travel article by Pierre Mainguené, Circa Tours
France est mon pays natal. I was born and raised in the ancient province of Brittany.
My place of origin has no equal on earth - naturally. Centuries ago, my Celtic
ancestors fled the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Great Britain and found refuge in this
cool and verdant corner of the European continent (then called Armorica).
Bretagne is a misty land of legends and druidic cults. King Arthur and
the Knights of the Round Table still roam the forest of Broceliande in search
of the Holy Grail. The enchantress Vivian inhabits those deep woods, too, and
keeps Merlin the Sorcerer captive under their dense foliage for eternity. The
chivalric games I played as a kid at "la Roche aux Fées" (the
Fairies' Rock) - a mini-Stonehenge covered by a roof of gigantic stone slabs -
are distant memories now, but the allure of all those magical and mythical places
glass of full-bodied St. Emilion is nice, no doubt. A Vouvray "moelleux"
is altogether a different experience. And, as we all know, France is second to
none in the wine department. Besides tasting it, there are more unusual ways to
experience French wine.
most vivid early encounter with the world of wine was during the "vendanges."
As a teenager, I worked the harvest. That was hard, back-breaking work. We would
get up at 4:00 a.m. to start in the vineyard as soon as daylight would allow.
We picked grapes all day long. At times it felt like the rows went on forever,
beyond the horizon, and never ended. Sundown and darkness marked the end of the
day, more or less. (Back at the winery, we still had to load the press by hand
it was hard. But one short daily event called "breakfast" made it all
worthwhile. Every morning, around 9:00 a.m., we would all stop for a break and
some food. Some food! The freshest, crispiest "baguettes" covered with
the most unctuous "rillettes" (pork paté) served with the coolest,
driest Muscadet (while the larks were playfully chirping high above our heads).
It tasted so good, it felt so wonderful and it sounded so melodious!
is paradise for beach goers and sun bathers (la Côte d'Azur, Biarritz, La
Baule, St. Malo and farther north, Deauville and Trouville). I have always had
a good time by the water, but my preference goes beyond supine idleness on the
hot sand. Take the island of Noirmoutier, off the Bay of Bourgneuf, for example.
(I lived there for a few years.) The water is so shallow between the island and
the mainland that, at low tide, the sandy ocean floor is completely "dry"
- for miles and miles. You can actually walk across on a cobblestone causeway
called "le Gois."
such extreme tides twice a day, going to the beach can become a totally different
experience. Shell fishing makes for a fun day. I particularly remember one kind
of shellfish: the razor fish (about a half inch wide by four inches long). It
buries itself vertically in the wet sand, leaving tiny holes at the surface. To
catch it, you drop a pinch of sea salt (produced by the local "marais salants")
into the hole. The concentrated salinity makes the razor fish pop its head out,
and all you have to do is snatch it between your fingers and pull it out.
are many more sea animals waiting to be caught at low tide, of course: cockles,
mussels and limpets clinging to the rocks, plus various kinds of crabs, shrimp
and other small fish. To say nothing of the olfactory sensations floating around
you: wet seaweed, fresh fish and the salty air blowing vigorously from the Atlantic
Ocean - a very different day at the beach, indeed!
vie de château
castles of France are a sight to see. Where to start? Versailles, Chantilly, Chenonceau,
Chambord... The entire countryside is peppered with thousands of them: large,
small, medieval, Renaissance, austere, ornate, hunting, palatial, small country
retreats, hilltop towns defended by mighty ramparts, etc. (My hard drive doesn't
have enough memory to list them all.) It must have been nice back then to call
one of those your home - although nights must have been awfully cold in the winter.
I speak from experience... I went to school in a medieval castle (photo on left).
Nothing like the opulence and extravagance of those mentioned above, of course,
but a "château" nonetheless. The classrooms had high cathedral
ceilings. The stone walls measured between ten and twelve feet in thickness. Every
morning we marched over the drawbridge to go to class. (No, it didn't work any
more. It stayed down all the time.) At night, we went to bed by climbing narrow
spiral stairs winding up one of the many watch towers guarding the compound. In
brief, "la vie de château". Almost out of Harry Potter!
have many more fond memories of France, from bygone days and from recent visits.
Maybe I will write a book about them one day. I visit France frequently and never
tire of the new discoveries I make every time. Naturally, every trip I take there
feels like going home for me. So, I urge you to go there too and see for yourself.
There is a lot more to explore. Let me just name a few of my favorite places:
laid back Provence with its bright sunshine and deep blue sea, bucolic Dordogne
with its rolling hills and lush green valleys, and let's not forget the "plat
de résistance" - Paris, "la capitale." Where else?
many places to discover! So much culture to absorb! And such great cuisine and
wines to savor! Two obvious words come to mind: "Bon voyage!"
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