King of the Hill, for a day or two

We all know a (wo)man’s home is her (his) castle. Talk about trying to be gender neutral here… anyway you know what we mean right? But how would one like to really own a real castle? Not the ones that Kings of ode can dream up and build in reality, but buy one. Not the one in the featured image, unfortunately.

Some months back, we read this article that suggests that for a princely (heheh) sum of £46, one can become a joint-holder of an abandoned French Fortress in the Dordogne region. Yep, you can become one of 10,000 folks that will be able lay claim on a stake in this relic of noble past. A minor ‘Princelet’ perhaps? Maybe we need to update our exciting business opportunity!

But the point today is this : do these folks really understand what they are getting into?

In our little red dot we have properties from a bygone era, from before the 1960s. Pre-war houses they call them and they are conserved. Well some of them anyway. To buy them meant to ensure that they are preserved externally with no cosmetic amendments. Sure you can turn the inside into what you wish, but it remains a responsibility of the owner to manage the conservation. Overall, that costs a fair chunk of change… actually those who bought in early have reaped the rewards (darn why did we not join our friends?). Will the new greater fools rushing in be able to count on the same?

There are many outstanding structures in the world today. Especially in Europe and Asia. Should the State own them all and conserve them at public cost, or would private citizens coming together to fund conservation be the answer?

Of Alsatians and Lorraineans

LOL. No, we are not Alsatians. Yeah it has been a “dogged” life but this sure isn’t the what the post is about. First, a little geography (which you can find out more out here in our essay). Nestled between France and Germany with the Rhine mostly as the border, you will read from our essay that this was a contested region.

Fortunately no more.

Today it is a place that teems with tourists coming through on the way between both countries. With pleasant country roads that seem to be paved with vineyards forever into the horizon, you can imagine us singing as we drove along! Yes we did sing…though you might not want to listen to it…

Have you heard of Quiche Lorraine? Bet you have! While true that quiche has been around for long and available elsewhere earlier, it is this variant named after the region that became really popular. And that’s because it is savoury instead of sweet, turning it from a dessert with custard filling to one with cheese and Lardon! So did we have some? Why oui! In the city of Metz.

And because this region is a little melange of French and German cultures and traditions, you will visit towns with German sounding names, eat “choucroute” instead of sauerkraut, though still with sausages. Or “tarte flambee” that seems to be glorified pizzas…hmmm. See beautiful village houses adorned in a spectacle of colours that can only be found in the rural parts of France.

Read about our little road trips to Alsace and Lorraine!

So this ends our French series.

Next up, Thailand! Home to our timeshare resort (on Phuket), it is the land of smiles. And indeed it is so. Look out for it!

Fortress Carcassonne

A fortress up on high standing the test of time. Witness to countless conflicts both blood and gore. This is the hilltop fortress of Carcassonne.

We were driving down south from Perigord, enroute to Provence.

And when you are in this part of France, you cannot miss out on this venerable old dame of fortresses. Did you know that this fortress hails back to Roman times? You see, this is a rather strategic spot and very early in history it was recognized as such. Built over and enlarged time and again by successive regimes, it has evolved to its current 53 barbicans! For those who do not know what a Barbican is – it is a fortified gateway/outpost. A sort of tower flanked by high walls.

You know in medieval times there was much political uncertainty. The nobility fought constantly amongst themselves, treating the common folks as their property to use – perhaps little different from livestock. So this fortress was the scene of many a siege that led to much widowing, orphaning and grief. But over the centuries it became derelict and abandoned.

We are so lucky that it was not demolished in the mid 1800s but salvaged by the local townspeople. Though not all restored to perfect and exact construction of the ancients and medieval times, it nevertheless left us with a monument that links us back to that time in history.

Today this fortress is still inhabited by a small number of folks that are descended from the original villagers. It is a unique experience to walk its cobbled stone streets and imagine how life was like during those sieges.

Explore this fortress with us! And tell us if this will motivate you to make your own journey to this amazing place.

What’s in Orange?

No, not the fruit. But the supposed catchy title just might capture your attention. We are referring to a city in the south of France.

We are sure you know that France was not where the Romans hail from (duh you don’t know? lol). In fact, reference to a Gallic culture should give a clue that France was the domain of the Gauls. Though defeated and subjucated by the Romans, they were by no means totally assimilated. Which means the Romans had to build enclaves – colonies for themselves in this newly won lands.

Orange was one of them colonies, and it was a large settlement area too for the Romans. Who migrated there you ask? Retired ex-military we are told, centurions who are no longer in active service being granted parcels of land to farm or rent out (for farming). That’s why in the town (le commune as the French say), you will find many vestiges of Roman power widely distributed all over. Some are said to be even older than ones in Rome!

According to antiquity studying folks, it has one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world (well the western world anyway), aside from the one in Aspendo (which we also touched). And this one is actively being used too. Because the excellent acoustics that were the requirements of the day when it was built still works today!

Now that you know a little about Orange, go on and read more here about our little traipsing all over this quaint town and tell us what do you like about it!

Petit & Pretty French villages

Many years ago, we recalled (when we lived in Holland) that many British folks were flocking to the southwestern part of France. So much that entire communes had almost become British villages!

Why did they converged on this part of France?

Is it the weather? The beautiful countryside? It is still a mystery to us till this day. Perhaps someone from the UK might be able to enlighten us! In any case, there we were based in the town of Perigeux making forays to verify if it is indeed true that the beauty of these villages was what enamoured a countless number of Brits over the years.

But first some technicalities. Many of this “villages” we visited weren’t just communes of abode. They were fortified. ‘Bastides’ they are called locally and there are good reasons to do so. In medieval times, you never know if a robber knight will turn up at your door in the middle of the night asking for “donations” of food, wine and where possible money. Some may even court womenfolk love…

In an age where bands of mercenaries live off the land – ie take from people, the commonfolk had to band together too! And build strong homes from which they can keep themselves safe from predation. Perhaps some of these horror flicks (of vampires and monsters in the night) deriving from medieval times were a satire on the roaming “bloodthirsty” robber knights and barons of the day! Today though we are blessed not to have such any of such. What a relieve!

And words from this post alone will not do sufficient justice to the beauty of the villages that we set our eyes upon.

Are these villages really as pretty as we say? Find out more in our essay here!

Green gardens, even in winter!

Why would you visit a garden without flowers? Now you know that in the eastern world, you have zen gardens, rock gardens (not music), bonsai etc. And in the west most people might associate gardens being adorned with flowers to some degree. What if we were to tell you that gardens in France are mostly designed not to have flowers in mind?

Would you believe us?

Actually we did not believe ourselves too. At least not when we started out driving all over France. And of course we made a sweeping statement. Not ALL gardens in France are without flowers. It is the concept that flowers are not a centrality – that is key!

In this essay, we want to share with you some gems of French gardens that we discovered through our driving journeys. They have been painstakingly built to be enjoyed throughout the year. Thus flower gardens that you might find less attractive in the depths of autumn and winter, you will still be able to find solace within these creations. Many of them can be found within the beautiful manorial palaces and homes of the former aristocracy.

Take a tour of le jardins du France and tell us if you like them!