A Tale of Two Châteaux

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France is a country full of surprises. It is a land of two characters, one a hi-tech modern nation capable of putting satellites into space, a nation that pushes the frontiers of modern medicine and makes the world’s largest passenger plane, and the other an ancient landscape of quiet villages in a countryside where chickens peck at passing car tyres and flowers flow over old crumbling walls, a checkwork pattern of wild and homogenised views, when old women still sell surplus pumpkins and the Sunday roast comes from the hen-house. Studded like fantastical chess-pieces across this glorious melange of a landscape are France’s châteaux, triumphant buildings that echo the fortunes of those who built them, and each has a tale to tell from a chequered past. Read more

WHERE THE ROAD TAKES US

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When I was little there was nothing I loved more than exploring around the family farm of my childhood; on my pony, far off the beaten track, it didn’t really matter where I went.  But an unknown lane or a tiny path I had not previously seen meant one thing and one thing only to my inquisitive mind; where would I end up? And when my grandparents came to stay, they would always take my sister and I out for a drive in my grandfather’s pride and joy, his beautiful vintage Rover. Back in those days in England, it was the era of the Sunday afternoon drive, a bone of contention for anyone local and in a hurry for Sunday afternoon drivers slowly cruised along, always looking this way and that with little regard for other traffic. We would join this group playing our favourite game, ‘Left or Right’; at each junction we came to we took it in turns to call which way to go and my grandfather would duly oblige. Frequently we had no idea where we would end up but that was what made it so special, not knowing what we would come across around the next corner.

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Earlier this week, my husband and I did just the same one morning. Having deliberately cleared our desks the night before, we quickly grabbed a cup of coffee and our cameras and jumped in the car on a little exploratory trip after dropping the children off at school. We truly didn’t know where we were going as we headed off into the country, beetling down tiny narrow lanes we had never driven before. All we knew was that the sky was the most perfect blue, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful early spring day; this post is about some of the places we discovered all within half an hour of our house!

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The roads got smaller and we found tiny hamlets we never knew existed; we came upon villages that we had previously seen signposted but we had never visited.

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On our travels, we came across the most fascinating sign below, proudly announcing the entrance to a village without pesticides. We had never seen such a sign and it more than peaked our interest. As we’re really not fond of the use of pesticides and chemicals ourselves we wanted to know more. Now, what many of you may not know is that every town and village in France has a Mayor (or Mayoress), even if sometimes the Mayor is in charge of two small villages close together. And in each village, the local Mairie will be open for a few hours a day; even if the Mayor himself is not there, the Mayor’s assistant will be, and they are always a fountain of all knowledge. So, having seen this sign, we found the village’s Mairie and went inside to find out exactly what this meant.

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It turned out that since 2007 every community in the Poitou-Charentes region has had an invitation to become part of a movement called ‘Terre Saine’ – a movement dedicated to the voluntary removal of as many pesticides in the countryside as possible. We cannot wait to return in summer for we know the hedgerows will be full of tiny wild flowers, the trees will be covered in leaves, and the blackberries growing wild will be free of chemicals.  Armed with this new found knowledge we continued our little adventure,

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we spied a ruin in the distance which led us even deeper into the unknown as we tried to find it.

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When we finally tracked down the crumbling edifice we found a small information board that let us know that this was ‘La Tour de Broue’. The tower pictured is all that is left of an ancient 11th century fort, situated 27 meters high on a hill that once had the Golfe de Brouage lapping saltwater at its feet each high tide. Designed to give protection and strength to the workers in the fledgling salt industry of that time, it was abandoned in the 18th century as the sea retreated, forming the final part of the vast complex of marais – the marshlands that are a part of the Charente-Maritime’s rich history.  Today only a scattering of ravens haunt it’s lonely ruins, a grim reminder perhaps of when death and desolation was part and parcel for the inhabitants of this rough but stunning countryside.

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I hope you have enjoyed exploring with me and have a fabulous week.