Things I love about France.

Whilst walking Mimi this late afternoon with the temperature around 28C I was watching the different families and friends enjoying the heat.  It struck me that the blue skies and sunshine make for a very different outlook on life.  As soon as there is a glimpse of sun, people of all ages come together and enjoy incredibly well organised picnics and walks. I am always impressed at the style shown.  There is almost always a tablecloth, picnic hampers, with delicious food, cool bags and lots of games, where competition runs high within different age groups and sexes!  I love the way they find themselves an attractive spot and settle for a period of fun and relaxation.  I am also in awe of the speed in which they are able to pack up and leave in a matter of minutes and rarely leave any litter.

Recently I watched a group of adults enjoying the weather whilst playing three different games in rotation.  The first team were playing ‘Boules,’ the second ‘Molkky’ (a Finnish game with wooden skittles with numbers) and the third had a medium sized triangle with sections and they seemed to be throwing something at it.  I was intrigued by this one, as I have not seen it before and would dearly love to know what it is called and how to play it.  Any ideas please let me know!  I should have gone and asked, but was too timid and convinced myself that it would be rude to interrupt their concentration.  Well it might have!

At the end of term moving towards the school summer holidaysthere is often what is called a “Kermesse.”   This is an outdoor party with lots of games for children and a “refreshment bar” where you can eat and drink and enjoy the atmosphere.  It is often finished off in the evening with music and fireworks.  Recently I was walking near the local celebration when I spotted a very different version of a three-legged race.  Several sets of identical planks of wood each had three types of matching footwear attached.  There was a pair of men’s boots, next some small shoes and finally a pair of average sized shoes all spaced the same distance apart enough for a person to step into them.  The laughter and skill was hilarious as each team had to work out how to walk initially and then race against others.

Another popular event is the “marche gourmande,’ organised by the local community.  It involves a walk around the environment up to a distance of approximately 10k.  There are stopping off points, which is good for the faint hearted or less active. The first is for ‘aperitifs’ consisting of drinks and canapés.  This is known in our family as ‘time for a pair of teeth,’ as uttered by my delightful grandson. The second is for ‘entrees with wine’ and at the finish there is a meal with of course more wine provided by the local vineyards.  Approximately 1000 people were catered for in our local village recently and clearly a good time was had by all.

I really do feel that having a pleasant climate brings families, friends and communities closer together and enables events to occur outside, which is much less stressful than cleaning the house after a massive party!

 

 

 

Idle thoughts!

Bonjour 

What a beautiful fresh morning after days of high humidity and distant rumblings we have had several spectacular thunderstorms. The first one while I was walking Mimi at the nearby lakes yesterday afternoon sounded like two lots of thunder vying against each other playing a game of “l can crash louder than you can!”  However, the second one during the night was even more spectacular with the lightening ‘eclairage’ staying directly above and flashing over and over. Needless to say Mimi was not impressed. 

However, back to today, as the garden shows its appreciation for the rain after a long spell of dry weather and the perfume from the roses and honeysuckles drifts in the air, I yet again think how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful place.

I read recently that there was a decline in songbirds in some French gardens. Absolutely not so here as there is a veritable cacophony of sound compounded by a couple of the hens bragging very loudly about the eggs they have just laid.  I wish I was more proficient at recognising which delightful song belongs to which beautiful bird. 

Ah well time to think about getting some work done I suppose 😉 

 

Spring stirrings.

Once again I am extremely grateful to previous guests for their kind reviews and am very happy to receive my Booking.com 2017 reviews award.  It is gratifying to see that it has gone higher than the previous year to 9.6 and it gives me pleasure to see that visitors have really enjoyed their stay in Chez Mimi.

Wandering around the garden yesterday after a period of high winds and rain I was delighted to see the lovely signs of spring beginning to appear.   Within a few days spots of colour are starting to show.  There is a little group of purple crocuses or should I say croci appearing in my flowerbed that I redesigned last year.  I was a little concerned that I may have lost some during the changes however, they are proving to be strong little plants.  Other leaves are starting to shoot and I look forward to seeing what appears.  I am happy to see that my honesty plants seem to have survived since they were planted from seed last season.  At least I hope that is what they are! They were included in a lovely gift that involved my getting to see the Chelsea Flower Show (see a previous blog) last year. 

As I write this I can see a myriad of different birds visiting the bird feeders.  They are very greedy and the dough balls especially seem to last less than two days.  It is not easy to find shelled peanuts here in France and as it is quite a task to sit and open them they become a rarer treat.  The hens are scratching around in the new bark chippings that were purchased a few days ago and seem to have found favour with them.

Bookings are starting to come in for this season with some reservations for July and August already.  The early birds have already bagged the period for the Tour de France, which is passing so close to us this year starting at the beautiful island of Noirmoutier and then travelling even nearer to Chez Mimi.  All in all looks like the beginning of another busy year.  Looking at information received from the tourist information offices in both Vendee and Loire Atlantique there are plenty of exciting things to do and see.  I am determined to get back to the Jardin des Plantes in Nantes and have just been reading about a Japanese inspired park - Ile de Versailles - so that is on my itinerary too!  There is always somewhere new to visit and favourite places to revisit.

 

 

 

Season ending and forward planning.

It is with much chagrin that I begin this post and realise that I have not written a blog for months. I will plead gardening in the early part of the year and a busy summer with lots of new guests and a returnee family from last year.  Again I feel very lucky that our visitors have been extremely nice and that they have enjoyed staying at Chez Mimi.   Those with children seem to have especially enjoyed the garden and the pirate ship/playhouse. I have been totally entertained by the sheer imagination and scope of the games played and now realise that pirate vocabulary transcends many languages!

Next year should prove exciting as the Tour de France starts on the 7 July 2018.  The Grand Depart from Noirmoutier, (always a fabulous  place to visit) will take the Peleton down the coast past Les Sables D'Olonne (of the Vendee Globe round the world yachting race fame) before heading inland to finish at Fontenay le Compte.  The route passes within 35 to 40 minutes drive from Chez Mimi.  The following day, Sunday 8th July passes within 5 kilometres taking in Les Lucs sur Boulogne, Beaufou, Palluau, La Chapelle Palluau and on to Aizenay before finishing at La Roche sur Yon. This provides an excellent opportunity for picnicking nearby and supporting your favourites riders and teams. The following two days are also within driving range with a team time trial at Cholet and a day's stage starting at La Baule (another beautiful place to visit) going into Brittany. 

Meanwhile we are moving towards Autumn.  We have had a very hot dry summer and the leaves are beginning to turn.  It always seems very strange how the seasons are just that bit ahead of the UK.  In my head, August is haymaking time but here most of it was done and dusted in June and July.  Any time now we will be hearing the machinery at the Cave, across the road, begin the process of making the various local wines after the Vendage.

I hope that you have had a pleasant summer period too!

 

Christmas Wishes

I  am somewhat horrified to find that it has been so long since my last post and am more than bemused at my tardiness!  However, since our last visitors departed and as Chez Mimi is closed this Christmas I think I have been somewhat switched off  (at least that's my excuse!)  

In my defence I have been very busy knitting for The BAY Foodbank in North Tyneside.  During my last visit to England I went to see "I, Daniel Blake" with my daughter. She was so moved by the film that she launched "We, North Tyneside" as a response and supported by my other daughter and a friend has created a movement that has created quite a stir and even got the support of Ken Loach the director, one of the actors, Kema and Jackie, a founding member of the food bank. (She was also in the film.)  Twenty schools and various local businesses including a hospital and art gallery have come on board. A huge amount of money has also been raised and will be used in February to buy more foodstuff and essentials.

We are hoping that this incredible support will continue long after the Christmas festivities have faded away as sadly, poverty and need will not disappear so quickly!  I have mixed emotions about this as I couldn't be more proud, but I am angry and frustrated that we have such need in this day and age.

Meanwhile back to here and now I want to take the opportunity to thank all of our visitors to Chez Mimi.  It has been such a pleasure to meet so many lovely families and friends and I take pleasure in the lovely notes in our visitors" book and such positive feedback from the various booking sites.  I also am happy to welcome our new visitors for 2017 especially our lovely returning Welsh family and I look forward to catching up next year.

It only remains for me to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and the hope that the New Year will bring peace and renewed optimism in these less than tranquil times.

 

 

 

 

Summer Recollections

It is difficult to find enough superlatives to describe what a fantastic summer season we have had here at Chez Mimi.  The weather has smiled on all our visitors both in my house and in the gite.  The garden has echoed with the sounds of happy voices, children playing and shrieks of laughter from the splash pool. There has been competitions galore in the garden play area, with outdoor chess, boules and a game called either Mokky or Kubb (or even just the stick game) where you throw a baton at wooden numbered blocks. My grandsons have improved their mental arithmetic whilst writing up the scoreboard.  The pirate ship has weathered the storms of daring pirates sallying forth with their "daring do's" (and occasional don'ts!)   Even parents have been spotted donning the pirate costumes and getting their photos taken to capture the moment! 

We have had many guests from a variety of countries, Italy, Belgium, England, Wales, Ireland and of course from various areas of France.  It has been a privilege to have met such lovely people and enjoy passing time with them and finding out where they have spent their time locally.  I have picked up a new set of favourite places and ideas for future guests and my family too.  Here at least we can be truly European and welcoming!

I am delighted to say one lovely family have rebooked for next August and we already have a couple of other bookings for 2017.  We feel like we will be welcoming back extended family members!  Our visitors book has been a delight to read and we have been overwhelmed  seeing the lovely comments. You can see copies of these on our reviews page.  It is gratifying to recognise that guests have felt comfortable and relaxed in Chez Mimi and that all that I had hoped for when it was being designed and built has come to fruition.  

The weather is still glorious - the garden less so sadly but I am sure that it will regenerate itself when the rain finally comes.

Escape Route

Well if you are anything like me and are still reeling with shock at the recent and ongoing events back in the UK, you may be pleased to know that Europe still offers a haven for holidaymakers ready to escape the pressures and worries of everyday life.

The garden here at Chez Mimi is beginning to come into its own and listening to the birdsong is a tonic in itself.  The pool is ready, warming up nicely ready for guests to soak up the sunshine, have some fun and fill the place with laughter - a much needed tonic.

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Blue skies, sun, excellent wines and good food are here ready to give you that much needed respite from the doom and gloom and enabling you to return fortified and ready for whatever the future may bring. 

Mini Adventures with Massive Enjoyment

It has been a while since I wrote a Chez Mimi blog and this is because I have been otherwise occupied visiting relatives both here in France and back home in England.

I was recently invited, by my lovely cousin Philippe, to visit him in Bordeaux and as I love spending time with him and had never been there before, I accepted with alacrity.  He duly collected me one Friday evening, en route from Nantes and we set off for what was an absolutely fabulous weekend.  That first evening was spent enjoying fabulous food in a lovely restaurant on the Quai by the Port of the Moon followed by a beautiful stroll around this stunning city.

 Bordeaux at night 

Bordeaux at night 

Saturday, saw us visiting St Emilion and exploring this lovely historic area dating back almost 2000 years.  It is built out of local yellow limestone, although its streets are paved with stones used as ballast from visiting English ships, obviously it was important to ditch them in order to fill up with all the beautiful wines!

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I loved the atmosphere and thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the chapel.  I think I understood most of what the guide was saying and of course Philippe was on hand to clarify any areas of uncertainty.  

The next day we visited the quayside market, en route Philippe showed me his local boulangerie, the bread is delicious and the shop oven needs to be part of a film set.

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I was particularly captivated by the cheese stall, so beautifully arranged that it was almost a shame to disturb it by buying the fabulous produce.

The rest of the day was spent exploring this fascinating city and being tempted by some fabulous chocolates and a cheeky glass of wine.  It would have been rude not to!!!! 

 Too many to choose from!

Too many to choose from!

Sunday was spent exploring Cap Ferret and trying to spy the largest dune in Europe.  Although the weather was warm and pleasant visibility was not so good. 

Within weeks of my return from Bordeaux, I was then whisked away again for a big family reunion on beautiful Belle Ile.  Several family members have had important birthdays this year so the party came together for a 50th, 40th and a 30th.  It was only my second visit to this stunning island, my first was for the wedding of my cousin Cecile to our quiet man Andre and that was a superb time etched in my bank of memories. Andre's family has farmed the land for generations and together the couple have added several fabulous gites adjacent to their home, enabling visitors to experience this fabulous place. Below is an except from the folklore of the island:

"According to legend, the fairies were driven from the forest of Brocéliande. They shed so many tears that they created the gulf of Morbihan and into this they threw their flowery crowns and so were formed the 365 islands of the gulf. Three of these coronets escaped unnoticed from the little sea and formed Houat, Hoedic and the most beautiful, Queen of the fairies - Belle Ile." 

 One of the many quiet little bays on the island

One of the many quiet little bays on the island

 View of the port and the imposing work of Vaubin

View of the port and the imposing work of Vaubin

Having had an absolutely fabulous time yet again, I had barely time to touch base, check on Chez Mimi and take off for a Granny visit and as it was half term I got to spend a few days, with them, in sunny, stunning Alston in Cumbria.

A highlight was the visit to Kilhope Mine.  The underground visit was thoroughly enjoyed by the youngest member of our party, but much less so by his older brother, who showed his courage by seeing it through!  The finding of treasure and a visit to the play area soon restored his equilibrium.   

On the recommendation of a friend, we went to explore a very beautiful garden centre named Larch Cottage.  What a beautiful place full of interesting nook, crannies and stunning plants guaranteed to inspire creativity.  Added to this, their cafe served totally delicious food - we were lucky enough to be on the sunny terrace, with a lovely view and surrounded by stunning wisteria. 

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However, all good things must come to an end so I am back in the Vendee with glorious weather, tending to the garden, adding the last few touches to Boaty Mac Boathouse and polishing up the gite for our summer visitors.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of BoatymacBoathouse

It all began from an idea.  A couple of years ago Gerry built a lovely little playhouse in the garden, which was well received not only by my grandsons (aged 4 & 5,) but also little visitors to Chez Mimi.  However, at Christmas I looked at my boys and realised that they had become mini giants and that unless they took a shrinking pill the doorway may pose a problem.

I began a tentative conversation with Gerry along the lines of what if we took down this playhouse and built a bigger one.  The idea was well received so many days of planning ensued and finally we had a more or less final version.  The plan was to build two rooms, one as a summer house for the adults in need of a quiet peaceful place to sip their wine and the other as a play area with an upper floor.  The play area would be designed as a ship, but each floor would be high enough for older children to stand up.  An internal staircase leading up to the map room and bridge (poop deck) with slide (gang plank) as the exit.

We decided to use as much recycled material as possible and managed to find some excellent windows and doors from the site "Leboncoin" (highly recommended.)  Additional windows were supplied by friends and with everything underway I duly departed for England as half term Granny.

On my return I was greeted with an amazing structure much bigger than I had anticipated but fabulous all the same.  Unfortunately, this is where we fell foul of local planning regulations and we received a registered letter from the local Maire informing us that we should have applied for planning permission BEFORE starting any building work.  We had not given that any thought as it was a wooden structure in the garden.  PANIC ensued and we deciphered the forms and understood that we could put this right by asking for retrospective permission.  The forms were filled in and taken to the Maire.  One week later we received another registered letter saying we had omitted some information so we supplied that and took it for the official stamp.  This week we have received a letter saying that the Mayor is happy with the paperwork and as long as we publicly display his permission alongside a planning board for two months and no-one objects we are ok.  OH THE RELIEF (with fingers still crossed!)

When the boys were here for Easter they had a marvellous time helping with finishing off jobs - hammering, drilling and sawing. Daddy and Mummy were not with us due to work commitments so didn't need to be aware of any potential risk factors!  During one lunch time we got around to the naming of the new playhouse.  Of course it wasn't that simple as one said "Boathouse' and the other said 'Houseboat."  So until a better suggestion comes along we have followed our esteemed boat namer and we have "BoatymacBoathouse."

There are still a few small finishing off jobs, but our current guests have two little ones, who have had great pleasure in running in, ascending the stairs and whooshing down the slide brandishing some very scary cutlasses!

My brother and his wife are arriving for a visit next week - we may have to have a launch party!!!! 

 

 

Voyager avec de jeunes enfants...comment survivre l'experience?

Voilà, c'est enfin l'heure des vacances. Je me vois déjà lire un bon livre au bord de la piscine, le temps que mon mari s'occupe de nos trois jeunes enfants (on peut toujours rêver, non?). Mais entre moi et cette piscine, il y a des centaines de kilomètres. Et pour y parvenir, il va  falloir faire le trajet avec nos chères têtes blondes. Que ce soit par train, voiture ou avion, la clé d'un trajet heureux, c'est d'être super organisé mais aussi et surtout, de ne pas s'attendre à un miracle. Ce ne sera jamais parfait.  

Avec mes filles de quatre et cinq ans, c'est facile. Leurs petites valises remplies de coloriages, cahiers de vacances et livres, et je ne les entends pas pendant au moins deux heures. Lors de trajets en avion, je leur donne aussi des bonbons au décollage et à l'atterissage pour aider avec leurs petites oreilles (je m'excuse auprès des lecteurs dentistes). 

Pour mon fils de tout juste deux ans et bien...je prie pour que les crises de larmes ne se manifestent pas trop souvent. Sa tétine n'est effective que pour quelques minutes. La seule chose qui marche vraiment, c'est à manger. Je lui prépare donc un sac chargé de bananes, chocolats, gâteaux, sandwich...tout y passe. Les films sur la tablette marchent plutôt bien, même si c'est une torture pour moi de survivre à 15 épisodes de Peppa... 

Auparavant, lorsque nous voyagions en avion/train, j'avais toujours la hantise de déplaire aux autres passagers. Maintenant, disons que je n'ai plus vraiment le temps ou l'envie de regarder autour de moi et de remarquer les regards de travers et les sourcils fronçés. Je refuse de me sentir coupable de voyager avec de jeunes enfants. Après tout, mes petits aussi font de leur mieux. Ils ne comprennent pas toujours pourquoi nous devons rouler pendant cinq heures, pourquoi il n'est pas possible de crier comme à la maison ou pourquoi les oreilles font mal en avion.  

Allez, on ferme les yeux, on inspire, on visualise cette piscine et ce bon livre (et accessoirement ce bon Martini). On y est presque. Bonnes vacances!

Are we nearly there yet? Travelling with young children...how to survive! 

Here we are! Finally, it's holiday time. I can already picture myself reading my book by the pool while my very helpful husband plays with our three little terrors (well, I can always hope, right?) But between the pool and me, there are a few hundreds miles to travel. Which means, we will have to travel all the way there with our oh so lovely and well-behaved children. 

Whether it's traveling by plane, car or train, the key to a peaceful journey is to be well prepared, but also and mainly not to expect a miracle. It will never be perfect.

With my 4 year old and 5 year old daughters, it's relatively easy. I just fill their little suitcases with crayons, crafty things and some books and we are unlikely to hear them for 2 hours. When travelling by plane, I also pack some sweets to give them at take off and landing to help with their little ears (apologies to any dentist readers).  

For my 2 year old son, I just pray really. He never falls asleep in a plane and rarely in the car. His dummy works for about a whole 5 minutes (see previous apologies). The only thing that seems to help every time is food. And a lot of it that is. Therefore, I fill his little suitcase with bananas, chocolate, biscuits, sandwiches, crisps, raisins...anything goes.

I used to get self conscious when travelling with the little ones, always hoping not to displease other passengers. Nowadays, especially as I sometimes travel on my own with them, I don't really have time to care as much. I'm sure there must still be the annoyed looks, tutting and sighs but, I must say, I don't give it much attention. Children don't necessarily always understand why they have to sit in a car for 5 hours, why they can't shout in the train like they do at home (and they do a lot of it) or why their ears sometimes hurt in a plane.

At the end of the day, they are children. So close your eyes, take a deep breath, visualise yourself by the pool with a book in one hand and ideally a white Martini on ice in the other. And yes, I promise we are nearly there. Happy holidays!

Awards and secret projects

I am delighted to receive my award stickers from Booking.com. It is really nice to receive recognition especially when it comes direct from the lovely people, who have stayed at Chez Mimi and have taken the time and trouble to send such positive feedback. It is also gratifying that Booking.com recognise that it requires a lot of hard work to ensure that guest accommodation is kept to a high standard and that working together we can provide excellent service for future guests.  My intention is to achieve a 'hotel' standard in a self catering setting where guests can feel at home whilst having a fabulous holiday in 'La Belle France."

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For guests arriving in 2016 we are currently working on a TOP SECRET PROJECT, which will be situated in the garden and should provide entertainment for adults and children alike.  Watch this space for more information and pictures in the near future!

C'est la Chandeleur

Ah la Chandeleur! Que de merveilleux souvenirs d'enfance à préparer la pâte, se battre pour être celui à faire sauter la première crêpe ou être celui à lécher la cuillère du pot de Nutella. 
Cette année encore on anticipe avec impatience. On en oublierait presque son sens. Cette fête religieuse bien ancrée dans la tradition française est en fait la commémoration de la présentation au temple de l'enfant Jésus, 40 jours après Noël.
Et chaque année, sans exception, je prends plaisir à trouver la pièce la plus brillante de mon porte-monnaie et de la serrer au creu de ma main en faisant sauter les crêpes, en espérant faire fortune dans l'année. J'attends toujours...

Local Information

Here is a link from our local Office de Tourisme giving lots of information about exciting events taking place locally from 15 January until 8 May 2016.  

Le magazine Sortir du  15 janvier au 8 mai 2016 sera prochainement disponible dans les commerces et mairies du Pays de Palluau.

https://fr.calameo.com/read/0004953547256da98a310

I have already spotted some possibilities for my diary. An exposition at Notre Dame de Montes on L'architecture et notre Territoire, an Exposition de Photos at Challans and Veillées Ligneronnaises at St Christophe du Ligneron.  Have fun practising your french whilst exploring the link to the magazine.

Have fun practising your french whilst perusing the pages!

 

A vous, chers passionnés de cyclisme?


Ah le plaisir de faire du vélo en Vendée. 

Il y a tout d'abord cette merveilleuse invention qu'est la Voie Verte. Cette liberté d'explorer la région à vélo. Ce plaisir de découvrir de nouveaux paysages sans avoir à se soucier du trafic. La voie verte ne cesse de se développer depuis les années 1970 en utilisant principalement des anciennes voies ferrées et chemins ruraux. De multiples circuits sont disponibles depuis Chez Mimi : le circuit des Lucs sur Bourgogne, celui de Froidfond ou encore celui de Maché.

Pour les amateurs de cyclisme, notez dans vos nouveaux agendas la 39éme édition de Cholet Pays de Loire les 19 et 20 mars. Différentes courses sont organisées, de 60km à 190km.

Et bien-sûr à ne surtout pas manquer, le Tour de France 2016, qui cette année passera en Pays-de-la-Loire, avec une arrivée à Angers le lundi 4 juillet et un départ à Saumur le mardi 5 juillet. Parfait pour partir à la journée de Chez Mimi et encourager les coureurs cyclistes.

Alors à vos vélos.

Bird Spotting!

Recently whilst travelling to visit friends, who have a beautiful ‘longere’ (long house) in the middle of the marais bordering between Vendee and Loire Atlantique; I felt like a child opening Christmas gifts.  On either side of the road in the myriad of water channels I spotted herons, egrets, moorhens and different varieties of ducks amongst the animals living and grazing in the marshes. It felt like a voyage of discovery even though it is less than 30 minutes by car.  My friend took us to the nearby Port du Collet where we walked Mimi and enjoyed looking across the vast horizon towards America.

A few days later I went to visit our “English Shop,” which is situated rurally on the route towards St Christophe du Ligernon and as I was about to turn down the road towards it, I was delighted to spy what I think was an eagle.  It was huge, very black and had been by the roadside with its prey. It took off as I passed by.  As always I was driving and not able to catch it on camera.  Handy as it is the one on my phone is just not good enough for such occasions even if I was quick enough.

These lovely encounters set me thinking and I have listed the number of different species that I see on an almost daily basis.  This list is staggeringly long:

On the routes when going dog walking:

Sparrow Hawks

Hen Harriers

Falcons

Buzzards

Kestrels

Jays

Redstarts

Magpies

Grouse

Pheasants

Red Legged Partridges

In the garden:

Robin

Sparrows

Thrushes

Blackbirds

Blue Tits

Cold Tits

Long Tail Tits

Great Tits

Chaffinches

Gold Finches

Green Finches

I have also seen a Hoopoo, a Nut Hatch and a Woodpecker, though not recently sadly.  There are many more species; however, I don’t know their names.  Currently we have a resident owl, but as he doesn’t starting calling until the early hours I am unsure of his pedigree either!

Looking forward to the spring, we are always blessed with House Martins, Swallows and Swifts although I must confess I struggle to remember which is which.

I have not attempted to include any of our coastal species, of which there are many, as I think they should be left for visitors to Chez Mimi to see how many they can tick off their lists.

La Sainte-Barbe

The 4th December marks another fascinating French tradition as towns and villages across France prepare to celebrate la Sainte-Barbe. And as I have just discovered as a new villager, Saint-Etienne-du-Bois is no exception.


Sainte-Barbe, a young woman believed to have lived in the 3rd century, is thought to have been a martyr who, after being tortured with fire for becoming Christian, was executed by her own father. As a punishment, he was struck by lighting and consumed by flames. Yes, a little bit dramatic. 


Sainte-Barbe is now known as the patron of all workers who use explosives such as artillerymen, military engineers, miners, and, most famously, she is the protector of firemen. Today, in Saint-Etienne-du-Bois, we gather at a ceremony held at the Fire Station and dance at the Firemen’s Ball in the name of the Sainte-Barbe, hoping she will continue to protect our firemen...and mostly toasting to her. Santé!

Exploring these old traditions has spurred us on to start preparations for Chez Mimi's first Christmas and guests.  Let's hope that they enjoy seeing the Christmas tree with its fairy lights and decorations as much as we do!

 A tinsel welcome

A tinsel welcome


 Without it's fairy lights 

Without it's fairy lights 

Visitor Benefits

The nicest thing about having family and friends as visitors is that it gives us the opportunity to take ourselves off to revisit our favourite places and also to seek out new places.  Whilst we were busy renovating our house and then moving on towards creating Chez Mimi our time was completely taken up with practical activities and endless visits to our nearest DIY shops.  Now that we have come to an end, we have time to welcome guests and take great pleasure in showing off the many varied and interesting attractions nearby.

On a recent visit from some English/Irish friends we revisited a real favourite: "La Chabotterie" at St Sulpice-le-Verdon.  Here you can discover "l'esprit de la Vendee" and trace the life and times of Charette known as 'le Roi de la Vendee.'  The manor house has recently been refurbished with some new additions and is well worth a visit.   As we had Mimi with us, I remained outside and enjoyed walking in the great park and its surrounding area whilst the rest of the party visited the interior.  Well, at least I was enjoying strolling along and taking in the view with the dog off the lead until I caught sight of a magnificent bird of prey. I was about to take a photo when Mimi shot past me chasing a beautiful hare, so that was a photo opportunity missed and as for the hare, the dog didn't catch it thankfully!  Anyway the two of us continued towards General Charette's memorial until I came upon a number of posters informing me that the park area was closed for "La Chasse" and hearing shots in the distance I felt I was in the midst of re-enactment of the final days of the famous leader.  So I grabbed the dog and hurried back to the safety of the inner gardens and outbuildings and reflected upon the several exciting near misses I had experienced in the beautiful grounds.

The grounds are also host to one of Vendee's stunning restaurants and I have it on good authority that the food is exceptional. Booking is an absolute must and there is often a long waiting list.  However, it is not surprising when you are tempted by the following:

L´AUTOMNE A LA CARTE

Les plats de la carte changent régulièrement au fil du marché. 

Parfait d’artichaut, fine flammenkueche et noisettes   39 €

Langoustine poêlée,arlequinade de choux fleur et huile vanillée   42 €

Crustacés rôtis, Légumes du potager   85 €

Poisson petit bateau du jour   53 €

Volaille de chez Cosnet, caillette d’abattis, sauce Albufera 51 €

Canard rôti déclinaison autour de la Poire et de la Figue   54 €

Le Chariot de fromages sélectionnés et affinés par

le Maître fromager Pascal Beillevaire et la Maison Bordier   18 €

The above is just a small sample of the delights awaiting you but beware 'l'addition' will not be small!

Returning to the manor house I was fascinated by a collection of old tools, lamp and jacket in the outhouses.  I fancied that the workman had just placed them there whilst he went in search of food or a drink. 

My reveries were broken by the return of our guests and I was once again back in the 21st Century enjoying the autumn sunshine.

 

 

 

 

Autumn Pursuits

Well one would think that after a hectic summer, life would settle down to a quiet routine.  Time for pottering in the garden, sorting those pesky little jobs that have always somehow slid on to the back burner and generally meandering towards Christmas preparations and visitors.

Not a bit of it.  The machinery is still thumping away at the Cave preparing all that delicious new wine.  The tractors are still passing backwards and forwards carrying hay bales, crops and winter fodder.

This lovely sunny Sunday morning has had the peace and quiet shattered; firstly by at least 100 hundred motor bikes doing some sort of cross country trek. I am still trying to work out where they were heading for as they were using the back roads from Lege going towards Grande Landes - who knows?

This was followed by another set of bikes a much smaller group heading in the direction of St Etienne du Bois

 One of about 20!

One of about 20!

Then about half an hour later sheer utter excitement as a huge procession of veteran and vintage cars of all shapes and sizes waving and hooting as they passed by Chez Mimi on route to .....?

However, one person has certainly settled for the quiet life.  This lovely little caravan named "Vita Pura" stayed a couple of nights next to the lake at Lege.  The horses were beautifully groomed and he seemed to have his life pared down to the minimum save for one concession to modern life.  I noticed he had pegged out a solar panel to catch the sun and generate enough power charge his batteries at least.

Ah well back to creating enough space in the freezer to store the blanched french beans. 

 

 

Les Vendanges

The last couple of weeks have been filled with the constant to and fro-ing of huge interestingly shaped machines.  After a long dry and hot summer the weather turned fickle for the grape harvest and this week has been a mixture of sun and showers not unlike English, April weather conditions.  However, this has not deterred the wine growers and the annual harvest has begun.  The air is filled with the heady scent of brewing and there is much shouting of instructions over the sound of the machines.  It all bodes well, as apparently this has the makings of being a great year for French wines.  (I will let you know later, possibly quite a while later, or better still come and visit and sample for yourselves - hic!)

I am hoping that our current guests; three couples and a baby were not woken too early by the thump, thump of the grape crushing machines that started work before 6am this morning. They have gathered to celebrate their friends' wedding in the nearby village of St-Paul-Mon-Petit and you nearly always need stamina for a French marriage celebration. A wedding usually starts at the local Maire for the official part and  depending upon personal choice is followed by a second ceremony in a Church or other special place.  In between there is pause for canapés and drinks of course.  The second ceremony is usually followed by a wedding reception with more delicious food and drink and the popular choice for the cake is a 'Croquembouche,' which is a pyramid of cream filled choux puff pastry balls encircled in caramelised sugar. Deliciously light and crunchy in the mouth.  The cake is presented with a fanfare and much chanting for "Le Gateau" and can be huge depending on the number of guests, who would normally be served three or four per person!

The party will go on until the early hours and sometimes includes the guests following the tradition of ensuring that the couple have celebrated their nuptials by visiting the wedding chamber with a special soup, which the couple would be expected to sample.  Questionable antics on many counts - not least the ingredients of the soup!  

Quite often there will be a wedding breakfast on the day after the wedding ensuring that the  guests make their way home with a final few drinks, food and plenty of singing and goodwill.  Such a relief that we can rely upon the Vendanges to keep plentiful supplies of wine.