The 69 Steps

We spent three nights in the town of St Jean d’Angely. Unfortunately our original booking was cancelled as the owner had to fly unexpectedly to the UK so she kindly hooked us up with Nirel and Michael, an American couple who have been looking after another B&B in the area. Our room overlooked the river and an adjoining pond that was inhabited by a host of ducks and geese – all of whom made themselves known to us, day and night.

The weather was a little on the wet side but we made the most of our time, driving north to Niort and negotiating return train tickets (with a ticket seller who spoke no English) to La Rochelle on the coast. It’s an historic port and we were fortunate to be able to wander through vast local second-hand markets and lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants on the river. Jim tried the moules (mussels) in Roquefort sauce and said they were delicious - the bowl contained about 100 so it took him quite a while to get through them…
We also drove to the river port of Rochefort to see the famous l’Hermione, or at least a replica. The Hermione was the ship that took the original French settlers to Canada under the leadership of Lafayette. She was eventually destroyed in a battle and since 1987 a passionate group of people has been constructing her from scratch with the idea of sailing her along the same route back to America. We toured the facility which was full of interesting information and models and then spent time on board.

Whilst planning this holiday we left a few nights here and there unbooked. Such were the two nights following our stay in St Jean d’Angely. So we got onto and found a chateau in a tiny village called Andreze, close to Nantes. We were not disappointed. The Chateau Meriniere is an amazing castle and our beautiful room and modern bathroom were located in a loft and turret … 69 steps up a circular staircase!

We had a fantastic two nights with our French hosts Muriel and Pasquale, dining with them on the second night at their huge dining room table. Pasquale is a chef who gives cooking classes on the weekends and dinner comprised cream of pumpkin soup with foie grois on toast, steamed cod on Chinese noodles with vegetables, and peach tarte. We had an aperitif of champagne followed by lovely local white and red wines.

Pasquale and Muriel have just released a recipe book based upon the cooking of the French author George Sand, but unfortunately had no copies left for us to buy as they recently won a prize for the book and it is selling quickly. It was fitting that our room was the George Sand room and was adorned with photographs of her and her family.

We drove into Nantes and spent time at the Jules Verne Museum where original manuscripts and models of his very unusual literary inventions are on display. From there we found our way to Machines de l’ile which is an enormous workshop of robot-like animals, including the masterpiece, a giant mechanical elephant which members of the public can ride around the park. It was all great fun, despite the heavy rain!