28 February 2010


Another nearby château that we spotted when we watched the aerial view of the 2008 Tour de France on the TV in the PreHisto was at Azay-le-Ferron. We went there a few days later and it was a beautiful day again.

This photo of Azay-le-Ferron is courtesy of Google.

When we first started visiting French châteax in the 90's we would always dutifully buy the guided tour and often be bored to tears. We would be bundled in with lots of other mixed nationalities and had to endure the endless descriptions of every painting and piece of furniture as we trailed around the house, hardly understanding a single word and gradually losing the will to live.

I remember one in particular where we were the only English in a large group of French and Dutch that included screaming babies and naughty toddlers. We couldn't even slip to the back of the group and make our escape as we were locked in and out of each room by the guide as we progressed through the house. It was such a bad experience that I have wiped the recollection of where it was from my memory. However, I do remember that we attracted a few strange looks from the other people in our group as we perspired gently in our motorcycle leathers on a hot day.

As time went by we became more adept at avoiding this kind of tour. Sometimes we would just hang back and sneak a look at the guide as they took a party around then wait for the next tour if we still fancied it. The best ones have been with small parties of visitors, sometimes just us and one or two other couples, in which case we had more chance of following what was said. Better still the ones where we were the only visitors and shown round by the owner or a relative. This happened once at a place near Fontevraud Abbey and we were very lucky as since then it has never been open to the public. What we like the most is the places where we can go around completely unaccompanied at our own pace.

We struck gold that day when we visited Azay-le-Ferron. There were two tour guides and the lady that took us around was an absolute star. We were the first to be gathered up for the 2 pm tour. Whilst we were waiting to see if any others turned up we got to know each other. She was witty, lively, and very entertaining. She could have been the history teacher of your dreams. As soon as she discovered we were English she asked us if we would like the tour in English, French or slow French. We opted for the latter. It was so good that afterwards even I remembered stuff about the house.

I remember that one lady of the house didn't think it was big enough and at some stage had it doubled in size. Good for her. Why compromise when one has standards to maintain ? That the name derives from the local ironworks and that when nobody wanted it in 1951 (the year of my birth) it was donated to the town of Tours. They were not too keen on having it either. Most of all I remember that in its heyday it had 76 servants, effectively one for every room. Sounds good to me.

At the end of the tour the guide tested us on what we remembered. Being a smarty-pants, Nick knew the answers to all her questions. The other members of the party (all French) were most impressed. This was a very good way of making some of the information stick, I thought. We had had a lovely time and thanked her warmly.

The next time we saw her was in October last year when we visited our own château in Le Grand-Pressigny. When we walked into the museum, there she was at the reception desk to welcome us. She greeted us as if she knew us and once we mentioned our visit to Azay-le Ferron, it was as if we were old friends. She even made a joke about the test. No doubt she does this for everyone but we were certainly very pleased to see her again.

18 February 2010


In July 2008 we spent a fortnight in our little cottage in Le Grand-Pressigny. As it turned out, those two weeks started well, continued superbly and ended in a magnificent finale. We had fabulous weather, too. This was everything we had hoped for when we bought our holiday home. On Thursday 9th July the Tour de France came through the village - stage 5, Cholet to Châteauroux. This only happens about every 10 years so we were thrilled to be able to see it and join in the fun.


What a day !! We walked down to the village square about 11.30 am to find the whole place buzzing. Paper cutouts of little t-shirts in all the colours of the teams had been strung as bunting from trees and lamposts. All our friends were already in position outside the PreHisto, enjoying the sunshine. Tables and chairs had been bagged early and there was barely a space left on the pavement from where we could get a view of the race. We found a place on the other side of the road and took it in turns to nip across to buy a drink or mingle with our friends, afraid of losing our excellent position, even though the competitors were not expected for two hours yet !!

The first sign of action was the arrival of a couple of police motorcyclists. The crowd cheered. Then the caravan started to come through. I had never seen anything quite like this in my life. It was an amazing spectacle and absolutely brilliant fun. For almost two hours one float after another came along Grande Rue (the wrong way) and threw sweets and gifts to the children as they went by.

After a short lull the next pair of police bikes indicated that the peloton was coming. At that point the windows opened in the Mairie above the Tourist Office and the Maire and his staff leaned out and waved and cheered along with everyone else. A press photographer was busy at an open second-floor window below the PreHisto and a helicopter circled above. It was over in a flash !! It had taken two hours for the caravan to pass through and the peloton was gone in seconds. Or so it seemed anyway.

Of course, that was not it for the day. The TV coverage is slightly behind the actual race so people then piled into the PreHisto to watch the proceedings on the TV. There was much oohing and aahing at the sight of the château on the screen, and cheering at the cyclists. Then the street party lingered on, there was much debriefing to be done, with the aid of liquid refreshment and sandwiches from the PreHisto and the Jean Bart. As the afternoon wore on, people gradually drifted back home, the crowd that had turned up for the day disappeared and the village returned to normal.

We wandered up the hill to our little maison and settled on our terrace overlooking the rooftops of the village. As we sat enjoying the evening sunshine, we commented that the peace and quiet was amazing considering we are right in the middle of the village. We talked about the events of the day and could hardly believe our luck that we had found this place.

11 February 2010


THE 150th POST ! I thought I'd celebrate with some more gratuitous old vehicle pictures but soften the blow with one of a 2 CV for all its fans out there. (This one had go-faster stripes - I wonder if they worked.)
One of the reasons we chose to buy a holiday home in the Loire is the weather. It isn't baking hot for months on end like it is further south. It does get hot, as it did last summer, much hotter than it does in Derbyshire and for longer periods, but generally the weather is mixed.

For the last 17 years we have taken a holiday in France each spring for the Bank Holiday week, which is usually the very last week of May, edging into June. We have visited all parts of the country at this time of year and to say the weather is unreliable is rather an understatement.

We visited Pete & Cyn at their house near Perpignan at that time of year and it was hot. By the time we got back to the Loire in mid-June (2006) it was roasting hot. Equally we have stayed in a gite in Brittany when it rained heavily every day - most disappointing as we were on the motorcycles and my boots developed an unfortunate leak.

During that spring week in 2008 we had good weather to begin with, sunny and warmish - warm enough to enjoy lunch and apéros on the terrace each day. We were able to tick off a fair number of jobs on the DIY list including painting the well and the kitchen window.

When our friends and neighbours, Mike and Jackie, arrived on their motorcycles on Thursday the weather started to change. On their first evening it was warm and they were most impressed, sitting on the terrace in the late sunshine before dinner. The next day we enjoyed breakfast outdoors in sunshine but after that it clouded over then rained on and off. Being true Brits, this didn't stop us from enjoying ourselves - as Mike said, if you waited for the right weather in England you would never do anything. We did a little tour of some of our favourite places, including Angles-sur-Anglin, just to show off a bit and they were even more impressed.

The next day they were leaving to go to their gite in the Auvergne. As they were getting kitted up, it started to rain. By the time they were setting off it was chucking it down. There was already quite a river of water running down the hill past our house. Mme André had been watching the entertainment and as they pulled out into the road she asked how far they were going. When we told her it would take all day to get to their gite she looked horrified and said "Les pauvres!"

It continued to rain quite heavily for the rest of our stay and then for a few days after that. We were nervous about the amount of water running down the hill - worried that it might come into the courtyard and then straight into the house as the ground floor is below the level of the courtyard. Mme André reassured us that her house had never flooded in the 52 years that she had been there. However, later in the week, several properties lower down in the village were flooded because of the amount of water coming down the roads and not being taken away by the overfull drains.
Which just goes to prove that the price you pay for greenery is rain.

8 February 2010


I am happy being around old cars and motorcycles. This may be because I spent a large part of my childhood in a sidecar attached to an old BSA or Velocette. With my father riding, my mother on the pillion seat and me safely tucked away in my little metal box, we travelled hundreds, probably thousands of miles, bouncing along the roads of England and Northern Ireland.

Once my dad could afford a car, they were ancient old things that constantly needed tinkering with. Add to that his passion for steam engines of any kind - steam trains and steam rollers - noisy, smelly, oily engines have been such a big part of my life that I still enjoy them. (I did once drive a steam engine - but that's another story!)

As a little girl we used to go to Derby on the steam trains for shopping trips which was a real adventure that I loved.  Also, during the school holidays, I used to cycle to the station at Cromford with my male cousins for a spot of trainspotting and general messing about. Then I would get home all sooty and smelling of smoke from standing on the footbridge as the trains came in and out of the station. I was often in trouble for that.

So, when we discovered that there is a very active "Association Rétroméchanique" in Le Grand-Pressigny, we were very interested.  At the end of May they have an annual run out and it happened just after we arrived in the village that week in 2008.

We were sitting on the terrace enjoying an aperitif with Barrie when we heard the unmistakable rumble of old vehicles coming into the village. We dashed down to the square to see the procession as it came up the road and turned into Grande Rue.

Dusty was with us on this holiday, the only time that we took her to France.

It then did another lap and ended up at the Salle des Fêtes. Whilst the public (us) could amble around all the lovely old cars, bikes and tractors, a certain amount of jolly chatter and clinking of glasses could be heard coming from inside and, all in all, everyone had a lovely time.

We have often come across gatherings and processions of old vehicles all over France and it's nice to know the French are just as barmy about them as we are in England. Just one more reason the love the place.