30 August 2014


first steps

It was this time last year that we first started to believe that we could actually do it – downsize in the UK and upsize in France.  We began talking about it and several of our friends knew of someone who had a house for sale.  Local knowledge is a great asset in house hunting so one very hot day in early September last year we went for a walk with our friends Jim and Pauline to see this house which is not far from the village where they live, called Barrou.

Thinking of how mediocre the summer has been this year, the blue sky in these photos reminded me of exactly how hot it was that day and that it was actually a very good summer last year. 

First impressions of this house were that it might well suit us very well.  It was an old, renovated house, with a good sized garden, two good sized barns and it sat nicely in its plot of land.

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We didn’t get to see the inside but in many ways it ticked most of our boxes and with hindsight, and lots of house viewings under our belt, this is very much the kind of house we have been looking for.

One of the reasons we rejected it was that although not that far from the village in miles, it was in fact quite isolated.  There were no neighbours nearby and it was at the end of the road that leads to it, which meant that nobody would ever pass by unless they were visiting us.

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Another reason was the welcoming committee!

Cows can be, in my experience, noisy, smelly and very inquisitive animals and this lot were grazing in the field that was right up against the property.  There were cows in the field behind the house we left in Derbyshire only three months ago, so we had no illusions about what it could be like to live right next door to them.

Here we didn’t know who owned the field, if it belonged to the property and was rented out, or if it belonged to the owner of the cows.  In the first case it might be possible to reclaim the field for personal use but that wouldn’t be a good start in relationships with the farmer - “English couple buy French farmhouse and evict local tenant farmer”!  In the second case we would simply have to put up with the cows.

We continued with our house hunting properly in March this year and as well as those we have seen with an agent, we have looked at several other houses that were known to friends and neighbours.  It would have been in appropriate to show photos of them but amongst them was a fabulous “maison de maître”, built in 1820 and barely changed.  It had beautiful high ceilings, original floor tiles, casement windows, barns, an orchard and 12 hectares of land, some of it occupied by sheep.  We rejected it because it was too big and Nick felt he would probably have to dress for dinner every evening!

Another was a classic longère in bustling little hamlet, with multiple bedrooms, two sitting rooms and a swimming pool.  We rejected that because it was too big.

We looked at a beautiful modern house on the edge of the village, built in 1980 to a lovely traditional design and high standard.  The house and garden by themselves would have been perfect but it came with several hectares of orchard, a long stretch of river bank and an enormous hangar which we just didn’t know what to do with.

It seemed it was becoming almost impossible to find the perfect house with all the character that we liked and none of the drawbacks – we have looked at twenty two so far.  None of the agents had found the right one for us, but each time we rejected one, the idea of what we really wanted was getting clearer in our minds.  So one day, all by ourselves, armed with just a map and our intuition, we stumbled across this one, and put a cheeky note in the letterbox ………..

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Bon weekend !!

20 August 2014


comice agricole

According to our neighbour, Mme André, the Comice Agricole comes to Le Grand-Pressigny every six years.  We somehow managed to miss it last time so this year we were keen to get the full flavour of the event.

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By Friday the whole village had been decorated with paper flowers.  There must have been thousands of them and they looked fantastic.  No property was left unadorned, regardless of how dilapidated it was.

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Without a doubt the main event was the grand procession on Sunday afternoon.  This was to be at 3.30pm, preceded by a parade of Cadillacs.  The Cadillacs were late but after a while one turned up, lost, and was given directions to the start!

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There turned out to be only three Cadillacs and a trike in their parade but they were jolly and got the crowd interested.  More and more people arrived to fill the village square.

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The balloon seller turned up, and didn’t seem to have sold too many,  Except to one little boy……

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I was in danger of having the large white balloon in the corner of all of the photos I took of the parade.  After a while I pushed it gently out of the way of my camera. 

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The Comice Agricole is a celebration of rural life in South Touraine and the theme for the procession this year was “La Forêt Tourangelle”.  Each village decorated a float (tractor) to represent their interpretation of the theme.  First to arrive was a brass band.

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All aspects of forest and country life were represented on the floats.  They were magnificently and flamboyantly decorated, in a woodland kind of way!

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Children played a huge part in the event, including a brave demonstration by this little one in a troop of dancers.

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The adults were having a pretty good time, too! And half way through the procession there was more music.

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Some of the floats had taken a huge amount of skill and effort to create, such as this one with a hunting horn, deer and dogs created from flower petals – not dissimilar to the well dressings I am used to in Derbyshire.

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I liked the name of this float – there used to be a sign at each end of the village showing that you were entering “Pressigny le Grand”.  Then one year I noticed they were no longer there.

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It was a fantastic event.  I loved the fact that all the floats were home made.  Not for us the glamorous dancing troops from all over France and the exotic displays from the colonies.  This was a pure and simple celebration of rural life in the villages within a few kilometres of Le Grand-Pressigny, just local people taking part and having a wonderful time.  I felt proud and moved to have been there.

16 August 2014


It's the Comice Agricole in Le Grand-Pressigny this weekend.  One of the most exciting parts is the parade of tractors!

15 August 2014


one of those days

Thursday was one of those days, a day when things didn’t turn out quite as we expected.   

It was threatening to rain so we thought we’d head down to the Brenne and take a look at a château we had not seen before.  I had picked up a leaflet about it somewhere.

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The château is called Le Bouchet and it’s near Rosnay which is not far from Martizay.  We had never been there before so off we set.

There was a small bistro in the village square at Rosnay so we thought we might as well stop for lunch, it being by now about 12.30 and according to the leaflet the château closed for lunch between 12 and 2pm.

The menu in the window listed several things we fancied but once inside it was obvious that it was “menu du jour” or nothing.  This consisted of salad du chef, cuisse de canard with frites or haricots verts, followed by chocolat fondant or ice cream.  The frites were good – big fat ones rather like home-made chips.  The duck was fairly crozzled but tasty and all in all it was pretty good for 12€ each including a glass of wine.

While we were inside having lunch the heavens opened and it absolutely tipped it down for about twenty minutes.  We wondered about abandoning our trip but by the time we were ready to leave the sun came out so we decided to carry on to the château.

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Now I wonder how often you have seen a crayfish crossing the road?  Personally it was my first time.  Nick spotted it and we got out of the car to have a closer look and take its picture.  It didn’t seem too keen but we took it anyway.  It seemed to have climbed out of a stream by the roadside and was walking across the road, backwards.

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The next thing we encountered was the Red Sea.  I bet you didn’t know there was a red sea in the middle of France but there is.  A lake called “La Mer Rouge” was on our way to the château so we stopped to take a look.  The earth around and about was definitely reddish, with a red/brown coloured rock everywhere.

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It was a pretty spot and we thought we could go back one day with Lulu for a nice long walk along the path around the lake.  It was just beginning to rain again so we dashed back to the car and continued onwards to the château.

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We hesitated at the gate when we saw that it was a “visite guidée”.  We have had so many bad experiences of guided tours but we thought that as we’d come all this way and it was a wet Thursday afternoon how bad could it be?  There didn’t seem to be many people about so we thought we might fare better in a smaller group.

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The château is built partly from the same red rock as was in the ground around the lake.  We had been told to wait in the courtyard for the guide to collect us for the next tour and I have to say the place did not look at all appealing.  I thought it could easily be used in a film set as an old prisoner of war camp and wondered if in fact it had been used as a military hospital or German base.  We had seen several others in France that had, Allo Allo fashion.

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We could hear voices coming from inside as we waited outside – the people on the previous tour were asking lots of questions.  I was reminded of other guided tours in other châteaux and wished we could just go round by ourselves!

There were some wasps buzzing around – horrible, huge and nasty wasps that kept swooping and diving around us, like fighter planes.  A few more visitors turned up and it started to rain again.  Then it thundered and the rain pelted down.  We took shelter under an archway with two elderly ladies and the rest of the visitors crammed into an open doorway.  The wasps followed us into our little shelter and the two ladies fended them off with their umbrellas! 

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As the previous tour finally emerged from inside the sun miraculously came out and the château looked much less intimidating in the sunshine.  There were nine people on the tour.  Five French, two Austrian ladies and us.  As soon as the guide mentioned there being English in the group one of the French ladies immediately piped up that she could help with translation, which was very helpful indeed since the Austrian pair could only understand English and no French at all.

The guide began his talk in the courtyard and the skies clouded over.  It began to rain again.  I thought this might put him off and he would cut short his introduction but no, on he went!  As the umbrellas came out and people shivered he continued to point out the interesting features in the walls and give little stories and anecdotes about the château’s past.  We were desperate to get indoors, out of the rain!

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In the event we probably understood more of the guide’s French and than of the French lady’s translation.  It was immensely kind of her to do this but we then had to interpret her translation and pass it on to the two Austrians, so that at each point in the tour we were about five minutes behind the guide in his talk.

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The château was a strange mixture of twentieth century domesticity and medieval history.  It being a dull, wet day it was extremely dim and gloomy inside and the guide didn’t put any of the lights on.  I wondered if he simply forgot, or if they didn’t work, or if he’d been told not to in order to save on electricity.  The gloom, the threadbare carpets and dusty furniture gave the château an air of frugal and everyday use, so different from the glitz and glamour of the more popular châteaux of the Loire.

This had nothing like the affluence and extravagance of say Chenonceau or Chaumont, or the chic mediaeval style and clever displays of Montsoreau or Fougères.  Yet in a way I rather liked it.  It was like being shown round someone’s house – someone who had just left the room but hadn’t dusted for a while. 

We were ushered into what was called the trophy room.  There were stuffed birds and animals everywhere, the heads of wild boar and deer hung on the walls along with dozens of deer’s feet.  Portraits of previous occupants of the château stared down at us.

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The gallery was much lighter and brighter and there were modern paintings display on the walls, all quite jolly and with price labels on.  They were of hunting and horse racing scenes.  It was nice to be in an airy and cheerful room again.  I can only stand so many stuffed birds and animals!

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Next we were advised to retrieve our umbrellas and we stepped out onto the terrace.  As the rain poured down and the guide explained at great length the view and how many departments you could see from the terrace – none of which were visible today – I looked at Nick, he looked at me and we laughed.  We wondered what on earth we were doing there, in the pouring rain, with the stuffed animals, the guide with his unfeasibly huge umbrella and the lady doing the translation clinging to him under it for shelter.  The group were a cheerful lot but after another soaking I could see that their enthusiasm was wearing a bit thin.

The next part of the tour was to splash though the puddles in the courtyard, through the entrance with the broken door and up the steps in the tower.  I thought I had heard the guide say there were sixty something steps when we started the tour outside.  We declined.  We’d had enough.  So we made our excuses, thanked the French lady, said goodbye to the rest of the party and slid away.  As we walked down the drive there was a shout coming from above and we looked up to see the two Austrian ladies waving at us from a window high up.  “We’re in the tower!” they shouted.  “Good for you” I thought!

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As we arrived at the car park the rain stopped and the sun came out.  We caught up the two old ladies who had also had enough and left before us.  

In the next village we stopped the car again to take the picture of a goat standing on a wall.  It had definitely been one of those days!