Peta and Bryan invited us back to France, to help close up the house for the winter. The trip coincided with a visit to friends in the Loire area, in a small village called Restigne. We were thrilled to be invited to see another part of France with new culinary, and vinicultural, treasures.
Françoise and Pierre live in a house that they have marvelously restored, complete with courtyard, gardens and guesthouse.
Restigne is only several streets long and surrounded by vineyards.
The nearest city is Tours, and Françoise offered to take us there so that we could go to a craft show to see the work of local artisans.
I have participated in a number of craft shows myself, and I was really intrigued to see the similarities, and the differences, at L’Art au Quotidiens in Tours.
Amongst the many wonderful potters, jewelers and clothing designers were fine furniture makers and restorers able to appropriately re-paint or re-plaster your 16thcentury home. The show was housed in the Vinci Centre International de Congrès, a contemporary building in the centre of town. In the middle of the building there is a large, ultra modern theatre, which was converted to a restaurant for the duration of the craft show. Large tables were set up on the stage where we had a lunch of an extensive salad buffet, hot entrees and seemingly endless glasses of white and red wine. A pianist played American jazz standards on a keyboard set up in the theatre seats. The French really do up a craft show in style.
I have always wanted to visit Tours because of a beautiful manuscript that I studied many years ago, done by Alcuin of York in the 9th century at the monastery of St. Martin of Tours. It is one of the most graceful of the Carolingian manuscripts and is one of the reasons why humanist lettering styles are as appealing as they are.
Tours did not disappoint. It has a lovely old centre and on this warm November bank holiday (Armistice Day) there were hundreds of people out walking. Françoise told us that people are always out strolling in Tours.
It’s a very friendly atmosphere. We stopped for coffee in the square, so that we could watch the world pass by.
Back in Restigne, the village is only large enough to support a single Boulangerie, a Charcuterie and a small chapel. But once a year the village is home to a mammoth Marche des Puces, and we have come to help Françoise organize her stall. But before we got started with collecting treasures from the attic and guest house, Françoise took us to see the caves outside the village.
Seven hundred years ago, when people started building in this area, they found large deposits of limestone from which they could easily cut blocks for their houses and Chateaux. They soon realized that when they took the blocks out, they were creating useful spaces. These spaces became caves used for storage, and in times of war, entire villages hid in the caves with their livestock. Today, the caves are still in use by the local vitners. Thousands of bottles can be stored at perfect temperatures. Aside from wine storage, caves are also used for a huge wine industry, as well as large (and rather legendary) parties and often for extra living spaces.
Françoise took us out of the village.
There are vineyards everywhere. As far as the eye can see in all directions. There are a few bunches of grapes left on the vines. They are sweet and warmed in the autumn sunshine.
Along the sides of the fields, invisible unless you know where to look, are the caves. They are completely hidden away in the landscape.
Back at Françoise and Pierre’s, we got a tour of their cave, tucked right under their house.
Dinners chez Françoise and Pierre are marvelous affairs, where we sit at table for many hours. We drank various vintages of the delicious Cabernet Franc that is made in the fields just beyond the village and stored below. There were numerous courses, concluding, always, with cheese platters followed by a dessert. As ridiculous as it may seem to bring cake to the French, I had made my favourite chocolate torte, Bonnie Stern’s California Chocolate Pecan Torte, (thanks to my wonderful friend Hinda who emailed me the recipe just in time) to give to Françoise and Pierre. Thankfully, the recipe is astonishing and the cake came up to their culinary standards. It helped that it was made with good French chocolate.
In response to my cake, the next day Pierre purchased a Galette Bourgueilloise – a specialty of the region. Where the chocolate torte was heavy and rich, this was such a light confection that you could almost believe you were eating flavoured clouds. Extraordinary. It, like the wine of the area, has an appellation controlee. Unique to the region, it is a very good reason to visit again.