Last Friday was my birthday, not one of the big ones the next O is a couple of years away but still a special one in many ways. On the previous day we had driven down to the Pays de la Loire region of France to stay overnight at the Manoir du Moulin, in the small town of Sainte Hermine in the Vendee.
Looking at the pretty garden through the breakfast room windows whilst enjoying our petite dejeuner was a lovely start to the day.
On our way to our next destination, Maison Asholi in the tiny hamlet of Bouteilles Saint Sebastian over in the Dordogne, we stopped off in the pretty town of Fontenay le Comte to visit the Chateau Terre Neuve. We had a wonderful tour of the Chateau. Our guide, Eve, was delightful and took great pride in telling us about it's history.
The Chateau visit deserves a post of it's own and once I've reviewed all the photographs that I took during the tour I'll be telling you more about that wonderful place very soon.
Later that afternoon we arrived at Maison Asholi and received a warm welcome from our B & B host, Beverley.
Just look at our pretty bedroom!
As we sat outside basking in the glorious sunshine and admiring the garden Beverley brought out a birthday cake that she had baked specially for me, complete with candles!
In the evening the SP took me to dinner at "a table" a quirky restaurant @ La Lumiere B & B owned and operated by two English women in the nearby hamlet of La Guide.
The restaurant is small, it seats just 36 diners in two downstairs rooms of what once was an ancient French farmhouse and has a usp I've not encountered before. Dinner is by reservation only, there is no menu (although they do have a short wine list), and all the tables are served at the same time. As each course is dispatched from the tiny kitchen it is delivered to the table by a server along with a short description of the dish.
6 courses over 3 hours, quite an experience and one that made this birthday a birthday to remember.
You may have noticed that I've become a fan of the Waterlogue app after seeing the wonderful images created by Sarah @ Hyacinths for the Soul a week or two ago. It's so easy to use and such fun!
Her marriage to Franz Joseph was not a happy one, overshadowed as it was by her domineering mother in law who also happened to be her aunt, the Archduchess Sophie (of Bavaria).
The suicide/murder of her son and heir, Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, and his mistress at his hunting lodge, Mayerling, in 1889 was a tragedy from which she never recovered.
Elisabeth fled Austria and travelled to the island of Corfu, a place she had visited often during her extended travels and a sanctuary from life at court in Vienna, Austria.
After purchasing a large villain the village of Gastouriand later also the land surrounding it down as far as the coast she instructed the Italian architect, Raffaele Caritto to design a palace in the Pompeian style.
Building began in 1889 and took two years to complete.
As a great admirer of Achilles, a hero of Greek mythology, Elisabeth named the palace Achilleion and had several statues of him installed in the house and throughout the grounds.
She visited Achilleion twice each year until she was murdered in 1898 in Geneva.
The palace remained closed until it was sold in 1907 by her daughter, Maria Valeria, to Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Achilleion Palace is now a Museum operated by the Greek Tourist Organization and we were able to tour both it and the extensive gardens during our recent stay in Corfu.
It was wonderful to walk the halls and climb the elaborate staircase however many of the rooms were unfurnished and in need of some TLC.
I so enjoyed learning more about the Empress Elisabeth and seeing her most favourite home but was saddened to discover that her visits were cut short when her life ended so tragically at the hands of an assassin. On a lighter note to finish, some movie trivia for you to enjoy. The teenage German actress Romy Schneider starred in a trilogy of movies entitled "Sissi" (1955, 1956 & 1957) playing the role of Elisabeth. The three films were later condensed into one version "Forever My Love" and dubbed into English. In 1968 Omar Sharif played the leading role of Crown Prince Rudolph in a movie based on the Mayerling Incident. Scenes from the 1981 James Bond movie "For Your Eyes Only" were filmed in the Casino on the upper storey of Achilleion.
In the week that towns and cities across Normandy took part in splendid celebrations to commemorate the Allied invasion of France, June1944, we welcomed new friends, Elaine and Mark, to the Presbytère for the first time.
They arrived late Thursday afternoon after a tiring day of sightseeing in Bayeux, we hadn't met Mark before but he and the SP immediately hit it off and I don't think that they stopped talking, joking and enjoying each others company at all during the next day and a half. As it was their first time in Normandy we put on our tour guide hats the following day and headed towards the coast. We began the tour at Pointe du Hoc and the Ranger Monument.
As we walked the site we paused to watch, silently, as a WWII veteran slowly marched to the Monument accompanied by pipes and drum. As he passed by I thanked him for his service.
Our next stop along the coast was the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. The weather that day for us was misty and damp and lent extra poignancy to our visit.
A quick lunch stop in Port en Bessin for moules and frites then we headed to Arromanches and the 360 degree cinema.
They are currently showing the HD film "Normandy 100 Jours" which shows the 100 days of the Battle of Normandy on 9 screens.
That evening we sat around outside, drinking wine and sharing our memories of the day, before heading indoors for a late dinner and more lively conversation which ranged from the sublime - "best vacation ever" to the ridiculous "TV's gogglebox"! We certainly enjoyed sharing our little corner of Normandy with these lovely people and we hope that they come back again one day.
P.S. It wasn't possible for me to add links to either The Ranger Monument or The American Cemetery but if you're interested in learning more about either of these very interesting monuments then a quick google search is all it takes to find a link.
What a crazy week it's been weather wise since our return home from Corfu.
We haven't suffered as much as others parts of France, no hailstorms or crashing thunderstorms here, but we've had plenty of rain, followed by a couple of sunshine and blue sky days, followed by more rain.
We even lost internet access during one heavy downpour.
Still, every cloud has a silver lining and the garden does seem to be thriving despite or probably because of the changeable weather.
On the day we were "unplugged" we headed to a local garden centre to buy plants for the planters which are dotted around the front of the house. A family run business with a great selection of plants at reasonable prices.
We came home with geraniums, marigolds and a little blue plant that I don't know the name of but which has been excellent for filling in all the odd little spaces.
Elsewhere in the garden, a bright and brassy rhododendron adds colour to a shady corner, roses clamber through the Virginia creeper at the front of the house, purple flowering chives are taking over the herb bed, small fruits are appearing on the espaliered pear tree whilst the windchimes, found on a shopping trip in Savanna, GA provide a melodic soundtrack to the loveliness of it all.
My sister sent me some photographs of her remodelled front garden the other day, I just had to share this one of her miniature schnauzer Jet as a living statue posed next to his Mini Me!