Friday, September 18, 2015

Rallying round

This weekend the streets of Angoulême in Charente will be thronging with crowds to watch the famous rally that takes place around the town.

The Circuit Des Remparts staged in the pretty town of Angoulême is one of only 2 street races in Europe ( the other being Monaco) and every September brings racing enthusiasts flocking to this part of South West France.

Commonly known as 'Monaco without the sea', the race offers spectators the chance to see Bugattis, Rileys, Fraser Nash and MGs as well as post war Porches and TVRs.
The event has been running every 3rd weekend in September since 1939 with only a break during the war years. The demanding course consists of hairpin and right angled bends within the walled town making this a unique spectacle worth a visit simply for the atmosphere.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Quirky collectables

One of the unexpected consequences of the smoking ban in bars and restaurants has been the increase in demand from collectors. Ashtray production was big business and the ban saw manufacturing grind to a halt, putting pressure on prices.

As Ebay regulars will testify, there is a whole category dedicated to 'Tobacciana' or smoking related merchandise. Sounds nerdy right? On a par with stamp collecting, or worse. 

The ashtray has been around since the beginning of the 19th Century when it started to become very popular so some are now genuine antiques and worth a small fortune. Sounding less nerdy now?

Businesses like Pernod, Ricard, Martell and Moët & Chandon saw ashtrays as a cheap and effective way to advertise. Not surprisingly, some were also emblazoned with cigarette brands, the ubiquitous Gauloises and Gitanes being the most recognised. Designs in ashtrays would often reflect the artistic movements of the era, particularly obvious in the stylised art glass of the Deco and Art Nouveau periods. The 1970's saw a move towards very heavy and curvaceous glass. By the 90's, celebrity chefs were commissioning designs for the ashtrays used in their restaurants. Quaglino's, Mirabelle and OxoTower all experienced such a high level of theft of their highly prized ashtrays, some even began to sell them on their websites. Now selling on Ebay of course!

Green majolica frog ashtrays from the 1970's are now highly collectable. L'Heritier-Guyot is 
a manufacturer of Crème de Cassis.

This Mercedes-Benz ashtray is one of my favourites.

Gitanes and Gauloises ashtrays from the 1970's

Friday, September 4, 2015

Pesto alla Genovese

For the last couple of years I have nurtured several basil plants so I can make at least a couple of jars of pesto in late summer. My attempts to sow basil from seed have been rather dismal, so instead I buy young plants which, if planted outdoors and watered well, and not picked to within an inch of their lives, will quickly develop into much larger bushes boasting plenty of deliciously scented leaves. The flavour and aroma of home made pesto puts all the bought ones in the shade. Made in a blender it takes 5 minutes flat. That doesn't include picking the leaves off the stalks, but I guess there are worse jobs for a sunny morning. You will feel more Italian if you use the traditional (harder) method and pound it all up in a pestle and mortar, but your wrist won't thank you. This is the method Antonio Carluccio prefers for his version.

Recipes vary greatly and there are 3 ingredients that are considered non-negotiable. Basil, cheese and olive oil. Whether you add garlic and pine nuts is a matter of taste. I add both. I can't imagine it without garlic and the bashed up pine nuts give the sauce more texture.

The health benefits may not be as well known as it's culinary uses but this article gives us some of the mind/body benefits from clearing up breakouts to detoxing the liver.


50g basil leaves (try to pick fresh green ones, in the morning if possible)

1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (better quality will give better flavour)
25g Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

Start by toasting the pine nuts in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Watch them like a hawk. If you turn your back they will burn into little black bullets. A couple of minutes should be enough to lightly brown them.

Pack the leaves, pine nuts, garlic and a pinch of salt into a blender and then pour over the olive oil. Blend with caution, using the pulse button if there is one. Don't over process or you'll end up with green slime. You may need to poke the leaves down from time to time or add a glug more olive oil to get a sauce like consistency.

Scrape into a bowl and stir in the cheese. Spoon into a sterilised jar and seal with a little more oil. Refrigerate and top up the oil after every use.

That's it. Done!


1.Cheese and pesto bread

You can never make enough

2.Pesto marinaded prawns

Gently heat through on the bbq or grill pan

3.Toasted sandwich

Cheese, ham, tomato, pesto. What could be better?

5.Pizza Margarita

Little dollops make a big difference

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book yourself some 'me time' this holiday

Here at Gites and Antiques HQ, we do our best to ensure everyone has a great holiday and that includes you!
All too often the focus is on the children and ensuring they have fun, but parents sometimes need a little break too.
Why not squeeze out a bit of 'me time' this holiday and enjoy some of the new things we have to offer our guests.

 Furniture Painting

Discover how to transform old furniture using paint and wax during a 3 hour workshop. Learn some of the key techniques used to recreate the French country look. You may want to look at Chateau Chic for inspiration
Unlock your creativity, have fun and go home with a new skill and a pretty jewellery box.

Read more here..


Saturday, March 7, 2015

On your bike

I have to admit that I'm not the most enthusiastic cyclist during the winter months but this current warm and sunny spell has had me poking around the garage to dig out my rusty ( and trusty) old bike. It has been hibernating for some time and needed a bit of a dust off. Know the feeling.

Whilst my old banger of a bike may not glide through a cycling 'M.O.T', it does the job and is really all I need. I'm not into torching the calories or a full cardio workout. To be unglued from the computer screen for a while to embrace the countryside, breathing in a few lungfuls of fresh air along the way does me a power of good. I do admire the stamina and drive of the Lycra clad crowd but if like me you enjoy the slow pace and not the race then this area is a cyclist's dream.

Poitou-Charentes is a relatively flat region that boasts over 1000 km of marked cycle trails making it an extremely bike-friendly place to come for your French holiday.

One of the best things about cycling is that you see things. Lots more things in fact than if you are whizzing by in a car. Sheep, birds, flowers, architecture. And you hear things too. Birdsong, the low hum of a lawnmower and, if I'm passing his way, the friendly 'hee haw' greeting from my favourite donk. Being mindful of the beauty surrounding us is a very uplifting feeling. It's good to be reminded occasionally of how lucky we are to live here.

If you are coming to France for a holiday, then cycling is the perfect activity for the whole family. The lovely people at Bike Hire Direct make it ridiculously easy for you by delivering and collecting bikes and equipment direct to your accommodation. It has to be said that their bikes are far more covetable than mine. All of them undergo rigorous testing to ensure that they meet very high standards and are cleaned and spruced up prior to delivery. They supply quality bikes for all ages, helmets, tag-a-longs, baby seats, car bike racks, even paniers to hold your picnic basket. All at very reasonable prices.

One of my favourite quotes from one of last year's gîte guests reads...

"A lovely fortnight! We will always remember the pool water polo, loom bands, boys morning cycle rides to the boulangerie and Grace and Kirsten’s show. Many wonderful memories"

So go on. Aller sur votre vélo!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rochefort sur Mer

Driving back early on Sunday morning through Rochefort sur Mer, it struck me just how handsome this town is. On a crisp, clear, blue skied morning with not a soul to be seen, the architectural backdrop seemed so much more apparent.
Rochefort might not always feature on a tourists 'to see' list, being a little overshadowed by it's cosmopolitan seaside neighbour La Rochelle, but it is totally worthy of a visit with abundance of cultural and fascinating attractions.
Situated on the Charente river, it was built by Jean Baptiste Colbert as a place to supply and defend the French navy. Place Colbert is the central square where you can pause for coffee ( or something stronger), and ponder which attractions to see. 

Here are my top 5, in no particular order...

Musée Corderie Royale 

An astonishing and very long building built in 1670 that was once the centre of the docks in the town and also the centre of ropemaking for ships across France. At the corderie you can learn about the history of the site and also about the techniques involved in ropemaking. Well worth a short visit. You can even stop for a spot of lunch.



Pierre Loti Museum 

This highly regarded novelist was the French answer to Charles Dickens. He was accorded a state funeral when he died in 1923 and his house has been preserved as a museum featuring collections from his extensive travels. The museum is being renovated so will be looking more polished than ever.

Musée des commerces 

This fascinating museum will take you back 100 years to see superb replicas of shops, chemists, dentists and of course, a boulangerie. Perfect for all ages. I find it invaluable as it helps me to date many of the items on Chateau Chic. If you need further reason to go, it's ranked #1 on TripAdvisor.


Twenty years ago, a small group dreamed of reconstructing an exact replica of General Lafayette’s 18th-century ship called the Hermione. Today, the majestic vessel is the largest and most authentically built Tall Ship in the last 150 years. The Hermione has set sail in France, launching an adventure that comes to the USA in the summer of 2015 for an unprecedented voyage. An extraordinary project combining huge talent and dedication.

Pont Transbordeur

Transporter bridge The last of it's kind in France. This will appeal not only to engineering geeks but to the whole family. For a modest sum you can take the 'ferry' across the Charente river, grab an ice cream or cold beer at the café and come back again. 

So that's just a glimpse of what Rochefort sur Mer has to offer, but there's plenty more where that came from!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Of Cakes and Kings

For many of us, today is the day the Christmas decs come down and the house looks a little forlorn. Bereft of sparkle and embellishments, our dining room will be restored to it's former unglamorous self. The upside is that I won't have glitter on my face/hands/clothes for another year. Some even made it's way into my handbag this year?!

Our fresh tree has been very well preserved, not losing one needle so I am a bit reluctant to dispatch it to the local déchetterie but best not risk any bad luck eh?

Since the beginning of January (and usually until the end of the month), the supermarkets here stock abundance of cakes sold with a gold crown. Why? Well. Twelfth night or Epiphany marks the end of Christmas, when the Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. In France, this festival is celebrated on or around the 6th January by sharing a Galette Des Rois. This sweet buttery pastry pie is traditionally filled with frangipane but recipes vary according to region. Some are made of a brioche dough, encrusted with sugar crystals and studded with jewel like glacé fruits.

Whichever is your galette of choice, it will contain a fève which, if discovered in your slice, permits you to wear the crown provided and be King or Queen for the day. Originally the 'fève' was a bean but now they are small porcelain figurines which are quite collectable.

In a cold, damp month that doesn't have much going for it, a Galette Des Rois, shared amongst friends or family with a nice cuppa can be a soul soother for a day.