Saturday, 29 November 2014

A rather special November

November 2014 was rather special being the 100th commemoration of the outbreak of WW1. The French are extremely aware of the massive loss of life including hundreds from the local community whose names are carved on the monument in the centre of Chatillon.

The firemen, mayor and other local officials are in attendance along with the local band, school children and local people.

Some of the English living in and around Chatillon always endeavour to make a contribution to local life and events. For the past five years I and Chris, have on the 11th November, laid a poppy wreath at the memorial in recognition of both the many British and Commonwealth soldiers who fell in the war and in solidarity with the 1,357,000 French soldiers who died in WW1. Our many French friends and the community as a whole greatly appreciate this small gesture and 2014 had of course special significance.

The red poppy is a contrast to the blue cornflowers in the French wreaths

Following the laying of the various wreaths the mayor invites everyone who has attended to the local town hall for a vin d'honneur, a glass of wine and the local pastry cake. Following the vin d'honneur we join the Ancient Combatants for the remembrance lunch. It is indeed a privilege to be accepted as an integral part of the community on this and other occasions throughout the year. 

Students from the local high school read the citation.
2014 has been another busy year at Les Deux Platanes and we have enjoyed welcoming the many guests to our cottage. The weather in August was not up to its usual standard but in general the French summer, in this central part of France, for the most part was warm and dry. 

This photo taken late October on the cottage terrace and still warm during the day

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Au vent......?????

Work continues on the final stages of the renovation of our house. The inside is finished but we are busy with various jobs outside including the building of an outside toilet and shower room. Next to this I am constructing what the French refer to as an au vent, or covered terrace. 

This week I have been busy with the oak frame for the main structure and next week I hope to complete the roof.

Hmm that looks about right!

So having chopped some mighty mortice and tenon joints lifted the very heavy oak sections into position the first stage is more or less complete.

That's a good job done.
 Next stage - the roof and then complete the stonework etc.

Historic French high chair?

We do try and accommodate the various requirements of our many guests over the summer months here at Les Deux Platanes. 

Next week we have a couple arriving with a small child that would benefit from using a 'high chair'. We have a cot but not a high chair so we decided to try and locate a chair locally and within the week an email arrived, high chair spotted requires some TLC!

So having crossed the palm of the seller with a few euro I began the relatively easy task of renovating the chair. Not being an expert on high chairs I was impressed to see how the chair operates and it appears to be of a typical French design. Our local French friends have a similar chair and it is over 60 yrs old.

Coat of paint, respray and some transfers and it looks just fine
However this chair is a 'convertachair' - see below!

Amazing, a quick fold and you have a play desk!
Nice pictures Maureen!
So there you have it, refurbished high chair, hope the little guest likes it!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Having been visiting this tiny hamlet for nearly 40 years we have a close relationship with all our French friends and neighbours. During the winter months members of the hamlet 'events commitee', (a committee in the very simplest terms) organise a number of 'Tea Dances' in Chatillon and the profits from these dances fund some community events in the summer. 

On the 2nd August we held our annual 'mechuoi', a lunch and dinner with boules and card games in between. We are always involved in the preparations and running of the event during the day, its wonderful to be part of the community something that unfortunately we do not always find in the fast paced life in the UK. Mechuoi has its origins in North Africa and roasting a sheep over a log barbecue is central to the events dining experience. So at the crack of dawn the fire is lit and the sheep from a local farmer is put on to roast. 

Both Maureen and I were there at 8.00am sharp to help prepare the event, this despite being out the night before until 1.00am, All the helpers had a pause for breakfast at 9.00pm, the offal from the sheep is fried along with garlic and herbs and sandwiches of French bread made ----along with the statutory glass of local wine. We then set up the trestle tables, lay the plates etc and hang up the bunting. On top of all of this we also had new guests arriving at the cottage so had to escape the preparations to give the cottage its normal thorough clean and prepare....a busy day indeed.

All the locals from baby to grandmas in wheelchairs start to arrive around 12.15pm with much hand shaking and kissing all round. This year the aperos were made by the local children supervised by some adults produced a startling collection of tasty morsels which was all washed down with some very nice lemon / sugar / Sauvignon apperitif especially made by our neighbour Alain.

Everyone sat down for the starters and then the sheep was removed from the spit and carved for serving.

This, of course, is France so the afternoon meal continues with cheese, multiple choices of desert made by another local family all washed down with copious amounts of local wine. Around 6.00pm we stop eating etc and the Boules / cards games start....

Yes you have to have staying power to survive the day. This being a Saturday we also had new guests arriving so once settled in they were invited down to join the evening meal. You can spot them here looking rather pensive although Joshua who is 14 is putting on a great smile. 

Our new cottage guests having arrived late afternoon were invited to join the evening meal, Josh is putting on his best smile.

The eating, drinking and festivity continues and by 1.30am we were finished - a wonderful day with wonderful neighbours and friends, it is indeed a privilege to be involved. Next day we were up bright and early to wash dishes and clear away tables etc.


Friday, 13 June 2014

D Day commemorations

The outside thermometer touched 34c this afternoon, has the warm weather arrived?  Of course this level of heat has side effects, only 15 kilometers away they had storms with hailstones the size of golf balls and this has caused all manner of damage.

Last week we had three days in Normandy for the 70th Commemorations of the D Day landings. I was impressed with the tactful and professional events put on by the French organizations across Normandy.  There were people attending from all the original participating countries with many from the USA.

Pipers from the Scottish borders at Pegasus Bridge
Spitfires, a Lancaster and other planes of the period provided an emotional fly past
Dozens of WW2 motorcycles toured the area
Throughout the day services were held remembering all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in 1944
Last but not least the cottage garden is starting to show all its colour as summer arrives.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Barrel of fun

As those who follow this BLOG will know, I bought an old wine barrel in April but I did not reveal its purpose!
This was the barrel prior to restoration, a rather sorry state but with some potential hidden under the grime and rust. It is a genuine small wine barrel, the inside revealed a crust of old wine so I presume it has been in use for many years.

The barn doors of Les Deux Platanes were in need of repainting, and the existing paintwork included artwork of a wine barrel. So after a lot of stripping, power sanding, undercoat, primer, filling and top coat of 'Provence Blue' the doors were ready for the new accessory. 
As you can see the barrel takes pride of place on the repainted doors. 

The cottage garden has been entered in the 2014 'garden of flowers' competition for the area!!! Will we have any success, only time will tell but we hope to get a mention if nothing else. 

Early days but the garden is developing nicely for the summer visitors

I have also been working hard re-roofing the bread oven in our private garden and creating a covered area.

The last of the lathes are being fitted for the slates, its hard on the knees even with a kneeling pad. 

Fortunately my neighbour had 2000 secondhand tiles spare so in the next week or so I will put them onto the new roof lathes. 

One thing is for certain, there is always a long list of jobs waiting to be done.

The cottage in early May - anyone with a good eye will note that the shutters have been repainted and grape vines added for effect, this along with a complete re-decoration of the blue room plus lots of other jobs .... yes its all ready for our 2014 guests.

Well that's it for now better press on with some of those remaining jobs!

Monday, 19 May 2014

A ship called Hermione

We have just returned from a week at the seaside which was a very relaxing interlude. However, we still did a bit of sightseeing, including a visit to Rochefort. I was sure we had been there before, but didn't recognise anything, so I must have been mistaken.
We had heard from a friend about the building of a replica ship so went off to see it. The Hermione is a frigate which apparently Lafayette sailed in to America to help in the War of Independence (against the British). They have been building the ship for quite a number of years under the watchful eyes of the general public who have been allowed up close and personal to every stage. 
We were able to see the sails being made (by hand in the traditional way) and the blacksmith's shop which made all the ironwork fittings.

It had been announced they would be unfurling the sails last Saturday (the day we would be heading back to Le Breuil) but we were very pleased to see they were busy practising and making sure all the sails would unfurl properly on the day we visited. We were on deck and I was taking lots of photos as some of the young folk climbed high up the rigging and into the crows' nest. 
She's a splendid looking ship and I'm sure when she makes her maiden voyage to the USA next year it will be a wonderful experience for all the sailors. They are taking some professional sailors as well as a number of amateurs along. What an amazing voyage that will be.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Down on the farm

In March, we were pleased to see Monique had increased her flock of sheep by the arrival of a number of lambs in the early spring. Imagine our surprise (and hers I think!) to find twins had arrived last Friday. One of them looked a little frail, but I am happy to say it is thriving.
They are jumping around as only lambs do, leaping up with all four legs off the ground.
Mum is keeping a watchful eye!

Unfortunately, last years' lamb from the same ewe is a bit jealous, so we are keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn't try any funny business with it's brother and sister.

Daniel has just paid a fleeting visit to us at the start of his Easter holidays, and took advantage of a lovely day to go and feed the horses with some stale bread. He was a bit unsure about putting his hand out, but the horses are quite gentle, if not a little greedy!

The lovely warm weather has brought on the blossom to the fruit trees, and although we have had some cold mornings, there hasn't been sufficient frost which means we might get some nice fruit a little later in the year
The Bramley apple flowers
The cherry blossom holds the promise of fruit
There are also lots of flowers on the strawberries and the blackcurrants look like they should produce plenty of fruit for some lovely jam.

So, the gardening season is again upon us. I've got some lettuce under cover, and have peppers, aubergines, broccoli, green beans and courgettes in the greenhouse. Not to mention the flowers which I am gradually potting up into their containers ready for the gite garden. Plenty to keep us busy!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Strawberry fields forever

Every week we try to take a day off from our usual routine and do a bit of exploring in the MG.
We have wandered through the Sologne before, but decided it was time to revisit this area to make sure the route we suggest for gite guests was up to date. So, following the directions, we set off at the suggested time of 10.00am and headed up to St Aignan where we stopped for coffee
The St Aignan cafe in St Aignan
The grande cremes here are very reasonably priced - and you get a jug of hot milk too! We sat on the terrace, watching the world go by.

We continued on our way, eventually crossing the Cher and headed on into the Sologne. This area of France is renowned for strawberries (hence the title of this post) and there are miles and miles of hothouses with lots of people beavering away at this time of year, although the strawberries have quite an extended season as they are grown under plastic. We also passed some being grown using hydroponics

There are also a lot of etangs and plan d'eau's in the region, so there is a ready supply of water for the strawberries. We also saw large piles of grape must which is perhaps used as fertilizer?

We stopped for lunch in Vernou-en-Sologne at the Auberge du Croissant. This was a typical 12,50 menu for 4 courses which included wine. Very good value.
Don't be fooled by the exterior

Older houses in the Sologne are very unusual, being timber framed, but using bricks to infill

As we continued on our prescribed route, we passed through the small village of Lassay-sur-Croisne. Just outside the village is the Chateau du Moulin, and here they have a garden laid out with many different varieties of strawberries. The chateau, while small, is worth a visit, and the fee includes entry to the garden.

We came back via Selles-sur-Cher, which produces a distinctive flat goats cheese.

So, a very enjoyable day out, in lovely spring weather.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Aladdins cave

As is the case every year we undertake a range of renovations here at Les Deux Platanes in preparation for the first guests. The cottage garden is an important feature and 2014 will be no exception. For this year I have an idea for something a little different and for this I need a wine barrel end. So off we went earlier this week to search for this illusive item. We know of what we could call an antique shop in Levroux, a small town 40 minutes drive from Clion. This small town is the location of an amazing Aladdins cave of items that some would put in the rubbish bin and others class a wonderful find. Now this 'shop' is not for the faint of heart, it's a labyrinth of narrow isles, each side piled from floor to ceiling with all and every manner of items from boxes of paint to rare lamps, paraffin blowlamps, models, crockery of every description - the list goes on and on. Would we find our barrel end? We quickly found a selection of clocks, one made from a wine barrel end, not quite suitable. Another 25 minutes and we came across a genuine miniature wine barrel, in need of renovation but the perfect shape and size for the project. A little negotiation and we agreed a price.

The barrel - perfect for the project!
I have now removed the four steel rings and the oak segments fell apart revealing the blackened inside stained from its many years of holding red wines. The next stage is some gentle renovation to help ensure the barrel survives outside - more news to follow.

From Levroux and the barrel safely in the boot of the car we travelled on to the small village of Bourge le chateau, to enjoy lunch at an excellent small restaurant. We both enjoyed a very nice four course lunch for only 12 Euro before returning on small roads on what was a brilliant hot spring afternoon. 

Details of the above locations and routes can be found in the cottage guides.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Rainbow's end?

We have enjoyed some glorious weather in March, in fact on some days you would think it was the middle of summer although the evenings are still cool. Late last week we received a short shower and shortly afterwards a beautiful rainbow appeared in the fields close to les Deux Platanes. Unfortunately I did not have time to dash over with my spade to retrieve the pot of gold - the story of my life! 

Maybe the three horses will know the location of the gold?

Maureen has been hard at work keeping her little plants healthy although the warm weather has been a mixed blessing in that some of the little things have suffered from heat stroke or the plant equivalent.

These geraniums should be ready to plant out in a few weeks

More plants waiting for repotting!
On our website we have a link to L'Hermitage restaurant in Buzancais and since yesterday was Maureen's birthday we booked a table with some of our French friends. Unknown to us it changed hands over the winter. L'Hermitage always had a good reputation so we were concerned about our evening out. We are pleased to report that it was BETTER than ever! Two guys from Paris have bought the hotel and the standards were even higher than before. We had a magnificent meal, in what I can only describe as a great 'silver service' restaurant, the 29 Euro you would not find better in the UK and maybe even France for the money. If you are coming to Les Deux Platanes this year mark this on your 'to-do' list.

Work has started on getting the cottage ready for our first guests who arrive at the beginning of May. Time for a spot of painting to make sure it is up to the usual high standards, this year it is the turn of the 'Blue' room for some attention.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Lets prepare for summer

Most of Europe has been subject to a lot of rain this winter with the UK receiving special treatment, those who have not suffered floods can only be thankful that we have been spared the 'inondation' as the French say!

Spring will soon be here, yes its true and I know this for certain because Maureen has ordered her 250+ plug plants from the garden center in preparation for planting out late March and April. 
Lets hope the new hanging baskets are up to last years high standards!
Our 2014 guests enjoying the garden at Les Deux Platanes can once again expect a beautiful and traditional 'cottage' garden with flower beds, hanging baskets, trailing plants and lots of colour. 

Plug plants developing nicely. 
The cottage has two terraces, the terrace directly in front of the cottage catches all the sun in the morning making it simply ideal for breakfast or lunch. In the evening, if its not too hot, you can choose to use the terrace at the bottom of the gite garden. This terrace is positioned to catch the evening sun making it ideal for an Al fresco dinner, evening barbecue or romantic candlelit evening with a dinner from Maureen's menu. Or you have a 3rd option, move a table and chairs under the trees for shade! 

Early spring and the bloom will be out soon.

Terrace at bottom of garden, this also has a socket for an electric hot plate, the sun blind can be adjusted for shade if required.