The Cardinal’s Town

Mention the name “Cardinal Richelieu” to many people and probably they will immediately think of him as a villainous figure in André Dumas’ swashbuckling tales of the “Three Musketeers.” I have to admit that I was one of those folk too.

The reality is however somewhat different, so lets have a little history lesson:

He was born, Armand du Plessis in Paris in 1585, the fourth of five children. His father was a soldier and courtier to King Henry III of France who for Du Plessis’ assistance in the Wars of Religion granted the family the Bishopric of Luçon. This not only had religious significance, but also was an important source of income for the family, particularly as du Plessis senior also died in said war!

In an inspired move to protect the important income stream, young du Plessis’ mother decided that one of her sons had to become a priest and in a way Armand drew the short straw, however he embraced the academic side of his new life and enthusiastically threw himself into the role.

In 1607 du Plessis was consecrated Bishop of Luçon and set about implementing a program of church reform. His political career began when in 1614 he was asked by the clergymen of Poitou to be their representative in the Estates General, one of the advisory bodies to King Louis XIII’s of France; du Plessis began to get further noticed and soon entered the service of the King’s wife Anne of Austria.

Du Plessis then began a further upward progression.

The King nominated him as a Cardinal and in 1622 Pope Gregory XV duly approved the appointment. The new Cardinal became a prominent advisor to the King and was appointed to the Royal Council of Ministers in 1624, becoming effective Principal Minister in August of that year and the President of the Council in 1629 when he was also granted the Dukedom of Richelieu and adopted the title “Cardinal Richelieu.”

Richelieu is credited with establishing an authoritative monarchy and effectively dissolving the previous feudal control that had been enjoyed by regional nobility. He ordered all fortified castles, except those needed for national defence to be razed, as a result he became hated by many Princes, Dukes and lesser nobility by removing their strongholds that potentially could have been used against the King in times of rebellion. He did much to cement the basis of France as one cohesive and united nation, a country with with centralised power that was able to spread influence far beyond it’s own borders.

He is remembered for an authoritarian approach; he demonstrated early control of the press, built a network of internal spies and banned public assemblies for the discussion of political matters.

Is legacy was well summed up by Canadian historian John Ralston Paul who referred to Richelieu as “the father of the modern nation state, modern centralised power and modern secret service.” I like that!

So why did the Cardinal adopt the small village of Richelieu, in the South of the Val de Loire, as the seat of his Dukedom?

Well, the young du Plessis spent his youth there, it was, in fact, the village of his ancestors and now he was a Cardinal he could afford to buy the place, pretty cool for a lad that was effectively forced into the priesthood!

The Cardinal didn’t stop there, in fact he was only just getting going….

He engaged Paris architect Jacques Lemercier, who had worked for him on various project in the capital, and together they set about creating a new town from scratch.

One of the town’s gateways.

With the Kings permission they built a walled town on a grid pattern with an adjacent grand palace, the Château de Richelieu.

The whole lot was surrounded by a moat, that was not only decorative but served as an ingenious sewer system taking away the towns effluent.

Remains of the moat, still flowing.

I love that the thoughtful Cardinal had a slightly smaller Château built about three miles away for his mistress; nice one Armand!

Today the grand Château is long gone, but the small town, population 1800, remains and very interesting it is too. I love the place, but as a French friend of mine observed, it’s one of those places that you either love or can’t wait to get out of!

The main square, Place de Cardinal.

The other day Mrs Dookes and I had a very enjoyable couple of hours wandering through the town, visiting the market and discovering part of the grand château’s park.

Richelieu Park


If you are ever in the area it’s definitely worth dropping by, if only for a coffee and to wish the old Cardinal well!

Not looking bad for his age!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Cooking up Some Magic

This post is a bit of an experiment…my blog originally started to be all about my travels on a Harley Davidson; it’s sort of morphed into something more to that.

Following encouragement of various Blog friends I’m trying something a bit radical for me, Blog Cooking!

Lets see how it goes, but I warn you now if you don’t like pictures of meat cooking or even the thought of eating it…look away now!

Now where was I?

Time always seems to go so fast when I am in France, it’s probably because I enjoy myself so much here. There are moments however, when time seems to stand still and almost go backwards, regardless of where I am in the world.

Last Sunday was just one of those moments and it all revolved around a game of Rugby, or to be more precise, Rugby Union; the game played with 15 in each team.

The occasion? Wales were playing Australia in one of the group games of the World Cup.

Regular Blogonaughts may remember that I am a passionate supporter of my nation’s rugby team. I take every opportunity I can to go to home games in Cardiff and if not I watch televised games.

Just like on Sunday. I may be in France and the Welsh rugby team may be in Cardiff, but thankfully French television are providing excellent coverage of all the World Cup games. At 12:15 local time I settled in front of the screen to enjoy.

The first 40 minutes were thrilling, Wales played some excellent rugby and deservedly went into half time with a healthy 23-8 lead.

Then came the second half and time stood still. Australia edged back into the match and I began to get decidedly twitchy; at 26-25 I was more than worried! Then a wonderful penalty kick took Wales to 29-25 and solid work saw them over the line to a well earned win!

I was more than a little delighted!!!

Mrs Dookes is well used to seeing my emotional rollercoaster in action when it comes to my beloved Wales rugby team. She deserved a treat and so I headed off to the kitchen, time to cook!

After boeuf bourguignon one of my favourite French dishes is Magret de Canard, seared duck breast.

When I was younger, the only cooked duck I ever seemed to come across in the U.K. was a wretched thing called “Duck à la Orange.” It was generally half a rather thin and pathetic bird cooked to death and smothered with a sticky marmalade like incredibly sweet orange sauce. We didn’t know much better, but even then I thought that there had to be nicer ways of serving duck than this.

Then I discovered my old mate Floyd who introduced me to French cuisine, life and food was never going to be the same again.

So let’s start with basics, this is a dead easy dish to make. You can find all sorts of recipes for it, but take it from me, simple is best!

First up you’ll need the following:

Shallots, I like échalion, the long ones.
Garlic, get the plumpest freshest you can find, not the dried sad stuff in the supermarket, or better still grow your own!

The best garlic available!


Carrots.
A sprig of fresh Rosemary.
A couple of Bay leaves.
Red Wine, I used a Côtes du Marmandais, tasty but not overpowering.
Sea Salt and crushed black pepper.

Oh yes and a duck breast! – This is obviously important as it’s the whole point of the dish, don’t skimp get the best you can. Here in France you can get lovely plump ones, with a nice layer of fat under the skin, that are big enough to feed two, the one I used weighed 450grammes.

So lets go.

First up, skin and roughly chop the shallots and garlic, I give the garlic a bit of a bash just to lightly crush it and release all those lovely juices. Scrape the carrots and cut into batons about 5cm long.

Turn the oven on and pre-heat to 100ºC

Heat some olive oil in a solid frying pan, rub salt and pepper into the duck breast and when the pan is good and hot, but not smoking, place the meat into it skin side down. Sear the meat until the skin is a lovely golden colour and the fat is starting to melt. About 3 minutes should do it, but if you don’t like it too bloody give it another minute then turn and cook the other side.

Looking good!

Remove the duck breast from the pan, wrap in foil and pop into the oven to rest.

Throw the shallots, garlic and carrots into the same pan and cook for about ten minutes until the shallots start to glaze and take on a light golden colour; don’t have the heat too high or you will burn the garlic and make it bitter.

Now for the fun! Pour in the wine, to start with I put in about 400ml and bring up the heat. You can flame off the excess alcohol, but with the cooking it will all just about disappear anyway. Add the rosemary and bay leaves then reduce for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it catching.

Once everything has nicely cooked down it’s time for a bit of French magic…

Almost all French home kitchen has a food mill, a mouli-purée, you can use a sieve if you don’t have one, but you now have to purée the lovely deep maroon contents of your pan.

The Magic Mouli

Put your prized purée in a fresh pan and return to a gentle heat. Season to your own taste, I like a lot of pepper. At the same time I added a couple of teaspoons of Confiture de Pruneaux d’Agen, which is a rather nice French plum jam, which is not too sweet and has a nice sharpness. If I was being more fussy I would have soaked some dried prunes in wine and used those, but sometimes life is too short!

Remove the duck breast from it’s resting place, put on a cutting board and admire.

….and admire.

Then cut it into diagonal slices, keeping a nice strip of skin and fat on each slice.

Divide up between you and your dining companion of choice, give the meat a nice dressing of the wonderful rich sauce. I served it with fresh green beans and my version of a croquette potato, again all very simple.

Push out the boat and accompany with a really nice, but not too heavy, red wine along with your very favourite dining companion, in my case Mrs D!

We had a bottle of Chateau de la Grille 2015, a Chinon wine from about ten miles away from where we are staying, lovely.

Well, there you are. That’s the first time I’ve ever shared one of my recipes on line and the first cooking blog post I also ever done….I hope you enjoyed it, I’ll get back to motorbikes soon.

Oh, look out, Wales play Fiji on the 9th October; Cymru am Byth!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

The Market

I love travelling by ship, no let me correct that… I love travelling. I don’t mind what form of transport it is, I was born a travelling man.

There is, however, just one problem with the overnight ferry from Plymouth to
Roscoff; it’s too quick. It always seems that by the time you get to sleep in your cabin, it’s time to get up and get up you will, to the early morning clarion call of traditional Breton music on the ship’s P.A. system! Now please don’t misunderstand me, I have the greatest respect for traditional music the world over, but to use it as a dawn chorus is almost a breach of basic human rights as viewed by the European Supreme Court!

Good Morning…at least it will be once the sun come up!


Anyway, we rolled off the ferry into a glorious September morning; at least it was going to be once the sun rose. I pointed the car South East and hit the road for breakfast with our friend Vivienne in Josselin, right in the heart of Brittany.

We pulled into the square facing the town hall and bagged the last parking space just before eight o’clock. Today is market day and the small town vibrantly comes alive as traders erect their stalls.

We hurried to Vivienne’s beautiful town house, just off the main street and delight at the table creaking with lovely things for breakfast. The smell of strong coffee hits me; my eyes are dry and gritty from the early morning drive, I need a shot of caffeine!

Vivienne fusses around the table, offering home made yogurt, and the Breton speciality, freshly cooked crêpes, thin pancakes that we are free to smother in honey or home made preserves. They always look deceptively nothing, yet satisfy even the keenest appetite.

“Pas de moto, aujourd’hui?” Vivienne teases. She knows that I am holiday with Mrs Dookes and motorbikes are not on the agenda! She is one of those special French ladies who even at just after eight in the morning looks a Million Euros, she must be well into her 50’s, but I’ve never had the nerve to enquire!

We laugh at my “Pas de Moto” situation and drink more coffee.

The church clock strikes and V looks up with surprise, time has moved fast.
“Alors, le marché! Allez vite ou le meilleur sera parti!” – “The market! Go quickly or the best will be gone!”

We laugh, but she is right the early bird not only catches the worm, but in France also the best produce from the market stalls.

Mrs Dookes and I take our leave and step out once again into the fresh autumn air. The market is only just getting going and many stalls are still in the build-up phase, but already the smell of cooking chicken and bacon fills the ancient streets.

There is a fish stall selling the catch from just two boats out of L’Orient, the trestle table creaking with prawns and mussels. Another catches my eye with fresh oysters, graded by size and quality; Mrs Dookes heads me off, there’ll be no oysters for me today, I ate a bad one some years back and I’m now permanently prohibited from eating them again…such a shame, I love them so much!!!

A simple trestle table holds, for me, the highlight of the market, local salad vegetables; frisée lettuce, calabrese, globe artichokes and carrots all still vibrantly fresh from the field. I can’t resist and head over.

Mrs Dookes appears with a tresse of smoked garlic, ail fumé, plus assorted onions and shallots. Now I’m off to grab some local saucisson sèche, dry sausage, we are going to eat well tonight!

It’s hard work this market shopping, time to stop, take a breather and relax in true French style; a beer for me and a Kir for Mrs D, we are, after all on holiday!

I sit at our street café table and take in the atmosphere; I love this way of life and this country.

Vive la France, vive la marché!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Rest, Preparation and Cooking

I feel that my recent posts have been more than a little spasmodic and a bit disjointed. My posts of my latest trip sort of ended mid travels and I haven’t got going since…there is a reason for this and as I assured folks previously, it isn’t because I fell of a motorbike!

Harls on the coast in Brittany, near the end of our trip to the Pyrenees in June.


No, it’s much more mundane, yet even more stressful, we have been moving house!

The legal process was well underway when I went off on my travels, but I hope that you’ll understand, my mind was a time caught up in the whole nonsense that moving house entails.

Now, some three months later, the dust is finally settling and life is returning to a degree of normality. I still can’t find things in the kitchen and my new workshop resembles a cross between a rummage sale and a direct hit from a medium sized bomb, other than that, life is normal!

It must be, Mrs Dookes is now mentioning the “D” word, “Decorating” and I can foresee what the coming autumn months will entail!

So why the move from our lovely 300 year old house with two acres of garden to something more modern and compact? I think I just answered the question.

300 year old historic buildings are great, but they also take up a great deal of time (and money) to maintain and two acres of garden of which a lot was wooded are, I find as I advance in years, bloody hard work too! So we’ve downsized a little bit and yes, apart from the imminent decorating; removing a fireplace, installing a new wood burning stove, installing a new kitchen, building bedroom wardrobes, re-roofing a garage, repairing a log cabin and finally sorting my workshop…we should be able to take things a bit easier!

To prepare for the imminent onslaught of such delights, Mrs Dookes and I have slipped away to France for a couple of week’s relaxation and self-indulgence of a gastronomic nature.

No two-wheeled vehicles are involved this time, I get away with a lot as it is, no need to push the envelope too much!

Mrs D has found a lovely and well equipped gîte for us in the middle of a forest in the Touraine National Park. It’s about as far away from civilisation as you can get, our only neighbours are the wild animals and trees.

Over the coming days we don’t intend to do much; other than to watch the Rugby World Cup, which started well for Wales today, cook, walk and relax….I may also do the odd blog post!

Cooking wise, I delight in preparing traditional French dishes in France, using fresh local ingredients. It’s one of my great passions and something that I caught from my late lamented mate Floyd. His mantra of avoiding the complex over-thought stuff and sticking to traditional recipes and methods has stood me well over the years. My two favourite cookery books are one of Floyd’s own and a very well thumbed French one, both of which I have with me and if you’ll excuse me I’m now off to the kitchen!

Boeuf Bourguignon with a damn fine St Emilion!


Catch you soon.

Dookes

An Ancient Bridge and Black Wine

Do you ever find yourself reading about a place, or maybe seeing something on T.V. and thinking, “I’ll go there one day?’

Only that day never seems to arrive.

Other things get in the way, maybe more exciting challenges or destinations come along, but that first place is still there in the back of your mind.

It nags at you, always there and maybe every now and then says, “Hey, how about it?”

Sometime on my travels that moment comes when I answer with an emphatic, “Yeah, why not?”

Special places, places I want/need to go are always in my mind.

After arriving in Mazamet, fresh from the Black Mountains I turned my thoughts further North and zeroed in on the ancient city of Cahors.

Cahors has been one of my special “Go To” places for a long time, a very long time.

In many ways the town is very special. It is the capital of the Lot Department and lies on the river of the same name. It’s location is pretty dramatic as it lies on the inside of a sweeping meander/mini-gorge. It’s old, very old, there was a settlement here before the Romans arrived in this part of France around 50BC. The Romans developed the settlement into a thriving city and evidence of them can still be found today in the form of various remains and monuments.

I wanted to visit Cahors for two reasons, an ancient bridge and the region’s wine.

The decision to keep to minor roads was spot on and we were rewarded, having the tarmac pretty much to ourselves. Following a leisurely trundle through delightful countryside, we arrived in Cahors mid-afternoon.

Being an other tourist magnet, though not anywhere near on the scale as Carcassonne, I expected the place to be a bit busy, it was, but nice busy and not affected by awful tatty souvenir stalls; clearly the City elders have much to be thanked for!

We checked into our Hotel, the aptly named Hôtel Terminus, right by the railway station. The place was wonderful, a real piece of 1930’s nostalgia with stained glass windows and wood panelled rooms; the service was right up there too. Add in that my room had a perfect view of the North end of the railway station, it couldn’t get much better; well actually it could as the owner let me put Harls in the garage for the night!

1930’s elegance.


Once sorted it was time to explore, specifically down by the riverside and the bridge I mentioned.

Pont Valentré stands on the Western flank of the city and spans the River Lot. Construction began in June 1308 and the bridge was opened for use in 1350, with the final work being completed in 1378. It has six arches and three square towers. Originally it was fortified at both ends, but sadly today only the Eastern tower survives.

There is a great piece of folklore surrounding the building of the bridge:

It is said that the Engineer in charge of construction was greatly annoyed at the slow progress of the work. To speed things up he made a pact with the Devil to get things moving. The pact said that if the Devil promised to carry out all the Engineer’s orders then the Devil could claim the Engineer’s soul.

Once progress was being made and construction was nearing completion, the Engineer began to regret engaging the Devil. As a last instruction he told the Devil to collect drinking water for all the workers using a sieve; the Devil had been tricked and the Engineers soul was safe.

In revenge for being tricked, it is said that each night the Devil send a demon to loosen the final stone in the central tower to ensure that the bridge is never truly finished and must be repaired everyday.

Between 1867 and 1879 a major restoration was undertaken and the then architect, Paul Gou, had a small Imp carved in stone and set high on the Centre Tower. This ensures that if the Devil should check to see that his instruction has been carried out he will be confused that the stone image is one of his team doing his nefarious work!

Well, it’s a lovely legend.

The Imp is set right up at the very top of the Middle Tower, I couldn’t get a shot of it, but fortunately by the power of Wikipedia I have this image to share; thanks to MathieuMD.

Walking across the bridge was quite magical and reminded me of my visit to Pont du Gard, many years ago. Here was an incredibly old structure still doing the job it had been built for and you can’t ask more than that.

The river was busy, there was a mini maritime festival going on, though it struck me that it seemed more about selling speedboats than anything else! People were having fun though and really that’s what is most important. I loved watching a couple of chaps who were kitted out with water jets and took turns in thrilling people with their gravity defying antics.

On the riverbank I found a lovely collection of model ships and I spent quite some time admiring them and chatting to their builders.

A beautiful model of the old SS France, a ship I remember seeing in my younger days.


Also on the riverbank were grape vines and that nicely brings me onto the famous Cahors Black wines!

Cahors has been a centre of viniculture since medieval times, in fact it was famous for it’s wines long before neighbouring Bordeaux developed it’s wine making industry. The signature wine for the region is the famous “Black Wine” which has its own AOC. The term “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée,” AOC, translates as “Controlled designation of Origin” and was developed as a way of certifying the geographical origin for wine.

Cahors wine must be made from at least 70% Malbec grape and this is usually supplemented with Merlot and Tannat varieties. As is usual with wine, climate, location, geology and that famous French phrase “Terrior” all play a part to make the wine very, very, rich and gives it it’s deep maroon, almost black look.

It is absolutely gorgeous, velvety and full of dark berry flavours, but don’t drink too much if you want a clear head next morning!

“Gotta keep rolling gotta keep riding…”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Three Cows

I love discovering interesting things about the paces that I visit on my trips. In particular I like the “human” things and on that note The Tribute of the Three Cows is right up there!

Harls snarled up Col de la Pierre St Martin, scraping metal on the asphalt as we climbed and me? I had a big stupid grin, I really hadn’t had this much fun in ages!

The Road to St Martin


At the top of the pass we did the customary thing, stop and take it all in.

This is a special place, a place where on of the oldest treaties in the world is ceremonially marked.

The ceremony takes place every 13th July on the summit of the Col de la Pierre St Martin and brings together the people of the neighbouring Pyrenean valleys of Barétous in France and Roncal, Spain.

Translated into English, Col de la Pierre St Martin means the Pass of St Martin’s Stone and for centuries this has marked the border between France and Spain at this point. Every year the people of Barétous, in France hand over three cows to the people of Roncal, Spain at the Col.

The Tribute of the Three Cows is frequently regarded as the oldest international treaty still being recognised. Although it is thought to date back to the 13th century it’s exact origin is unknown, the first written record of the Tribute was recorded in 1375, it believed to represent a peace settlement in a dispute over grazing and border rights.

The ceremony has only been suspended twice, in 1793 during the War of the Convention between France and Spain, and in 1940 during the Nazi occupation of France. In both cases, the Barétous people were prevented by regional authorities from attending the ceremony out of fear they would escape to Spain!

These days the ceremony is both culturally and economically important as it draws large numbers of tourists from around the world.

On the morning of the 13th July, the representatives of Roncal, wearing traditional costume, gather on the Spanish side of the Col.

The representatives of Barétous, approach the boundary marker from the French side. Traditionally, the Mayor of Isaba would hold a pike against the Barétous representatives, and these would also be held at gunpoint by the rest of representatives of Roncal; fortunately this custom was dropped in the late 19th century!

The Mayor of Isaba, presiding over the ceremony, asks the Barétous representatives three times whether they are willing, as in previous years, to pay the Tribute of the Three Cows of two years of age, of the same coat and with the same sort of horns, and without blemish or injury. Each time the Barétous representatives answer in Spanish “Si Senor.”

Following this, one of the representatives of Barétous places his or her right hand on the boundary marker. A representative from Roncal follows by placing his or her hand on top of it, and so on, until all representatives have placed their right hands on the boundary marker. The last one to placed his hands is the Mayor of Isaba, who then proclaims:

The Boundary Marker Stone


“Pax avant, pax avant, pax avant!” – “Let there be peace!”

All those witnessing the ceremony repeat the same words.

Traditionally the representatives of Roncal were then presented with the three cows, but I understand that these days, due to animal welfare and livestock importation controls, the equivalent value in money changes hands.

Needless to say, the rest of the day then descends into feasting and celebration!

That sounds pretty good to me…!

“Everyday is a winding road,
I get a little bit closer.”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Une Canicule Mk2 and So Quintessential

It’s been a scorcher in France today, officially “Une Canicule,” a heat wave!

Last night the television news was full of the expected temperatures for the next few days. Throughout the country temperatures are expected to be in the range of high 30’s to low 40’s Celsius.

I can report that the meteorologists were incredibly accurate.

It seems to me that I’m getting pretty good at attracting weather extremes when I’m on my road trips. There was snow over the Grimsel Pass one June day, snow on the Silivretta Alpine road in September 2107, not to mention on that same trip minus 9ºC over the Albula Pass! Oh and the high temperatures of the South of France last year, plus the other “Canicule” that you can read about by clicking here.

In many ways today was sort of a transit day, just over 200 miles in total from Cahors to Soulac sur Mer. We passed through lovely countryside, but honestly I couldn’t wait for it to end, so energy sapping was the heat.

I drank a few litres of water and just sweated it all out of me…you really do not want to smell my riding gear this evening!

On one of my water stops I took a photo of the air thermometer on Harls; it was a bit hot in the Medoc!

Thats about warm!


Finding roads with shade was a bonus and at times I had to smile about a standing joke that Mrs Dookes and I have about French roads.

Many years ago on a Brittany Ferries sailing we were reading an article in their “House” magazine. You probably know the sort of publication, glossy and with little articles to pass a few moments before – Pow! – Here’s another advert for something you can/must buy on board!

Anyway what the article was about I cannot recall, but there was a nice photograph of a tree lined road with the title’ “A Quintessential French Road.”

I fell about laughing, it just caught me in a silly mood, but honestly in all the years that I’ve been visiting France I’m still trying to find that “Quintessential” one.

No, only a junior tree lined avenue…


Now it is true that in France you can find many roads lined with trees, often Limes or Planes. They may be lovely, but if you consider just how many kilometres of road there are in France the tree lined ones make up a very small percentage and they certainly cannot be accurately described as “Quintessential.”

Do towns count?


Incidentally, there seems to be no clear source of where the trees lining the road idea came from. Ask some folk and they say Napoleon Bonaparte, others will tell you it was the Romans, whilst many swear that the nobility were responsible. It’s a lovely mystery.

That’s more like it!


All is not good in the world of tree lined Avenues though.

The French “League Against Violence on the Roads, ” yes honestly, claims that trees are responsible for one in eight road deaths, because they reduce visibility and cause greater injuries when people crash into them and they want them cut down!

Needless to say the many of rest of the French population have a different view. My mate Gilles thinks that as you pass trees they make you slow down because you then realise how fast you are going….hmm, I not sure of that Gilles, all I know is that I enjoyed the shade of them occasionally today!

Very shady, nice!


Vive les Arbres, Vive La France!

Catch you soon.

Dookes