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The Vendée countryside is very pretty with expansive, finely ploughed agricultural lands, trees displaying all the shades of autumn, and lots of sturdy cows.
The country lanes are very quiet and even the villages seem to be hibernating. The houses are functional and floral gardens are almost non-existent; certainly nothing like the beautiful colour-filled gardens of the English. There seem to be quite a large number of retired English folk living in the area, and we have met some of the neighbours. One of them, Jane, explained the possible origin of the many large crucifixes to be seen dotted all over. Apparently, they were erected about 50 years ago to commemorate successful missions to convert the heathen in foreign continents.
We were puzzled by these parasitic bundles growing in many of the trees, and were later enlightened that this is Mistletoe!
The town of La Chataigneraie [la chataigne is a chestnut] is about 14km away with this grand example of a French chateau on the way.
It has a superb supermarket, Super U, with the most mind-boggling selection of cheeses, regional wines, patès, chocolates, baguettes etc, and other foods that we hadn’t even dreamed of! Cheeses, thick cream [crème fraiche epaisse] and wines are cheap even by SA standards, but fresh fruits and roast chickens are expensive. Apparently there are over 1000 types of cheese made in France [including an array of goat and sheep cheeses, which makes David very happy!]
The mini trolley is definitely not big enough for what we want to buy!
Celery this big makes Sandi very happy!

On our first Sunday we went to the nearby village of Bazoges-en-Pareds. Pareds comes from the Latin for "land of grassy valleys". The history of the village goes back 6000 years! We visited the Dongon, which is a medieval castle built in 1380. With spartan rooms on 4 floors and a outside parapet around the top, it is more like a fortified tower than a residence.
The view of the village from the open parapet.
The adjacent castle garden has been reconstructed along medieval lines, and is divided into 16 squares, each bordered by chestnut hedges. The squares are divided into areas for vegetables, medicinal plants, aromatic plants, and plants used in witchcraft. To the right one can see the round dove-cote.
Beautiful, but toxic Aconite flowers.
On the side there is an orchard [where we scrumped a few windfall apples and pears] and a large round dove-cote. It was built in 1524 and owned by the Lord of Bazoges, as only noblemen were allowed to own a dovecote. Every pigeon hole represents ½ a hectare of cultivated land owned by the Lord. When he sold off some land he had to block off the required number of nests.

One Saturday we went to the street market in Fontenay-le-Comte, which is a little town about 30 minutes away. The market was both outdoors and indoors and full of bustle and atmosphere. A big clothing section as well as foods; cheeses, olives, patès, honey, fish and shellfish.

One day, while shopping in Chantonnay, David decided to have his hair cut [Sandi's attempts at hair-cutting not being quite up to par!] The hairdresser was happy to accommodate him without a rendezvous, but he got tongue-tied trying to explain, in his best French, how he wanted his hair cut. She hauled out a catalogue of young, dashing men modelling different hair styles, which made it even more difficult! Anyway she got on with it, gabbling in French, which was hard to keep up with while sounding intelligent, and the outcome was a little shorter than intended!
Decorative cabbages, which Sandi loves, in the streets of Chantonnay.

The nearby village of Mouilleron-en-Pareds is proud of its good patisserie and of being the birthplace of Georges Clemenceau. The streets were full of lovely autumn colours.
We took a frosty walk up on the hill to look at the old windmills [which give the village its name] and the views over the countryside.
One of the mills now contains a tiny, round chapel!

After several days of rain we found two crops of mushrooms growing in the garden.
They looked like the brown mushrooms we buy in the shops, but to be sure David took one to the pharmacie to be identified. Unfortunately the young pharmacist didn’t really know, and wasn’t prepared to say whether we could eat them or not. One of the English neighbours, David, said he would eat them, so we decided to have some for supper. They were delicious, but Sandi stayed awake most of the whole night, just to make sure we didn't stop breathing. A few days later we took some of the second crop to another pharmacy in Chantonnay, and the older pharmacist had no hesitation in giving us the OK. So we picked the whole crop with glee!

On another sunny day [there have been only three in two weeks!] we drove to the little village of Vouvant; reputedly one of the most beautiful villages in France. It is an old village on a hill surrounded on three sides by the river Mere.
The Melusine tower forms part of the old ramparts.
The Church of Notre Dame has a high ceiling, but is without much adornment, except for the Norman carvings around the door.
From there we went for a walk in the Forest of Mervent-Vouvant and saw plenty of holly, some plants even sporting a few bright red berries on the tallest branches. We couldn't resist bringing a few sprigs back to grace the kitchen table. The forest was originally owned by the lords of Mervent, then in 1674 became the Royal Forest; it is now a national park.

Posted by davidsandi 08:30 Archived in France

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