31 May 2017

Skies, vines, hills, and trees

It's the last day of May already. It actually feels cold this morning, though it's only about 16ºC / 60ºF outside. It feels chilly because we've already had so many hot, sunny days. Last year at this time we were having heavy rains and flooding. This year, it's dry and sunny.

Above is a view of the Renaudière vineyard, where we walk the dog every day, that I took about two weeks ago. I've been taking a lot of photos since I took all the ones of Saint-Aignan that I've been posting recently. These are some of them.

The hills in my post title include the one above. Because the weather has been so dry, there are thousands of anthills all around the edges of the vineyard. Or maybe they are burrowing bees' nests, as Tim says in his comment. I don't know what nests in them, but I do know that we have hardly ever seen an ant in our house.

A week or two ago all the locust (a.k.a. acacia) trees were covered in big white flowers. The fragrance was amazing. Unfortunately, the flowers fade quickly and are gone now.

Here's a more recent photo of the vineyard. It's green and seems to be recovering from the late freeze we had in April. But I don't know how the grape harvest will be affected. I noticed yesterday that a lot of the apple trees around the hamlet are loaded with fruit. The sour cherries are ripening quickly, and there are a lot of plums on the plum trees too.

30 May 2017


The artichoke plant — one of five — that we planted many years ago is really producing this year.

Three of the plants gradually died off, and one other one survives but is very small.

The big plant that has been the most successful has at least 10 artichokes on it right now. That's it in the photo above.

We've only ever eaten the artichokes from this plant one time. This year may well be the second time. The question is, do we cut and cook them now, while they are small, or wait until they get bigger?

29 May 2017

Natasha portraits

We're just finishing up more than a week of warm, even hot, sunny days. It's supposed to start raining later today and be wet for a week. The dogs and the people have enjoyed spending time outdoors.

Yesterday I took a few pictures of Natasha, who is now three months old. She's getting along well with Callie the border collie and Bert the black cat. She had her first visit with the vet last week. She's gained nearly four pounds since we brought her home and now weighs in at 10 pounds.

'Tasha is also making great progress on the house-breaking front. There's still a little accident from time to time — mostly pipi. When she does it on the tile floors, it's no big deal. On the rugs, well... that's happening less and less now. She's learned to come to either one of us and give a short, shrill bark when she needs to be taken outside, and she wakes us up at about 4:00 a.m. most mornings when it's time for her sortie.

The main progress we are hoping will happen soon is her learning how to go down stairs. She runs right up, but she's afraid to go back down. Dogs are naturally afraid of falling, they say — les chiens ont peur du vide — and 'Tasha's legs are short. Once she completely masters stairs, she'll be independent, since we keep the doors open in summertime.

28 May 2017

Ruins of other times

Here are a few photos showing what remains of the medieval château-fort at Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher. In the first image, you can see the old stone tower on the right, between the Renaissance château and the big trees on the far right.

According to J.-J. Delorme, author of the book Histoire de la ville de Saint-Aignan (Loir et Cher), the town was likely founded in about the year 970, more than 1100 years ago. The promontory on the south bank of the Cher, where the château stands now, had probably been fortified by the Romans a thousand years earlier, but nothing remains from that period except a section of an old Roman road south of the town. There are more substantial Roman ruins in the nearby town of Thésée.

The tower you see here and the rest of the ruins might have existed as early as the year 800. Then, Saint-Aignan was under the control of the counts of Blois, who also ruled over the old Touraine province to the west. The name of the tower is La Tour Agar — Agar or Agard was an ancient name for this area. Norsemen (Vikings) invaded this part of France around that time — thus the fortifications.

It's a long and complicated history, and the details are hard to pin down. The first church in Saint-Aignan was built during the 10th or 11th century, but the area had already been settled by so-called "hermits" and monks for a long time before that. Wolves and marauders roamed the countryside. Warlords fought over territory.

Ruins such as these attest to this kind of history. The counts of Anjou moved in from the west. Burgundians, the power-holders to the east, took over in the 11th century. It all makes your head spin.

27 May 2017

Maisons de Saint-Aignan

On the south bank of the Cher River, on one of the main roads coming into Saint-Aignan from the west, is a small complex of buildings occupied by the Hôtel du Moulin. There's also a big parking lot where you can leave your car and walk into town — to the Saturday morning open-air market in the old town, for example. When we first came here in 2002, there was a restaurant in the main building, but it closed down years ago. We had our first meal in Saint-Aignan there, 15 years ago.

On the main street that runs through town, one of the houses you see is the one below, which is 500 or 600 years old. A few years ago, a strong gust of wind blew one of its chimneys off. Bricks came crashing down onto the street. Luckily, nobody was injured.

The house above was built in the 1400s, so it's one of the oldest houses in the town. It's also on the main street, which is of course open to car traffic (one way).

I think the one above is very picturesque. It's on a side street just next to the main entrance of the old church. I don't know anything about the history of the house.

Finally, this house is on the château grounds. It used to be the château's gatehouse, but now it is operated as a vacation rental or gîte by one of the sons of the woman who owns and lives in the château.

26 May 2017

From the church to the château

I'm still posting photos of Saint-Aignan, our adopted home town, that I took two weeks ago. I was headed to the open-air market on a Saturday morning, and I was early. The weather was nice and everything looked scenic, beautiful, and interesting. Here's part of my walking tour.

Imagine that you are standing in front of the church, with your back to the front door.

You're looking up a grand, wide staircase toward the château terrace.

You walk up the old stone steps and you look back down from the top.

You notice that the staircase handrail and posts could use some restoration work.

Then you look to the right and you see the Renaissance-era château.

25 May 2017

La terrasse du château

These are three views from the terrace of the château at Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher. The first one is what you see when you are standing basically with your back to the Renaissance-era château (16th century), which I posted photos of yesterday. What you see here is a group of buildings from, I believe, the 19th century — including stables and a pretty big house (detail below). Behind them and on the right are ruins of the old fortifications from the 10th century.

Looking north from the terrace you see the rooftops of houses that line the banks of the Cher River, the island that splits the river into two branches at this point, and a spillway that helps regulate the depth of the river upstream as well as under the bridge downstream.

Looking south or southeast, you have a good view of the rooftops on the other side of town, which sits in a valley delimited by higher ground on two sides, including the promontory with the château on top of it.

We won't be going south out of Saint-Aignan this weekend because today is a holiday in France, and there will no doubt be many people coming to enjoy a day at the zoo, and a lot of car traffic. A Thursday holiday means a lot of people will take Friday off and stretch their weekend to four days. The weather right now is gorgeous and is predicted to stay gorgeous until at least Monday.

24 May 2017

Five photos of the château de Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher

Here are five photos of the Château de Saint-Aignan. As the Cadogan Loire guidebook says: "The interiors [of the building] are not open to the public, but you can appreciate its grand exterior, and from the splendid terrace you can enjoy good views of this delightful town."

These photos show the Renaissance château built on the site in the 16th century. Also on the property are the ruins of the earlier 10th century château-fort. In all, 32 generations of one family lived here from the 10th to the 19th century. As usual, you can see the images at full size by clicking on them with your mouse or tapping on them on your tablet.

23 May 2017

Sur le Pont photos and menu

Here's another picture of the bridge and church in Saint-Aignan. I'm really happy with the way all these photos came out. I took them with my Panasonic Lumix TZ60 camera, which it has taken me a year to learn to use.

And here's a close-up view of the Sur le Pont restaurant, which is on the bridge (hence the name, which means "on the bridge"). We almost never go to restaurants any more, but we did have a very good lunch with friends at Sur le Pont two years ago.

The restaurant's indoor seating area is well up above the river. The outdoor seating area is down at river level, which means you can enjoy great views of the town on the opposite side of the Cher.

Here's the menu.


- Gazpacho

- Carpaccio of melon and prosciutto

- Heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella

Main courses

- Chitterling sausage, French fries

- Rib steak, French fries

- The special of the day

- "Sur le Pont" salad

- 6 pizzas

- "Sur le Pont" burger

 - Fresh fish (changes daily)

- Children's menu

- Lunch menu (weekdays only)

All our dishes are made with fresh ingredients

22 May 2017

The café on the bridge

I mentioned earlier that there is a restaurant/café on the bridge over the Cher River at Saint-Aignan. Here's a view of it from up on the château terrace. The restaurant is actually on the island, and you can see that there are really two spans over two branches of the Cher here.

A little farther down the hill that the château sits on, you can catch a glimpse of the restaurant, called Sur le Pont, through the trees.

Sur le Pont is only two or three years old. If you remember, last year at this time it was flooded by high water coming down the river.

Once you're on the bridge, if you look over the edge you have a good view of the restaurant's outdoor seating area, which is a very pleasant place for lunch in summertime. There's a roll-out awning to provide shade on really hot, sunny days (if there are any during any given summer).

In the photo above, you can just see the outdoor patio in the lower right corner. That's part of the château up on the hill on the other side of the river.

Here's the restaurant's contact information, plus a short list of some of the things you can order for your lunch. It's closed on Weds. (mercredi) and Thurs. (jeudi). The lunch menu goes for 16 euros.

21 May 2017

Rooftops and ruins

From the terrace of the château in Saint-Aignan, high above the streets, you can enjoy beautiful views of the town's old rooftops.

One of the town's major landmarks suffered a major fire a few years ago. It was a convent called Les Bernardines, which you can see below. The building had stood empty for years, and the fire completely destroyed the old roof beams and the interior of the building.

2017 photo

2012 photo

Here's what it looked like before the fire, in a photo I took in 2010, also from the château terrace. Notice the man standing on the peak of a roof in the foreground, staring down into a chimney.

The photo below shows what the Bernardines convent looked like up close in a photo from 2006.

At one point a developer wanted to buy the old building and turn it into a luxury hotel, but the town nixed that idea. I wish I could have seen the interior of the building before the fire.

20 May 2017

C'est la France, après tout...

The shop in the first two photos below used to be a charcutier/traiteur's boutique. A charcutier is a pork butcher, and a traiteur is a kind of caterer. Such a shop is called a charcuterie and the closest equivalent in the U.S. would be a delicatessen. This one closed down five or six years ago, to be replaced by...

The shop called La Dentellière a few steps up the main street from the church, and a few steps off the market square in old Saint-Aignan. Dentelle means lace, and the la dentellière is the lacemaker — a woman because the word is feminine.

Along with the window displays showing the kinds of garments you can buy in the shop, there are posters advertising the big zoo, Le Zooparc de Beauval, Saint-Aignan's major tourist attraction. It's on the south side of the town and has, yes, lions and tigers and gorillas and, especially, giant pandas, for you to see and admire.

Another shop that seems to be an institution in Saint-Aignan is the bakery (above) called La Pâtisserie du Château. When we first arrived here it sold mostly pastries and some bread, but the bread was not made by a boulanger on the premises.

Now the shop still sells pastries, but it is really more of a boulangerie than a pâtisserie. Ownership of the business has changed several times over the past 15 years, and the bread now is excellent. It's made by an artisan boulanger in the back room of the shop and is always perfectly fresh and crusty. The sign above, on the corner of the building over the front door, says the business is now called Belle Époque Boulangerie. But the old name is still painted on the front of the shop.

The church is right behind the bakery, and the shop next door is one of the half-dozen or more salons de coiffure scattered around the town. The full name of the business is Diva Coiffure Mixte — mixte means women, men, and children are welcome to come in to have their hair cut or done up.