Our friend Bear contacted us while we were in West Yorkshire, to ask if we could extend our stop-over with them, to look after the cats and booked guests for a week, while she visited her very ill mother in Sheffield. We crossed the Channel from Dover and, having landed in Calais, we set off on the long road to Vendée. We were amazed at how much of the land in France is used for agriculture; maize, sunflowers, wheat, beets, rape-seed, fruits and vines, and beautiful, sturdy charolais cattle everywhere.
Not only was the French terroir enticing, but we witnessed the most spectacular red sun sinking slowly down as we approached Rouen. We wanted to park in an Aire for the night, but in order to find one we had to get onto the peáge autoroute. We eventually found one and settled down for the night [the toll cost us €11 but the parking was free].
En route we crossed the mighty Loire river.
We arrived at la Maison Neuve the next afternoon, and soon our chums, Bear and Bob, were finalising their plans to catch a plane to Leeds and a ferry to Plymouth. Having been primed by Bear regarding the needs of their expected guests we were to mind, we looked forward to meeting them. Once we had greeted the French ladies for the chambres d’hotes and given them their breakfast, we welcomed a young English couple booked into one of the gites [holiday cottage]. All that remained of our duties were to water the garden and feed the cats, birds and squirrels.
The courgettes grew so fast they became marrows in the blink of an eye.
We so enjoyed being back in Vendée, just loving the relaxed lifestyle. Contrary to our previous visit, when we were escaping the Venetian freeze at New Year, the weather was hot and bright all week with the temperatures in the 30s.
We're not sure who was enjoying the sunshine more - us, or the darling moggies.
Flattened by the heat
We started doing Qigong [thanks to Simon's instruction] in the back garden, facing the river, with the solid farmhouse behind us. Perfect placement!
La Maison Musings ......... To stand outside at dusk, at about 9pm, and soak in the simmering end of the day, is heavenly. There is a calmness, in spite of the beads of sweat on the skin and the buzz of myriad flies and bees [frantically finishing their business before the light goes]. Occasionally there is a slight breeze, wafting the scent of lilac and roses from the climbers around the door. The Little owl and her fledgling scrutinise the courtyard, from the safety of the chimney pot, “chirring” raucously whenever a cat saunters into their sights. Then without a flutter, they glide into the chestnut tree nearby.
Lord of "Owl" he surveys.
Long shot of Captain Inscrutible.
The light finally fades and even the hum quietens down, as one reluctantly steps back inside.
We picked the last of the cherries with a long ladder, and clusters of blackcurrants, which were delicious as a coulis with crème fraiche. Enjoying leisurely, late suppers in the big farm kitchen is bliss, especially the very affordable crevettes, duck a l’orange and galettes. We also really enjoyed visits to the French supermarkets, picking out the delicacies we had been hankering after since our last visit. What a pleasure to savour these treats again, but this time in the sunshine, under the umbrella, with the cats snoozing nearby or flirting with us for tidbits .
Apple tart making, with evidence of our personal red wine tasting in progress.
We came down one morning to make tea, and saw the baby red squirrel, who had been keeping its distance, way up the drive at its own tree-trunk feeding hatch, having a feast on the bird feeder outside the kitchen window. Such a thrill!
It was soon joined by its mother, and we revelled in the spectacle, taking lots and lots of photos.
Mama peanut cruncher.
Red squirrels are almost extinct in Britain, as they have been squeezed out by the hardier, and more aggressive, grey squirrels.
On Saturday we visited the market at Fontenay-le-Comte, which was bustling and far bigger than the one we had visited in winter.
We had some delicious [if somewhat light] galettes for lunch, in the shady garden of a little restaurant. Since the temperature had soared to a very humid 38 °C, we needed the shade. Even the pastis with ice-cubes and cold water didn't help to lower the internal temp!
The charming young English couple staying in the gite introduced us to France Passion, a different approach to camping. It requires an annual membership, which allows for an overnight stay on selected French farms and vineyards. You simply choose a site, arrive and greet your hosts, and stay overnight for free! While some sites are grand and provide well for campers, other sites have rather limited facilities. It promised a fun way to meet the locals and get away from the big campsites.
One sunny afternoon we went for a walk in the Mervent forest, where we had picked holly in the winter. We had just been reading about snakes and snake-bites in France, so Sandi was adamant about keeping to well-defined paths, while David poo-pooed the whole idea - in spite of there being a dead snake on the road en route to the forest. Portent of things to come, or self-fulfilling prophesy? The path we chose started out well, but soon became quite rustic. Suddenly there was an almighty rustle in the leaves to one side and Sandi saw a sturdy silver-grey whopper of a snake disappear beneath the leaves.
Much to David's dismay that was the end of the walk in that part of the forest! The rest of the walk proceeded rather sedately along an open bicycle track.
Bob and Bear returned at the weekend, and we started on the long journey towards Portugal and our time-share week. We had planned to visit Provence for a few days en route, but since our 2-day Vendéean stay had extended to a week, Plan-B was implemented. Provence would have to wait for our return from Spain. Fortunately we managed to secure a campsite near Avignon to coincide with the change of plans.
Our last supper in the Vendée was with friends, at a Pizzeria - not a Nye-favourite option [due to David's cheese and wheat allergies], but it was fun, even though we had hoped to finally get to eat at Le Donjon. We were amused to see that all the pizzas and pasta dishes were presented with a raw egg yolk on the top! This caused quite a bit of consternation at our table, as it was definitely not to everyone's taste. Maybe Italian food should be confined to Italian cooks?!
The journey back to La Maison, for our last sleep before hitting the road again, was illuminated by a beautiful full moon.