This is one of those mornings when I can't think about a blog post because I can't stop working with, processing, and editing photos. That doesn't mean I think they are the best photos ever. It just means I can't stop messing with them. They are photos I took in the town of Lapalisse. I'm posting some of them here.
Today I'm going to cook a culinary specialty of the Bourbonnais region that I didn't know about until recently. I don't know if I've said that Walt and I didn't go out to a single restaurant during our trip last week. We did get pizza from a pizza truck in the village we were staying in.
Otherwise, we ate food that we had taken with us or that we bought in supermarkets. Partly, that was because we weren't sure that Tasha was mature enough to spend time in a restaurant without misbehaving. We couldn't leave her alone in the rental we were staying in. And we didn't want to leave the dog by herself in the car for a long stretch of time.
The Bourbonnais specialty is one that I learned about from watching Les Carnet de Julie, which is French TV personality Julie Andrieu's show about French regional cooking and foods. It dawned on me last week that Andrieu might have done a show about the Allier/Bourbonnais area, and indeed she had — I found it on YouTube. And it turned out that I had watched it before, but I'd forgotten about it. I enjoyed seeing it again, in light of our travels in that area.
The Bourbonnais dish is called Canard à la Duchambais. It's duck thighs and drumsticks cooked in a sauce made with pureed or chopped liver — duck, chicken, veal, or pork liver, as you like — mustard, vinegar, and red wine. You might compare it to Coq au Vin, but with a few twists. More about that over the coming days. I need to get busy in the kitchen.
Walt has been posting some photos he took in the town of Lapalisse, not far from the spa town of Vichy in the Bourbonnais. We spent an hour or two there 10 days ago taking a walk, taking photos, and taking in the sights.
When we drove in, we could see the massive château in the distance, looming over the town. We stopped and stood on the roadway — no traffic! — to capture the view.
The existing château was built mostly in the 1500s, around the same time that Chambord and Chenonceau were being built in the Loire Valley. The architects and builders came in from Florence, in Italy. The town is about the same size as Saint-Aignan.
We parked next to the big church near the château entrance and walked around that neighborhood with Natasha on her leash. Walt has a special belt that he can attach the dog's leash to so that he has two hands free to operate his camera.
The year-old puppy was very well behaved both in the car and on our walks. Part of the point of this trip was to teach Tasha about traveling by car, staying in unfamiliar accommodations, and walking around in new surroundings. We plan to do more of these kinds of trips over the next few years.
We were so lucky with the weather last week, while we were traveling in the Allier. Given that we were both still recovering from bad chest and sinus colds, seeing the sun meant we could get outdoors and enjoy rehabilitating fresh air.
The Allier [ah-lee-'ay], by the way, is what is called a département in France. It's an administrative division that is more or less the equivalent of an American county. Départements sometimes correspond to older, pre-revolutionary territories that were called provinces and that were gradually united to form modern France.
French départements are often named after the rivers that flow through them. Saint-Aignan is is the département called the Loir-et-Cher because the Loir river flows across it from east to west in the northern part of the territory, and the Cher river flows the same way through the southern part. The next département to the west is the Indre-et-Loire, named for two rivers, and it corresponds to the historical province called La Touraine. The Allier is a river too — it flows from south to north through the département named after it, and the old province that covered basically the same territory was (and still is) called Le Bourbonnais.
The village of Agonges [ah-'gõzh], located near the administrative capital of the Allier département, Moulins, was first mentioned in writing in the late 12th century. The church was built during that period too, according to what I've read. It's in the northeastern part of the Allier, which is an area called Le Bocage bourbonnais, a rural area characterized by the hedgerows that delimit its fields and pastures. Large parts of Normandy and Brittany, as well as England, are give over to bocage, which one dictionary calls "farmland criss-crossed by hedges and trees".
The Michelin Green Guide to the old Auvergne province, of which the Bourbonnais is a part, says that the Notre-Dame d'Agonges church shows features of Auvergne architectural styles as well as features common in the Berry province to the west and the Bourgogne province to the west. The style is Romanesque in transition toward Gothic. If you know more about architecture than I do, you'll understand what that means. It has much to do with the form of the building's window arches and ceiling vaults.
« Agonges garde en témoignage de son histoire, somme toute quelque peu mouvementée... sa remarquable église de la fin du XIIème siècle, romane par son plan général, ses portails et chapiteaux, elle est aussi gothique par une voûte sur croisées d’ogives qui recouvre la nef. Les chapiteaux sont ornés de feuillages, d’animaux, de masques grimaçants, de personnages luttant contre des lions. » That, in French from this site, is sort of what I said above, and adds some information about the sculpted capitals on the pillars that hold up the church's vaulted roof.
The western façade of the church is very plain, but the area around Agonges is not. That same web site I linked to above says that Agonges is home to more châteaux than almost any village in the world — 13 of them! Only one is open to the public, however. It's the Château de l'Augère, which I posted about last week, with a photo. Some of the others are listed on this web site.
By the way, it just occurred to me that there's a church in the neighboring Berry province, in the town of Chârost, which resembles Notre-Dame d'Agonges. I did a post about it in 2008.
A week ago today, we spent the afternoon exploring the area west and north of Moulins and Neuvy in the département de l'Allier. We went to Souvigny, which has strong ties to the famous Benedictine abbey of Cluny, to the east. We stopped at Saint-Menoux, which has an impressive Romanesque church that was classified as a French monument historique back in 1840. More about those later...
We also drove a short distance north to the village called Agonges (pop. 315), where we saw the church above, as well as a few big old houses or châteaux out in the surrounding countryside. The church, Notre-Dame d'Agonges, dates back to the 12th century and was declared a French monument historique in 1925.
Here's one of the châteaux that I noticed when I was standing at the west entrance of the church. I'm not sure what the name of it is, because on the map I see two or three châteaux that it might be: Le Vieux Monceau, Le Petit Monceau, or just Le Château du Monceau. Your guess is as good as mine. I liked the view through tree branches.
Here's a view of the village square on the north side of which stands l'église Notre-Dame d'Agonges. Two or three cars besides ours were parked there, and there were no people to be seen. However, the church doors were open.
I went in and took this photo, among others. More tomorrow...