Monday, 3 June 2013

Jellyfish that were Bigger than our Heads (and other tales)

For the past couple of weeks, I've been away with my better half, Nick, enjoying all that France has to offer, in a beautiful coastal part of Brittany. We've been here once before and adored it so much, that three years later, we returned.

The place we stayed was in the beautiful medieval town of Guerande. It's ten minutes from the coast, with beautiful white sandy beaches for those who prefer such sites, or the more interesting rocky, craggier landscapes, which we love to seek out.

The gite was a lovely, recently-built building, all wooden timbers and tiled flooring. Plenty of privacy too. Believe me, there wasn't a soul to be seen sometimes. Fields on all sides, beyond the property's trees. And though the weather was mixed, a good part of our stay was in the sun.

We were fortunate, on our first day, to bump into a local town's festival. It was completely unplanned and we both snuck in with the local crowd and clapped along as the music played and those dressed in historic garb (the Paludiers) danced in a circle. It was wonderful to be a part of the community but it  also, worryingly, had me recalling its similarity to a scene in the Wicker Man.

I've included this photo to show what happens if you're the French Mayor(ess?) of said town. A dozen stilt walkers performed their piece, crossing over and under poles they each held. They concluded their display by forming a circle and joining the poles to create a 'seat' to allow a young girl to be sat in the middle before being hoisted up high by the stilt bearers and spun round. All good and great fun. But then they grabbed the esteemed lady Mayor, dragging her from the safety of the horse drawn carriage she was watching the performance from, and with cheers from the crowd, was hoisted onto the poles and spun round as well. You can see from her expression, how safe she felt lol.

We paid a visit to an excellent animal park, Branfere. We've been before and knew what to expect and I've written also about the stunning bird display held there. We also knew that if you purchased popcorn along with your ticket, that there was a field with donkeys, sheep and goats, where you could feed the flock. And this is what happened the moment Nick opened his bag of popcorn. There's no dainty throwing of the snack, like you would do when lobbing bread for ducks (which you shouldn't do anymore - bad for their digestion - it's seeds these days). You reach for your bag and the goats all leap up and will knock you over in their enthusiasm. Needless to say, I wasn't so brave, I opened my bag, ran off and sprinkled the treats on the grass in one quick action, before they had the chance to leap up.

Speaking of animals, we also visited (and this is going to sound so typically French) a snail farm. Apparently, snails in the wild are endangered, such is the quantity the french have foraged and eaten. It is now illegal to take snails from the wild. Instead, the ones you buy for consumption are all farmed (and a large percentage is imported too).

And well, we could hardly pass up the opportunity to buy their produce now could we? There were several options so we went for the packs with the edible shells. The photo shows our appetiser as they looked before & after cooking. We've both eaten plenty of snails over the years, so it wasn't a novelty as such. It just seemed the perfect way to finish off the tour.

The best days were spent rockpooling. Nick loves to scramble over the rocks looking for sealife and true, I enjoy it too but personally, I'm happy as a pig in poo just sitting there, listening to the sound of the waves or sketching in a small notebook. Bliss! As you can see, I opted for the old git look for most of the holiday. On the left is Nick squatting by one of the many gigantic jellyfish that found themselves washed up onto the shore. I'm no stranger to dead jellyfish on the beach but they're normally the size of my hand and certainly never bigger than my head! I'm so glad we didn't holiday here in the height of summer and feel tempted to swim in the sea. Oh the horror!!!!!

On a wet and blustery day, we walked along a wonderful coastal path and it was definitely what we would call, bracing. When stood at the top of these steps which lead down to a small cove, it put us both in mind of a scene from Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun. A crucial clue to whodunnit lies in the vertigo-inducing steps down. But I'm not going to spoil it for anyone who doesn't know the story. However, stood on the edge of the rock, with the wind and rain lashing me and nothing but the exposed barrier between me and a steep descent into the sea, I came over all Kate Winslet and had my Titanic moment. All right MrDeMille, I'm ready for my close-up

And finally, a couple of shots of FOOD. I took loads of photos of what we ate, so apart from the snails, I have chosen just two shots to share. The top one are locally produced biscuits seasoned with seaweed. Biscuiteries are big business here as is the Fleur de Sel (salt). You are practically obliged to eat biscuits in this region, it's secondary only to breathing.

The patisserie below is my all time favourite (we're not counting Macarons as patisserie) the Paris-Brest. Choux pastry with a sickly hazelnut cream filling. Oh you just HAVE to indulge if you ever pop over to France. Just forget whatever diet you are vainly holding onto maintaining, these are bursting with calories but worth every single one. And don't buy them from supermarkets, they are not the same quality. Go where the locals buy their baguettes.

And that, my darlings, is the edited highlights of my all-too-brief trip away. But I have to say, Nick & I look at each other misty-eyed and swear we are coming back soon. There's so much here that we love.

And yes, I know how spoilt and lucky I am :)


kjjc said...

I'm with you on the Paris Brest patisserie-nothing like it. However, I'll leave the snails to you. Welcome home.

Eileen said...

Just sitting here dithering about whether or not we should go to Le Touquet or similar for a week in July, and you've sent this blog post to tempt me even more! Thanks for sharing XX

Neil said...

Looks like you had a good break. I laughed at the picture of Nick being "attacked" for the food having been in a similar position before in South Africa. And I'm not even going to say anything about the sweet treats, other than that I'm salivating......
Thanks for sharing.

Lindsay Mason said...

What a wonderful post Paul. You brought everything to life and a year without anything sugary had me drooling over the patisseries...not the snails though...ugh!
I shall be looking for a space in your suitcase next time you go!
Lindsay x x x

alexa said...

Lovely to read the edited highlights andyou have really brought back some wonderful memories and photos for yourselves. Feeling very envious ... :).

katou said...

As a french ,I agree with you for the Paris Brest (wich has ever been my favorite dessert )and also for the snails.
I know it sound a little bit barbare when we say we eat snails and also frog legs,but it is so good .I even make my american friends to taste it and they enjoyed it.
And you are right ,Brittany is a very nice country ,my brother moved to Nantes a few years ago and he said the quality of life is definitly better.