June 30, 2010

Bye-bye Thouars - June 30

We did a final tour of Thouars before saying good-bye.  The weather had changed and with the hot sun, all the flowers were peaking and the gardens were just beautiful!

Garden plots all along the river bank.

The Château de Thouars and the River Thouet.

Horses on the road leading out of town.  We stopped often to pet them.

Our favourite café, just around the corner.

Thomas introduced us to Duhomard, a drink similar to sherry, and to several foreign beers.

The door from La Tremoïlle Street to the inside courtyard of our rented home.

The growth is rich.  You'll find no crack in the stones not filled with a tangle of herbs or moss.  Vines, figs, roses, strawberries, lavender, hydrangea, and so much more!

Three levels of patio, three different tables and chairs.  One can easily follow the sun or the shade, as desired.

The famous keys that we forgot one day...

Karl with his broom and his beer.  He swept the courtyard every day, unless it was raining.  He loved roaming around with scissors and clippers and trimming a little bit here, cutting a wayward branch there.

The flowers right next to the front door.

Welcome to our home away from home!

Our hostess is an artist and this painting of hers took central stage on the main living room wall.  It is also the one she has used as her business card.  To us, it will always be representative of our delightful home in Thouars!  How lucky we were to come across this incredible find.

June 29, 2010

Back to My Roots (La Rochelle & Niort) - June 29

The Gobeil family can be traced back 11 generations. Our ancestor, Jean Gobeil, left Niort in 1665 with his wife Jeanne Guiet and their 4 daughters. They made their way to La Rochelle and sailed to "La Nouvelle-France" on board the ship Le Rubis.

The Tour de la Chaîne and the Tour St-Nicolas would have been guarding the entrance to the harbour even back then. A huge chain used to be strung between them to ward off attack from the sea.

A bit further, you can see the 15th-century Tour de la Lanterne (with a pointy roof). Its inner walls were covered in graffiti by prisoners, mostly mariners, in the 17th - 19th centuries. Ships are the most common motif.

Taken from the other side of the harbour. The harbour is now the biggest yachting center on France's Atlantic coast.

The tall building to the left is the gate leading to the Old Cité.

I'm standing at the gate to the Old Cité.

The streets are bustling with activity.

La Rochelle is easy to explore on foot, though its cobbled streets and arcades are very congested with tourists during peak season.

Along the harbour is a long street of restaurants, mostly serving seafood.

We picked "Les Grands Yachts"

I had the langoustines (crayfish).

They're a lot of work for very little reward.

I wonder if Diane will recognize Captain Hook - we posed with him last year... He got polished up since we last saw him!

On our way back to Thouars, we stopped in Niort to touch base with my roots. This was Jean and Jeanne's home before leaving France.

The town's immediate attraction is the huge 12th-century donjon* overlooking the Vieux Pont (Old Bridge). Built by Henry II and Richard the Lion-Heart, it played an important role during the Hundred Years' War and was later used as a prison. One prisoner was the father of Madame de Maintenon**, who spent her childhood in Niort. The donjon is now a museum of local arts and crafts and archeology.

* A donjon in French is not translated to dungeon in English. It is the "keep" in a castle.
** In 1684, following the death of his first wife Marie-Thérèse, Louis XIV secretly married his mistress Mme de Maintenon, then aged 49.

We could not go back to Niort without visiting our special restaurant "La Table des Saveurs" which we had so enjoyed on our visit in early May. It did not disappoint!

Stuffed sardine with salad for K.

The rabbit for M.

Chicken stuffed with mushrooms for M.

Pork tenderloin for K.

Chocolate ganache for M.

Nougat for K with raspberry infusion.

Homemade wafer with white and dark chocolates to accompany the "café crème".

Karl ordered a Cognac Summit at the start of the dinner, so they gave him a little book with Cognac drink recipes. What a wonderful way to end the day!

June 27, 2010

Azay-Le-Rideau - June 27

Azay-Le-Rideau Castle

In the XII century, the owner was Rideau or Ridel d'Azay, whose fierceness earned him the nickname "Child of the Devil". Henry II Plantagenet expropriated all his lands, but they were later restored, together with the castle.

Coat of Arms

The "voile" over the beds were to keep bugs out, heat in, and provide privacy.

An absolutely stunning desk.

More magnificent furniture pieces.

The Library.

"Caquetière". A bench with an adjustable back used by women who wish to sit together and chat while facing the fireplace or facing the opposite direction, without moving the bench.

Expecting company.

We've seen this style of glassware in other châteaux as well, with the Fleur de Lys motif.

Dishes specific to this château.

Furniture of the era.

Billiards anyone?

A fancy scoreboard for billiards.

Karl in the games room, ready to deal the cards.

Family photos.


Recognize this château? It is the Château d'Ussé. The particularly elegant, fairy-tale-like appearance of this castle at the edge of a dark, mysterious forest seems to have influenced Charles Perrault's conception of the castle in his "Sleeping Beauty".

We were going to visit it, but since this was our second castle to visit that day, it was 33 degrees, the hill to get to the front door looked particularly steep and we were told that there were 80 steps to climb within the castle, well, I decided it was just too much. We'll have to visit it some other time, during another trip. Instead, we took a long meandering drive through the enchanted forest.