31 March 2021

Statues statues, statues...

...at the Château de Valençay. I took most of these on one August day in 2011.
They can speak for themselves... or maybe not.

30 March 2021

The Tuesday market in Valençay

The weekly open-air market in Valençay is set up on Tuesday mornings.
There are a lot of vendors there selling local goat cheeses, of course.

And there are also many others selling fresh local produce and meats.

Valençay has a small but spacious market hall on the main town square so that even in bad weather
the market is a pleasant place to shop. I wish Saint-Aignan had a market hall like this.

Bavette is a lean cut of beefsteak that is cooked rare to medium-rare so that it's tender.
Many sources say it would be called flank steak in U.S. terms but I think it's more like skirt or hanger steak.
However, skirt and hanger are used to describe different cuts of beef in the U.S. compared to the U.K.,
so it's hard to figure out what's what.

Tomates ! They remind me that yesterday was like a fine summer day here in the Loire Valley region.
Walt has planted tomato seeds in little pots and we'll set the seedlings out in the garden plot in May.

Celery root, a.k.a. céleri-rave in French and celeriac in English, is good peeled and grated, raw, as a cole-slaw type salad,
or cut into chunks and cooked like carrots or turnips. You can also roast the whole celery root in the oven.

These are whole rabbits that have been skinned and prepared for cooking. The brown stuff is the liver,
which is like chicken liver and is delicious. I've seen such rabbits cooked whole in a pan in the oven,
but most often you see them cut up into serving pieces and cooked in a braise or a stew.
We'll be cooking rabbit (lapin en gibelotte — three old posts) this coming weekend...

29 March 2021

Valençay : le fromage

Do the goats in the mini-zoo at Valençay contribute milk to local cheese production? CHM asked that question in a comment the other day. I don't know the answer. But I do know that Valençay goat cheese (fromage de lait de chèvre) is one of the area's finest food products.

Velençay goat cheese is made in the shape of a pyramid with its top lopped off. There are several legends about why...

The cheeses are coated in a light layer of salt and wood (or vegetable) ash, which gives good flavor, especially as they age.

As you can see, the cheese itself is very white and has a pleasantly grainy texture compared to, say, cream cheese.
The flavor is fresh and mild, not strong or "goaty".

Loire Valley goat cheeses, including varieties named after local towns (Sainte-Maure-de Touraine,
Selles-sur-Cher, Valençay) are made in a variety of shapes — discs, cylinders, pyramids, logs, etc.
The picture above is one I took years ago in the Saturday-morning outdoor market in Saint-Aignan.

This is a photo our friend Cheryl took in a local restaurant the first time she visited us (Sept. 2003).
We enjoyed a very fine meal featuring local specialties that evening.

28 March 2021

Valençay : le parc animalier

Ducks, geese, peafowl, chickens, goats, turkeys, and a guinea fowl... All in residence at the Château de Valençay.

27 March 2021

Valençay — le château et le domaine

These photos taken at Valençay over the years might give you an idea what it's like just to stroll around the grounds
of the château — as some 90,000 visitors to the site do every year (according to French Wikipédia).

The photo above is one I took from the road that runs south from Valençay toward the towns of Levroux and Châteauroux. You can see where the east wing of the château stood before it was torn down to open up views toward the east.

The grounds include a formal jardin à la française, south-facing terraces with flower beds and statuary, and a small forest. To the west is a big animal park with deer, goats, peacocks, turkeys, and more.
In all, the château grounds measure some 53 hectares (130 acres).

Loooking east over château's vineyards, the town of Valençay, and the church

Above and below are examples of how the formal gardens are planted and decorated.

This is the view of the west wing of the château from the animal park.

26 March 2021

Valençay gardens and views

Here's the first view of the Château de Valençay that you get when you arrive. You pass through the site's gift shop
and step out into the formal French gardens that are on the north side of the Renaissance château.

It's all very ornate and immaculately groomed. It certainly wasn't crowded when I took these pictures
at 5:40 p.m. on September 17, 2005. My mother was visiting and so were some friends from California.
We went to Valençay together. It was my mother's last visit to France.
She said the trip was too tiring at her age (75 back then).
When I think that I am now 72...

I just learned something about Valençay that I never realized before.
The château used to have both east and west wings off the main building.
The west wing is still there, but the east wing was torn down in the 1700s
to open up views out over the valley to the east.

You can see the east wing in the drawing above. And you can see the views in the photo below, which I took through a window in the château complex's west wing. Tours of the interior focus on that 18th century wing.

In describing the Château de Valençay, the Cadogan Loire valley guide says:
"The [castle] keep, really something of a redundant military element left over from medieval architectural design,
was here embellished with Renaissance features. It would almost be worth using binoculars to admire
the wealth of sculptural details in the frieze placed high up around it."

I wish I had been using a longer-zoom camera when I visited.

On the south side of the château there are more gardens and terraces from which you can see views
of the surrounding countryside. The east side is planted in grapes.

25 March 2021

Le Château de Valençay

Le Château de Valençay is actually two châteaux, or even three if you count the 12th century castle that was torn down during the French Renaissance (in the mid-1500s) to make way for a Chambord-like (but smaller) palace. The third château — the "west wing" — was built in the 1600s and significantly modified in the 1700s.

The town of Valençay (pop. 2,350) is not really in the Loire Valley. It's not even in the Cher Valley, as are Saint-Aignan, Montrichard, and Chenonceaux. It's certainly not in the historical Touraine province — it's at the northern limit of the old province called the Berry. Still, it's less than an hour south of Chambord, Blois, and Cheverny, and less than 30 minutes from Saint-Aignan.

The photos in this post are some that I took in September 2003, when we first moved here from California. I believe that was the first time I ever went into the Château de Valençay. I can think of at least four other times I've visited since, usually to see the château with friends from the U.S. and once with a friend from Normandy. I've been to the town of Valençay many other times to shop in the Tuesday morning farmer's market there or in the Intermarché supermarket.

In addition to the château, Valençay has three other claims to fame. Two of them are great historical figures — Napoléon Bonaparte and his minister Talleyrand. The other is the pyramid-shaped A.O.C. goat cheese (le valençay) that carries its name. It's also known for its wines, which come in red, white and rosé styles. Valençay wines were promoted to A.O.C. status only recently (2004) even though grapes have been grown and made into wines in the area for more than a thousand years.

Below is a photo of the 17th-century aile ouest or "west wing" of the château, which is obviously of a completely different style compared to the Renaissance building in the photo just above it. I have photos of the gardens, the château's animal park, and both the exteriors and interiors of the two wings of the château that I'll be posting over the next few days.

24 March 2021

Saint-Savin : peintures murales (4)... and a drive in the country

I went out for a long drive yesterday. The morning was chilly, but the sky was a deep blue color and the sun was almost blindingly bright. My trip had two purposes: shopping for groceries and giving the Citroën a good workout to re-charge its battery. The car has been driven so little over the past year that it was getting hard to start it. The battery was too weak. And it's a fairly new battery — I had a new one put in just five years ago. Since I bought the car in February 2015, when it had about 82,000 kilometers on its odometer, I've driven it a total of 20,000 kilometers. That's the equivalent of about 12,000 miles in six years.

So yesterday, instead of just driving the three miles over to our local Intermarché supermarket, I decided to drive to an Intermarché over in Valençay, site too of a famous château. This won't sound like much when I tell you that, as the corbeau flies, Valençay is only about 13 miles from our house outside Saint-Aignan. However, I didn't take the shortest route to get there, and I ended up driving the car about 50 miles (80 kms) by the time I got back home to finish preparing our lunch.

My route took me through Saint-Aignan over to the village of Seigy to the east, and then south to Châteauvieux and on to the pretty village called Faverolles-en-Berry. From Faverolles I headed east again, toward Valençay. I bet I didn't pass more than 15 other cars on that 30-kilometer drive — about 18 miles. I wasn't on a freeway, interstate, or autoroute, and the trip took about 40 minutes. What is that? Less than 30 mph, no? I was in third gear most of the time, and I drove through four villages. I had left home at about 8:30 a.m.

The scenery was beautiful. Green fields, flowering trees, pretty little houses and farms... Even outside the villages, I couldn't go very fast because I had the blinding sun in my face — I was headed basically east, after all. Life here really is life in the slow lane. I wish I had taken my camera with me, but then the trip would have taken two or three times as long. When I got to Valençay (pop. 2,350), things were different. There were quite a few cars in the store's parking lot — 20 or more. There were about a dozen people standing out in front of the entrance, waiting to be let it. It turns out that the Intermarché in Valençay opens at 9:15 a.m. I was a few minutes early, so I just sat in the car and waited, as did a few other people. More cars kept arriving, and the store was actually pretty crowded once I got inside. I wondered if I had made a mistake by going there, but I had my mask on and my bottle of hand sanitizer in the car.

In the store, I picked up a nice lamb shoulder to cook in a day or two, and it cost me about 15 euros — five euros a pound or so. I got a carton, as we call it, of red Côtes du Rhône A.O.P. wine for 12 euros. A carton is six bottles, so that didn't break the bank. I found a bunch of green asparagus — the local asparagus season has begun, but these came from Spain — for a good price (about $2.50/lb.); three big turnips for about the same price, and a nice eggplant for one euro. A package of spicy beef-and-lamb merguez sausages, the kind you eat with North African couscous, cost me less than three euros a pound. I picked up a bottle of champagne for ten euros — Walt loves champagne and other sparkling wines. A pound of farm-made Cantal cheese set me back about five euros. It was a successful shopping trip, and I ended up not having to wait long at the caisse to pay for everything.

CHM 2009

For the drive home, I took a different route. I headed west and slightly south to the town of Luçay-le-Mâle and on to Nouans-les-Fontaines. From Nouans, the road runs northwest to the village called Orbigny, and from Orbigny there's a road that basically runs north, through farmland and forest, to the village of Mareuil, outside Saint-Aignan. There I stopped in the village bakery and picked up three baguettes de tradition and a big loaf of pain de campagne (that was seven euros' worth of bread...). The drive on that route totaled about 50 kms (30 mi.) and took about 50 minutes, so I averaged about 35 mph on narrow, curvy roads and through three villages. The sun was at my back, there was little traffic, and I was back home before 11 a.m. For lunch, we made Mexican-style enchiladas, filled with rice, black beans, and slow-cooked turkey. Some of the Cantal cheese got melted on top, and I had picked up a couple of ripe avocados at Intermarché so we could have guacamole with the filled corn tortillas cooked in a spicy pumpkin-and-tomato enchilada sauce.

The photos here are the last set that I will publish showing the interior of the abbey church in Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe in 2009. If you want to see more, look at this web site I found this morning. Finally, here's one more of CHM's photos of the inside of the Saint-Savin church.

CHM 2009

23 March 2021

Saint-Savin : peintures murales (3)

Still no news on my vaccination appointment. Since the AstraZeneca vaccine was the subject of so much controversy last week, everything again slowed down (not to say "ground to a halt"). I think I've heard reports that France might be getting a large number of doses of the Pfizer vaccine soon. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine should arrive here in April, which is only a week away. Everything is waiting right now: the vaccine, the contractors we've signed bids with (no news), the weather (though it's supposed to be getting warmer starting this afternoon)... Here are some more wall paintings from Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe.

22 March 2021

Saint-Savin : peintures murales (2)

These aren't all photos of wall paintings. I'm including photos of other features inside the Saint-Savin abbey church. I'll just let the images speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the church is closed to the public right now because of the Covid-19 crisis in France. The Paris area and areas north of the city are under lockdown again. That means that one-third of the French population is under a confinement order. The Loire Valley is not included... for now.

CHM 2009