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PREVIOUS ACTIVITIES and EVENTS

Here you can find a summary of all the events of the past year, with the most recent at the top of the page.

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March 2024

On Friday 15th March, 25 members and guests met for lunch in the restaurant l’Embarcadère in La Menitré, the first time our association had visited the restaurant since new owners took over several years ago. The food and service were both excellent and we plan to return on a summer’s day to lunch on the terrace and enjoy the wonderful views over the river Loire.

Following lunch, we made our way to the brewery La Piautre, where we were welcomed by our charming English-speaking guide. We learned that the brewery was founded 20 years ago by two friends whose original idea was to establish it on a boat on the Loire, hence the name. Using locally grown barley, but unable to source malt locally, it was soon decided that the malting process would take place on site. Members enjoyed a video of the process before learning that different naturally flavoured beers are obtained from varieties of hops from France and abroad: Alsace, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, included. Ten years ago, experiments began using malted barley to make whisky. Water, malt, and yeast are mixed and fermented for roughly a week before being distilled. Stills similar to those for Cognac are used and today 7 varieties of single malt whisky are produced. The company continues to experiment and has recently produced the first La Pautre gin. Samples were much appreciated during the tasting session that was the climax of an interesting and enjoyable afternoon.

February 2024

Chinese New Year, 10 February 2024

27 members and friends met to celebrate the Chinese New Year together over a buffet-style meal at the “Wok Rainbow” restaurant in Bagneux, Saumur, at lunchtime, Saturday 10th February. Despite having been organised as a last-minute addition to the programme of events for 2024, this informal meeting was a great success. The restaurant offers an “à volonté” buffet with an extensive selection of delicious, freshly-cooked chinese dishes, including several that you can have cooked in front of you.

Our thanks to Patricia N. for having taken time to prepare and distribute sheets explaining the Chinese zodiac signs and outlining the years to which they apply. There are 12 zodiac signs, each of which lasts the entire year. The year ahead is the year of the Dragon and those born over the next twelve months are said to be likely to lead lucky and successful lives.

In the restaurant, people were constantly on the move to replenish empty plates, providing plenty of opportunity to pass around to chat to friends and welcome newcomers. The selection of dishes on offer included something for all tastes. The atmosphere was informal, relaxed, and very friendly. All those present left replete and smiling, anticipating a positive year ahead full of good luck and success, thanks no doubt, to the Dragon himself.

Out and About in Saumur, 24 February 2024

The weather stayed dry the morning of Saturday 24 February when 20 members and guests had an enjoyable walk around Saumur with an English-speaking tour guide, Séverine Drouin, who pointed out architectural features and explained aspects of the history of the town. The highlight of the visit was the “tour grenetière”, built originally to protect the town from invasion from the south. In the 17th century it was used to store grain, hence its name. It has since served as a prison and as a barracks for the gendarmerie. Not all could face the climb to the top, but those who did were rewarded with a unique view over the town below.

Following their tour, the walkers made their way to “Le Trianon”, a landmark restaurant along the banks of the river Loire, where they were joined by other members and friends for a very good meal in a friendly setting. Built in 1889 by Ferdinand Renou, a priest in the Parish of St. Nicolas, in 1939 the building became a bicycle shop before being transformed into a bar-hotel-restaurant by the parents of Monsieur Jacques Gruchy:  always known as “M. Jacques”. Before he died in 2016, both he and “Le Trianon” would become embedded in the history of Saumur.

January 2024

On Saturday, 20 January 2024, 35 members and friends of the ESU Loire Valley branch met to start the year’s programme of events with a light-hearted meeting to include a quiz at the restaurant “Chez Paul” in Doué-la-Fontaine.

Participants were divided into 6 teams ensuring a mix of nationalities on each. Question papers covering subjects such as sport, the body, general knowledge, etc., were distributed and completed over a good lunch at the popular “routier”, in a separate room reserved for private groups. Members of the winning team each received a bottle of Crémant in recognition of their success.  

Running parallel with the quiz was the annual photographic competition. Members submitted original photographs and those present were asked to select their favourites. The winning photos will appear on our website over the coming year. The winners were: in first place, Yolande Powell with a picture entitled “the Château de Saumur in Autumn”, in second place, Jean-Paul Paitreault with his photo of “a flotilla of Loire River boats in Le Thoureil”.

A most enjoyable start to the year was had by all those present: winners and losers alike.

December 2023

ESU Loire Valley members represent a variety of nations, and the Christmas meeting includes various national traditions. This year was no exception. There were Christmas crackers and paper crowns for all. Christmas pudding was on a menu that included Feuilleté Saumurois, Magret de Canard and Millefeuilles au Chocolat. A true festive mixture.

Members were entertained by Tony Oakley who sang and performed a repertoire of Christmas tunes on his guitar. A game based on the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” caused much amusement for everyone present and the afternoon was rounded off with communal carol singing which blended loud and soft voices and varying degrees of being in or out of tune.

Despite the laughter, the meeting wasn’t all about entertainment. Every day is a school day, and we also learned that “Four calling birds” actually started as “Four colly birds”, originally meaning “Four blackbirds”. We live and learn…

November 2023

The invitation to attend the St. Andrew’s Day celebration in Saumur 25th November, stated that “St. Andrew’s Day celebrates the very best of Scottish culture with traditional food, drink, music, and dancing”. Thanks to the team who worked hard behind the scenes to prepare the room and contribute to the menu, and to ensure that the day ran smoothly in all respects, the meeting at the Espace Jean Rostand, at the La Maison des Associations, lived up to this promise.

The traditional Scottish fare included a small glass of puréed parsnip, followed by Scoth broth, crusted salmon with rice and mushroom sauce and ‘cranachan’, a traditional Scottish dessert of raspberries, cream, and toasted oats. The only complaints about the meal suggested that there was maybe too much of it!

38 members and friends attended the event. Tables were overlaid with paper Scottish flags; a bagpipe player kept us entertained and a number of people took to the floor to dance the Gay Gordons. A great time was had by all those who were there. New friendships were forged and new members for the ESU Loire Valley.

Latha Naomh Anndra sona dhuibh!

October 2023

24 members and friends arrived at the village of l’Orbière, hidden in the countryside near St. Georges-des-Sept-Voies not far from Gennes, at around 10h30 28 October 2023. History shows that families occupied the troglodyte village during the Middle Ages. By the 20th century, it is estimated that around 50 people occupied 10 separate dwellings which were eventually abandoned in 1960.

Entering the site, everything appeared to resemble any other small disused troglodyte village in the Loire Valley. Nothing appeared unusual. Some rooms were furnished, some weren’t.  However, as gradually the group dispersed and penetrated further into the black holes and underground tunnels that disappear in every direction, we discovered a magical world: a world created in the 1970’s by a Polish artist, Jacques Warminski. The sculptor worked for five years to create the spectacular environment we see today: “l’Helice Terrestre”. Below ground, brilliant blue lighting illuminates his carvings and draws visitors along narrow passageways with uneven lumps and bumps underfoot, towards more amazing creations and incredible sound effects. Above ground, visitors can marvel at the sculptured mound he created and can follow the steps or scramble over the unique abstract shapes to reach the top and view everything from a different angle.

L’Helice Terrestre is the result of the amazing vision of one man. Did he draw up plans or is it the result of an amazing flow of inspiration that encouraged his artistic talent to flourish and grow? 

 

Leaving l’Orbière with these questions, the group drove the short distance into Gennes itself where 25 members and friends, including several newcomers to our group, enjoyed a very good meal at the restaurant “Les Dames Barrau”. The atmosphere was friendly. Staff were helpful. All in all, it was a perfect follow-up to the magical experience of the morning that was so appropriate for Halloween, just a few days ahead.

October 2023

Always a highlight of the ESU Loire Valley calendar, the Autumn Walk 2023 was no exception. The weather was warm and perfect for the 8 km leisurely walk, planned carefully by member, Tony Oakley, in and around ‘Le Sale Village’ close to St. Georges-des-Sept-Voies.

The walk was full of surprises. The walkers followed narrow paths, passing by the Dolmen de la Bajoulière and two Menhirs, all tucked away in peaceful surroundings. Curiosity was aroused when the group stumbled across a somewhat isolated house and its attached troglodyte dwellings, all surrounded by bags of apples. A young lady appeared who was recognised as the former owner of a shop in Gennes. Striking up a conversation, the walkers discovered that she has undergone a complete change of lifestyle, and now produces cider for a living. She hopes to produce 2000 litres this year and most kindly offered a bottle to the walkers to enjoy with their picnic lunch back at Le Prieuré, the walk’s starting point.

Having enjoyed a convivial lunch accompanied by the cider, members were reluctant to leave after a most interesting and memorable walk on a warm October day.

September 2023

In a change from tradition, the Treasure Hunt 2023 took place on the afternoon of Sunday 24 September after a convivial lunch at “Les Cathédrales de la Sauliaie” in Doué-la-Fontaine. The restaurant is situated inside the vaults of a spectacular quarry on the outskirts of the town. The menu consists of traditional Anjou dishes made from local produce, including galipettes, fouées and pommes tapées.  

By 14h30 we were ready to put our brains to work and head for the meeting point for the rally: the car park surrounding the area that once housed the train station in Doué-la-Fontaine.  25 participants, including several newcomers, formed 7 teams. The hunt was on from the moment the clues were distributed. The weather was warm and sunny, and the clues led us through beautiful countryside from Doué-la-Fontaine via Soulanger to St. Georges-sur-Layon, on to Concourson, and finally to our destination in Les Verchers-sur-Layon.

We were welcomed by the owners of the Bar à Thym in the centre of Les Verchers and whilst relaxing over a glass of wine, Dorothy took us through the answers. The winning team comprised Julie, Paul and Nicole who each received a bottle of crémant in recognition of their success. Jos’ team took second place. Our thanks to Dorothy and Colin for a truly enjoyable afternoon, in particular for the time and effort they had spent planning a picturesque route full of interesting places and discoveries, and moreover for setting the tricky clues, often made more challenging by Dorothy’s love of anagrams.

August 2023

August meetings always take the form of relaxed summer garden parties providing the perfect opportunity for members to mingle freely and to bring families and friends to share the afternoon’s activities. This year, to accompany a paella lunch, the theme ‘Viva Espana’ was in evidence throughout.

Members had been encouraged to wear red and yellow; tables were covered in red and yellow with matching bunting in the trees; sangria was served as an aperitif; paella was followed by red and yellow ice cream and sorbet and the Spanish themed quiz entertained and stretched the minds of all who took part. Everyone left smiling after an afternoon relaxing together in the beautiful gardens of a member’s family home near Saumur.

People gave generously to the raffle, profits from which will support the association’s aims and will contribute to the costs of the public speaking competition regional finals in Angers, the national finals in Paris, and the international finals in London 2024.

July 2023

On Saturday 15 July 2023, a total of 36 members and friends of the branch gathered for a relaxed summer afternoon of fun and entertainment in the vice-chairman’s charming garden.

Following a short time socialising and chatting over a ‘verre d’amitié’, the group was entertained by singer Holly Marks whose lovely voice and varied repertoire covered many decades of music. Familiar songs enticed members to dance on the lawn, providing yet more entertainment when several attempted to master the Madison. During the interval everyone enjoyed the splendid variety of food that had been brought along to be shared and second helpings were enjoyed by many.

It was all we had hoped for – a relaxed, sociable summer afternoon in good company. Thanks to Holly’s singing and all those involved in the organisation, everyone left for home smiling and happy and looking forward to the next event, also planned al fresco, in Les Ulmes, 20 August.

June 2023

PRIEURÉ DE BREUIL-BELLAY

28 members were welcomed by our hosts, Henry and Geneviève de Rivière, at midday 3 June, a wonderful sunny day, for a picnic lunch in the grounds of the Prieuré de Breuil-Bellay in Cizay-la-Madeleine.

The meeting began with a tour of the historic buildings, the origins of which date back to the 11th century. Henry was our guide and captivated all those present from the start with his detailed researched knowledge of the evolution of both the buildings and their former inhabitants.

Following the tour, an aperitif was enjoyed under trees overlooking the lawns, after which  our group made its way to the picnic area in a shaded corner by the chapel for a convivial lunch together. Entertainment was provided by the “Swing Coleporteurs”, a group consisting of a singer accompanied by a pianist, a guitarist, and a bass player. The medley consisted primarily of American and French jazz and blues and was a perfect accompaniment to the lovely surroundings, the relaxed atmosphere, and the summer weather.

It was a rare sight indeed to see members taking to the dance floor – or to be precise, to the grassy area they shared with the resident hens.

A huge vote of thanks goes to our hosts, to the musicians and to all who contributed to this amazing day.

May 2023

May Day Walk

The May Day Walk 2023 was a great success, thanks to our organiser, Tony. 14 walkers clocked up over 8 kilometres whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery of the countryside around the village of Grezillé, situated between Brissac and Gennes.

There were bluebells and cowslips along the way, reminding all those present that spring had arrived. The walk was a great opportunity to meet and chat to new acquaintances. On arrival back at the starting point, the walk was followed by an aperitif and a convivial picnic next to the lake in Grezillé

April 2023

Annual General Meeting

The AGM took place the morning of Saturday 15 April in the comfortable surroundings of the Hôtel Saint Paul, Vivy.  During the meeting, the chairman raised several issues currently proving challenging to the committee thus provoking an exchange of opinion and some lively discussion.  Some good ideas were put forward by members and these will be investigated further by committee members. 

After the meeting, the serious business over, attendees were able to relax over an aperitif before sitting down to enjoy an excellent lunch together.