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Places to Visit

Places of interest near Bellebouche

The Future Is Here !

Having flown many times from the UK back home to Poitiers airport and seen this park from the air, I have always wondered what it was all about.  All those unusual shapes of the buildings, stark lines made from various reflective materials and water everywhere.

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Don’t Stop The Music

On the 7th of June it was the 20th annual music festival at chateau Oiron.  This year 1001 different acts  – from musicians, dancers, street theatre and choirs.

Costumed

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Loire Valley American Festival.

A jaunt ‘Up-North’ to Tourraine for the annual Loire Valley American Festival. It’s essentially a Harley Davidson bike rally with added Blues/Rock’n’Roll. Held this year in the sleepy town of Luynes just to the west of Tours.
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Marche de Noel, Renard et Herisson

Starting to get into the Christmas mood, we decided to visit the Christmas market at St Loup sur Thouet.  The market was on over the weekend from 5.00pm Saturday until midnight and then 10.00am to 7.00pm on the Sunday.

We arrived, as it became dark, to the enchanting sight of the church and surrounding buildings all lit up with Christmas lights.  There were a number of wooden chalets around the town streets, containing a wondrous selection of artisan made items.  Carved wooden bowls and apples, glass necklaces and earrings, pottery, knitted jumpers, home-made chutneys, honey, beeswax carvings and candles, paintings, pottery and lots more.

Xmas Chalets

Many of the houses, which fronted onto the street, had their front rooms open and converted into small display areas for the vendors. Other houses were all decked out with holly, greenery and flashing lights and some even had window displays with nativity scenes or rooms decorated and tables set out ready for a wonderful candle lit christmas meal.

The chateau wasn’t open to the public, although they did have an enchanting display in their courtyard.  Hundreds of empty glass yogurt pots were placed in a matrix, each containing a tealight candle, creating a magical effect.

There were other vendors selling hot nuts, sweets, savoury snacks and welcoming vin chaud to warm up our cold hands on this frosty night.

On the way back home, we popped into our local pizzeria, La Toscane, and picked up a take-away pizza.  As we drove up to our house, a fox was caught in the car’s headlights. It squeezed under our paddock gate and shot through the pigeonnier.  Little bugger, this must be the one that killed our guineafowl.

I rushed into the house and grabbed the torch and went out the back door to see if I could head it off in the garden.  No sign, it had well and truly disappeared.

I was just about to return into the house to enjoy my pizza when I encountered another creature of the night.  We had put down a plate of pate that had started to go a little hairy.  The plate had been almost cleaned by … a giant hedgehog.  He didn’t seem to be bothered at the 3 million candle light torch shining on him.

HedgehogH

After taking a couple of snaps, we left him to enjoy the rest of his meal, and enjoyed our pizza infront of a roaring fire.  With a glass of red wine of course!

Chateau Goulaine

I have visited Chateau Goulaine before, although all I could get to see was the impressive gatehouse – they were closed!

Chateau Goulaine Gate House

This time I made sure they would be open before making the journey through the muscadet vineyards and wildlife rich marshlands before arriving outside this charming chateau.
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St Laurent sur Sevre

We have passed by this town on many occasions and always remarked that one day we should visit.  The reason being that the town nestles in a valley on both sides of the Sevre Nantaise and from the road you can see a multitude of impressive spires and steeples all grouped together.

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Goldsworthy at L’Abregement

The annual Rendezvous au Jardin weekend (link with 2006 review and arboreal inspiration) comes round again and the highlight of this year’s weekend visit is a trip to the South of Charente to L’Abregement.

A fascinating private residence which suffered a devastating storm and the loss of 15,000 trees one night in 1999.

Every cloud has a silver lining and in this case it brought about some great works by Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Christian Lapie and Joel Shapiro.

Andy Goldsworthy – “Cœur de chânes”

Giant 20 tonne egg shaped construction of oak branches, 5m high and 2.5 m wide. Made all the more impressive given my, at the coal face, exposure to wood chopping and woodsmanship over the last year! Stark in the landscape and inspiring.

Andy Goldsworthy – “Pool of Light”

I can’t really spoil the delight and surprise of this and the interplay of the timber and the Charentaise light so beloved of artists and painters… it’s really one of those have-to-be-there pieces of art as it’s on such a grand scale, so instead here’s an other worldly 50mm shot. Feel mah Bokeh!

Bokeh! Bokeh!

Antony Gormley – “One and Other”

Perched 16 meters above ground on the stump of a fallen sequoia.

Final hat tip to my new chum Andrew Terry for general tech inspiration and shiny new tools (Flickr, Livewriter) that bring you this post!

(also found this on google)

If at first you don’t succeed, trap, trap again

We live on the very edge of a river valley and often take walks along/around the river – it’s quite beautiful throughout all of the seasons and is peppered with little crossings and stepping stones and lovely picnic sites.

Aerial shot of Bellebouche and the River Thouet

In that shot our house is blown up (!) on the top left and you can see the distance we are from the river… as the crow flies it’s probably little more than a kilometre but it does involve a little bit of a meander through the gatine to get to it! In summertime it’s no hardship at all as we’re normally surrounded by sunflowers or wafty fields of maize and docile Charolais all batting their giant eyelids at you. I’m reminded that I should get out on my bike more often.

Some time ago whilst clearing out the old grain loft in the house I came across a ramshackle home-brewed eel trap – I pretty much put it to the back of my mind but always thought that it would be worth having a crack at it sometime. We bumped into our neighbours in town (who own the land which has much of the river frontage you can see in the picture above) and over a coffee I was reminded about the eel trap. A brief discussion about the (seemingly remote!) possibilities of an eel supper ensued so we arranged to give it a whirl.

Homemade eel trap

Without much further ado, the trap was dusted down, given some TLC and minor repairs and then loaded up with a bit of bait (trimmings from beef rib, chicken carcass, bit of squid!) and then off down to the river with it.

We found what looked like a first rate spot.. adjacent to the bank, some reasonably deep water… flow directed down between a couple of large granite boulders… just the ticket we hoped for a bountiful harvest.. all that remained was to pop back the next day to bag up our supper.

Fast forward 24 hours… and bristling with anticipation at a sackful of wriggling silvery eels… that would within the hour be sizzling in a pan loaded with garlic butter and fresh chopped parsley and sorrel from the garden… Joan and I trotted down to the river to get the catch of the day.. and lo and behold.. MOVEMENT!

I pulled the trap up and couldn’t quite believe my eyes…. I thought we’d bagged one. There were quite a few leaves cladding the outside of the trap but I was certain I saw an eel in there… further investigation and brave prodding turned out to find that our catch of the day wasn’t quite what we’d planned

Not quite catch of the day - a catfish!

So, that little fellow went back into the river and this fishing expedition was chalked right up there with all my other non-productive fishing expeditions.. a triumph of hope and optimism over any real achievement but undoubtedly lots of fun. I have a fallback position, our fishmonger in town has splendid looking eels for €18/Kg. If nothing else transpires on our return visit to the trap later this week then I’ll be forced to swallow my pride and actually buy one. It wasn’t a total loss.. we did bag a carrier full of excellent parasol mushrooms which are a fine accompaniment to the latest batch of Bellebouche dry cured bacon… of which, much more later.

Parc Oriental de Maulevrier

This beautiful park is approximately 60km (45 minutes) drive from Bellebouche.Oriental Park

The Parc Oriental de Maulevrier is thought to be the largest Japanese style park in Europe. It covers 28 hectares of beautiful landscaped gardens incorporating many Japanese traditional planting themes including some wonderous topiary. It was originally part of the Chateau Colbert grounds until the end of the 19th century. The chateau, with its wonderful statuary, can be seen overlooking the park. 12 hectares of the park form a conservation area which was conceived between 1900 and 1913 by Alexandre Marcel, a famous Paris architect.

The gardens offer you a visit rich in exotic planting, mysterious statues and a serene background to enjoy the unique landscape.

There are bonsais, ceramics, Ikebana demonstrations and a musical garden all to enjoy within the park as well as a traditional Japanese Tea House.

Oriental GardenEach season offers new wonders – carpets of bluebells among the maples, spring blossom among the sculptured cherry trees, vibrant camellias and azaleas, beautifully scented wisterias dripping over bridges and pergolas, intense autumnal leaf colours and much much more.

There are many places to sit and just absorb the views and scents. The park has well signposted walks, long and short and there are also walks for the less able bodied visitor. Children are welcome and are given a visitor pack to complete during their visit.

In 2004 the garden was awarded the “Jardin Remarquable” label by the French Ministry of Culture. It is the first garden in the Loire region to receive this distinction.

The park is open from 1st March to 15 November – 1400-1800hrs but it is closed on Mondays. There are extended hours in July & August where it is open everyday from 1030-1930hrs. Entrance fee is 5.50 euros.

From 7 May to 30 September, on Saturdays only, the garden offers a “Jardin de Nuit” – the park is lit by various hidden lights and Japanese music is piped around the landscape offering a unique and enchanting visit. Entrance fee is 10.00 euros.

Les Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin – Parc Ornithologique

Les Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin – Parc Ornithologique is approximately 70kms (1 hour) drive away from Bellebouche.

Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin

A winding path takes you through 7 hectares of wild marsh, where you will find many different water birds enjoying the peace and tranquility of the park.

There are over 70 species including the eider duck, famous for its warm feathers, many varieties of geese and swans, including a couple of black swans and some herons and ibis – just to name a few.

There are many useful information panels along the pathway, to help you recognise the birds. These panels also include information on the bird’s behaviour, their distribution around the world and what times of year they can be found in the Marais Poitevin. There are also teaser panels, questioning you about the mysteries of some of the birds, with answers under flaps.

The park is full of plants and trees from the Marais Poitevin wetland. More than 30 can be found on information panels including their culinary and medicinal uses.

Black SwanNear to the office is an area full of chickens and cockerals, all breeds from the Marans area. There is even a small family of “mairachins” – dwarf goats.

At the end of the visit you can watch a movie, in French, all about the Poitevin Marshes and the behaviour of the birds over the course of a year. The film contains some spectacular aerial footage of the landscapes and the photography of the birdlife is truly wonderful.

There are many places where you can stop and rest and absorb the peace and quiet of the park and observe the wildlife. There are also places where you can picnic and enjoy the scenery. There is a small shop selling drinks and ice-creams and eggs from the Marans hens. There are toilets by the office and all the paths are suitable for both pushchairs and wheelchairs.

The park is open from 1000 until 1900hrs up to Easter, thereafter is closes at 1930 until 15th September, thereafter it is only open 1400 until 1900hrs. It is closed on Mondays.

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