A Weekend to Remember
28th June – 30th June

Mme Luci Dumont

Edward and Jane Towne, Jane Reid and Ann Armstrong, our friends from the ESU London Region committee, visited the Loire Valley branch of the ESU over the weekend of 28th to 30th June. Unfortunately, Coral Sebag-Montefiore, who was to have been part of the group, was unable to travel. The four guests stayed in Saumur over the weekend and spent any spare moments enjoying the attractions of the town.

In spite of the heat wave in France, the atmosphere during this weekend was rather "cool" and we enjoyed each other's company during the fantastic events organized by the ESU Loire Valley committee.

The weekend started on Friday 28 June with a welcome dinner at the “Moulin des Saveurs” at Distré near Saumur. The restaurant is an old inn with a charming and bucolic setting located next to the main hotel building in the Domaine de Presle. We had a gastronomic dinner on the terrace facing the lawn and the lake. Patricia Curd, chairman of ESU Loire Valley made a short speech. She enthusiastically welcomed the guests and thanked them for visiting the Loire valley branch. Then we toasted the ESU and our enduring friendship.

Saturday was the hottest day. The temperatures reached an unprecedented 40 degrees. To have lunch in a real vaulted cave was the coolest idea! We walked down to a most unusual restaurant, “Les Caves de la Genevraie”, where we were served exclusively local food: potted shredded meat, fresh butter, white beans, crispy meat called "rillauds" and mushrooms grown in the nearby caves, served in a hot bun called a "fouée" made in the wood fire oven on the site. We were invited to walk through the whole site and watch the baker working and placing the dough in the oven. It was really good to discover these delicious homemade regional specialities, especially when washed down by a selection of local wines and “bubbles”.

After the culinary experience, we pursued a more “down to earth” discovery of the local culture with a tour of the Rochemenier Troglodyte Village, the most comprehensive troglodytic site of the Loire Valley plains. We were lucky to be guided by Victor Leray, the former curator of the open air museum. Victor gave us an insight into what life was like for its inhabitants and provided details about family life, weddings, hunting ravens, even children’s toys. We visited about twenty rooms over a huge surface and saw two farms, outbuildings housing silos, a wine press, tools, authentic furniture, period photos and an underground chapel. It was a very interesting and enriching experience. Thank you, Victor for your time and passion!

In the late afternoon we went to a Jazz and Bubbles party at a wine producer’s cellar on the outskirts of Saumur. With its majestic position overlooking the Loire, harmoniously perched on the hillside, the Gratien and Meyer estate offered a unique view over the area and the river. The Art Deco architecture of the building with a terrace was stunning too. A tour of the cave was possible. It gave access to vast tunnels dug into the tuffeau (a kind of limestone), where five million bottles are ageing. Two bands played lively jazz music and enchanted the visitors who asked for an “encore”!

It was indeed a full, busy, jazzy and bubbly day!

On Sunday we went to Fontevraud, famous for its Royal Abbey, situated where the three regions of Poitou, Anjou and Touraine meet. We had a lovely lunch in the inner courtyard of an old inn near the abbey owned by the parents of Laure Chabenat, the winner of the 2018 National Public Speaking Competition. It was very nice of Laure to come and greet us and talk to us about her studies and how the ESU has changed her life. Laure’s mother kindly provided two bottles of “bubbles”and we happily toasted Laure and the ESU.

Later in the afternoon, we were invited to a potluck party at Chantal and Alain Bertrand’s magnificent property in Beaufort. The landscaped gardens hold a treasure: a 16th century chapel with recently restored stained glass windows. It was really magic to have dinner in this elegant surrounding at sunset while listening to accordionist, Jean-Louis Pucel from Angers. He entertained us with traditional French music during the evening. We all had a very good time.

All too soon, the weekend was drawing to a close. Patricia Curd thanked Chantal and Alain for kindly offering the use of their property for this event, the members for organizing the picnic and the committee members for their tireless involvement in the preparation and success of the weekend. In particular she thanked our English guests for coming to the Loire Valley. Edward Towne in turn thanked the Loire Valley branch committee for organizing this excellent weekend and invited us to visit the London region branch.

It was a memorable weekend. The visitors were provided with experiences that reflect the culture of the Loire Valley region and the spirit of the ESU branch: cultural exchange and friendship, thus epitomizing what the English-Speaking Union stands for. Well done!