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February, 2005:

Charcuterie, Episode I Makin’ Bacon

Now, more serious culinary news! There’s a funny tale behind this but .. in the end it’ll all make some kind of sense. I hope. When we saw the house in late summer last year there was an awful lot to take in. So much so that even across the three days we spent here and the close on 380 photos that I took inside and out I managed to miss a room. Well, sort of. Sort of missed it and it’s sort-of a room! Fortunately my eagle-eyed mum spotted what we’d missed in about 5 seconds of our arrival when we moved in. A quick glance around the outside and she figured out what I’d missed.. that there was a “room” of about 14’x 12′ attached to the side of the house that we’d (almost) completely ignored. Well. Turned out to be an ancient four-a-pain or bread oven!

Well, that was just what I’ve always wanted and a real unexpected bonus. The house keeps on turning up things that surprise and delight but this find was the find to end all finds. When the initial euphoria had subsided (and this took quite some days!) it struck me that I should go at it slowly and build up to a big bread-baking and pig roasting blaze.

So I thought it might be just the job to set a small fire going for a few days, heat it up gradually and see how it works under some carefully controlled conditions. So. It’s time to smoke some bacon. But to smoke bacon you’ve got to make bacon. So, off to the boucherie to procure some side-of-pig!

All you need is pig, salt, cloves, bay leafs, the excellent River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and a willing feline helper. Needless to say the results of the makin’ bacon experiment will make a further entertaining webpage (!)

Birds I

Muscovy

A really huge duck took residence in our little pond in the paddock. We had never seen a duck like it, almost prehistoric looking.

On further investigation, we found out it was a Muscovy duck.

They are not indigenous to France, so this must have been an escapee.

When approached it flew off towards one of the other farms in the hamlet, it returned later to our pond/sheep dip.

Birds II

While enjoying a brief warm spell in the garden, I heard a funny noise. It sounded like a loud “neep neep”. After fetching the binoculars, I had a good search around to see where the noise was coming from. In an oak tree in the adjoining field I spotted a pair of Little Owls. They were nesting in the trunk of the oak tree and calling out, loudly, to each other.

These 2 little owls, gain great pleasure in keeping everyone awake during the night by calling down the chimney, singing in the Christmas tree or shouting from the barns.

Bellebouche

Bellebouche is a small hamlet consisting of 7 families (including ourselves). The nearest village, Gourgé, is approximately 2km away.

Bellebouche is on the route GR36 which runs from the English channel down through France to northern Spain, finishing at Santiago de Compostela. Many of thousands of people each year make their way along the old routes to Santiago de Compostela. Some start from their own homes or from other places which have some special significance to them. Some go by foot, others cycle and some even go by horseback. The ancient route of the pilgrims runs right past our front door.

There are also a number of circular walking routes around the area, all take a couple of hours at a steady pace and are approximately 10km long. On some of these routes there are watermills, stepping stones across the river Thouet, a 16th century chateau with snail farm and an old 11th century Roman bridge.

In walking distance there is a small Italian restaurant  La Toscane, Champ Rond, 79200 Gourgé. Tel: 05 49 69 81 56. – where they cook their pizzas in a large wood fired bread oven. Next door to La Toscane is a small garden nursery, selling mostly plants for the potager.

Gourgé

The village of Gourgé is approximately 2km from Bellebouche.

Gourge

Gourgé was mentioned as early as the year 889, with King Eudes confirming his gifts to the canons of Saint-Hilary of Poitiers.

The church Saint-Hilaire is one of the oldest churches in France,  it was mentioned in a document dated 942.

Gourge ChurchThere are 2 boulangeries is a boulangerie in Gourgé, a small convenience store and a pub, called the Bridge Inn, by the river a restaurant, La Petite Marmite (Place St-Hilaire, 79200 Gourgé. Tel: 05 49 69 88 29), near the church.  The convenience store also contains a post office.

For those who enjoy fishing you can buy permits from the convenience store for fishing along the Thouet. See also Pescalis. There are also numerous lakes and areas where you can enjoy fishing.

There is also a nearby farm with a 10 hectare lake which offers day or half day fishing as well as other activities including horse riding and swimming. Jean et Anne Robin, La Barre, 79200 Gourgé. Tel: 05 49 69 86 77.

If you prefer walking, there are a number of walks around Gourgé and nearby villages.

Parthenay

Parthenay Towers

Parthenay is the nearest town to Bellebouche (13km).

It is rich with history with the road to Santiago de Compostela running through it and has a wonderful medieval quarter. There is a 13th century castle with moat and a wall set with huge rounded towers overlooking the medieval district.

There are a variety of shops, bars, restaurants and supermarkets with a covered market open on Wednesdays. There is a livestock market, selling cattle, sheep and poultry also on Wednesdays.

Parthenay has a 4 screen cinema which sometimes shows popular films in English or at least with English subtitles. If you want peace and quiet then there are plenty of parks and open spaces to enjoy.  If you want to be a little more energetic the leisure centre has indoor and outdoor facilities, which include – tennis, basketball, football, canoeing, fitness track and petanque court.  There is also a small fishing lake.
There is a tourist office with free internet access – Service Tourisme-Accueil-8, Rue de la Vau St Jacques, 79200 Parthenay. Tel: 05 49 64 24 24. Tourist office.

Parthenay has a full and varied events calendar, some of note are highlighted below.

Parthenay Gates

In June, the medieval quarter, Quartier St-Jacques, hosts a medieval festival. Various artisans, artists and musicians entertain the public along the streets.

In July, Parthenay town centre is turned into one huge gaming area as it hosts the Games Festival. More than 1,000 games and toys are made available free of charge. There are board games, games based on logic, traditional and multimedia games. Tournaments, competitions and special events are organised for all ages.

Also in July is a Jazz Festival which is held on the river bank. It offers a wide range of entertainment, with concerts, courses, and jam sessions.

In September, in the medieval quarter, a number of gardens and caves are opened for the public to enjoy music and delicacies from medieval times. There are also open air plays, dancing and weaponry displays.

If you enjoy walking, there are a number of walks around Parthenay.

Niort

Niort is approximately 30km from Bellebouche.

Niort is the nearest city and has a wide selection of shops and restaurants. There is a large covered market hall and cinemas, theatres and museums to visit as well as many beautiful and interesting buildings.

Niort ChurchSome of these are briefly described below:-

  • Rue Victor-Hugo  is a wide shopping street with Venetian masts and fountains symbolising the Green Venice of the Poitevin marshes. It is full of stone-fronted or half-timbered medieval houses.
  • Les Dragons de Niort “four bronze dragons” line the street, symbolising a local 18th century legend.
  • Hotel de Ville de Niort “ Niort Town Hall“ is an impressive building, which is a scaled down version of the Neo-Renaissance style town hall in Paris.
  • Eglise Notre Dame – is a 15th-16th century gothic and renaissance style church. The highest monument in the county with beautiful stained glass windows and renaissance choir stalls.
  • Saint Hilaire  is a 19th century neo-romanesque Byzantine style church. Financed in part by Emperor Napolean III.
  • Eglise Saint Andre was built in the 19th century in a neo-gothic style set amid picturesque medieval streets.
  • Saint Etienne-du-Port  in 19th century ogival style in part.
  • Jardin des Plantes  is a flower garden from late 18th century. Terraced between the hill and the banks of the Sevre this is a cool haven for relaxing.
  • Donjon Musee de Niort  this is a late 12th century dungeon, the second largest Romanesque style dungeon in France. It holds a collection of ethnological and archaeological items and has a panoramic view over Niort.

Niort DonjonNiort used to have a thriving leather industry and produced breeches for more than a third of France’s cavalry regiments. Today, Niort’s biggest industry is insurance, with many of the major insurance companies having their headquarters here. Accordingly, there are some excellent restaurants, although they do get quickly full at lunchtimes.

For more info – tourist office.

Poitiers

Poitiers is 42km away from Bellebouche and is the next closest city after Niort.

Poitiers Salty Church Poitiers is the capital of Poitou-Charentes.

It has a wide selection of shops, including a large department store, restaurants and pavement cafes and interesting architecture.

There are 80 registered and protected historic monuments in Poitiers.

There are painted lines on the pavements which take you along three different walking routes around the city.

The blue line takes you on a historical tour, the yellow takes you through the centre and heart of Poitiers and the red through nature and open spaces.

The must sees are :-

  • Notre-Dame-la-Grande – an impressive church in the centre of the town, which is lit up of a summers evening with an amazing light show. It has a 12th century sculptured facade.
  • St-Pierre Cathedral – truly magnificent building with a fantastic organ inside. It has a wonderful gothic stained glass window. It holds organ recitals and concerts throughout the year.
  • St-Hilaire church – this is one of the stops on the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela. This was built over the tomb of the saint and decorated with mural paintings in the middle ages.
  • St-Jean Baptistry – one of the oldest Christian monuments in Europe.
  • Parc de Blossac was laid out in the 18th century along the town ramparts. It covers over 9 hectares and has an English garden, a 5000m2 rock garden and hundreds of plants and trees.
  • Jardin des Plantes – cover 1.5 hectares and was created in 1869 on the grounds of the Hotel Dieu hospital.The garden contains a wide variety of plants including aromatics, medicinals and condiments.

Poitiers St Pierre Cathedral

There are many wonderful medieval streets with half timbered houses and shady squares around Poitiers.

The hilltop views are spectacular, looking down onto the two rivers.

There are also many other Romanesque churches scattered around the city.

The tourist office can be located at  Office de Tourisme de Poitiers, 45 place Charles-de-Gaulle, BP 377, 86009 Poitiers Tel: 05 49 41 21 24.

For what’s on in the city :- Poitiers Magazine

Poitiers airport is on the west side of the city. It has free car parking, hire cars, taxis and a bar and restaurant. Aeroport de Poitiers  Biard,Rue du Lieutenant Collard, 86580 Biard. Tel: 05 49 30 04 40

Ten minutes from Poitiers airport is Futuroscope.

Lac du Cebron

The Lac du Cebron is a 140 hectare lake within easy reach of Bellebouche. It has a perimeter of 8.5km and beaches of both sand and rock.

There are a number of facilities and activities to enjoy, which include :

  • Fishing – only authorized during January and 1 June-31 December. You must obtain a fishing licence. Sandre, carp and gardons can be caught here, although the number of sandres is fixed at 6 per day per fisherman. The size of fish is also regulated.
  • It has a windsurfing school which is reputed to be one of the largest in this part of France.
  • There are various hides around the lake where you can watch the birdlife and maybe spot a rare visitor to the lake.

There are toilets, changing and shower facilities and picnic areas.

Update – New bird spotting  hides

Futuroscope

Ten minutes from Poitiers airport is Futuroscope.

This is a high tech film theme park covering 60 hectares and has over 20 attractions.

It combines all the technologies used in image generation, as well as interactive games. There are a collection of virtual reality rides which give the onlookers experiences and thrills of flying, hurtling through space and shooting down ski slopes.

The cinema pavillions are set in several acres of gardens around a number of lakes. There are nineteen different screens and all the films are in French, with English commentaries on available headphones.

There are also shows and exclusive exhibitions. During the summer there are concerts, street theatre, laser shows, beach games, bands etc.

Futuroscope has 4 different restaurants offering tapas and snacks to three course meals. There is also a covered picnic area.

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