A week in Cauterets, Haute Pyrenees 

A week in Cauterets, Haute Pyrenees ⛷🏂🎿Missed the Mais.

This was a lovely half term week skiing. Didn’t think I could manage all week but I did. It would have been nice to do the spa and Loudes but there just wasn’t the time. Our skiing has progressed really well. Particularly Callum’s snowboarding 🏂. We’ve filmed him on a red run for his GCSE PE and he’s also used his GoPro to film himself.

Cauterets is a really gorgeous place to stay – really busy all day long so a great atmosphere, interesting architecture.  There were lots of Eataries BUT as usual for me as a vegetarian, food was an issue, unless I was happy eating pizza all week – and most were booked and/or had two sittings so we booked one night and most nights just wandered till we found one with a table free. The evening we were going to venture to the cinema, La La land was cancelled.  However, there were lots of things to do, if you have the energy after a days skiing.  A swimming pool, spa (x 2), salle de jeux (mini arcade with pool tables / air hockey / pin ball etc) and several play areas for younger children.

Hotel Edleweiss, where we stayed was a family run hotel – the mother and father had very little English but one of the sons spoke really good English and as it happened another family staying at the same time could also speak very good English too.  The cousin of the hotel owner even bought Grandma a gift when we left! On the down side the restaurant had no choice, only plat du jour. No bar and the sitting area was for a max of 10 people. We did manage to get tea, coffee and wine every night delivered to this area. Not the same as having a huge open fire and views of the mountains as we have had in previous hotels.

Skiing – a bit daunting  when we first got up to the top! Blinded by the sun and what appeared to be very steep runs. Even my son, who is very brave, was a bit overawed to start with but ended up loving the steep slopes.  The food at the top was fine – there was a restaurant (but we tended to eat sandwiches / hot dogs / chips / waffles and crepes from the bar) it was busy but we always found a table and never queued for more than 10 minutes and that was a one off.

Our lessons this year were “ok” – the instructor just said that we could clearly ski and knew the techniques but just needed confidence (more of a psychology session!). He wanted to take us up to the top but I was too nervous – he said we would be fine!

Queues were horrendous – 45 minutes (at its’ worst) for a turn on the “source” pommel. However queues to go to the top on the proper lifts were actually very quick and if from 8am till 10am the queues were manageable.  But it was half term school holidays in France too.

The basic small blue runs (3 choices of routes down) we started on were a bit of a pain because of “moguls” that were created every day by the sheer number of skiers going through one crossroad – and then bumps just after (on two of the options) where you would take off and needed good balance to get through – these didn’t exist at the start of the day but were very difficult to handle at the end of the day. Also hard because of the number of people who congregated at this point / slowed down to get through them.

Tapis wasn’t too bad – reasonable for warming up / cooling down and queues easier to handle – lots of under 8’s to slalom around!

I lacked confidence so stuck to the green and blue runs. The instructor took us on a steep part of a blue run and taught us how to slide so we would know how to get past steeper bits we didn’t feel like skiing! However, I fell and that knocked my confidence.  Quelle wimp!

The weather was brilliant, although no new snow.

Oh I forgot – there was an avalanche but fortunately not on the pistes. My son was on the chair lift and saw it all but Paul and I were having a coffee so missed it!

Really looking forward to being en France again at Easter.  6 weeks to go!

Open garden, South West France😍

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First lunch at B’s.

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Then to Loubens where one of B’s friends lives. She has a lovely Girondaise farm house that is on the market at moment.  House near Loubens

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Super place to check out which plants will grow in this part of France and for garden design ideas. We will return to check it out at the start of the season. At the moment it is so dry and parched. Still looking good

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I always think it’s lovely to stumble across a hidden oasis and treasures within a garden. Hydrangeas to die for and lots of hidden object d’art to stimulate the senses.image

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To get all the details about open gardens in France go to:

http://rendezvousauxjardins.culturecommunication.gouv.fr/

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Plants in France

As I’m back in the UK (not for long, as we return to France this Thursday) I tend to look for all things French that I have around me to give me some inspiration for a blog.  Then I remembered some cuttings that have been languishing down the side of the house so they wont be in direct sunlight.  Not much chance of that here, I hear you cry!  imageAnyway back to the cuttings.  There are several but the largest two and the smaller one at the front on the left were taken last year from wild Elder bushes on a little road that leads to my friends house.  These wild Elderberry shrubs seem to grow all over in the hedge rows in our part of France.  My friend has copious amounts growing around her front door and as I have lost so many plants to drought, because we cannot water the garden, I thought that cultivating native/local plants, that do survive hot dry months, would be the best thing to do.  (Although we are thinking of putting in some sort of basic irrigation system once we have an outside tap)

Rose always wants to know what I’m up to when I’m in the garden.  After all it is her domain.  Looks cute doesn’t she.  But, if you are a vole, mouse, baby rabbit or small bird, this is the face that greets you just before you die.  She’s a killer.imageSo the Elder cuttings are doing well.  They will travel to France with us when we next take the car through the tunnel in either October or at Christmas.  The best time to plant them will be then as it will give them a chance to get some roots developed before the hot weather next summer.

The generic name of the Elder is Sambucus.  In France the Elderberry shrub(s) is called “Sureau” or “Les Sureaux”.

And as I’m writing this, the weirdest thing is happening.  A small bug is meandering across the screen of my Mac.  And, it’s behind the glass.  What’s going on.  Anyway back to the blog.

In our garden here in Blighty, I have three black Elderberry shrubs.  They have beautiful deep burgundy leaves and provide much needed colour to our otherwise very green garden at this time of year.

Elder shrubs have been an important resource for a very long time.  From the Greeks to the Romans and the Britons to the Celts, it has a huge range of practical uses. Elderberry wine is said to have curative powers. Taken hot it will help in the early stages of a cold or ‘flu, and is also good for a sore throat. This is due to the viburnic acid contained in the berries which induces perspiration and helps to “bring the cold out”.

Make it simply by stripping off the ripe berries with a fork until you have three gallons of berries. Pour over 2 gallons of boiling water, cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. Strain through muslin and press all the juice well out. Measure it and allow 3lbs (1.3kg) of sugar, half an ounce (14g) of ginger and quarter of an ounce (7g) of cloves to each gallon (approx 5 litres). Boil slowly for 20 minutes, strain into a bucket, adding the yeast when it is lukewarm. Pour into demijohns, standing them in a warm place while the yeast works through the sugar. Bottle when it stops. It’s really best to leave it for at least a year, and 2 or 3 years is even better.http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/elder.htm

The Elder flower and berry seems to have been a cure all, from preventing mosquito bites to chilblains and bronchitis.  The berries also make a dye which was used by the Romans to dye their hair black.

The Elder was a mystical plant associated with the spirit world across Europe.  In particular a tree spirit, called the Elder Mother.  To be able to use the magical properties of the tree, prayers and offerings would have to be made otherwise the Elder Mother would not be happy. Because the Elder is very easy to propagate from a cutting and grows so quickly it is therefore associated with regeneration and rebirth.

Because of these spiritual links the Christian church ‘demonized’ the Elder tree, as it did many of the magical plants of the Druids and other pagans, and said that Elder wood was used for the crucifixion cross and that Judas hung himself from an Elder tree. Elder was given a bad name and now had powers of both good and evil. Bringing Elder into the house might cause misfortune or even death to family members and burning the wood meant summoning the Devil.

The word “elder” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “æld” meaning fire.  According to one source this may have been due to the hollowed out stems being used to blow on the fire. The stem has a soft inside that can be easily hollowed out to form a tube. These were then used to make whistles and pipes.

In 1629 a Dr Martin Blochwich who died aged 27 published a reference book titled The Anatomy of the Elder. In this book, which has become a standard reference work, Blochwich described the cultivated plant in three units that occupied a total of 298 pages.

  • Unit 1: The botanic of the elder with an explanation of the origin of the name, as well as where it could be found, its growth and characteristics.
  • Unit 2: In six chapters Blochwich described the preparation of vinegar, chalk, compote, oil, tablets, ointment, juice, syrup, spirit, water, wine and sugar made of elder in detail and gave recipes.
  • Unit 3: Thirty-three chapters about the treatment of diseases that occurred frequently. Recipes have exact descriptions for the production of medicines made of elderflower, elderberry, elder marrow and elder bark, as well as numerous references to the opinions of famous doctors of antiquity and the Middle Ages, which gave the practical doctors during Blockwitz’s day instructions how to use various elder preparations internally and externally. The conditions dealt with include breast and uterine diseases, frostbite, tumours, infectious diseases, diseases of the lungs, stomach, intestines, spleen and gall bladder, mental illnesses, stroke and paralysis, consumption, unclear fever and pain, poisonings, injuries, worm attack and toothache.

Elder continues to be commonly used in herbal remedies and drinks.  It is the flowers and berries that are most used as these are the safest parts of the plant as the bark and leaves are toxic in the wrong dosage.

River Cottage Elderflower cordial

Ingredients

Makes about 2 litres

  • About 25 elderflower heads
  • Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
  • 1kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

Method

Inspect the Elder-flower heads carefully and remove any insects. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the zest of the orange and lemon.

Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the Elder-flowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.

Strain the liquid through a piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid (if using).

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

Serving suggestions

Add a splash or two, undiluted, to fruit salads or anything with gooseberries or dilute one part cordial to two parts water for fragrant ice lollies.

To find out more about the Elder tree, simple google it.  There’s loads of info out there or grab a copy of Dr Martin Blochwich’s book, available from Amazon.

Oh, and before I completed this blog, Rose had caught yet another vole and my son’s run out to see if he can save it.

Woo hoo, C’est l’été and it’s vide time again

 

So there was another storm the night before last!

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Then yesterday morning it was not as hot as it had been but we have our friends, Karen and Keith staying and there are vide greniers to go to and a possible wine tasting at St Émilion so it was up early and out for the morning croissants and then into the car, leaving my teenage son in bed.

First stop was Saint Avit Saint Nazaire and just as Karen said “I wonder if we’ll see any demijohns”, we did, and it was only 3€.  What a bargain.  I’ve never seen any that cheap before.  No way she’ll get it back on the plane so it will have to stay in France until we can get it back in the car.  Karen has a spot in her Gloucester cottage for this one.  Looking forward to seeing it in situ.

Then it was onto Pujols.  A gorgeous little French town, that is not far from us, although we’ve never been before.

 

I found all this lovely Bakelite.

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We’ll definitely go back to Pujols, it was a lovely French town.  Had a quick rendezvous with Barbara, a friend of ours and then it was on to St Emilion to have lunch and check out the wine tasting venues.

And finally this evening there was just time for a game of Pétanque.  The guests won.

 

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Rome ne s’est pas bâtie dans un jour

We’ve arrived to gorgeous weather.  It’s going to take us some time to acclimatise, although we have been having a bit of a heat wave back home in Blighty too.  It’s all hands on deck today with the building work as we have friends coming to stay for a week on Thursday.  We need to be sleeping in the new bedroom in the extension.  So it’s a case of the loo being fitted now, painting being done and then a temporary wash basin going in as well.

We’ve been madly mowing and strimming.  My son spent most of the first day we were here mowing the lawn as he was so board.  The minute we arrive he’s like, “what are we going to do” and we are like “we’ve just driven for 18 hours we want to snooze and do nothing”.  Bit of a miss-match going on.

All the plants that I put in at Easter have died and gone from this:

To this:

We will probably have to invest in some sort of watering system if we want to plant again or make sure we plant in October/November.  Although, the garden centres don’t have the same selection of plants at that time of year.

The exterior of the extension is now completed apart from the crépi.  The interior is still a work in progress.

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Paul is enjoying the new view from the bedroom window.

Now we need to choose flooring and tiles.  Allons-y!

A walk through Mas d’Agenais and along the Canal du Midi yesterday

It’s not easy to know what to do when you want to get out and about, walk the dog and avoid getting muddy.  Head for the beautiful town of Mas d’Agenais and walk the Canal du Midi.  So that’s what we got up to on Saturday.  We had been last year on our bikes and we plan, at some stage, to cycle to Agen, but for now just a leisurely walk was in order.

Mas d’Agenais is one of the most historic villages in the Lot et Garonne and overlooks the Canal du Midi.  The village is over 2000 years old and was once occupied by the Romans. Eglise Saint-Vincent overlooking the old market place houses a painting by Rembrandt of Christ on the Cross, painted in 1631.

Around the time of the first century, the village was know by the name of Ussubium and was located to the west of the current main square.  Later on it went by the name of Pompejacum, which remained its name until the eleventh century, when the name “Mas” was adopted.

The church was started in 1085 and took 40 years to complete. It was a collegiate church for a secular community which meant that it provided distinct spaces within it for congregational worship and also administered the village directly and held the “three hands of justice” (high and low justice, and the right to levy taxes).  These three hands were used in the design of the town’s coat of arms more recently.

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It is a Roman style church and was built with a traditional Benedictine apse, a transept and three naves.
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It was restored in the nineteenth century by architects Paul Abadie Jr and Viollet le Duc. Originally, the church had a tall slate spire similar to other French churches in the region.  However, when it became too dangerous to repair in the nineteenth century, it was destroyed. Now, to some extent it does have the appearance as if something is missing when you look at it.  In 1875 an extract of a report by Paul Abadie valued the necessary restoration work at 39,600 francs. In 2010 the town of Mas d’Agenais was given a grant of € 20,694 relating to the restoration of the nave.    

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In the Middle Ages, the village was surrounded by a brick wall with five high gates.  Only one still remains.IMG_4758

There was originally a feudal château next to this gate which was destroyed in the seventeenth century and its beams reused to build the covered wheat market.  This is now where the village’s weekly market is held on Thursday mornings.

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Just the other side of this gate was a huge axe, probably made from one of the old beams I imagine.  Anyway it made for a good photo.

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Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the ferryman was the only way of travelling between the banks of the Garonne. A toll suspension bridge was built in 1840 and later adapted to allow twentieth century traffic across it.  It is very tight though and gives you height and width limits. We just managed to breath in and get across.

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We passed through the village last summer and it was a hive of activity, lots of people on the canal and cycling between Bordeaux and Agen. There are also lots of events such as the Foulées du Matin Vert, a running race from the town centre to the neighbouring town of Tonneins in June, concerts, vide greniers and an artists festival during August.

It’s quite therapeutic watching a lock fill.

 Paul took up botany on our walk.

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Question – does my bum look big in this? Answer, yes.

Question – is my 14 year old son bigger than me? Answer, yes.

C’est fini.