Thursday, July 4, 2019

France June 2019


Chateau d'Avaray.

It was good to  be back in France and see the chateau's park looking as good as ever. I was invited by my friends -Peter and Susan- to spend time with them in France. After the visit in December there were flowers everywhere in the most brilliant colors imaginable.  

The weather was beautiful, with bight sunny days- not too warm or too cool . Always a breeze. If there were some clouds, it stayed for a while but cleared up soon. As the chateau is ten miles from any big city the peace and quiet is so soothing.All the stress flows out of you. Every hour you hear the church bell of the little town proclaiming the time. I went for long walks next to the Loire River and to neighboring towns. Very rarely did I see another human being. Living in New York this is unheard of -and almost made me nervous.

 The Loire River.

Chateau de Menars on the other side of the Loire River.

 This belonged to Madame Pompadour, the  mistress of the King Louis XV. She bought it in 1716 after selling some pearl bracelets to afford the down payment of 1,000,000 livers .

Cornfields and wood stacks -dotted with  red poppies
All part of the French country side during the month of June.  



The town of Bellac with the bridge over the Vincou river.
It is located in the Noelle-Aquitaine region of western France.

Pieter and Hannelie de Jager very graciously invited us to visit them on their farm near Bellac.
We met at their beautiful home in the town where we enjoyed a deliciously home cooked meal prepared by Hannelie. Leg of lamb and other South African delicacies were served-it was like a visit home!

Limousine bull.


Pieter and Susan -Hannelie and Pieter de Jager.

On the farm Pieter has a herd of Limousine cattle .The history of Limousin  may very well be as old as the European continent itself. Cattle found in cave drawings estimated to be 20,000 years old in the Lascaux Cave near Montignac, France, have a striking resemblance to today's Limousin.
The de Jagers must be the only Afrikaans cattle farmers in France today and it was a pleasure to meet them both. They divide their time between England and France.In England they farm with chickens near Dorset.They are both very interesting people .Hannelie had a very successful career as a singer and recording artist when they lived in South Africa. Pieter is a Renaissance man who can discuss farming, as well as opera and fashion.There is even another South African woman living in the village with her Dutch husband. We are all over.We loved meeting Pieter and Hannelie and hope this will be the first of many visits.

 Peter de Jager compared the three of us traveling around in the Rolls Royce to the movie 
"The Yellow Rolls Royce " and to the characters of Omar Sharif ,Ingrid Bergman and Alain Delon-
I thought it was very funny!

Perigord- Dordogne .

Perigueax  .

Pieter, Susan and I decided to travel further south and visit some of the the towns of the Perigord region .We drove through Anglouême and the capital Perigueax with its Byzantium styled cathedral based on St Mark's in Venice.The town was founded 2000 years ago as a Gallo Roman town. Some of the most ancient and medieval towns of France are found in this area.

Sarlat de Canéda.


  Sarlat de Canéda in the Dordogne valley.  

Sarlat is a medieval town that developed around a large Benedictine Abbey of Carolingian origin.  The medieval Sarlat Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Sacerdos. Because modern history has largely passed it by, Sarlat has remained preserved and one of the towns most representative of 14th century France. It owes its current status on France's tentative list for future nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage site after the enthusiasm of writer, and politician Andre Malraux . As Minister of Culture (1960–1969), he  restored the town and many other sites of historic significance throughout France. The center of the old town consists of impeccably restored stone buildings and is largely car-free.

Beautiful medieval town of Sarlat de Canéda with its salmon colored stone buildings .


The Cinderella story "Ever After" with Drew Barrymore and Angelica Houston was filmed in this area. For several village scenes and a church scene,  Sarlat de Caneda was used.Several castles around the Perigord area -including the Beylac castle- was also used as backdrops in  this movie .

The region is important  in the heritage of France's culinary history .
 It is the land of Goose Liver Pate or Pate Foie Gras, Confit de Canard and truffles. 

 Statue of ducks to honor their legacy!

Foie gras- or fat liver- is a luxury food product made of the liver of a  duck or goose that has been especially fattened. By French law foie gras is defined as the liver of a duck or goose fattened by force feeding  corn with a feeding tube,also known as "gavage". In Spain and  other countries, it is occasionally produced using natural feeding. Ducks are force-fed twice a day for 12.5 days and geese three times a day for around 17 days. Ducks are typically slaughtered at 100 days and geese at 112 days.

 Pate de Foie Gras is served with toast and and fig preserves or any other sweet chutney. 
The liver can also be grilled- as seen on the photo above.

Doggie having a rest -.

As it was Pieter and Susan's anniversary we decided to have dinner outdoors at a great restaurant in Sarlat. Not a place frequented by tourist but suggested by a local friend. 



Chateau de Beynac.

Beynac is one of the most beautiful villages in France and is found on the banks of the River Dordogne, to the south-west of  Sarlat .Opposite the Chateau de Beynac across the river is its traditional enemy -the Chateau de Castelnaud.
The beautiful village of Beynac spreads along the northern bank of the Dordogne river.The narrow lanes wind up through the traditional white and yellow stone buildings  
On the rivers edge you get some lovely views with the river, often full of canoes, a long stretch of wonderful stone houses and rising above the village the imposing chateau of Beynac.
The origins of Beynac, contrary to appearances, are not medieval but older. It is indeed from 2000 BC that the Bronze Age populations choose this site to settle there. Remains have been found near the Archaeological Park. The Gauls also occupied it to control the wine trade from Italy.
The castle, probably destined to watch over the Dordogne, was already in existence in the 9th century, when people from the North came up the river and sowed terror.
Simon de Montfort seized the castle at the beginning of the 13th century but the Beynac will recover their property thanks to the intervention of Philippe Auguste in 1217. The castle remains a family property until 1761, date of marriage of Marie-Claude de Beynac with Christophe de Beaumont.One of his descendants sold it in 1961.
At the time of the Hundred Years War, the fortress of Beynac was one of the strongholds French. The Dordogne served then as border between France and England; not far from there, on the other side of the Dordogne, the castle of Castelnaud was in the hands of the English.

Castle Castelnaud .
The Middle Ages were largely passed in conflict with their near neighbors at Chateau de Beynac, and Chateau de Castelnaud managed to change hands seven times between the French and the English, as each fought to control the region.At the end of the Hundred Years War the Caumont family repaired and added to the castle, adding large new living quarters but always keeping its defences a key priority. The Caumonts became Protestants and protected the castle during the wars of Religion in the 16th century. Captain Geoffrey, who was born at the castle, fought so ferociously that no one dared to attack Castelnaud.

 Beynac was also the home for a while of the English King -Richard the Loin Heart.
His bedroom can be see in the castle ;

Church of Fontevraud Abbey Richard I effigy.jpg

Richard I (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199) was King of England  from 1189 until his death. He also ruled as Duke of Normandy ,Aquitaine and Gascony.  He was the third of five sons of King Henry II of England  and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine  He was known as Richard Coeur de Lion    or Richard the Lion heart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior.

The film "The Lion and Winter "
tells us the story of King Henry II of England and his wife Eleanore of Aquitaine- 

The Dordogne River.


Pieter and Susan climbing the hill.


The community of Brantome started to develop on an island encircled by a sweep of the river Dronne next to the Benedictine Abbey of Brantome which was founded in 769 by Charlemagne ; 
According to legend he donated relics of Saint Sicarius (Sicaire), one of the infants in the Massacre of the Innocents . Those relics attracted pilgrims to the abbey, who also brought a certain affluence to Brantôme, but in spite of St. Sicaire's protection, the abbey was laid waste in 848 and in 857 by Viking rovers who had advanced along the Dordogne and Isle rivers to the Dronne. The abbey was rebuilt towards the end of the tenth century and again in 1465 and in 1480 after the end of the Hundred Year War.
It is a beautiful little town and also called Venice of Perigord. 



We had a great meal at the restaurant " Les Freres  Chabonelle".

Pate Foie Gras.

Lamb chops.

Avaray - Loire Valley

We arrived back at the Chateau d'Avaray at sunset.

Even  Napoleon the swan welcomed us back!

Beautiful spring flowers in the courtyard of the church at Avaray with  the Dukes of Avaray's burial chapel in the background.


It is amazing to walk through these French villages in the spring and summer and see all the colors. They use every inch of soil in  the town to plant a flower or something green. Outside of the town some villagers has plots of land to cultivate vegetables, spices and fruit trees to supply their households with fresh produce.


"Les Trois Maillets" Avaray.



In line with the Chateau d'Avaray is a restaurant and guest house called "Les Trois Maillets".
 I always had the idea that it had something to do with the Dukes of Avaray as it location  line up with the chateau so well- with a road and  a row of trees- connecting the two. It turned out that Claude Antoine Besiade the Duke of Avaray, gave permission in 14 May 1174 that "La Grande Auberge"could be built on these premises. A rooming house, with 11 rooms was built during 1775-1776  .As it was situated on the national route 152 -it soon became profitable.

Duke D'Avaray- Claude Antoine de Beziade

The Duke married his wife, Adelaide Sophie de Mailly de Nestle on  April 5th 1758 .Three of her  cousin's were the mistresses of Louis XV. She was a honorable wife to the Duke so he named the "auberge" after the three mallets that was on her family's coat of arms. It is also the emblem of the town of Avaray. During the French Revolution they Duke and his wife was kept under house arrest at the Chateau 'd Avaray for nine years.

Image result for de mailly blason les trois maillets

"Les Trois Maillets"

 Beziade Duke of Avaray's Coat of Arms.

Some of the original construction can still be seen today,in the interior of the restaurant.

The Duke's reception halls at the Chateau d Avaray .

The Chateau d' Avaray started of as a feudal castle of the the 13th century consisting of four towers .To the feudal castle's towers, the west and north wings were added. The moat was built around 1620. In  1730, three dormant bridges that crossed the moat and the drawbridge was removed. The south facade, the central front building with its balcony and the triangular pediment that dominates the chateau was also added in 1730. In 1736,  the eastern wing was built.When the Chateau d'Avaray was built in 1730 the living quarters for the Duke was added in the central front building. The reception rooms of the Duke and his library has been under  renovation and I have never seen that part of the chateau before. On this visit it was possible and it was exciting to see  the original ceilings, the  magnificent marble fireplace and other decorations. On the photo this  part of the building is on the ground floor, to the left of the front door , balcony and pediment.

Here is a photo of the Dukes portrait as it was mounted in the fireplace .
It was sold in 2001 and is part of the Chateau de Faux-le-Vicomte estate.

Full photo of the fireplace.

  Detail of the A with the coronet at the top of the fireplace -as well as the painted ceiling. 

 Detail of the ceiling with the A for Avaray used as part of the decoration.



 One of the most famous Loire chateaux is the one of Cheverny.As is is about a hour from Avaray where we were ,we decided to take a morning drive and visit it for lunch..
Lost to the Crown because of fraud to the State, Cheverny was donated by King Henri II  to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. However, she preferred Chateau d' Chenonceau  and sold the property to the former owner's son.
It was Duke Philippe Hurault, and his wife Marguerite Gaillard de la Moriniére who built the château between 1624 and 1630, to designs by the sculptor-architect of Blois - Jacques Bougier.  The interiors were completed by their daughter Elizabeth , Marquise de Montglas, by 1650. The estate has been in the same family for six centuries The Hurault family of financiers  and officers became  famous in the  service of several kings of France.  
It was opened to the public in 1922 to help pay the cost of such a vast estate. It was only closed on three occasions since then . In 1963 for a visit by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother .In 1976 for the funeral of Marquis de Vibraye and in 1994 for the wedding of the current owner .
Here are some photo's of the magnificent interior of the place;- 

Mantle in the Kings Room.

Part of the salon.

  The Chapel .

The Music room.

The salon's hand painted ceilings .

Entrance hall ceilings.

The last dew days we stayed put and I enjoyed long walks in the beautiful surroundings of the the Chateau D'Avaray and its lovely gardens . Company came over for visits and we enjoyed wonderful home cooked meals. Numerous cups of tea and coffee, with the inevitable cake or some of those delicious French pastries so readily available were consumed.What a way to spend a summer.


Delicious home made chicken pie!

 Soon it was time to get back to reality and early Monday morning I had to catch the train at  Blois to get me back to Paris for my flight back to New York. After a seven minute change to another train I waited for another hour for another change, but it was all so worth it.
Spending time with special friends is what life is all about and I realized it this once again. 
Thanks once again  to Pieter and Susan for their generosity and hospitality.I do appreciate it very much. 

On every trip I buy something small as a souvenir. I found these two ducks- leaning against each other -in my favorite antique store in Beaugency .