Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easter (rain) Bonnets!

Easter was early this year, its true, but as we had experienced some warm (16 degrees) sunny days towards the end of March, we were hopeful of some friendly weather for our Easter guests - primarily cyclists. Unfortunately, it was not to be!

Our first guests of the Easter break were Karen and Chris, who would (I think) describe themselves as from New Zealand, although Chris was born in the UK and both have been working there for a while. Their break started off hopefully, a sunny first day's ride to medieval Chinon. I'm afraid it all went a bit downhill from there - with two days of wind and rain and although there were some sunny intervals, those of you who are regular cyclists or aware of the Law of Murphy, will guess that the heaviest rain showers occured when they were on a section of the route entirely without shelter! Thankfully the weather was slightly better for their last day - a lovely ride along the Loire river to Villandry chateau and gardens.

Our second cyclists of the weekend arrived on the shower-filled Thursday - although we did manage a welcome drink in the sunny courtyard. This group arrived from the Isle of Man, although only Georgia is a true Manx - Lynton and Marc are originally from South Africa and Charmaine from Ireland. As a break from the weather, they had booked a day's wine tour with Mark on the Saturday so on that day were mostly wet on the inside! They spent the day with Catherine and Elizabeth, American visitors taking a break from their textile studies in the north of France.

Of course the day the final Easter guests left, the sun came out and has been shining every day since! This did mean we could take Sebastian, our German exchange student, to visit Langeais chateau in dry weather. I have posted some photos of the chateau and gardens on our facebook page.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

French Lessons!

Once you have been living in France for a while, your language skills improve, beyond being able to order your morning pain in the boulangerie. We have been here for almost 8 years now and now that I am more confident in speaking French (I label myself competent rather than fluent) I want to use more subtlety in my speaking, and to be as correct as I can French person is ever going to mistake my strong English accent for a native one, but I hope at least they realise that I can speak the language.

So I am keen to use the right term when there are (seemingly) several you can use in any given situation.

My favourite example is bonjour and bonsoir and at what moment of the day you should switch from one to the other. Mark was taught at school that it is 6.00pm and so he sticks to this rule (and why not?) Claudine, wife of our local mayor and also a friend, knows this, and so when we meet in the late afternoon/early evening she makes a great show of looking at her watch before greeting Mark 'appropriately'! My own experience of when to use which word has lead me to the conclusion that the rule is...whatever word I choose the person I am greeting ALWAYS uses the other!! So at 'that' time of day, I wait for my friends to say hello first and just copy whatever they say!

Another interesting phrase (or phrases) is the translation of 'see you soon'. Easy,'s à bientôt? Well, sometimes but not usually. Again, it all depends. My unscientific study of this phrase has led me to the following rules of thumb:

If you are going to see someone very soon (for example, I phone a neighbour to ask if I can pop round now to visit) you use à toute suite - see you straight away.

If I phoned this friend though and arranged to call round an hour later, I would say à tout à l'heure - see you later.

If I phoned in the morning to arrange an afternoon visit - à cet après-midi - see you this afternoon -would be used.

When chatting with someone and on leaving, you want to say 'see you soon', what you say still depends...if its someone you see regularly (a mum outside the school gates) then à demain - see you tomorrow - will be good. A friend you see from time to time with no regularity - à plus - see you again - and a friend who you see fairly often would (at last) get the phrase à bientôt.

Even though I know the theory of all the above, I still regularly use the 'wrong' phrase, but as we say here in France c'est pas grave!

A bientôt!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Theme Park to open in Angers

It's true, we are to have a new theme park right on our doorstep!

Due to open in April 2010, Terra Botanica will cover 110,000 square metres and will be the first theme park in Europe devoted to plant life. So, as there will be no Mickey Mouse or Asterix to entertain, what can we expect from this new park?

According to the press release, there will be aquatic spaces, greenhouses and 40 attractions and activities, providing fun and education for young and old alike. I have had a look at the park map and it does seem that there will be plenty to do, although I would say a passing interest in plants, natural science or just learning new things will probably ensure you have a good day!

The park is split into 4 separate areas (classic theme park-style this!) Coveted, Tamed, Generous and Mysterous Plants, each with its own 'headline' show or attraction, quizzes and games for children, and areas to wander and enjoy the plants which fit that area's theme.

In the Coveted Plants area, you travel back in time to the great botanic adventurers of the 18th century, who brought back to Europe exotic new plants and spices. Highlight of this section of the park is a special effects film where guests take their own voyage of discovery, ending up by 'disembarking' from the ship into a vast hothouse recreating the jungles of South America.

In the Generous Plants section, the highlight of the visit is a trip down a river, crossing through the rich natural heritage of Anjou. Guests are able to learn about plants which 'give' so much to man - medicinal plants, vines (of course!) and traditional trades.

In Mysterious Plants guests will learn about the science of plants and really get 'up close' in the headline show -a 4-D film where visitors follow the journey of two water droplets which travel from the roots up to the leaves of a tree. In this section younger guests will enjoy the prehistory sections and the pedal-driven nutshells which travel high above the trees.

The final section is Tamed Plants; all about how Man has used, and continues to use, the rich resources of plants in his daily life. The jewel in the crown of this area is the Extreme Glasshouse where in the space of a few steps you travel from the Arctic to the desert via a tropical rainforest.

The park is due to open on 10th April - so if you come and stay during the Easter holidays you may get to visit - and will be open daily from May to September. Admission prices are 17.50 for adults and 10.00 euros for children - with family tickets also available. The park is about 45 minutes drive from us. We will be visiting as soon as we can after opening day, so check back on the blog for photos and our family's review!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

First Discovery Tour of 2010

Hot on the heels (or as hot as you can get in the Loire Valley in January!) of our first cyclists, Suzanne and Gabriel joined us for a chateau discovery tour.

Gabriel had booked the stay way back in mid-2009 so it was great to finally meet them both. Like so many of our guests, they both have interesting stories to tell of their life and previous travels, so we end up learning about this whilst we help them discover the treasures of this wonderful corner of the world.

Unfortunately, the day they arrived they were feeling under the weather with upset tummies; this didn't stop them visiting the medieval town of Chinon, with its cobbled streets, gabled houses and the chateau where Joan of Arc persuaded the Dauphin to rise up against the English during the 100 years war (for some reason our non-English guests love this story!) In the evening they had a meal at the Ancre d'Or which, despite its name (Golden Anchor) is neither a pub nor has a nautical theme. It does serve plain, good value food in a relaxed atmosphere - just what the doctor ordered.

During their stay they also visited the gardens of Villandry chateau - impressive even in the depths of winter - as well as the chateau and town of Azay le Rideau. They also enjoyed several wine tastings, including Veuve Amiot, a sparkling wine-maker in Saumur. The visit includes a tour of the underground caves and an explanation of the wine-making process, which is similar to champagne although, of course, they can't call it that because the wine isn't from there.

Suzanne and Gabriel left us to visit Holland before going to their separate 'homes' on different continents. I hope it's not indiscreet to mention they have plans to marry soon and we wish them both every happiness in their life together.

Monday, January 11, 2010

First Cyclists of 2010

You may be forgiven for reading the title, checking the date, and doing a double-take! But there's no mistake, it is really 11th January 2010 and our first cyclists of the season have just left us.

James, Tracy and their children Henry and Arthur, from Australia, spent 3 nights with us and explored this wonderful area by bike. Not deterred by the winter temperatures (it was 40 degrees when they left home in mid-December), this hardy (crazy? - James's own description, not mine) family wrapped up warm and went out for an adventure.

On their first day, they visited the chateau at Langeais - one of the few fortified ('real') castles in the region, dating back to the 10th century. It has a working drawbridge, arrow slits in the tower walls and beautifully decorated rooms. On the day of their visit there was a log fire roaring in the enormous chimney - which has a fascinating double-backed bench set in front of it - you can turn the seat back to face the fire, or away from it - so you can toast each side of you in turn!

Outside in the chateau gardens is a newly installed, 3 storey tree house as well as a couple of play areas, so something to keep little ones amused. Just outside the chateau enatrance is a not-to-be-missed salon de the with mouth-watering cakes and chocolates - just what you need to fortify you for a cycle ride in the cold.

On their second day, the family visited the Abbey at Fontevraud, arguably most famous as the resting place of Richard the Lionheart (or at least part of him, depending on the guide book!) The whole building is enchanting, with a very mixed history - it was still being used as a prison up until 1985.

From the village, there is a great downhill ride through the fields to the riverside village of Montsoreau. On the day our guests visited there was the monthly Puces (flea-market) along the quayside, but a visit any time is interesting - the chateau, river, visitor centre, cafes and restaurants, the mushroom caves as well as the handmade soap manufacturer mean there is something for everyone. From here it is a gentle (flat!) 15km ride 'home'.

The Gallaghers enjoyed two meals here during their stay (we had sparkling wine to celebrate Tracy's birthday the first night) which included a Galette des Rois. On their remaining evening they visited La Table d'Alexis, a great bistro-style restaurant in Bourgueil with an ever-changing menu. Alexis uses lots of local, organic produce and although not on the current menu, was happy to prepare escargots for Arthur - the snails are reared by at a farm just 8km away from us.

The family have now moved on to a stay in Paris, as many of our 'long-haul' guests do. They prove that you can come on a Loire Valley Break all year round, and certainly qualify for our hardiest family yet - anyone out there want to challenge for that prize?

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Welcome to our new blog! We will be keeping you updated with what's happening at Loire Valley Breaks, the Loire region generally and anything else which we think you may find interesting!

We'd love your feedback, comments and suggestgions to help us improve our blogs!

Debbie and Mark