Houses of the Loire

I’m looking out of the window at the relentless rain. Sometimes our mild wet Atlantic climate gets me down, but then I allow my mind to wander back to better days.

Only a few weeks ago Mrs Dookes and I enjoyed a wonderful break in the Val de la Loire (The Loire Valley). Talk to many people about the Val de la Loire and often two themes spring to mind; wonderful Chateaux and delightful wines.

I’ll get back to the wines in another post, but for now I want to focus on the Chateaux.

The region of the Val de la Loire is located in the middle stretch of the river Loire in Central France and covers around 800 square kilometres. It is often referred to as the Garden of France due to the abundance of vineyards, orchards and fertile arable land.

The architectural heritage in the region is particularly notable, I wrote about the town of Richelieu in a previous post.

There are more than 300 châteaux, these range from simple fortified farmhouses of the 10th century to the splendour of the former country palaces of French Kings. Apparently there are a core of 42 chateaux that form a UNESCO World Heritage Site and these alone attract nearly three and a half million visitors a year!

Now regular blogonauts will probably recall that I don’t really do “visitors,” I like space and I like to be away from the crowds, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and go with the flow….like when Mrs Dookes says, “Let’s go visit a château or two.”

This was no random thing, Mrs D had carefully selected the targets, partly for their proximity and partly for their historical interest. I was happy if she was happy.

First up was Chateau du Rival near the tiny and almost inconsequential village of Lémeré not far South of Chinon.

Chateau du Rival


The castle dates from the early 1300, though over the centuries, as is often the case, it has been extended and modified.

The present owners purchased the property in the early 1990’s and have extensively renovated since. It must be a real labour of love as work on the scale that they have undertaken doesn’t come cheap!

I had mixed feelings about the place, the fabric of the buildings was fascinating, but …. and this is a big but, nearly the whole place had been turned into a cross between a somewhat bizarre art gallery and theme park. Many of the rooms had a weird mix of the sort of period interior décor that one would expect from a property of it’s history and avant garde artworks and piped music that frankly baffled me. At this point I need to confess that I don’t really understand art, I just like some nice pictures, but don’t ask me to explain them!

I thought the recreated medieval kitchen gardens within the Château walls, were fascinating, but the “Fairy Story” themed external gardens left me a tad underwhelmed; the planting could have been spectacular by itself, without the distraction of plastic objects and figures!

The productive medieval garden.


Probably the most notable thing that ever occurred at Chateau du Rival was that in 1429, during the Hundred Years War, it supplied Joan of Arc with horses.

In contrast Château d’Azay le Rideau was much more my thing.

Located bang in the middle of the town of the same name this delightful place is exactly what I feel a “proper” château should be! Built between 1518 and 1527 d’Azay le Rideau is considered one of the finest examples of early French renaissance architecture. The château is built on an island in the Indre river and surely must be one of the most picturesque in the whole of France.

Château d’Azay le Rideau

Internally the chateau still contains much of it’s historic décor and works of art, but for me the highlight was found in the attics, where the hand crafted wooden roof frame work was exposed for inspection.

Roof beam details, just awesome!

There were very informative interpretation panels explaining the techniques and detail of it’s construction. I spent ages in there, just marvelling at the skills needed to make something of not only brilliant functionality, but also to my eye, great beauty. I guess that sort of sums me up, show me a beautiful building and all I want to know about is how it was made and by who!

Life would be boring if we were all the same eh?

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

Looking For The Loire (Back in Black)

Well, my beloved “Harls” and I are back on the Continental roads again!
Today we’ve just reeled off 360 miles, (600 kilometres sounds more impressive though!) since rolling off our overnight ferry at Roscoff in Brittany.

For those who like checking our progress on the map, we travelled via Rennes, Angers and Bourgueil to our overnight stop with my old friends Jacques and Claudine, just East of Vierzon.

I’ve got to admit, I’m pretty knackered tonight, that’s “tired out” for those of you not used to my colloquial English! I absolutely adore every second that I ride Harls, but I’d forgotten just how much effort she demands, compared to cruising on the big blue Ultra Limited. Harls is safely tucked away in Jacques’ barn for the night and here I am sitting on the terrace, sipping a glass of rather splendid local red wine, watching the sun drop in the western sky as a warm breeze rustles the Autumn tinted leaves; tinnitus is screaming in my ears, my wrist aches from holding the throttle open (oh yes, I do mean open!) my backside is. . . tender, but I’m happy, very very happy. The old team is back doing what we do best, having fun on the open road.

Now a little observation; I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three types of French Dual carriageway/autoroute:

Dull.

Dangerous.

Delightful.

Today we sampled all three, I’m not going to dwell on the bad bits, but those wonderful French road builders have been stealthily rebuilding the D775 between Rennes and Angers and it’s a beaut! Lovely sweeping curves, enough gradient to make it interesting and smooth as can be!

Somewhere along the road we slipped from Brittany into the Loire valley. It’s strange, but for however many years it is that I’ve been travelling in this part of France I’ve never been able to spot exactly when the transition takes place. It’s like…”Yes, this is nice familiar Brittany.” Then a bit later, “Oh, this must be the Loire Valley!” I really have tried to spot the dividing point, but no, not managed it yet.

I always find the River Loire a bit difficult to define. Yes, it’s France’s longest river and it’s also one of the great rivers of Europe, but it’s a lazy old thing meandering around like a big question mark from the Massif Central to the Atlantic.

The whole concept of the “Loire Valley” is a bit baffling, as for most of the time the landscape to me resembles a prairie with a river running through it and it’s not just the Loire that’s included, its tributaries such as the Cher, Indre and Vienne get lumped in as well!

I’m not complaining though. The Loire valley is a veritable treasure trove of some of the best things France has to offer. It’s largely temperate climate and fertile soils have brought great wealth for centuries, it’s a big wine growing region and as a result there are over a thousand stately châteaux of all shapes and sizes.

Today I wanted to look in on one of the most famous, Château de Chenonceau. This place has been intriguing me from a distance for years, so I had to go check it out.
Oh dear, what a disappointment.

Now I’m sure that if I could swallow my pride and elevated view that I am a traveller and not a tourist, when actually I’m really a leather clad motorcycle riding tourist, then I might get along fine with the thousands of folk swarming between the car parks and the Château…but just one glance at the sandal wearing, short-clad hoards and I did a graceful U-turn and carried on East! Jacques roared with laughter when I told him.

Thanks to Ra-Smit for the use of the photo and yes, the Château really does partly sit out on a bridge over the river!

So back to the “terroir” of the Loire valley…the soils are largely sandy and calcareous and that generally means one thing….wine! Famous appellations such as Touraine, Saumur and Bourgueil, are known the world over; indeed some say that Saumur sparkling wines are better than Champagne.

It’s not just grapes that they grow here, the area produces thousands of tonnes of arable crops. All over the place you can see grain elevators, known as “Prairie Skyscrapers” in Canada and the USA. The grain harvest is long over now, but the farmers are still busy; currently it’s maize that is being cut. Next will be the sunflowers, with the start of Autumn their bright yellow petals have withered and fallen. Where once their happy little faces looked up and followed the sun, now they hang their heads sorrowfully looking for their lost petals and contemplating the turning of the season. In French the sunflower is called “tournesol” – “turns to the sun,” I like that!

“Yes, I’m back in black.”

Catch you soon

Dookes