished eating half of a pair of by now partnerless socks and we’d lost patience with the tumble dryer blowing inadequate amounts of barely warm air over our duvet cover, it was already lunchtime. With impeccable timing once again we wanted to take the water taxi on the only day this month when the timetable had an extended lunch hour. Rather than wait until 2:30 we choose to take an electric bus from a very convenient stop close to the laundry instead.

With a front seat it was perfect vantage point for ‘people watching’

Once we’d explored the town for a bit we found a ideal spot to have lunch (Cath – Lesley had prawns and I had ‘Fish n Chips’ which turned out to be fish goujons accompanied by a bowl of dippable frites and tangy mayo).

One of things I enjoy on holiday is sitting watching the world go by, making up the relationships of the people as they promenade down the street – Are those two an item? Is that her toy boy? Has that couple just met? Are those to having words? etc, etc).

I really liked the clouds, Lesley said she could see a face in the big one but I think she was seeing things
mze 2590 fg
An electric powered water bus in La Rochelle old port

The city of La Rochelle is planned around its port and different basins that make it up. So, when you’ve moored up your rather expensive gin palace in your private berth in the marina and want to go to the old port you can just hop on one of these small solar powered Yélo sea buses and they will connect you to Vieux Port and of its many popular harbour side restaurants.

The entrance to the old port

Our near silent electric powered Yelo taxi took us back to the No 5 berth in the marina, 200 yards from Charlie waiting patiently with a few chums.

Rows and rows of yachts and big motorised pointy things

Access to the inner sanctum of La Rochelle’s Vieux Port harbour for the vessels with the deeper drafts are governed by the tides. Also and probably more significantly for capacity reasons as Vieux Port is so small 95% of the boats berthed at La Rochelle are in the huge marina(s)

Charlies rather expensive 35m long sea going cousin!

The fact that I am able to contain my inverted snobbery towards the owner of this monster is in large part due to the knowledge having paid out an estimated €15-20 million to buy ‘Harmony’ you still have to spend around 10% of purchase cost every year in maintenance and crew costs! ouch… (and there’s me losing sleep over motorhome depreciation).

Not electric but wind powered – Ready about – Lee Ho

This crew aren’t bothered much by the tides and they look like they’re having a whole lot more fun than the big expensive cruisers!

** In 1970 I was sitting in a steamed up, greasy spoon cafe in Corringham, Essex with a group of friends drinking frothy coffee and listening to “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by Bobbie Gentry on the juke box, when Pete Woodard, stood up and put his hands on the table and said “Swansea?”. Without hesitation, repetition or indeed preparation around 8 -10 mates with Triumph’s, Norton’s and BSA’s got up and set off to Swansea. This was before the M4 was fully completed and the story of a litany of bike breakdowns, frozen limbs and sleeping in workmen’s huts is legendary.

It only takes a spark of an idea and it’s amazing what you can get up to with your friends, isn’t it? I think a couple of e-bikes would fit nicely in Charlie’s garage, don’t you?

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

Lest we forget…

Anyone who’s feeling the need for some good news, especially if, like us you’re thoroughly pissed off with Brexit and desperately need a story with a happy ending… READ NO FURTHER.

Charlie parked up at the aire in Javerdat just up the road from Oradour sur Glane

On 10 June 1944, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in Haute Vienne in Nazi-occupied France was destroyed, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company.

On 10 June, Diekmann’s battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane and ordered everyone within to assemble in the village square to have their identity papers examined. This included six non-residents who happened to be bicycling through the town when the SS unit arrived. The women and children were locked in the church, and the village was looted. The men were led to six barns and sheds, where machine guns were already in place.

This is what remains of a 1944 car showroom

According to a survivor’s account, the SS men then began shooting, aiming for their legs. When victims were unable to move, the SS men covered them with fuel and set the barns on fire. Only six men managed to escape. One of them was later seen walking down a road and was shot dead. In all, 190 Frenchmen died.

It’s almost impossible to comprehend what happen in this place

The SS men next proceeded to the church and placed an incendiary device beside it. When it was ignited, women and children tried to escape through the doors and windows, only to be met with machine-gun fire. 247 women and 205 children died in the attack. The only survivor was 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche. She escaped through a rear window, followed by a young woman and child. All three were shot, two of them fatally. Rouffanche crawled to some pea bushes and remained hidden overnight until she was found and rescued the next morning. About twenty villagers had fled Oradour-sur-Glane as soon as the SS unit had appeared. That night, the village was partially razed.

Whilst shooting women and children in the church, the bullets made these holes in the memorial plaque to their grandfathers who died in the first world war.
The church bell and striker melted by the intense heat of the burning pyre the SS soldiers turned the church into…

Several days later, the survivors were allowed to bury the 642 dead inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane who had been killed in just a few hours. Adolf Diekmann said the atrocity was in retaliation for the partisan activity in nearby Tulele and the kidnapping of an SS commander.

They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, China, in a World at War …

Remember me when I am gone away,    
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Remember Christina Rossetti, 1830 - 1894

But it is all too easy to forget –

In our busy lives, the sacrifices that were made and the lessons learned by those that gave their lives that we might live in peace.

It is all too easy to forget –

Man’s inhumanity to man never fails to shock. Whether it’s a lone gunmen in the US, in Norway or as recently in New Zealand or the Charlie Hebdo killers. Our intolerance to and of each other is a human fault line.

Political point alert: Why is membership of the EU not enough? Why do we think we’d be better off alone? Why do we want more than our neighbours? Surely there are some lessons from history that should not be forgotten..

Toodle Pip

D&L

Seeing Red

As fans of classic black & white musical movies like Singing in the Rain. Lesley & I have concluded that the yellow roads on the Michelin paper maps represent the Yellow Brick Road… And although neither of us are into astrology but based on our birth dates we are both ‘Leo’s’ and therefore: lions. So given the chance we’ll cautiously follow these squiggly, often picturesque routes, but so far, although we’ve met a few strange characters… we haven’t yet met Dorothy Scarecrow or the Tin Man, we are trying to be brave, but it is a bit scary….

Follow the yellow brick road

Following the Yellow Brick Road today has lead us to Collonges la Rouge, which is strangely red or at least the building are!

If you’ve been following this blog you’re probably read (and I certainly hope taken note of?) how many of the plus beau village de France we have visited on our tour. Well this village is where it all started. In 1982, the mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge, started an association to promote and protect France’s most beautiful villages. And some say this place is still the most beautiful.

It’s all in the awe sorry ore. The luscious red stone buildings of Collonges-la-Rouge owe their hue to the 2.2 percent iron oxide contained in the local sandstone, which a bit of wikipedia research revealed that it’s the level of iron oxide which produces the colour red.

Marvellous

The charms of this little town extend well beyond colour. The pepper mill towers with their grey tiled roofs, which adorn this prettiest of villages and contribute to the unique architectural richness of this place. Disney would have turned it into a tourist honey pot I’m sure (is that me being cynical again?)

Just the coach driver in the picture!

Once again we’re here out of season so it’s still possible to take a picture without the entire contents of the coach trip from the nearby Brive WI all wanting to be in the shot.

Having stayed in the nearby aire overnight to be here before the masses, we needn’t have bothered, as the rains last night would have put off all but most dedicated most beautiful village fans. Luckily for us the rains cleared for our visit and restarted as we returned to the van, but as can be seen from these images we struggled with the light balance. The alternative is to come in the height of summer then wait till you get home and airbrush out the hordes!

Right better dash… it’s starting to ran, and we’re off to see the wizard.

“Doo-dloo-doo-doo-dooDoo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo, I’m singing in the rain. Just singing in the rain, What a glorious feelin’ I’m happy again…..”

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley

The Dordogne

For me Easter is not coming soon enough…. No, we’re not desperate to get home to rejoice that we can’t get within 50 metres of Fell Foot Park due to the crowds of bank holiday visitors. No, it’s the thought of all that guilt free access to chocolate! Yes, whilst away we’ve had M&M’s plus Lindt Chilli and Mars bar ice creams etc. but you just can’t beat the memories that come flooding back with the smell inside half a chocolate easter egg shell.

Chocolate box medieval houses in Montignac

I only discovered fairly recently that part of the reason why red wine glasses (in particular) are much smaller in diameter at the top than around the bowl, is to intensify the smell in the nose and compliment the flavour signals experienced on the tongue. So it must be the curvature of the Easter egg halves that intensifies the aroma of the cocoa, forcing the smell to your nose and exciting your taste buds. Just a mmmmmm sniff does it for me! Oooh the anticipation.

Amongst us francophiles we will all have our own favourite places or regions, mine is probably the Dordogne. I particularly like the area around Sarlat-la-Canéda and the medieval town of Sarlat itself.

As part of the Aquitaine region the Dordogne went though extremely turbulent times during the middle ages.

Eleanor of Aquitaine inherited much of Aquitaine, and married the King of France, Louis VII. But this marriage was annulled after 15 years, and Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet. Henry then became king of England, and a large part of France thus fell under English rule. Not surprisingly this caused some tensions! The problem was compounded when Eleanor and Henry had a troublesome son – Richard the Lionheart When King Henry died, Richard inherited the throne of England and all its French lands.

Chateau du Beynac

Chateau du Beynac which was captured by Richard the Lionheart and used as a stronghold by his men. In 1337 Philippe VI ordered that the lands of Aquitaine be taken from the English. In 1340 Edward III declared himself King of France. Thus the Hundred Years War began. During the Hundred Years war there were numerous ‘famous’ battles including the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The castles of Castelnaud and Beynac were also both heavily involved in the battles of the Hundred Years War.

Typical side street in Sarlat

The beauty of the area for me comes though the irregular honey coloured stonework on the medieval buildings, making it a magnet for tourists like us. This time we are fortunate to here be out of July – August main holiday season and accidentally chose to visit on a Monday when almost all businesses are closed.

Now that’s what you call nougat
An alternative view of left brain – right brain

Wandering around Sarlat, like children following the pied piper we followed an internal stone staircase as it wound its way up a five storey tower. At the top found Adrian Kenyon and his esoteric art gallery in the eaves. After 30 minutes of thought realignment surgery, discussing with him the motivation and inspiration for his political, environmental and spiritually engaged oil paintings and collages, we made our excuses….. The art was thought provoking – certainly. Some his more extreme theories? not so sure….

Lesley’s in the driving seat again

During previous holidays in the area we have rented canoes, both on the Dordogne and the Vézère rivers. It’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon letting the river carry you along whilst looking for a place to stop for a picnic.

Castelnaud on the hill – Now which one of those arches has the rapids?
I think they might have given me a child’s life jacket

We left Charlie in La Roque-Gageac and hired a two person Canadian canoe. Launching up stream there’s no real need to paddle too hard, you just need to steer.

Well someone had to take the photo!

Two very relaxing hours later at a pre-arranged spot you drag the canoe out of the water and are picked up and taken back to your vehicle. [Just a thought, I wonder what happens if you miss that paddle disembarkation marker]

Easter Fish! – No we didn’t catch these!

Now the French know something about wine (they seem to produce and consume enough of it). As experts tasters therefore why is it then that when they produce their very decorative and elaborate chocolate Easter products, few offer the opportunity to excite the nose with sniff-er-roo?

Toodle Pip

Dave & Lesley