“Backdoor Tour of Montresor” – by Debbie Ambrous

Backdoor view of Montresor, France

Backdoor view of Montresor, France

A plate loaded with collard greens, potato salad, barbecue, peas and sweet corn casserole with a tall glass of iced tea was my downfall today at a family reunion. The return trip for blueberry delight dessert was another contributor to my lazy, lazy disposition this afternoon. Rainclouds are spread above as a canopy over our little cottage in Alabama as I sit watching the hummingbirds dipping into the deep blue morning glory flowers outside on the toolshed. A sunshine yellow sofa with French cushions in the living room is calling my name for a power nap. Finally, the medical experts are saying naps are good for you. Keep those smart ideas coming!

Front door view of Montresor, France - There really are no bad views!

Front door view of Montresor, France – There really are no bad views!

On this lazy, sleepy day I decided to show the backdoor of Montresor, France with its flowing stream along a peaceful pathway. Earlier, I admitted to a delicious lunch at Café de la Ville in Montresor in the story “Jardin of Good and Scared” CLICK if you did not see it previously. We walked off some of the calories by the stream and over the bridges to find a different view of the town.

Jim used his camera almost as much as I did.

Jim used his camera almost as much as I did.

m19Other tourists could completely miss this memorable spot and  the chickens running around in a green garden if they are not as curious as we are about every little trail and pathway. Just take a look at the pictures, and I believe you will agree that it is an area not to be missed.

As for me, I’m following the pathway to the yellow sofa and telling Jim not to call me until dinner time. I hope you are having a wonderful day wherever you may be. Ya’ll be careful, and come see us again! Thank you!m14m16m18Life Needs No Red Lights the plaque below suggests. But we could use a few helpful signs to guide us along the way. CLICK the smaller pictures for larger format.

Don’t forget to leave a message below. I just smile all over when I hear from you! Now brace yourself, here comes that commercial for the book “A French Opportunity” and a little encouragement to share the blog with equally smart folks who might just a take a likin’ to this blog and the book!  I am especially grateful to those who have shared a review on Amazon for the book, proving a guide on the roadway to reading a Southern lady’s take on France.

“Madame Michelin” – by Debbie Ambrous

l3May 23, 2014–“Where should we go today? What’s the plan, Madame Michelin travel guide?
l45Yes, those were Jim’s words almost every morning while we were in France, asking me what agenda I had cooked up for the day.  Jim renamed me Madame Michelin after seeing the Michelin atlas that I kept balanced on my lap for directions when we viewed the scenery of the villages and countryside.

Near the end of our stay in the adorable cottage in Crouzilles, France, I knew that I would soon say goodbye to the flamboyantly beautiful peonies in the garden. We would kiss the faces of the cute children we had met, and bid au revoir to shopping in the markets for vegetables, fruit, sausages, cheese and antiques. It was just too sad to think about.   Note: Click on smaller gallery pictures to enlarge.

I saw a real estate listing for a rental house in Huismes on the internet. It’s a two-bedroom stone house with a big fireplace, cute kitchen and small garden. I know we probably can’t ever arrange to live here, but it would be fun to drive by and see the house. We won’t bother a realtor and take up his time since he can’t make money on my dreams. The village looked cute, but we only saw a quick glimpse when we drove to Jean’s house for a visit with his family. What do you say? Will that be o.k.?Merci again to Jean Marc and family for your hospitality and very helpful advice!

Sure, we can look at houses as long as you stay far from the ATM machine and don’t sign any paperwork!

When we were driving downhill from the center of the little hamlet of Crouzilles, I saw an elderly man moving at a fast pace off to the left with an interesting cache of gardening tools in tow behind his bicycle.  Do you have anyone like this in your neighborhood?  We saw a similar gardener on our street when we lived in Coconut Grove, Florida.  He had a small gardening business with all of his equipment stowed behind, or on his bicycle.  Just shows what you can do with a little imagination and creativity!

I couldn’t miss the photo opportunity. Madame Michelin asked for a change of direction and the driver reconfigured his route with a minimum of grumbling. When we caught up with the sprightly gent, he was very cooperative about posing for me. You would have thought that he modeled for GQ magazine on a daily basis.

Huismes, France

Huismes, France

We never found the rental house, but we found a very atmospheric village with restaurants and boulangerie. l32We were welcomed by a nice fellow who chatted with Jim while I took pictures of his fragrant, climbing red rose. l31Then, the driver of a big truck smiled and honked his horn for me after I took pictures of his menagerie of stuffed animals (including a Daffy Duck) on the truck’s dashboard. I wished after the friendly man was on his way down the road that I had asked to sit in the driver’s seat for a photo. Why didn’t I seize that opportunity earlier? I could have bragged about the photo to my Alabama truck-driver friend Teresa. l18l22Yes, it seemed to be a friendly place to live. But I had to leave it for someone else. The house isn’t listed anymore, but I found another one to dream about in a nearby gorgeous town steeped in history. This rental (CLICK for the listing) faces the Chateau Langeais. I wouldn’t mind that at all!! “Oh, Jim, come here a minute!

You will see many, many fields of grapevines everywhere around here.

You will see many, many fields of grapevines everywhere around here in the Indre-et-Loire section of France.

I suppose I have only taken you on a picture journey, not many details, history or conversation. You can read between the lines and possibly plan your own tour with or without a realtor, or Madame Michelin.

CLICK here for your copy of the book "A French Opportunity"

CLICK here for your copy of the book “A French Opportunity” Read the history of Chateau Langeais.   ENJOY!

“Worth the Ticket Price” – by Debbie Ambrous

Certainly the "A" on the cottage is meant for "Ambrous" - lovely scene from the village

Certainly, the “A” on the cottage is meant for “Ambrous” – lovely scene from the village

April 26, 2014 – On the home-stretch to our cozy French cottage rental, I saw through my jet-lagged eyes the charming village of Saché. Jim and I were only sixteen miles from food and a bed with a real pillow, not an airplane sachet-sized-substitute sans the lavender scenting. I remembered the glimpse of Chateau Saché during our six weeks of exploration through villages and towns in the area around Brehemont, France and looked for more information on the pretty town.

The chateau was originally a Renaissance lodge.

The chateau was originally a Renaissance lodge.

My interest in Saché grew when I learned that the chateau housed a museum for Honoré de Balzac, one of the great writers of the first half of the 19th century. Balzac’s writings were not required reading in any of my studies in Alabama. However, my reading does extend beyond Better Homes and Gardens magazine on occasion. Hoping to increase our curve of knowledge in an upward direction, we drove to Saché after our morning coffee and croissants on a beautiful day in April. I hope you are wide-awake since more history is coming around the corner.

“The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.” – Honoré de Balzac    Now, wouldn’t a quotation like this make you want to see what this fellow is all about?

Balzac, born in 1799, lived mainly in Paris, where he died in 1850. His vast body of work comprises some hundred novels written in less than twenty years. “From 1825 to 1848, he paid regular visits to Jean Margonne, a friend of his parents at the Chateau Saché. There, far removed from the bustle of Parisian life and his financial worries, the writer found the silence and austerity that enabled him to work between twelve and sixteen hours a day.”

My view of buildings like this whetted my appetite to return.

A view of these buildings whetted my appetite to return.

Jim quickly paid the admission before I had second thoughts. I wasn’t sure the museum would be worth the price of the tickets, but I was wrong. It was worth visiting to see the printing room alone. Balzac managed a company with thirty-six employees from 1826 to 1828, overseeing the printing of some two hundred and fifty works on the seven Stanhope typographical presses in his workshop. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was still only possible to print a few dozen pages per hour and several months were needed to print a book.

Bright room decorated with hand-crafted wallpaper

Bright room decorated with hand-crafted wallpaper


Balzac wrote the first forty pages of Lost Illusions at Saché in 1836. The novel tells the life-story of David Sechard, a printer in the 1820’s. “At the time when the story opens, the Stanhope press was not in general use in small printing establishments. Leather ink-balls were still used in old-fashioned printing houses; the pressman dabbed the ink by hand on the characters, and the movable table on which the form of type was placed in readiness for the sheet of paper, being made of marble, literally deserved its name of impression-stone.”

We met this adorable miss in the chateau, and I promised to show her picture.

We met this adorable miss in the chateau, and I promised to show her picture.

We were fascinated by this printing history, and we could easily imagine what an idyllic life a writer could have lived in the grand chateau. Balzac affectionately dubbed Saché a “debris de chateau” in contrast with the majestic Loire chateaus nearby.

After the tour, I decided I would read one of his novels, Eugenie Grandet – purchased on Amazon. The novel is set in Saumur, France, which we visited several times. Jim enjoyed Saumur, spending the night in a castle hotel with his sister several years ago. Yes, I know, he did all kind of stuff leaving me at home, working my fingers off! I guess I’ll forgive him since he cooks a mean barbecue and carefully packs all of my breakable antiques from French markets and junk stores – unlike the orangutan husband Balzac describes.

Street scene in Saumur, France

Street scene in Saumur, France

Back to the novel, it’s all about a greedy man who makes his family live in poverty while he is counting his gold bricks. A handsome young man comes to rescue his young daughter, more or less. Young man leaves with the only gold the innocent young woman has. Greedy father refuses to forgive the sweet, generous girl for giving the money to the penniless young man. Will he return? What happens when the father dies? If you are interested in a book written in 1883, give it a whirl.

Each evening, currently on my side of the bed, I’m reading Paris My Sweet, by Amy Thomas. I may eat the pillow on our bed if I read any more of her luscious descriptions of food in France. I’m on page 156, and so far, Amy’s book is a winner. On Jim’s side of the bed is a picture of grandson Daniel with his fingers stuck into his ears. Last night, Jim said, “Did you put this picture here as a hint that I’m snoring too loudly?”

A good husband is never the first to go to sleep at night or the last to awake in the morning.” – Honoré de Balzac   Balzac apparently never had an opportunity to meet Jim!

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“Backdoor Tour of Richelieu” – by Debbie Ambrous

This gentleman and his dog formed our greeting committee at Richelieu.  The gentleman smiled each time we met as he and his companion circled the town.

This gentleman and his dog formed our greeting committee at Richelieu. The man on his bicycle smiled each time we met as he and his companion circled the town.

Read pages 19 through 60.  You will be tested on this history material tomorrow.”  Groans and muttered complaints fill the classroom as the students grab backpacks and hit the door.  Remember those days in the past, or is this currently your daily grind?

One of the entrances to Richelieu with the moat now filled with gardens and only a narrow stream of water.

One of the entrances to Richelieu with the moat now filled with gardens and only a narrow stream of water.

I was taken back to those days of history-cramming when I decided to write about Richelieu, France.  My office printer labored slowly with twenty-nine pages of conquests, conspiracies and wars.   More facts funneled slowly into my brain from guide and reference books, plus more and more pages opened in the computer as I went from one history site to another.  Remembering the groans and complaints in the classroom, I couldn’t come to terms with an all-out history campaign here on the Southern lady’s weekly kisses and hugs approach to France.

Richelieu is a thriving community, not just a tourist town.

Richelieu is a thriving community, not just a tourist town.

But telling about the City of Richelieu without telling about Cardinal Richelieu, its founder, is like telling about Graceland without mentioning Elvis, or talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken and leaving out the Colonel.  So, sit up straight, no throwing of spit-balls (ask me later if you don’t understand) and pay attention since there will be a test following!

Notice the gardens behind the homes in the moat and the pleasant pathway to stroll around peacefully.

Notice the gardens in the moat and the pleasant pathway to stroll around peacefully.  I hope you like this backdoor approach to the city.

Jean de la Fontaine proclaimed the new town as: “The most beautiful village in the universe.” Fontaine could write blurbs for real estate brochures and magazine ads today!

Jim and I could live here.  He would barbecue, and I would sit on the bench in the shade.  Just planning ahead!

Jim and I could live here. He would barbecue, and I would sit on the bench in the shade. Just planning ahead!

Front doors along the main street.

Front doors along the main street.  You already know what lies at their back doors.

The city’s 17th– century urban planning was conceived by Cardinal Richelieu, who as chief minister was the most powerful man in France with the exception of the monarch.  “To ensure quick settlement, the Cardinal imposed no city taxes.  In return, buyers of plots for construction undertook to build within two years a house according to the plans and specifications filed with the court of the city, while being forced to choose as builder one of the Cardinal’s appointees.”  The architect Jacques Lemercier, who was responsible for the Sorbonne and the Palais-Royal in Paris, was engaged to create the walled town on a grid arrangement surrounded by an ornamental moat and large imposing walls. r17

I could handle a garden like this.

I could handle a garden like this.

The walls enclose a series of entrance courts, and on the opposite side there are formal gardens with gravel walks and surrounding trees.

In 1625, Cardinal Richelieu commissioned Lemercier to draw up plans for his huge palace, clearly intending for it to be incomparably luxurious.  It was filled with priceless furniture and works of art.  “Extremely fearful of competition, Richelieu ordered many of the chateaux in the area to be razed.  The town survived the French Revolution; the palace, ironically, was confiscated, damaged and then dismantled.”

That's Jim on a bridge in the beautiful Richelieu Gardens open to the public.

That’s Jim on a bridge in the beautiful Richelieu Gardens open to the public.

Shady long walkways are wonderful in hot weather.

Shady long walkways are wonderful in hot weather.

Soon she will have a backpack with history books.

Soon she will have a backpack with history books.

My homework reading assignment yielded facts that got under my skin.  I’m hoping not to offend the citizens of Richelieu, my regular readers, Elvis or the Colonel with my dislikes.

The tactic that disturbed me most was Richelieu’s plan of blockading La Rochelle to stop any land supplies of food and goods to the city in his campaign against the Huguenots.  This maneuver had a devastating impact on the Huguenots.  Before the blockade, the city’s population stood at 25,000.  After it was lifted, only 5000 remained alive in a very weak state.  “It was said that you either liked Richelieu or hated him – there was no half-way.”

Other than the beautiful village, what remains of his legacy?  His ideas of a strong nation-state and aggressive foreign policy helped create the modern system of international politics.  The International Movie Database (effective April 2013) lists ninety-four films and television programs in which Cardinal Richelieu is a character.  Richelieu is a major character and one of the main villains in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. A wing of the Louvre Museum in Paris is named for him.  Four warships of the French Navy bore his name.

Richelieu was famous for his patronage of the arts; most notably, he founded the Académie Française, the learned society responsible for matters related to the French language.

I found more stuff that put my nose out of joint as I read the pages, but I have to give him credit for leaving behind a lovely village that is very livable today after hundreds of years.  Don’t miss seeing a broader perspective of the town of Richelieu with an aerial, pictures of the squares and colorful scenes of a local celebration.  Just CLICK here for the website.

r3Don’t be surprised if the town of Richelieu appears again on these pages since it is a favorite of mine with its lively markets and antique stores.  I could easily write the village on my list of places to search for a two-bedroom apartment with garden in the moat and a stream flowing past, just a few steps from the market and boulangerie.

Ya’ll meet me in the garden for a picnic after I walk past Richelieu’s shadow.

Test Questions – Multiple Choice:

1: What city is the most beautiful in the universe?  Opp, Alabama or Richelieu, France

2: Who is a character in 94 films and television shows?  Cardinal Richelieu or Colonel Sanders

3: Who was the architect for Richelieu?  Rick Ruiz, John Gerald, Jean Perron, Roland Stout, Doug Walker, Dr. George Tseng or Jacques Lemercier (Like Richelieu, I promote my friends, in this case, my architect friends!)

4: Buy “A French Opportunity” and you are guaranteed an “A” on the test!

 Thank you for joining me for journeys in France and beyond.   Your kind support is greatly appreciated.  I will mark your attendance record as excellent on your report card!

I love hearing from students, teachers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and bachelors in the comments section.