Sometimes life reminds you not to put off for another year the things you always meant to do. Best then that July to add a couple of days onto my trip down to the Vendée to visit some chateaux in the Loire. Better than just the fleeting glimpse when speeding by a tree-lined drive.
Arriving at Le Havre in the early morning I took the south road and sailed over the Tancarville suspension bridge, a patchwork of fields and broccoli trees below, on to Sées. I usually skirted this town but today, taking my time, I followed the signs for Centre Ville. In the main square was a rather picturesque hotel-restaurant, flowers cascading from window boxes, an old woman in working apron and black woollen socks seated to one side. Already blissed out with the whole set up, I settled on the terrace with a large cup of coffee and a copy of my Maisons de Campagne magazine. There was a fine view of the Cathedral across the square – and the blue facade of a Brocante……
In the Cathedral was a small exhibition about church organs and as I stepped inside, Baroque music resonated up into the cool, soaring space, each note a whistling, life giving breath. Very, very beautiful.
But I also needed to amble, with purpose, over to the Brocante. A small notice was stuck on the door: “Je ne suis pas loin” (I’m not far away). He answered his phone straight away and wandered over from his coffee at the café. What a nice Brocante it was. Lots to look at, lots to rummage through. On the top of a painted armoire was a brown cardboard storage box with a label on it: “Robes en coton a Madeleine”. How many summers had come and gone, I wondered, since Madeleine had worn her cotton dresses. And how long had Madeleine been withered to dust? But shaking off melancholy, I ploughed on and found a mound of glorious but tired, yellowed table linen in need of a good overnight soak and washing; a box of porcelaine platters; some small oil paintings and a large trumeau mirror panel. When a few boxes had been loaded into Sylvie I returned to the café. Lunch time customers were starting to drift in. Joues de porc – pork cheeks – were on the Menu du Jour. I bought a camembert baguette and ate sitting near a fragrant honeysuckle in the Garden of Remembrance. Poignantly, the family name of one of the soldiers killed in the First World War was Cercueil, French for coffin.
Allez, en route! The autoroute continued out of Normandy towards Tours. Then past the imposing medieval towers of the Chateau de Langeais and to Chinon. It’s ruined white fortress stood on chalky cliffs above the river Vienne which flowed to join the Loire. I was just passing through on my way to my chambre d’hote but it was an inviting sort of place built of tufa stone, and there right in front of me was a lovely antique shop. Slightly amused that this part of the trip was not supposed to be about antiques, I nevertheless found some tiny 18th century ivory dice and a handful of parchment documents as I chatted to the shop owner, Martine. By chance, she was a friend of Antoinette with whom I would be staying. She had some tall white shutters for sale and we agreed I might pop back for them. The little town was lively with cafés and shops and a small tree lined square. In the early evening sun I bought my supper to take to Antoinette’s – ham, bread, olives, tomatoes, peaches, wine, and a pistachio and chocolate tart for pudding.