Saturday, 28 December 2013

She Landed by Moonlight!

St Nicholas has been very kind this year and brought a copy of 'She Landed by Moonlight' the story of Pearl Witherington the WW2 SOE secret agent who was active in our area of France.

As those who follow this BLOG will know, we were introduced to Pearl Witherington by two of our past guests at Les Deux Platanes. During part of the stay at the cottage they undertook some detective work and visited some of the places mentioned in the book. Once I have read the book it will go onto the cottage bookshelf and future guests can follow the story if they so wish.

Photo taken in France, Pearl is second on the left.

We hope you all have a great New Year and hope to see you in 2014

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all our past and future guests, friends and neighbours we hope 2014 brings you all health and happiness.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

In the 21st Century

I have spent the majority of my working life emerged in technology and emerging technology but things move on so quickly it can catch your breath!  The youth of this world take the internet and mobile communication for granted but I can remember 1990 and the arrival of the first mobile satellite phone at work, we were amazed. Here we are, only 24 years later and everyone including the dog appears to have a mobile device that delivers 1000 times more that that massive 1990 mobile.

During the summer of 2013 I was working in the garden of Les Deux Platanes when I noticed a Google photo car drive slowly past the cottage.
Today I have noticed that these images are now available on Google 'STREETVIEW' . Using the wonders of the internet and amazing technology you can now travel through Le Breuil and past Les Deux Platanes. You cannot visit the beautiful and colourful cottage garden but you can pass the garden and explore the area.

Those of you that have been visiting France for years will remember that choosing a gite or holiday cottage in the 1980's and most of the 90's required a book containing photo's and associated details. We have been visiting France for more than 40 years and remember that it was impossible to ensure the location was not next to a motorway or some other carbuncle. Our website already provides extensive information and detailed location information, with 'Street view' you have the opportunity to further confirm any details you require.

But remember that past guests comments are also a great source for recommendations, we have included many of these on this website.

Merry Christmas to all past and future guests.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Human travel guidance tips!

In the cottage we keep a comments book. This is of great value in that new guests read through the hundreds of comments left by past guests. Not only do they find comments about the cottage (we put many of these on this website under 'Guest Comments' ) but they also find these comments a treasure trove of first hand guidance into the many places to visit across the area.

In 2013 we had two guests who spent part of the holiday tracking down the places and locations mentioned in the recent book about Pearl Witherington the WW2 British spy (featured on BBC television) -

Eventually they managed to track down the remains of a chateau that was destroyed by the German SS, they were also lucky to find a local French guy who took them down a track into what is now a forest and there were the chateau remains. So these guests along with many, many others over the years have written in the guest book so providing a source of first hand guidance to area.

Before guests arrive for the 2014 season we will as usual be preparing the cottage and ensuring everything is 100% perfect. After 14 years use the chauffe-eau (water heater) is ready for some TLC. I have recently stripped out the electrics and removed the access plate exposing the inside. As expected I found a good quantity of calcaire (lime crystals) - about half a bucket. May seem a lot but that's not much for the time period so I think the electronic water treatment device I fitted 10 years ago is having some effect. The renovation will also help the water heat quicker especially with a new and more efficient heating element.

OK, its back to work!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Good job! (apologies to Will Smith)

After 10 years I am very pleased we are on the final stages of the renovations of our property here in this beautiful and quiet part of central France. I was listening to the BBC radio late this afternoon and the travel advisor was explaining about the jams on the M25 and elsewhere, how unfortunate I thought as I turned onto the local main road with not a vehicle in sight.

During the past month I have been concentrating on the renovation of the rear barn wall and house wall under the roof terrace. Its been a long and dusty job removing the incorrect cement rendering and repointing the freshly exposed stones with a traditional and correct mix of lime and sand. (See an earlier blog)In addition I have constructed a roof to provide some protection for the logs and built a solid base for log storage.
My friendly French artisan who kindly filled and pointed the stones!

The roof structure taking shape

Log stand, limestone chips and tiles on the roof!

And today we went to the local quarry, bought 1.5 cubic metres of limestone chippings, spread these on top of weed fabric and then commenced the stacking of logs onto the log stand, so good progress is made.

And finally......the first logs stacked and protected from the winter weather.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The old ways are the best!

When it comes to building renovation in France it's best to stick to the old building techniques. Due to fashion and cost many traditional old stone built houses were rendered with cement and then painted. This can look OK but it has a downside, where the old stone walls would let any humidity escape through the lime mortar, the cement seals in this humidity (dampness) with the consequence that many of the old houses can be rather humid especially if there is no ventilation. We are busy renovation the rear wall of the house and barn and determined to use traditional methods - lime and sand mortar!

After more than 50 hours chipping off the old covering, cleaning out the joints and washing each area carefully we are now at a point where all the hard work is bringing results.

Dust masks, ear defenders and gloves required - its hard work removing the cement covering and mortar.

As you can see the wall is a mess  

For this work its better to find an old 'artisan' who fills the stones with a lime mix just like the old days!

50% complete and looking better already
The rear house wall completed in 2012.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum

......and it wasn't anything to do with Frankie Howerd!

Chatillon has about 75 Associations, and this year it held it's 5th Forum of Associations. Each association is invited to put up a stand in the local gymnasium and the local populace comes along to see what is on offer and perhaps sign up to join one of them. As we aren't here in the winter which is when many of the groups meet, we didn't want to join any, but we had been told about a walk taking place in the morning which was leaving from the very same gym (Monique, our neighbour, is a great one for the local Randonees). We thought this might be a good way to start a Sunday, so we went along. Monique also told us about a lunch which would be available, so we duly paid our money and booked the 10 euro lunch.
We set off on an 8K walk, with a refreshment stop about half way.
Very nice refreshments provided by a local family

The walk took about 2 hours, and we returned to find the Forum in full flow. We walked around as we know so many people and wanted to say hello  (the French are very particular about greeting anyone they know). The little Majorettes entertained everyone with a display of baton twirling and pompom shaking - I just wish they weren't so serious, but I am told they are all concentrating really hard, and smiling doesn't help them do that!
We were invited outside where we were serenaded by the local wind orchestra, one of whom was our friend Carole
Carole is the one in the green
Then, there was a 'vin d'honneur' provided by the town, so of course we joined in!
Our four course lunch was nearly ready, so we joined the queue. John had ordered Andouillette while I was playing safe with chicken stuffed with mushrooms.
The lunch was very popular, judging by the packed seating.

We finally left the Forum at 2pm and went home for a siesta!
(We were off later to Saint Hippolyte for the Fete de l'entrecote - see yesterday's blog)

Monday, 9 September 2013

Moulin Rouge comes to Saint-Hippolyte

I know this is a strange title, but it's true!

Yesterday (Sunday) was the Fete de l'entrecote in Saint Hippolyte. This is an annual event, but one we haven't been to before. We had quite a busy day (more in another blog) so decided to go in the evening. We walked around the stalls, many of whom were packing up, but there was still the entertainment which continued throughout the evening (and into the night, but we didn't stay too late).
One of the acts was performing songs from American shows and had costumes to go with them!
It gets even better!

First there was the music (you know - the sort that builds to a crescendo!) Then 6 long-limbed young ladies poured from the back of the stage. John couldn't believe his luck - this next picture shows just how lucky he got!!
I know it's a bit out of focus - but you can hardly blame him!
He even managed to get some of it on video - stand by:

I suppose Saint-Hippolyte returned to it's normal sleepy self this morning - it'll take a year for it to recover from all the excitement!

Wine tasting

In August we went to Montrichard for their 'Estivals' which was a wine tasting event for vignerons in the area.  It's useful attending these type of events as it brings lots of producers together allowing for comparative tastings. There was a sample lunch provided by one of the local hotels - all in all a very enjoyable day.

There was a further tasting week-end recently at the Domaine de Navas in Villeloin-Coulange which is a small village about 20 minutes from us. Here though, were wine producers from further afield: Saint-Emilion, Chinon, Vouvray, Anjou, Beaujolais and Champagne, as well as our favourite Sauvignon producer, Patrick Leger. Here they were offering a full lunch, so we decided to call on Sunday after a visit to the Amboise Sunday market.
The situation is lovely - not a wine domaine, but the setting for weddings. There is a lovely Manor house, Chapel, function rooms and a gite.
The lovely chapel is on the left

Discussing the merits of the Chinon
We enjoyed an aperitif of Champagne followed by a very nice lunch outside in the sunshine - then went home to sleep it off!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Sphinx tete de mort (Acherontia atropos)

Anyone into etymology will know what this is

but I would imagine everyone would know what this is
What's the story I hear you ask? Well, just before our Mechoui at the beginning of August, we had a small meeting to discuss the food, and our neighbour, Claude, brought with him a plastic box (with a lid - very important) containing some soil and the caterpillar (chenille) pictured above. We were amazed - the thing was longer and fatter than my middle finger. The colour was as you see above, an incredible thing really. What was more surprising was that no-one knew what it was, including Alain the farmer. We all wanted to know where Claude had found it - 'dans mes patates' was the answer. Eventually, another neighbour, Severine arrived and on seeing the caterpillar, promptly took a photo on her phone to send to a friend who was an etymologist.
On the day of the Mechoui we asked Claude if Severine had an answer but it appeared he still didn't know. We all waited for her to arrive (at 8 1/2 months pregnant, she was a little late, understandably!) and asked her for the result.
'Sphinx tete de mort' was the answer, and it didn't take me long to translate that one! Quite rare here apparently and her etymologist friend had asked if he could have it, to watch it pupate then hatch. Their wingspan measures about 15 centimeters so I for one am glad they are quite rare!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Rosnay fair

Well, today dawned cloudy and damp, which after weeks of dry weather was a welcome sight for the grass which was just beginning to suffer in our field at the back of the house. It was probably an unwelcome sight for the organisers of the annual fair at Rosnay, a small village in the Brenne regional park.

The fair has taken place there since medieval times, and last year we discovered that 20,000 people had attended! This needed to be experienced for ourselves, so we duly took ourselves off this morning.

We were charged 2 euros to park the car (unheard of in France, but if the money goes to the commune then that's fair enough). The fair was like a big French market on steroids! There were all manner of stalls selling everything from mops and electric cigarettes(?) to CDs and shoes, together with the usual buvette stalls and andouillette with chips etc. Trouble was, it was raining a bit and the umbrellas made for a dangerous walk through the aisles of the market. We gave it a good shot, and were rewarded with sight of the horse-trading part of the market. There were some black Berrichon donkeys and all sizes of ponies and horses. We saw some magnificent Charolais bulls standing very quietly (at least I think they were Charolais). I would have taken some photos, but found the batteries in the camera to be flat. Typical!
However, you can get the general idea from some pictures I found trawling the internet:

It was certainly worth a visit - hmmm, I wonder whether John would let me buy a donkey for our field (probably not!)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Les Compagnons du Musette (again!)

We've blogged before about the Compagnons du Musette group which features our 72 year old neighbour, Alain, as the front man.  You can check them out here

On Friday evening they were performing at the Auberge de La Gabriere In the Brenne park. Also on offer was a meal of Moules and frites. Not being able to pass up such an opportunity, 8 of us went along, although I have to own up to not liking moules, so Kay and I had entrecote and frites.

A fraction of the 500+ places

There was one of these between two people with extra if required

John counted roughly 500 places set out - this was to be a logistical feat on the part of the restaurant. As we had pre-booked, we found our places and settled down to a very convivial evening. We had already said hello to Alain, telling him we were the Inspectors from le Breuil, coming to check out the quality of Les Compagnons. He thought this was hilarious, and told all the other band members who rose to the challenge, giving us a splendid evening of their particular brand of musette. I have to confess to having bought one of their (many) cd's at the local market on Friday!

Our gang of 8 (I'm the one taking the photo)

We joined in the dancing - Madison time again, but I resisted the urge to get up to some of the other line dances which seemed rather more complicated! They danced the bourree which seems to be a Berry folk dance with much stamping of the feet! We have tried this before, but with sympathetic partners who helped with the steps. Again, not to be tried on this occasion (we didn't want to show ourselves up!)

We left around 11.30 and the band was still going strong. I was amazed when I heard Alain moving his tractor at 9am on Saturday morning!

Its catch up time again

Its over two months since our last BLOG post, my oh my I am sure serious bloggers would rush for a cliff edge at such lax blogging!

Our son Daniel, after a busy year as a primary school teacher he takes some time to chill in our house garden!

With the mercury eventually hitting 55c in early August we needed to relax!

My rather miserable excuse is that our BLOG reflects life here in central France, relaxed and slow, but as with all things its time to bring you news both for those planning to stay in the gite and friends alike.

The publicity 'caravan' included all manner of weird and wonderful transportations!


We were pleased to be able to watch the 'Tour de France' which passed close once again, as you know the GB team once again stood a good chance so we were out with friends to support the team

And they arrive at last - in less than a minute they are gone but its worth the wait!

The flower beds are now well established
Les Deux Platanes garden. Over the past few years the garden of the holiday cottage has been renovated and as with all gardens it takes a few years for plants to get established - our many guests in 2013 have enjoyed the plants and the structural improvements.
The second terrace in the garden is a cosy corner that catches the evening sun and provides a cool place to enjoy that excellent local wine!

One view of private garden for the cottage and shade from the two plane trees.
The village Mechoui

August is the time we organise the Mechoui ( The roast sheep barbecue). Its an annual event with the vast majority of locals attending. This year our cottage guests also attended and even more amazing they managed to survive the days eating and drinking.

The sheep slowly roasting from early morning.
Preparations getting underway at the neighbours farm

An Englishman playing petanque! It'll never catch on!

Darkness falls - and we start eating again!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Any excuse for a party

If there is one thing we have learnt in our many years of visiting France is that the French certainly know how to have a good time.

Imagine the scenario:

A small town (let's say Martizay, a few miles from Les Deux Platanes) decide they want to throw a party. The local Comite des fetes gets together and asks 'what can we have as a theme for the party?' Someone says 'Sausages!!' Pourquoi pas? It's as good a reason as any.

So, they galvanise the locals, they hire in the tents, benches, tables and other requirements for cooking. Then they find a friendly traiteur to provide a variety of sausages and some chips. They get the local cafĂ© to supply beer (on tap of course), wine and soft drinks. They hire a couple of bands (in this case a percussion band and the local 11 piece dance band (they don't do things by halves and somebody from the band probably lives in the town which helps) Hey presto you have the Fete de saucisses! 

We had to go to support their efforts. They had several types of sausage: normal, merguez (spicy north African), boudin and andouillette. The price for sausage and a generous portion of very nice chips: 3,50 euros. The bottle of wine was 8 euros, so in all we spent the princely sum of 20 euros all night. The entertainment was free! We had a great time dancing in the open air (I am getting really good at the Madison!)

There wasn't a food hygiene certificate in sight, the H & S man doesn't seem to exist - were there any complaints that things were not 'done' properly? Not at all in fact the hygiene standards were extremely high! Everyone had a good time - and no-one appeared the worse for drink either. We left at 11.30 and the party was still going strong. It is this type of community effort we enjoy so much. Long may it continue!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Its a good year for the roses...

(apologies to Elvis Costello)

The wet spring has  brought unexpected rewards in some beautiful roses in the gardens of Les Deux Platanes.

We have a selection of climbers and bush roses, and all are currently at their best. I am sure you will enjoy the photos:

The annual festival of roses has just finished at Chedigny near Loches, not too far from the gite. The whole village has cultivated a variety of roses which are shown to their best at the end of May. I think we could give them a run for their money! I am really pleased with the roses this year.
We have just finished planting a number of shrubs around the field. Hopefully they will take well and begin to flower next year.