One of our favorite things to do in the countryside in Italy and France is to just drive around, and turn off whenever we see one of the little signs pointing the way to something of historical interest–old church, castle, forest, whatever. Today we started off by driving to a nearby town where we’d heard there was a small market of local producers. It turned out to be one old guy in his truck selling jam, but behind the parking lot was a large farmstand, with local people lining up to buy crates of tiny melons, white asparagus, and enormous heads of lettuce. (Later, we asked our gite owner what people were doing with a crate of melons, and she told us they fill them with Pineau de Charente as an aperitif. Drink your fruit, win-win.) White asparagus, artichokes, and a bottle of the local plonk went in the car with us.
Near the village of Bassac, we saw one of the historical marker signs, and found the Abbey of Bassac, founded in the 11nth century. The buildings were added to over the centruries, the Abbey was sold during the Revolution, and was used as various points as a hospital and most recently as a school. Not much to be seen of the original except part of the cloister; though the 15th century extension has a grand balcony and staircase, leading to a wild garden along the banks of the river.From the riverfront you can see an old lavoire, wash house, and old bridge. And abandoned in front, a 12th century lanterne du mort, used in medieval cemetaries.
Another village, another Romanesque church. We found this little one down the road in Graves Saint-Amant. Much of the external decoration was gone, except for a few capitals and this wonderful line of heads.
We also stopped at the site of an archaeological dig,where according to the signposts they’ve found dinosaur remains. This part of the Charente is crisscrossed by many little rivers, we seemed to be rolling over tiny single-lane bridges every kilometer or so. Oh, another dolmen, this time partially collapsed and sitting in someone’s flax field.
We’ve also learned to slow down when we see an elaborate gate–there’s usually a chateau or grand old house behind.
Lunchtime! Our gite owners has recommended L’Islle in the town of Bassac. In this tiny, towhere town, the place was hopping with local buisness people. There’s a beautiful garden, though they weren’t seating out there today because of the damp. For 18 euros, you can choose a daily 3-course set men. It was amazing, especially for that price. We started with a bowl of fresh seafood, in two different sauces. Then salmon with fennel puree and potatoes in a fennel-carrot sauce, the finally a molleaux, tiny warm chocolate cake.We’ll be back.
Another village, with another church with some fine old capitals and gated wall outside.
Back home, we went down the road to visit neighbor Monsieur Raby, who with his daughter own one of the many cognac vineyards and distilleries. We got a nice little tour, with explanation of the process. He sells much of his production to the large cognac makers, but keeps some to age and bottle himself. He also makes Pineau de Charente and wines, and his daughter speaks English, having some some of her wine training in the US.
Larry, not a cognac drinker, conceded that the top of the line aged stuff might be OK. A few bottles went home with us.
The aroma here was so strong, you could almost taste the cognac. The amount lost to evaporation is called “the Angel’s Share.”
His father made this cognac in 1970, it is still aging.