Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Celebrating my Brompton bikeversary

French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles #myBrompton #KTTinyTourer
Riding my Brompton is the best


Today I am celebrating the second anniversary of wheeling #KTTinyTourer out of the cycle shop in London and looking back on two years of fun, fitness and freedom on my brompton.

 

In our time together Katie the Tiny Tourer and I have cycled almost eight thousand five hundred kilometres, in three different countries, (the UK, France and Spain) and turned heads wherever we’ve been. I’ve earned a lot of respect from the cycling community as an almost fifty-year-old woman, on a Brompton, climbing mountains alongside younger men on high end road bikes, and the incredulous looks on some of their faces will stay with me forever.

 

Having a bike that is comfortable and fun to ride has given me the confidence to go further and push myself to achieve more, as well as the ability to enjoy long days in the saddle.


 

French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles #myBrompton #KTTinyTourer
Climbing mountains on my Brompton


Some of our rides have been in full lycra with clipped in cycle shoes, some in dresses and normal shoes, with a picnic in my pannier. We’ve followed off-road cycle paths, quiet back roads, pilgrimage routes, mountain passes and conquered Tour de France epic climbs, including Mont Ventoux, the Col d’Aubisque and the Col du Tourmalet.



French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles #myBrompton #KTTinyTourer
Boulangerie stop on my Brompton

 

We’ve enjoyed the flexibility of the folding frame and being able to put the bikes in the car for airport runs, so we can set off for morning coffee or a sunset apéro somewhere special before heading home. 

 


French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles #myBrompton #KTTinyTourer
Cycling the lavender fields of Provence


The bikes have been there for the recycling and the shopping as well as days out, holidays and our legitimate daily exercise during confinement. They have taken us to the Atlantic coast, the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees. We have followed rivers and waterways, including the Thames, the Lot, the Garonne, the gorges de la Nesque and the canal lateral that runs between Bordeaux and Toulouse.

 

We have taken part in organised events including London Brompton Club social rides, and closed road sportives like Ride London and the col climbing Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip.

 

For the last two years I have set myself cycling challenges on my Brompton, smashing my first target of 2019 kms last year so upping it to 2019 miles (3230 kms) and smashing that too. This year I set myself a series of challenges, and despite a difficult year with over one hundred days living in lockdown, I’ve achieved almost all of them. 

 

5 consecutive days on the bike, cycling a minimum of 50kms each day. Yes, in August.

 

5 trips to the supermarket using the bike instead of the car. Oh yes.

 

5 mountain cols or passes climbed by bike. Last count was thirteen.

 

5 days cycling 100kms in a day, as opposed to once a year for my birthday. Yes.



French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles #myBrompton #KTTinyTourer
The seventeen departments I've cycled in this year

 

The only one I’ve not quite managed is to cycle in twenty different French departments (counties) this year, but we did manage to tick off seventeen and have cycled over five thousand kilometres in 2020. I’m definitely fitter than I’ve ever been and six kilos lighter than two years ago, in that bike shop, in London.

 

The uncertainties of living with Covid-19, possible travel restrictions or future lockdowns, aren’t making it easy for me to visualise being able to do a dream cycle tour across France next year, but I can’t let 2021, the year I turn fifty, go by without some form of challenge (or celebration on two wheels). Maybe it will have to be another series of challenges, but that raises my game from those I set this year. When I’ve decided what they will be, I’ll let you know. If you have any ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.

 

  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Our Covid-19 Christmas



French Village Diaries covid-19 Christmas
Our 2020 Covid-19 family Christmas photo



I hope you all had a peaceful Christmas and managed to celebrate in some way, even though this year was never going to be the same as we are all used to.

 

As for many, ours was a low-key Christmas, but that didn’t mean we had any less fun. We started the day with croissant from the village boulangerie for breakfast and as it was Christmas, we served them with homemade jam and a glass of sparkling white wine.



French Village Diaries covid-19 Christmas Lavoir Embourie Charente
Morning coffee in Embourie,Charente

 


All the food preparation had been done on Christmas eve, so all we had to do in the morning was pack our Christmas lunch picnic into the bike bags and set off. Our first stop was an old lavoir, or wash house, sat by a stream outside the village of Embourie in the Charente. Here we used one of the old wash troughs as a sheltered spot for the gas stove so we could make our coffee, which we served with homemade chocolate brownies. This was just what we needed to climb the hill into the village on our way to our lunch stop.

 

The forecast for the day, was for a cold but dry day, with a fresh wind. As we cycled through the countryside, the distant skies looked heavy with rain and there were a couple of times we got a bit damp, but we were also treated to a Christmas Day rainbow, which I guess we wouldn’t have seen without some rain. 


 

French Village Diaries covid-19 Christmas Charente
Gorse flowers in Charente on Christmas Day



Cycling slowly in winter gives you a perfect opportunity to see so much and we had to stop to take a photo of the first yellow gorse flowers of the season, but sadly we were too slow to snap the deer. Four beautiful deer, in formation, ran from the field to our right, across the road in front of us and away to the woods on the left. All that was missing was the sleigh for a real sight of Christmas magic.

 

Our lunch stop was a by the restored bread oven in the village of La Faye, where the council have placed a picnic table under a covered shelter. Just behind us was the village Christmas tree and as a real 2020 treat, public toilets that were open, clean and stocked with toilet paper.



French Village Diaries covid-19 Christmas picnic lunch La Faye Charente
Christmas lunch picnic in La Faye, Charente

 


With the winter sun falling on the table, we laid out our picnic of pâté en croute (bit like sausage rolls), homemade houmous with carrot and cauliflower, tuna mousse (a gift from Ed) on a baguette that was still warm when I picked it up from the boulangerie, and that was just starters. We had beer and sparkling wine and then moved on to salad and Christmas quiche (guinea fowl, leeks, mushrooms, sprouts and walnuts in a creamy sauce), and that’s when we realised our eyes were bigger than our bellies. We had to pack away the cheese, that we’d bought in the Pays Basque in August, especially for Christmas, the satsumas and the mincepies, as we were too full for anymore.


 

French Village Diaries covid-19 Christmas friends
Great friends, garden grotto and Christmas Day Cheer


It was a bit of a cold start to the return cycle, but we soon warmed up when the sun came back and rain stopped. By mid-afternoon we had arrived at our friend’s house where a garden grotto had been set up and decorated. The French government had requested we stay sensible over the festive period and keep our gatherings to a maximum of six and I don’t think anyone could complain at our celebration of six, outdoors and nicely spaced across a wide table. As the afternoon wore on, the candles and lights added to the magic of friendship, fun and laughter, but we were all back home before the eight o’clock curfew came into play.



French Village Diaries covid-19 Christmas friends
The grotto after dark, but before curfew

 


Today Ed and Pearl arrived for a few days. They got to taste our Christmas quiche for lunch and tonight, as it’s Saturday night, we’ll all enjoy homemade pizzas. As a nod to Christmas, mulled wine will be served as we all select our favourite toppings.

 

If you are looking for some great kindle bargains to get you through to New Year, here are some that are either free for a limited time, of reduced to less than £1 on kindle UK. Happy reading.



Thursday, December 24, 2020

France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-four, the thirteen Christmas desserts of Provence

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-four the 13 Christmas desserts of Provence
Advent day 24 a Blanc de Blancs dry white and a biere de Noel


Advent day twenty-four, Thursday 24th December 2020

The last doors on our advent calendars have been opened and my Blanc de Blancs dry fizzy white and Adrian’s Biere de Noel are chilling in the fridge, and the calendars themselves are out in the cardboard recycling. 

 

They have certainly been good fun, although I do feel a bit of a lightweight as I have a third of my bottles still to drink. This does mean though that there will be a nice bottle of something fizzy to toast us at breakfast tomorrow, as well as a bottle each for our Christmas Day picnic, not forgetting some in the fridge for the evening. I got a lot more variety from my wine selections than Adrian did with his beers, but, with the exception of his biere blanche, which had no aroma and tasted of dishwater, I think all of his other beers had much more flavour and nose than most of the wines. While there was nothing wrong with any of the wines, there was nothing exceptional about them either, but I will miss the excitement of opening the calendar each morning.

 

There has been an overriding theme to the handwritten messages in the Christmas cards we have received this year, with “what a year!”, “let’s put 2020 behind us” and “here’s to a better year next year” being just some of them. While 2020 has been a year of highs and lows for us, losing our 22 year old nephew, six months with no work or possibility of furlough for Adrian, and not being able to travel to visit family in the UK, certainly being pretty low points, there has also been a lot to be thankful for. 


 

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-four the 13 Christmas desserts of Provence
A 2020 family portrait


These two (nutters) make me smile, laugh and fill my heart with joy every day. For three pretty independent adults, who pre-Covid-19 were used to our own space and an often-solitary existence, I think we have coped pretty well being locked down together for most of the year and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 

 

We have had more quality family time than we’ve ever had and enjoyed some fantastic experiences as we seized every opportunity to get out and live. This time last year we had no plans to visit Nice and the Cote d'Azur, which we did in June (thanks to Lou Messugo), for the first time in ten years, and then we topped the holiday with an awesome cycle up Mont Ventoux. In August we spent a week in the Pyrenees, our days filled with more epic cycling, good food and stunning scenery. We also managed to squeeze in one last adventure to lose ourselves in the golds and autumn colours of the Lot and Cahors vineyards, just before lockdown came back in October. Cycling makes me feel alive as it gives me the chance to push my legs and lungs to the max, whatever the weather, or location.

 

I am approaching year end in a happy and relaxed place and will treasure these memories made in 2020 forever. All would be well with my world if it wasn’t for the end of the UK’s transition period, prior to leaving the European Union, looming. Who knows what 2021 will bring? It may or may not have the total shock of the world shutting down due to a pandemic, but it will have very real challenges for many millions of innocent victims of a disastrous political decision. 

 

France Trivia advent calendar, day twenty-four, the thirteen Christmas desserts of Provence

This evening families in France will be celebrating Christmas and as we have no lockdown, curfew is suspended for the evening, and so long as we are sensible and keep to a maximum of six adults per gathering, there are no rules to obey. There are many traditions associated with the Christmas Eve meal, but if you are lucky enough to be celebrating in Provence, you will have to ensure you leave room for all thirteen desserts they serve. Tradition says there must be thirteen sweets served, for Jesus and his twelve apostles, and each guest at the table must take a small bite of each one. Luckily they are not the hearty and stodgy type of desserts favoured by the Brits at Christmas, instead the French prefer a selection of walnuts, dried figs, dates, different types of nougat, raisins, oranges and mandarins, marzipan biscuits called callisons, an orange flavoured fougasse (olive oil flat bread) and candied fruits. It might make the mincepie and satsuma that I’ve planned for tomorrow seem a bit tame, but my mincepies do contain dried fruits, candied fruits and walnuts so we’ve almost ticked all the boxes.

 

Thank you for reading along with our lockdown daily diaries this year and I hope you have enjoyed the France Trivia advent posts. I wish you all a merry Christmas and hope you will be able to join your loved ones, either in person, or online. Stay safe. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-three, La Rochelle

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-three La Rochelle
Advent day 23 a Bordeaux red and a biere ambrée


Advent day twenty-three, Wednesday 23rd December 2020

 

Final preparations for Christmas

This morning we waved our Ed goodbye, in the rain, his little car stacked with gifts and freshly baked mincepies, off for his French family Christmas adventure. 

 

I had a day of baking planned, the first batch of mincepies were out of the oven, the pastry for the second batch resting in the fridge and the naan bread dough doing its thing in the bread machine. Then we decided to do something really bonkers.

 

We are not ones for shopping, even on the quiet days, but especially not two days before Christmas, and in the middle of a pandemic. What we would normally enjoy however, is a quick visit to La Rochelle in the run up to Christmas. I’d pick Adrian up from the early morning London flight and we’d treat ourselves to coffee and a croissant at the Café de la Paix, enjoying their decorations and huge tree, as well as the elaborately painted ceilings, everything reflected back at us in the large mirrors that line every wall. With no overseas work, there has been no travel and no airport runs. This year we’ve also missed out on a visit to a big town centre to enjoy the Christmas lights, market and festive atmosphere.



French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-three La Rochelle
La Rochelle, December 2020

 

Making the most of the freedom of no lockdown and being child-free once more, we escaped for an afternoon in La Rochelle. We were too early to enjoy the Christmas lights and the Café de la Paix was sad, dark and closed, but masked-up we enjoyed our La Rochelle fix, a change of scenery and some bracing sea air. Having left home in the gloom and rain, we didn’t bother taking the bikes with us, which we regretted as the closer we got to the coast, the brighter and sunnier it got. Even without the café terraces, La Rochelle is always a treat for people watching, bike spotting and seeing another side of French life. 

 

The pre-Christmas chores we should have been doing can wait for another day and although I might have been a bit late to my yoga class this evening, at least we made it home before our eight o’clock curfew, but only just.

 

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-three La Rochelle
Winter sun in La Rochelle, December 2020


France Trivia advent calendar, day twenty-three, La Rochelle

There is lots I could share about La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, and its colourful history, but for many secondary school pupils in the UK, at least in the 1980’s, it was the towers in La Rochelle that had pride of place on our Tricolore French textbooks. 

 

La Rochelle was English from 1152 to 1226 (we have Eleanor of Aquitaine to thank for that) and again from 1360 to 1372. From the fourteenth until the seventeenth century it was one of France’s principal ports, meaning it was from La Rochelle that many French adventurers set off for new lives in Canada, America and the Ivory Coast.

 

For me, it is the place to go when I need a little bit more than village life can offer. 



Tuesday, December 22, 2020

France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-two, Gustave Eiffel

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-two Gustave Eiffel
Advent Day 23, Biere Brune and Côtes de Thau rosé


Advent day twenty-two, Tuesday 22nd December 2020

I may not have got my solstice sunrise yesterday, but today, the first day of lengthening daylight hours, I did, and as a bonus the sun was streaming into my yoga nook during this morning’s class. I can’t tell you how much better I felt for this.

 

The weather stayed favourable, so this afternoon we set off on bike ride searching for open skies and covered picnic tables. We are still hoping for a Christmas Day ride with picnic, but the forecast isn’t looking as good as the weather we had last year. It could be that wind will be more of an issue than rain, so somewhere sheltered to open the hamper would be nice. Our thirty-five kilometres this afternoon was a great way of blowing the cobwebs away and left me feeling full of life, even if we failed in our quest for covered tables.

 

Tonight will be Ed’s last night here for a while, as tomorrow he is off to Pearl’s family for Christmas. As a break in the routine, I have cast aside our Tuesday norm of lasagne and replaced it with our family celebration meal of choice, homemade meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce. To add to the celebratory mood, we will also be opening our family Christmas gifts this evening.



French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-two Gustave Eiffel
The Eiffel bridge in Voulon

 

France Trivia advent calendar, day twenty-two, Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923)

One of the world's leading specialists in the field of metal construction, Gustave Eiffel left his legacy all over France, and not just in the form of the tower in Paris named after him. We have often come across bridges and viaducts designed by him as we’ve toured France by car and bike, including the rather small and seemingly unloved one in Voulon near Poitiers. We think this is our closest Eiffel construction, but happy to be corrected on this. 

The Eiffel Tower, or la dame de fer, (the iron lady), was built for the Paris exhibition in 1889 and despite her many early critics, she became an official historical monument in 1964. Gustave also developed the framework for another impressive dame, the Statue of Liberty. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-one, Marie Curie

French Village Diariess France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-one Marie Curie
Advent day 21 a sparkling rosé and a biere blanche


Advent day twenty-one, Monday 21st December 2020

 

Winter solstice.

The arrival of the shortest day and the knowledge that from now on the hours of daylight will slowly increase, gives us much more reason to celebrate than Christmas, and last night we enjoyed our special solstice eve meal, which is the closest we will get to a traditional Christmas dinner. 

 

This morning we were up early, hoping to see a spectacle of colours as the sun rose, promising us that the dark days will become light. Just after eight o’clock, the sky began to lighten, but when the official sunrise of 8h40 arrived, there wasn’t even a hint of pink or orange to break up the grey. I think today must be one of the gloomiest days of winter so far and I couldn’t settle to anything, apart from soup-making. 

 

I don’t think I can claim another December recipe challenge victory for last night’s meal, as although I’ve never cooked guinea fowl before, I just did exactly what I’d do with a whole chicken. However, as the challenge was to drag our meals away from what had become routine, it did at least count as something new. 



French Village Diariess France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty-one guinea fowl
Guinea fowl ready to cook in the slow cooker

 

I slow cooked the bird on a bed of leek tops, carrots and turnips with a little rosé wine and then served the meat on a Christmas vegetable risotto, and it tasted delicious. There is enough meat left for tonight’s dinner and the carcass was boiled for a stock, which along with the cooking vegetables and liquid, plus some other bits from the fridge, made a tasty soup for this week. 

 

Covid-19

The news at the weekend that there is a new strain of the virus in the UK and that all of our family over there are now in the Tier 4 category, seemed to come out of nowhere. Just to compound things, two of our close family members, who live in London, have had positive test results in today, having had coughs last week. They assure me they aren’t feeling too bad, but all this has meant their plans for Christmas have had to change. 

 

The world seems to be descending into a madness we could never have imagined a year ago. France (and most of Europe) has closed its border with the UK, we are living with an overnight curfew, and the more I focus on these statements the more it feels like things are spiralling out of control. It is way scarier out there now than it was back in March, but at least from today it is onwards and upwards and I can look forward to longer days, the arrival of spring and the strength the sunlight gives me to remain positive in a mad world.

 

Our Christmas greeting to you

Ed’s latest music video, his take on Lonely this Christmas, which I think is a pretty apt choice for this year, is now up on YouTube. All being well he won’t be lonely this Christmas, as he’ll be with his girlfriend, who he hasn’t seen since the end of October. The poor thing has been cooped up with his mad parents for almost two months and if you do decide to watch this video, you will see just how bonkers we are. 

 

This is our Christmas greeting to you all, wherever in the world you are and however you are celebrating this year. Thank you for following our French village adventures, and liking, sharing and commenting on my posts. Happy Christmas.


  



France Trivia advent calendar, day twenty-one, Marie Curie (1867-1934)

It was on this day in 1898 that French scientists Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium, so it seemed fitting for them to be todays’ French trivia. Marie was born in Poland, studied in Paris, where she met Pierre and became a naturalised French citizen. She was the first woman to win a Nobel prize, the only woman to win one twice and the only person to win one in two scientific fields (physics and chemistry). They shared the 1903 Noble prize in physics for their pioneering work in radioactivity and during the First World War she developed mobile radiography units to provide x-rays to field hospitals. Pierre and Marie also shared a passion for long bicycle trips and as the saying goes, the couple who cycle together, stay together. 




Sunday, December 20, 2020

French Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty, Aliénor d'Aquitaine

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty Aliénor d'Aquitaine Pere Noel
Advent day 20, IPA beer and Cabernet-Syrah red wine


Advent day twenty, Sunday 20th December 2020

 

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty Aliénor d'Aquitaine Pere Noel
Père Noël visits the village


Père Noël visits the village

We had a bit of excitement in the village today as Père Noël was in town. Normally he would hold a party in the village hall, or salle des fêtes, where his helpers would have laid the tables with decorations, chocolates, mugs of hot chocolate, glasses of orange juice and trays of pastries. The room would be filled with around forty children and their parents, and Christmas music would be the backdrop to excited chatter as they awaited the arrival of Père Noël. Once seated in his chair next to the Christmas tree, he’d hand out the presents stacked beside it. But not this year.


 

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty Aliénor d'Aquitaine Pere Noel
One of Père Noël's helpers and her bike


The presents were wrapped, his helpers were ready, but the village hall remained dark and closed. Not to be thwarted by Covid-19, Père Noël found himself a van, his helpers decorated it, filled it with the presents and plenty of Christmas chocolates, and he set off to hand deliver the gifts to the thirty-one under elevens in the village. We must have looked a cheery sight as our slow procession made its way around the village and hamlets, three of us on bikes, ringing our bells, followed by Père Noël and then a second car with a few more helpers and the sound system blasting out festive music. At each house we stopped at, happy faces peered out of windows as they awaited our arrival. Some of the younger ones might have been a little wary of the big man in red, but the excitement in the eyes of those old enough to understand was magical to watch. I may not be an over-the-top Christmas person, but even Covid-19 couldn’t stop me from being one of Père Noël’s helpers in the village again this year.

 

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day twenty Aliénor d'Aquitaine Poitiers
Cathedral St Pierre, Poitiers


France Trivia advent calendar, day twenty, Aliénor d’Aquitaine (1122-1204)

Living as we do in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France, the name of Aliénor (or Eleanor) of Aquitaine, is one we stumble across quite regularly. Eleanor truly was a grande dame of the middle ages, who not only inherited the vast lands of the duchy of Aquitaine, which included the Poitou, Limousin and Gascony areas of south west France, but was also the queen consort of both France and England. Her first marriage was to Louis VII, who became king of France, but they separated when she was thirty as after fifteen years, she had yet to bear him a son. Her second husband was Henri Plantagenet, count of Anjou, duke of Normandy and future king (Henry II) of England. They married in Poitiers and the impressive cathedral, which is right outside Ed’s flat, was built at her request. During the next thirteen years she had eight children, including five sons, three of whom became kings. One of her sons was Richard the Lionheart. She died when she was eighty-two, which strikes me as a pretty great age to reach in the twelfth century. 



Saturday, December 19, 2020

France Trivia Advent Calendar, day nineteen, the gorges of France

French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day nineteen gorges of France
Advent day 19, a biere rubis and a Pays d'Oc rosé


Advent day nineteen, Saturday 19th December 2020

I seem to have developed a weird Covid-19 related condition, where anytime something doesn’t feel quite 100%, my mind goes into free-fall panic mode. This first happened a few weeks ago, on a Saturday night, when Adrian opened his advent beer, a biere blanche. Up until that night, I’d enjoyed a good sniff and taste of all his beers, and their bouquets and flavours had packed more of a punch than my wines. The biere blanche, however, smelt and tasted of nothing and was such a contrast to all the others, I assumed it was my sense of smell. I counted back five days, we’d been shopping in Niort, I panicked. What if the masks, the hand gel, the hand washing and the keeping of distances hadn’t been enough and being out and about in town, mixing with others, had exposed me to the virus? A restless night gave way to a new day, where I could smell and taste just fine, and no new symptoms arrived. I scolded myself for over-reacting and carried on as normal, until the early hours of Friday morning when I awoke with a migraine. 

 

There was a time when I’d regularly be hit with migraines, but now it really is once or twice a year and I can usually pinpoint a reason; hormones, a very late night, too much to drink or being unwell. This time none of the above applied and it was also unusual for one to hit in the middle of the night. As I lay there waiting for the painkillers to kick in, fighting the nausea and violent swings in temperature that accompany every migraine, I counted back five days, and we’d been shopping, again, in Niort. What if this wasn’t really a migraine, but the virus? The pain eventually receded, sleep took over, and I when I awoke, although feeling a little battered, it was reassuring to know my head had cleared and all was well once more. Is this what life will now be like, where every ache, or symptom, or odd feeling pushes the panic button in my brain? I do hope not, but for now, I’m staying away from shopping in Niort.

 


French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar day nineteen gorges of France
Gorges de la Nesque, Provence


France Trivia advent calendar, day nineteen, the gorges of France

I thought today’s trivia could be all about gorges, as we have been going out of our way to drive or cycle some of the most spectacular gorges in France for over ten years now. In fact, exactly six months ago today we were cycling the picturesque gorges de la Nesque in the Vauclause, high on the adrenalin of having cycled up Mont Ventoux the day before.

 

Gorges are deep river ravines formed over millions of years by the water eroding through the rocks and creating spectacular scenery. France is blessed with a number of gorges that are simply stunning, from the deep and dramatic gorges du Tarn and gorges du Verdon, (the largest canyon in Europe), to the meandering beauty of the gorges de l’Ardèche with its stone arch carved out by the river. We will never tire of straining our necks as we look up the steep rock sides to watch vultures and birds of prey circling in the thermals, or peering over precipices into the ravines below, where tiny kayaks tackle the white water. A holiday is not a holiday without a bit of gorge spotting for us and these posts will show you just why we love them so much.


Cycling the Dolce Via (valley de l’Eyrieux, Ardeche) 

Cycling the Gorges de la Nesque, Provence 

Cycling the Gorges du Loup, Côte d’Azur 

Ardeche 

Les Gorges du Tarn 

The Gorges du Aveyron 



Friday, December 18, 2020

France Trivia Advent Calendar, day eighteen, les volailles de Bresse

French Village Diaries France Trivia advent calendar day eighteen Poulet de Bresse
Advent day 18 sparkling dry chardonnay and biere triple



Advent day eighteen, Friday 18th December 2020

 

It is a week before Christmas and there was a lot to celebrate today, even the advent calendar seemed to be in tune with my mood, presenting me with a nice bottle of sparkling dry Chardonnay this morning. 


 

French Village Diaries France Trivia advent calendar day eighteen French Onion Tarte
French Onion Tarte December recipe challenge

The first thing worth a mention is that I have successfully tamed the French Onion tarte and am delighted to report dinner last night was tasty, edible and with no soggy bottoms or uncooked pastry. It seems sticking to my favourite rectangle baking tin, rather than the round flan dish Hugh would have preferred I use, made all the difference. I will definitely be cooking this recipe again.

 

We enjoyed a little bit of normality this afternoon for the first time since lockdown began, meeting up with friends for a bike ride. It might have been fresh, but the sun did shine eventually and as we had a big (60) birthday to celebrate, we did our best with mulled wine, fizz, ginger liqueur, hot chocolate, cheese, dips, crisps, mincepies and cake. There were only six of us, and we stayed outdoors and kept sensible distances between us, but it felt like a real party with fun, laughter and face to face conversation. It is the little things like getting together with friends that we have been lacking this year and it felt so good today. 


At some point during our bike ride this afternoon I smashed the 5000-kilometre mark for this year on my bike, which is up by over one thousand five hundred kilometres on last year, even with over one hundred days in lockdown. I’m pretty pleased with that and will continue to keep pedalling, 2020 isn’t over just yet.

 

France Trivia advent calendar, day eighteen, les volailles de Bresse (Bresse poultry)

The chickens from Bresse in the east of France are so very French, with their red combs, pure white plumage and blue feet, and the quality of their meat has been celebrated by French gourmets for over two hundred years. A true Bresse bird must be raised in a specified geographical area, outdoors with access to grass and fed a strict diet of milk products and cereals. They must also reach at least four months old before being sent off to the butcher and the capons, castrated males, are raised for at least eight months. They really are the crème de la crème of the chicken world with their tender, meaty flesh that is free from antibiotics, hormones or chemicals. If you are looking for something a bit special in your chicken, maybe for a celebration meal, or for Christmas, try a bird from Bresse. 


Thursday, December 17, 2020

France Trivia Advent Calendar, day seventeen, François Truffaut


French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar François Truffaut
Advent day 17 Colombard-Chardonnay white and Biere Blonde


Advent day seventeen, Thursday 17th December 2020

I’m feeling a little nervous as I write this as in my kitchen are all the component parts for my second attempt at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s French Onion Tarte for this week’s December recipe challenge. The pastry has been blind baked, the onions gently softened and golden, and all I need to do now is fill the pastry with the onions, egg and cream mix and try (this time) to cook it thoroughly. Wish me luck.



French Village Diaries France Trivia Advent Calendar François Truffaut
Carrot cake and Adrian's clever idea to
keep the heat in the mulled wine pot

 

My kitchen has been my place of refuge today, which I am hoping is a good omen for an edible onion tarte. I have baked a carrot cake and another batch of mincepies and both went without a hitch. We have also topped up the mulled wine, to ensure we don’t run out, and the whole house smelt delicious and Christmassy this morning. Baking is a great distraction from Covid-19, although the news that the French President, Emmanuel Macron, has tested positive and that most of our family in the UK are now in Tier 3 zones, did filter through to my happy place.

 

The advent offerings today were a fresh Colombard Chardonnay white wine for me and a Biere blonde for Adrian. My wine is in the fridge, but I think it might be a mulled wine apéro for me tonight and I’ll save the white for a sunny bike ride when the weather is warmer. These little 185ml bottles are the perfect size to keep and reuse, ensuring all bike ride picnics will be that bit more refined and decadent next year. I can’t wait.

 

France Trivia advent calendar, day seventeen, François Truffaut.

We are delving into the world of French cinema for today’s advent trivia and I’ve picked François Truffaut, for the simple reason the college (secondary school) Ed went to in Chef Boutonne, is named after him. François was a mere film critic before becoming one of France’s best-known directors from the New Wave of cinema. Larousse tells me it was the strength of his storylines, and the sensitivity and the truthfulness of his characters that made him a master of the French cinema. Each of the classrooms at Ed’s school were named after one of his films, and here are just a few you may have heard of. 

 

Les Quatre Cents Coups 1959 [The Four Hundred Blows].

Jules et Jim 1962 [Jules and Jim]

La Nuit Américaine 1973 [American night]

Le Dernier Métro 1980 [the last metro]

Fahrenheit 451, his first non-French film

 

With Ed studying cinema as part of his degree, I asked him for his opinion on François Truffaut and he says that Truffaut is a very down to earth film director. Some of the French New Wave directors could be a little unconventional at times. Truffaut, on the other hand, made films that even though touched complicated subjects and may have hidden meanings, were told in a clear way and could be understood by all audiences.

 

He was such a harsh film critic before becoming a director that when he announced that his directorial debut Les quatres cents coups would be first shown at Cannes Festival 1959, other filmmakers were looking forward to having their turn finding faults in his work. Once the film had been shown, they found that… there was nothing bad to say about the film, thus making Les quatre cent coups the first French film considered of the New Wave, and Truffaut the most popular director of this cinematographic movement.

 

Thanks Ed.