Loire grazing

Spring floods had badly hit the Loire region that year. We’d booked an 18th century watermill which some weeks before we arrived had water lapping at it’s door and it’s island garden totally submerged. Even clothes pegs on the washing line were covered in muddy residue. And it was, unfortunately for us, mosquito heaven. Relaxing with a book in the sunshine was therefore not possible, and foraying out to local Brocantes was the only option.

I’d been to the regular monthly market at Montsoreau a few times. It is a delightful village with a chateau perched over the river.  Arriving early, before the strolling Sunday throng, has always yielded good finds.  And on the narrow cobbled road up to the chateau sit two antique shops worthy of a good, long browse.

Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life at the invitation of Francois 1er, was impressive with its chateau and town built in white tufa stone. As we wandered in a terraced knot garden filled with red Mona Lisa roses the heavens opened. Amboise became a drenched place with haphazard tourists in shorts and t-shirts sheltering in doorways and beneath dripping awnings. We picked our way through puddles to the Place Saint Denis where the weekly food market was packing up, and a tangle of white vans were wanting to get away. A sign pointed us up the hill to a cramped Brocante, its shutters open and garden furniture spewing out on the pavement. The owner was at work just inside, waxing a desk. I asked the price of a large ceramic pot. Monsieur was tanned, with expressive eyebrows and arms to emphasise all his words, “Oh, I have just returned from holidays – merveilleux! – and I have not yet put tickets on everything.” He then launched into a long discourse about Brexit. We emerged at last and carried metal chairs and heavy pots back to the van.

The cliffs of soft white tufa stone in the area are dotted with Troglodyte caves which make excellent cellars for wine. Down a narrow country lane we found a Brocante with rooms carved into the hillside and a forecourt set out as a café. I spent a happy while rootling here, Graham at ease in the afternoon sun with a coffee. Amongst dusty shelves and rows of hanging watering cans there were plenty of every day treasures to be had. The helpful owner carried items out into the forecourt as I rummaged in gloomy corners.

The annual Marché a la Brocante at Richelieu, set in and around a vast timbered market hall, is always a joy, with plenty of snaffling up gilded carving, beautifully embroidered linens, paintings, books, glassware  and so on. From beneath a table set out in the main square I pulled a wooden crate full of dusty sea shells. “It was something my father bought at least fifty years ago,” said the dealer, “but now it is time to sell. You see, the shells have small labels on, they were collected in the nineteenth century.”  Perfect.

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