Wednesday, 30 July 2014

France part 3: Villefranche and Cordes

The wonderful weekly market at Villefrance de Rouergue. 

We were invited to lunch by some friends, so we went to this market on the way to pick up some bits. I spotted these dahlias being sold by a little old lady whose produce came entirely from her garden. Q was mystified, because he thought the flowers on the next stall looked better, but I saw her sitting there quietly on her own with her hair in a bun, at a small table with a checkered tablecloth and I knew I wanted HER flowers. I wish I had managed to get a photo of her. 

We took dahlias, an apple tart and some local wine as presents for our hosts.
That's a 1960s Lanz Original dress being whipped up by the wind there. Seemed like a reasonable choice for lunch, but as soon as I arrived I was challenged to table tennis. I took off my shoes and bracelets and tucked my dress into my underwear, but I still lost. 

Can you see the woman behind watching with her arms crossed? There was a man at Q's shoulder too. I felt like a sleb being papped. No time for the usual messing around. I posed, he shot two photos. If I ended up looking like Quasimodo, too bad. 
A fabulous pair of knockers! They do amazing doors, door furniture and windows in France.
Cordes-sur-Ciel. Everywhere we visited was medieval, but what I really liked about it was that each town had its own distinct style and character. You didn't feel like you were looking at the same old place over and over again. Each time we agreed we were glad we had made the effort.
Probably the only time I have an ice cream is on holiday. Violet ice cream for me, mint choc chip for him, chosen by me to go with the lilac for the photo! See, I do try.

I love testing out new flavours. When we were in Scandinavia a couple of years ago we had liquorice flavour. Gorgeous.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

France part 2: Belcastel, the perfect place for a fairytale wedding

The starting point and main reason for our holiday in France came in the form of a wedding invitation. There was never any doubt the answer was going to be 'oui!'

Belcastel is a tiny village in Aveyron, which takes its name from the hill top chateau it surrounds. It was in the chateau itself that our friends decided to get married.

The cobbled path leads up to the chateau and those are the keys to the castle. Hollyhocks and lavender everywhere.
A French architect bought the castle in the 1970s and started the regeneration of the entire village. His vision was to part restore the castle, so he could live in it, and leave part of it as a romantic ruin. I love that vision. It was in the ruined parts that the wedding took place. 
The draw bridge across the moat, and me up on the bridge going towards the ramparts. That 1960s Hawaiian palazzo pant jumpsuit has become my default wedding outfit. It is neon bright and I feel so glamorous in it. I spent the whole day feeling like I was in 'I capture the castle'. There was even a wedding guest called Cassandra. I so wanted to swim in that moat. 
As dusk started falling, candles were lit. Over there on the right at the top of that circular staircase is where I was posing for the last photo.
The weather on that day was so beautiful, which was a huge relief as everything was outside. We had the ceremony in the top garden, just behind where I am taking this photo, then champagne and canapes on the front lawn, on the other side of the moat, and finally dinner and dancing in the courtyard.
Dancing underneath the stars, what a way to feel alive. That's the bride's mum and dad there. As soon as the first dance was over, she was on that floor and she stayed there 'til the end. 77 years old and fizzing with life and energy. What a wonderful lady.
So many nooks and crannies to explore. So much wine to drink.

But you know, even a fairytale ruined castle has to service day to day needs. A long drop toilet and a post box.
A view from the ramparts over the village of Belcastel. That's the river Aveyron down there. Just on that street to the right is where the night market takes place on a Friday night through the summer. We bumped into the girls from the chateau and our landlord and his family so spent our last evening sharing food, wine and stories with them. It was really lovely.
A typical roof of the area, with these beautiful scalloped stone roof tiles. It has the effect of making every rooftop look like a mermaid's tail. Did you notice that even the chateau's post box has them? A nice touch. Made me smile.
Stone troughs filled with flowers. I want Q to make me some out of concrete. Can you see a pirate lurking in the undergrowth?
One of the lovely walks around the village. This one lead us to a 5th century shrine to Our Lady, down by the river Aveyron.

I think we'll go out and about next time, fancy joining me?

p.s. It's my 4th blog birthday today and it's possible I may have cracked the problem I have had for ages relating to my RSS feed not updating. I sure hope you get to see this post and thank you SO much for bearing with me! xxx

Sunday, 20 July 2014

France part 1: Albi and the Chateau du Bosc, homes to Toulouse Lautrec

We've just spent 10 days in the Midi-Pyrenees area of France. Our holiday crossed two departements, sort of like counties here in the UK. We started off in the Tarn, and then went on to Aveyron, both in SW France, inland from Carcassone and Perpignan.
Our first stop was Albi, a UNESCO world heritage site. A beautiful medieval city on the river Tarn, with really lovely, friendly, welcoming people, famously the birthplace of Toulouse Lautrec. I've never been a particular fan of his work, but since we were there, it made sense to check out the museum. It is always fascinating to see the development of an artist's work. It so often starts and ends in a completely different place. It turns out that Henri Toulouse Lautrec was a precocious child, with an incredible talent for drawing from an early age. His favourite things to draw were horses. There are some amazing paintings from when he was a young teenager, which, regardless of whether you like the subject matter, demonstrate quite an astonishing expertise. 
These interior shots are of the incredibly stylish place we stayed. Our host Brigitte was just gorgeous, with great taste in everything. The breakfast she gave us was one of the best meals we had during our stay. I have her secret recipe for French toast which I am going to try out soon.
The bridge on the river Tarn. There's me in my cut and shut jumpsuit again. I'm certainly getting my wear out of that. That cardigan belonged to my grandmother and was part of a two piece suit she knitted in the 60s. I've had it since I was 13. It used to be longer, but I cut it to fit my teenage self. I wore the skirt to death until my mum chucked it out when I wasn't looking. The tell tale sign is that it has my name tag sewn into it, which means I had it at boarding school. That bag is made by Em, I use it all the time.
Our first night in Albi was magical. We sat and ate outside, then wandered around and sat in a park watching the world go by. The perfect start to a holiday.
We noticed a few portraits of the artist's mother in the museum, in rather attractive looking rooms. It turned out the family was rather wealthy, and as well as the family home in Albi, there was a chateau, where they passed the summer months.

So, when we got to our gite in Averyron and discovered a leaflet for the Chateau Bosc, which is that same chateau, I knew I wanted to visit.
Originally a fortress in the 12th century, it gradually turned into a home. But what is truly astonishing is that it has belonged to different branches of the same family the entire time. Toulouse Lautrec was part of that family. It seems he is descended from a very important dynasty. The more I discovered, the more it seemed that his work was less interesting than everything else about him.
Inside there are family portraits, dating back hundreds of years, Aubusson tapestries cover the walls, there is Sevre porcelain to eat off, bohemian glass to drink from and Louis IV chairs with the original silk upholstery to sit upon. 
You can see the original tiny windows of the fortress. The other, larger, more domestic windows were added in the 19th century.
But nothing, nothing could compare to our guide. This tiny lady, well into her 80s is Nicole-Berangere Tapie de Celeyran, great niece of the artist. That sign says ring the bell very, very loudly. That's because she is a little hard of hearing. She came out of the side entrance of the house, unaware of our presence, holding her teeth in her hand. She invited us to view a small exhibition in the stables, then join her in the front garden. When we got there, she was kneeling in the dirt, doing the weeding. Small lady, big spirit.
She showed us around her home, just the two of us, dazzling us with a river of facts and anecdotes, all in French. She quoted letters by heart, verbatim. She lives this house, this history. It is her life's work. I have never wanted to take someone's photo so much in all my life. It felt like the most precious gift to meet her, she is a piece of living history, bearing all this legacy in her tiny person with composure and grace.

Next up, a fairytale wedding.

Monday, 14 July 2014

In Hugh we trust

A while ago, we took ourselves off to our local Open Gardens. There were some beautiful homes adjoined by gardens with all manner of different styles of planting. Some natural and wild-looking, others more manicured and perfect.

Unfortunately this event has become rather a victim of its own success, with an expected turnout of 4000 people to look around 14 domestic gardens. In practice that meant lots of queuing to squeeze in and squeeze out and very little chance to properly see and appreciate the beauty.
I loved that romantic looking balcony and look, an authentic original Anderson shelter in a little suburban garden. It was tiny. I can't imagine what it must have been like for a family to spend the night in there.

We had our lovely friends Eloise and Patrick over for dinner. We relied heavily on Hugh for inspiration.
Rosemary potatoes, thyme and garlic tomatoes, broad beans with goats cheese and yoghurt, olives, green salad and an aubergine and chick pea dish. All washed down with prosecco, because it was Saturday night and it's summer.

I dressed as Huggy Bear's girlfriend with my 70's patchwork print flares and a halter neck top with a palm tree print, which makes me think of holidays...

Finally, Serena has tagged me on a blog tag thingy, where you have to answer some questions about what you would give as presents to someone who is on an exotic island

Book - Arundhati Roy, The God of Small things, 
Beauty product - lipstick
Favourite snack - roasted chestnuts, wasabi peas, homemade cheese, olive and paprika biscuits
Music album - forgotten the name of the album, but it's Gregory Isaacs and it has Loving Pauper on it.
Other item - I would say flowers, but there will be flowers there already, so it's got to be alcohol! Lots of alcohol. Well, it is a birthday after all.

I tag all of you!