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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The first knitting retreat

The guests have just all departed from our first knitting retreat here at La Verderie. We have had a fantastic few days with three lovely people. Mark and Diane came all the way from Canada to visit Paris and our little corner of rural France. Whilst Diane was happy to launch into her knitting as soon as she arrived, Mark was a little worried that he had been talked into spending five days with three slightly nutty knitters. However Culli came to his rescue and whisked him off around the countryside to sample a little of the local cognac, check out the bar at St Meme, assist on a few site visits and even grovel around in the engine of the boat - what a lucky man!

The lovely Michelle from Devon kept us entertained with her stories and came up with some great ideas for my book - thank you Michelle! She is a knitter with the patience of a saint, producing her own designs for beautiful floaty garments in laceweight yarns, just stopping every so often to pop outside for a quick fag.

We managed to consume breakfast, lunch and a four course dinner every day with ease, washed down with lashings of wine. It was great to have three real foodies with no dislikes, the seafood lunch on Saturday was attacked with relish, oysters, prawns and bulot enjoyed by all. I try to make the menus a mix of french and english so came up with the following for the evening meals -
Thursday - smoked salmon pate, Normandy chicken, cheese board, peaches baked in pineau
Friday - pear, roquefort and walnut salad, salmon and prawn pie, cheese board, tarte tatin
Saturday - pumpkin soup, magret de canard with red wine sauce, cheese board, squidgy lemon pudding
Sunday - charentais melon with pineau, roast lamb with dauphinoise potatoes, cheese board, mousse au chocolat
Monday - prawns with ginger and chilli, boeuf bourguignon, cheese board, croissant bread pudding
We had an outing to the market at St Jean d'Angely on Saturday morning and I took Mark and Diane into Saintes yesterday afternoon for a wander around the shops and a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre.
It was sad to see them all leave today, Mark and Diane are back to Paris for a few more days of culture and Michelle is off for a week's adventure in La Rochelle. Tomorrow the house sitters move in and Culli and I are off to the UK for a wedding, Monday the diet starts..............

Autumn Sailing

Maet at Boyardville
Time to catch up with my sadly neglected blog.....
Culli and I and our sailing mate Mike spent the first two weeks of September sailing our little yacht up the coast from Royan to Ile de Re, not a particularly adventurous holiday as we were never much more than 50 miles from the coast, but it was a much needed break. Not a break from knitting though, I have some nerve-racking deadlines for my new book so spent at least 4 hours every day working on projects for this. There is something very peaceful about working on a boat, with a stash of knitting yarn in the fore peak and the laptop set up on the saloon table, I decided I could probably work like this for weeks on end.

tourist boat at St Denis
Our first stop was the marina at St Denis on Ile d'Oleron, this is one of our favourite marinas and a short walk up to the town takes you to the best Thai restaurant in France. Shopping at the daily market is a pleasure with loads of fresh fish and seafood, freshly cooked paella, luscious fruit and veg and cheesy fougeres from the boulangerie.
cycling on ile d'Oleron
Next stop was Boyardville, a small marina accessed through a lock two hours each side of high water and deep joy there was a brocante at the end of the marina on the sunday morning! We hired bicycles and cycled into the town of St Pierre for a wander around the shops and a coffee. Oleron is fantastic for cycling as it is totally flat with cycle paths taking you all round the island.
stormy sky
From Boyardville we sailed to St Martin on Ile de Re, a great sail with a good wind all the way taking us to the little port in the centre of St Martin, a great people watching place. We spent a couple of nights in St Martin with a howling gale and thunderstorm passing through on the second day, the only bad weather we experienced and were glad to be snugged up in the sheltered port.
Culli and Mike in St Martin
Next visit was an overnight stop at La Rochelle, sadly Le Vieux port was full so we had to go into the modern marina at Les Minimes, and because the boat show was due to start in a few days time had a whole pontoon to ourselves. Mike had to get back to the UK, so jumped ship at La Rochelle and Culli and I sailed back to St Denis for the final weekend.
abandoned boat
We met some lovely people, David and Sarah on their 38 foot Catamaran, who were sailing down the coast of France to Spain with their two cats and Tom and Danny who were also heading South on their beautiful dutch boat. We rescued a yacht that had been abandoned at low tide, saving it from crashing into the catamaran on the fierce current that whooshes into the marina as the tide comes in, the grateful owner treated us all to beers in the evening.
Chassiron lighthouse
We hired bikes for the day and cycled up the impressive lighthouse at Chassiron and walked around the headland, then stopped for a picnic lunch on a bench overlooking the deserted beach.

dodging the tide
The trip back to Royan was fairly eventful, with not much wind we had to motor some of the way. Just before the entrance to the Gironde estuary Culli noticed that the automatic bilge pump had kicked in. We opened the engine cover and discovered water pouring out of the engine, when he didn't reply to my question 'are we going to sink?' I knew things were bad......... My first thought was, how am I going to get all my knitting projects to dry land. However, a wine bottle cork saved the day, stuffed in the hole in the engine and held on with self amalgamating tape, we turned the engine off and resigned ourselves to a long sail home, but happily the wind picked up and we finally made it!
oyster shells