Perfect Portugal!

Perfect Portugal!

A spur-of- the-moment decision meant a last-minute trip to Faro, Portugal for the half-term holidays: excellent value for flights and accommodation, and what a well-deserved treat! The enigma of being in a different country and speaking a different language flummoxed our youngest, age six! The fact that all four of our children are bilingual does seem to mean that they are much more open to learning and speaking other languages. This interest in mastering other languages will hopefully be a massive bonus for them in the future.

After the hustle and bustle of the airport (the concept of ‘queueing’ is apparently unknown and baffling to the French), we survived the cut and thrust of the crowds to get on the plane. We also managed to shove our hand luggage on without too much trouble and came out alive after eating warm ham sandwiches and over-priced beer. It was all worth it! I love the feeling of stepping off the plane and having the heat hit you. It was quite a few degrees warmer than La Rochelle, so definitely summery weather with the need for shorts. Perfect! We had a big villa with a private (freezing) swimming pool about 10 minutes’ walk from the beach. The coast was stunning! The dramatic orange cliffs dropping into the clear blue sea and the power of the swell was mesmerizing. You had to be quite a tough cookie to brave the sea: it was pretty rough and not for the faint hearted! But Rosie (age 10) bought a boogie board and had a wonderful time crashing through the waves all day, only stopping to show us her wounds!

The food was good and we discovered some lovely restaurants, generally very reasonable. Snack food was amazing value and you could grab a decent burger or pizza for €5. Beer was €1 a pint, which was great after the price of beer in France! You could buy wine in cardboard cartons ‒ like milk ‒ for only €0.69 a litre! Chicken piri piri is the local speciality. This seemed to vary depending on the restaurant, but was a wonderful meal in the right place.

Our favourite haunt was a quaint little Thai restaurant, well tucked away. The food was fresh, fragrant and delicious. The children enjoyed all the dishes we chose, which meant everyone was happy! We saved the Indian restaurant for the last night. Eating Indian food is probably one of the things we miss most from the UK. The French do not like spicy food and do not really eat curry. The kick from this dinner was just right to send us on our way home.

Mervent

Mervent is a beautiful forest nearby. We have a villa that was designed and built by my husband right in the center of the area, a short walk from the river and bars. It's such a great spot with plenty to do for the whole family. If you are interested in outdoor activities, this is the perfect destination for you. There is a sailing school to hire boats of different sizes. There are walks and cycle paths through the forest as well as pony treks if this appeals to you. There is an adventure park that all ages can enjoy, and finally a zoo that has been recently improved.


A welcoming French couple run one restaurant by the bridge and offer a reasonable menu du jour as well as a good range of snacks, happy to cater for large groups too.


It has been frustrating as it is such a stunning environment, but has needed someone with vision (and money) to update the other two bars. An Irish lady has bought one of the bars recently so we are waiting to see what she does with this. It is the most perfect setting, breath-taking!


It is with great anticipation that the spacious venue set right on the rivers edge, next to our villa is reopening! It is a quiet life we lead out here, especially through the winter months, so this is the talk of the commune and we have high expectations! The complete overhaul has taken sometime, but it is looking very smart, the work was well-needed and has made a huge difference.


We had a lovely sunny lunch there not long ago. The menu is quite simple, classically French, and a little expensive, you do pay for the right to sit beside the river which is wonderful and worth it! I think we need to allow them time to get settled into the business and the area, which I'm sure will help them to iron out the teething problems that are apparent with any new business.


As a final thought, the staff were friendly, the setting is incredible and the food was pretty good. For tourists and locals this is the perfect spot for a relaxed lunch or an aperitif, definitely worth a visit!

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Our villa in Mervent

Spring Lunch at Le Mazeau

With the changing weather and the welcome warmth that seems to be gradually pushing itself back into our cold wintery days, the available produce feels suddenly brighter and inspiring. The mood is lifted by the lighter evenings, bringing memories of balmy summer nights and anticipation of many more to come. Jumping out of bed with the sun shining is fabulous after a long cold February, asking oneself, 'could I wear shorts today?' 'Definitely maybe' would be the answer, although temperatures have been hitting early twenties, fantastic!

So we decided an early spring lunch was how to spend our sunny Friday. The market in Niort is really fantastic. It's open most days which is a luxury, and has such an interesting range of produce. A bussling hive of activity as people saunter through the aisles ready for inspiration. Always a three course lunch at midday here, and make sure at 12 on the dot it's ready...

This took a lot of getting used to when we arrived. By the time we got up and ready and drove to the shops, everything would shut for a two hour lunch break...literally everything except of course the restaurants. 

From fairly early you will be able to find a few locals at the bar drinking a cold glass of muscadet. In Niort there is a busy bar set in the middle of the indoor market, at first it looks inviting, but if you even think about sitting down, the looks of horror from the regulars is enough to rapidly convince you otherwise! As we continue through the market, the colorful array of vegetables is simply beautiful. We bought a range of fresh produce for our delicious spring lunch and hurried back to the house to get stuck in.

After lighting the fires and enjoying the morning sunshine, the vegetables strewn over the limestone island gently seducing us and silently screaming 'throw us in the fire', so we did. The raw reality of cooking over wood taking us back to our cave man instincts, is great fun. You get to enjoy the whole process, knowing you have achieved it with your own bare hands. The impact of the theatre makes the meal more exciting, and the flavor makes the food more delicious!

Succulent lamb chops left to marinate with cumin and olive oil whilst tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, a whole head of garlic and shallots, cook over the hot coals until softened and slightly charred, then roughly chopped. Mix all these little beauties with the mashed garlic, a little seasoning and fresh herbs from the garden, et voilà - scrummy ratatouille! We quickly rustled up some flatbreads which were also cooked directly on the hot coals - fantastic!

The lamb chops then cooked on the plancha and brushed with the marinade via a rosemary sprig - the perfect centerpiece! Bon appétit et bienvenue printemps!

Thanks Roger Stowell for filming the video, check out the link below...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD4AN_9NOX0

  

Spring has sprung a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

The translation of idioms and sayings can be tricky and has always been an interesting topic. We were inspired this week when our daughter (little chip off the old block) came home from school and asked me what a 'bobbly' was. It turns out that in her English lesson, she had been taught that a policeman is also known as a 'bobbly'! If children went to England and said some of the things that they have learnt at school, they would not get very far!


Spring is definitely on it's way and our first sunny, happy daffodil appeared this week. This time of year is preparation time for the holiday and activity season. There is always a lot to do, we are as busy as a bee, constantly adding to and improving the properties. There is a charity run organisation nearby where all profits go to helping get people back on their feet. It is located in a few old barns with a large courtyard, literally full of odds and sods (translate that one...!). The mirrors from reclaimed wardrobes are such a little pot of gold. They work well in our holiday villas when repaired and painted and this week we got 12 mirrors, 2 chairs and 2 tables for €35!


It has been raining cats and dogs all week, making it perfect to do some of the internal work. A beautiful his and hers wardrobe has been the project to get stuck into and so far so good, it's looking great! My husband makes it look like a piece of cake! Next week, touch wood, the sun is returning so we can get going in the gardens.


After a busy week, we had a visit to the market, bought some grumpy John Dory for dinner and had a cheeky lunch in a fabulous little bistro in Fontenay-le-Comte called 'le Cap'tain'. They do a tasty steak and roblochon burger, and lovely fish too.  I enjoyed a wok of spiced prawns and chicken - delicious! I use the term 'spiced' loosely as the French definition of this is very different to the English. It doesn't really cut the mustard for us spice-lovers! In for a penny in for a pound, we decided to finish with a cafe gourmand. It's perfect for us as they are happy to cater for families and dogs are welcome, even our silly Rhodesian. The owner is real salt of the earth and makes the place what it is, a dynamic, friendly hang-out that we love to support. He's a good egg, or should I say un bon œuf!

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A walk through the Vendee

Dis-moi la Vendee

 

This is brilliant walking country. As well as the many kilometres of trails in attractions such as the Mervent Forest, there are designated walking trails in every commune, highlighted by arrows painted on trees in different colours to indicate shorter or longer routes. Here, the terrain includes open fields, small woodlands, streams and tracks that pass through tiny hamlets. A cart track up behind the local chateau reveals itself as an ancient road that crosses a Roman bridge. Beside an old mill is a monument to the Maquis (the local war-time French resistance).

 

The French love of walking includes a passion for organised events. My neighbour invited me to join her family on a walk in a nearby commune organised by a group call Dis-moi la Vendee (roughly translated as Tell me of the Vendee), which I understood combined a walk, a picnic and information about local history. So it was that I set out at eight-o’clock on the last and very stormy day of February to join a group of over 100 walkers setting off from St Maurice le Girard, all, unlike me, equipped with proper wet weather gear. 

 

Preceded by energetic marshals, we set off on the 10k route through wind, rain and the occasional outburst of sun. More used to solitary and meditative rambles, walking in a large group was a challenge. They walked very fast, for one thing. It was also important not to follow blindly as those just ahead might have stepped off the track to satisfy what the marshals called out as a “problème urinaire”. You could also hear an occasional warning chorus of “pi pi”.

You don’t get to admire the country so well when it’s raining and your vision is curtailed by a hood, but the walk involved some lovely woodland tracks, an extremely soggy muddy cross-field trek and an interesting break. Half-way through our 10k, we marched (or rather straggled) into what appeared to be an ordinary farmyard. Here, in a basic farm shed, we were treated to a demonstration by the Rolf Circus, a duo combining motorbike acrobatic stunts with modern dance. 

 

After an allegedly brilliant talk about one Jean-Gabriel Gallot, a local hero from the French Revolution, we continued on our circular walk back to St Maurice for a picnic in the local hall. When all the now wet walkers returned to their cars to collect their picnics and put on clean shoes, I realised I was about to commit a crime of heinous proportions by having to enter the hall with muddy feet. No-one warned me to bring clean shoes!

 

The picnic was preceded by too many speeches, but accompanied with gusto and a fair few bottles of wine. The day was not, however, over at this point. After lunch, we had a Q&A session with the fabulous Rudolphe and Leslie of the aforementioned Rolfe Circus. From what I understood they want to widen what is largely a very macho Mad Max genre into something with wider family appeal. Even their dog joins in. And they have just moved to the Vendee.

 

And then we were off again to visit La Corbière where retired famer Jean Brémaud has a collection of ancient farm machinery and where brioche is still baked in an eighteenth century four à bois or bread oven. Whatever one’s own sore feet felt at the forensic description of every single blessed exhibit in the museum, the French could only rave about the use of patois in M Brémaud’s delivery, his authentic dress of tunic and flat hat and the wonder of all the machinery they or their parents could still remember using. This enthusiasm is in part what makes me love this part of France.

Maeve Good

Sunday Lunch at Jousselin

Having arrived here 12 years ago with two small children, we have been lucky enough to have two more children born in France. Having a young family in a rural area and a foreign country can be lonely, but we have always tried to integrate and enjoy socializing. 

 

My husband is a keen cook and very talented in my opinion! It is often easier to entertain at home, allowing the children to play and the adults to indulge.... which is what we decided to do last weekend.

 

The produce that is available is certainly seasonal and took a little getting used.... a roasted crispy whole pork leg was the center piece for our Sunday roast with a few friends. Undeniably delicious, I must admit, it's my favorite! Accompanied by cauliflower cheese with a mixture of beautiful French offerings on the cheese front, dreamy Yorkshire puddings, honey roasted carrots and roast potatoes of course, all coated with a glossy red wine gravy to take it to another level. That is one thing that we have learnt, everyone loves a roast!

 

Being big foodies has rubbed off on our children and my daughter is a natural. She willingly whipped up a crowd-pleaser for pudding, walnut and chocolate brownies, perfect for a wet windy February Sunday!

 

We had a mixture of English and French as guests. For the children, who all speak both languages like a native, it makes no difference, but for us adults, some speak only French, some speak only English, some speak both - badly, it's always a little more of a challenge! It came to light that a few phrases in English are most amusing to the French, for example, 'oops a daisy' thought to be charming and suitably polite and 'stop dilly dallying!' no explanation for this one, just very sweet when said with a French accent!

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Lunch at the local.

Life in France is not all about food. It’s also about sport. Cue the Six Nations.

 

Our local bar, La Coussotte, celebrated England v France (22:16) by introducing a new Six Nations burger. Last Saturday they served England on a roll (21:16). Can’t last!

 

Presided over by the jovial Loic Beaurain and his wife Cindy, the bar offers an essential safety valve for life in the French countryside, somewhere local to escape to. Granted there may be only three or four regulars on a quiet winter’s evening (each has his own brass name plate at the bar), weekends are lively enough.

 

There is a three-course weekday lunch menu at €12.50 including wine. Weekends offer home-cooked steak with frites, a range of tasty pizzas to eat in or take way and the new burger maison. The bar also hosts special events for Beaujolais Day etc. as well as the odd comedy night (and no, my French is no way good enough for that). On Sundays, you can have an apéro of oysters with a glass of Muscadet for €7.

 

In the summer, there’s a sunny outdoor area. In winter, the rustic interior welcomes you with its red-checked table cloths, wooden beams and fireplace. There is snooker, darts, table football. And plenty of craic. Just watch out when France plays Ireland on the 25th.

 

Lunch at the Auberge

 

 

 

Big in France takes on a whole new meaning after lunch in the Auberge de la Riviere, Velluire, Vendee.

 

At the start of the week, it was still January, the longest month and a period of existential angst brought about by too much Trump before Brexit. So when Emily and Matt invited us to join them for lunch, it was just the nudge we needed to abandon any lingering New Year resolutions and start to live again.

 

This was my first visit to the Auberge. We were shown to a large square table looking out onto the river, a pretty view despite the wet February day. With the menus, came the first giggle as Matt’s was the only one that showed the prices. There are set menus ranging from €23 to €50, a children’s menu at €11 and a la carte options. I was a bit worried for my other half, who is a difficult eater (if I could, I would send him on a cookery course just to learn to eat). But the restaurant was able to offer him a personalised menu of home-smoked salmon followed by a plain fillet steak. The rest of us chose the Menu Sensation.

 

I am not going to go through everything we ate. For me, what stood out, apart from a caramelised cherry tomato on a lollipop stick, was a perfect French onion soup in a coffee cup, a scallop ceviche marinated in passion fruit and magret de canard with something called a “déclinaison de mogettes label rouge”. This was a surprisingly delicious puree of white beans or mogettes for which the Vendee is famous. Between the mises en bouche, the main dishes and the cheese, we must have had upwards of eight courses. A request for café irlandais was received with a blank stare. Apparently, it’s called Irish Coffee in France.

 

This was certainly one way to get Big in France. But it was such fun!

 

Auberge de la Riviere

2 Rue de Port de la Fouarne

85770 Velluire

Tel: 02 51 52 32 15

http://www.hotel-riviere-vendee.com