Tag Archives: Saumur

Cointreau or Combier – or both!


Sun-dried orange peels from the West Indies, local spices from the south of France, alcohol from France’s northwest, and secret ingredients from the Loire Valley – a formula that became the world’s first triple sec. It sounds wonderful. It happened in Saumur and was the inspiration of Jean-Baptiste Combier after countless years experimentation to make the perfect recipe.

Combier orange liqueur was first available in 1834 in Saumur. Cointreau followed 41 years after in nearby Angers. Both Combier at Saumur and Cointreau, near Angers, are situated on the River Loire which was used for a main river for transporting goods, such oranges from the West Indies upwards from the coast and then onward by canal to Paris.

Combier is still in the same premises where Jean-Baptiste Combier and his brother opened a confectionery shop in Rue Saint Nicolas, Saumur,  in 1834. In back of his shop, he developed alcohols and liquors with his still to fill its sweets and chocolates and created the famous “Triple Sec” liqueur.

His dream of inventing something new and original was a great success and was only followed later by Cointreau. It is worth a visit to see the beautiful copper stills, sample some of the huge range of liqueurs made there and come away with a selection of your favourites. Visit Combier

Cut and paste the link below to see a  video about Combier (in French)  with some great photography showing some of their other syrups and liquers too and also what goes in to making their products.


To end,  just for fun, here are a few recipes (not cocktails) using Triple Sec, but visit and you will come away with more than Triple Sec.

Margarita Cake

Over the Top French toast made with Triple Sec

Two simple ideas – add Cassis liqueur to home-made ice cream for something quite special or a dash of Combier Fruits of the Forest liqueur makes a fresh fruit salad into something special.

The difference between the two could be the subject of great debate, but far better to spend the time sampling them both with friends. The link below gives a comparison of both drinks.


Comparison between Combier and Cointreau for Margaritas and Cocktails


Phone Apps for Saumur and the Loire Valley

1 telephoneHow quickly things have changed. The slow dial up connection when we first arrived here 15 years ago, now that seems more like a caveman chipping  at his tablet of stone.  People still live in caves, but with modern comforts,  in this part of the Loire Valley, but things have moved on fast for everyone.

We live in an exciting world, where we can fly over our house with Google maps, visit the chateaux from our sofa and plan a walk around Saumur whilst sitting in the garden on an iPod touch, phone or tablet.

At Les Mortiers there is a wireless connection to all our properties, ipod docks and phone signals and wifi that works all around.

Previously, we wished for a high speed internet connection like the sophisticated folk who lived in the towns and it took a while before it finally arrived at Parcay Les Pins. Guests ran around waving mobile phones in the air to get a signal.  The meaning of ‘mobile’ meant being mobile, climbing steps, venturing on to the raised filter bed or even driving to an area where there was half reasonable reception.

So here are just a few applications I’ve found which you might like to try when preparing for your holiday – or just enjoy a virtual holiday to brighten the day.

Saumur Touristic’Tour

In French, but some planned walks around Saumur which are easy to follow. It is mainly written in English and packed with local information and history, maps and photographs. It seems to have lots of potential to be a very useful app. when more is added to it.

iTunes Search:  Saumur Touristic’Tour

Chateaux de la Loire

Mainly in French, but a list of 66 chateaux and the distance to each from your location with links to the websites for most of the chateaux. Fun to use.

iTunes Search – Vallée des Rois Tour

Fontevraud Abbey

Henry II king of England and count of Anjou, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine along with their son King Richard the Lionheart were buried at Fontevraud Abbey although it is rumoured the remains were removed during the French Revolution. Fontevraud Abbey is the largest collection of monastic buildings in France. This app. gives a tour of the Abbaye and a rather complicated Agenda (Events List) which is best skipped. Do not be put off by the French text as there are three good videos.

iTunes Search:  Fontevraud

and they are all free!

Finally a Cellar is a ‘must have’ for visitors to France

We have found the  app. Cellar is invaluable for cataloguing our wine and a very useful reference to look at stocks when we are tempted to overbuy – it even gives statistics and a total value of your collection! There’s a wish list, a cellar with creaky doors and the good reason for not putting the car in  the garage!

iTunes Search – Cellar – manage your wine collection in style at a pocket money price of 4.49 euros

ITunes Search:  Cellar Manage your wine

How much more can we do to save the environment?

This is not a personal cry for help or a plea for the greater good.  It is more pondering what we can do as responsible individuals and also with the selfish wish to reduce our own running costs.

We have achieved a lot in the last 15 years turning what was a rather neglected farmhouse and out-buildings into our home, a workshop for making silk fishing lines and 3 gites, not necessarily in that order and with constant investment in both time and money. I would not dare to guess how much!

Our Eco-Friendly strategy was probably the first ever to be published for a gite business in France. It has grown incrementally, initially in small steps with eco-friendly cleaning products – low energy bulbs – natural fabrics and so on, a leap forward with solar water heating over 10 years ago, followed by more small initiatives, then another leap with geothermic heating to replace energy guzzling gas heating in the gites, a few more steps and then our latest project of photovoltaic cells and a wind turbine.


We still keep chipping away at the little holes too. A planned schedule to move from halogen bulbs to LED bulbs where appropriate and with a quick payback to fund the next phase. In one gite the consumption of 750 watts of lighting in spotlights (Poppas) is now reduced to 60 watts. A few more bulbs have been put into critical areas and all checked to see that the lights still provide the right ambiance.

We do not know what comes next, we just keep chipping away at it. Suggestions are very welcome.

First take a look at our Eco-Friendliness here.  You will find a lot I have not included here, but there must be more?

What is driving in France like?

Rainbow on the A28

Stopping distance? No problem!

This year we’ve been asked more than ever for advice on driving in France for the first time. We’ve driven in Poland, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom within the last 12 months and have always felt a sense of relief to be back on French roads again.

The plus points

Uncrowded motorways with good surfaces which make for less stressful driving.

A compulsory reduction in speed during wet weather.

Roadsides which are generally clean, without drinks cans and polystyrene decorating the verge and polythene which looks as if it grows on the roadside trees.

Well maintained roads even in the smaller villages. Pot holes are rare.

Most lorries over 7.5 tonnes are banned from the roads and motorways at the weekends from 10.pm Saturday to 10 pm Sunday and also on public holidays. From early July to mid August the ban starts earlier – 7 am on the Saturday.

As well as Service Areas on the motorways there is a plentiful number of rest areas which often have children’s play areas, trees or artificial shade and picnic benches.

Cheaper fuel. Petrol tends to be very similar to UK prices (depending on the exchange rate) but diesel is 20% less. The Carrefour website at Calais has a ready conversion of their prices to the current exchange rate.  Link

Minus points

Motorway tolls –  an extra expense, but no constant changing of speed which saves fuel.

Directions tend to be posted at the last minute.

A new law – you must stop for anyone indicating they wish to cross the road!  This does not apply if they are within 50 m of a zebra crossing.  However, stopping for a pedestrian still causes some strange reactions.

The reputation of French drivers!

Driving in Style

This post is based on our own experiences, but you may have a different comment, a useful tip, an  interesting experience or amusing tale about driving in France to share?

10 tips for questions you might not think to ask when booking a holiday with young children.


You’ve found the holiday property which looks just perfect for your family. The photos are drop dead gorgeous, the sun seems to shine every day, the rural idyll you are looking for. That’s it, that’s the one for the perfect family holiday, perhaps the first time you have been away since the children were born.

But hang on a minute, it is so easy to get carried away and when you arrive find that the holiday you thought would soothe away all the stresses and strains is going to involve some compromises, some extra expense you had not thought about or worse still, driving miles with young children just to find somewhere for the perfect meal in a local bistro that existed only in your dreams.

Here are 10 questions you might not think to ask when booking a holiday with young children.

  1. Is there information provided on child friendly places to visit and places to eat which welcome young children.
  2. Is there equipment for young children eg high chair, cots, potties, bottle sterilisers, safety gates, and are there any supplementary charges these.
  3. Is the pool warm enough for children to use every day during their stay.
  4. Are there any neighbours and would a crying baby upset them?  Settling a child to new surroundings can be stressful enough, but coping with complaints the next morning only adds to the stress.
  5. Are the cleaning materials used eco-friendly, eg no dangerous chemicals left within reach or used for cleaning the property.
  6. Is there a Doctor’s surgery close by, with someone to help with translation.
  7. Is the property owner resident and familiar with local emergency services and the local hospital.
  8. Is the property pushchair friendly in order to walk to the local boulangerie or buy fresh food locally
  9. Is there any traffic noise and how far in the property from the road.
  10. What are the memorable things about the property that children will remember and take home with them, eg collecting eggs from the chickens, patting a donkey, learning about how vegetables grow or the names of wild flowers.

These tips are based on personal experience and comments from guests who have stayed in holiday properties with young children.



Jewellery Salon at Turquant, near Saumur


Travelling west along the south bank of the Loire from Saumur, you soon arrive at the village of Turquant with its troglodyte dwellings and craft shops. At any time it is worth a visit.

In February the village offers something extra.  Turquant will be hosting the second Salon of Jewellers.  The French title is more attractive ‘Le Salon des Créateurs de Bijoux’.

A dozen professional jewellers in one place. It has got to be tempting to visit. Different styles, different materials from craftspeople all demonstrating the highest skills of their profession.

Future masters will also be given a chance to display their skills too.  The pupils from the Institute of Bijouterie in Saumur will be there throughout the weekend.

Practical details:

Dates:   Friday 11th February 15h to 19h and Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th Feburary, 10h to 19h

Entry:   Free

What’s in the Stars for French Tourism?

A short description of the new classification for tourist establishments and why we feel classification is important for us.  The new system applies to a wide range of establishments, e.g. hotels, campsite, gites, holiday centres.

The New System

The French Government through its Ministry for Tourism has introduced a new national quality standard for tourism.  Classification is not obligatory, but from July 2012, none of the old systems will be valid.

Approval is by the Ministry of Tourism and must then be notified to the Prefecture. It is valid for  5 years, but control visits can be made at any time to check that standards are being maintained. The control and subsequent visits are done by accredited organisations.

These are the new ratings which have already come into force.

1*  Economique                                Value, minimum standards

2*  Milieu de Gamme                     Middle range

3*  Milieu de Gamme                     Superieur Good Quality

4*  Haut Gamme                             High Quality Range

5*  Tres Haut Gamme                     Very High Quality

(5* is over above the existing classifications from the other validation bodies)

The audit has to be done by a body accredited by the government and all accredited properties will be published on the ATOUT France website.

Why did we want to reach for the stars?

From the start of opening our holiday rentals we were aware that a holiday is something which can never be replaced. It is just impossible to go back in time to make something right which is not. We knew that it is very difficult to demonstrate what is the true standard of our three gites in the same way as you can for a hotel or restaurant.

People enquiring about bookings have told us how helpful they have found comments from previous guests when making a booking, but we are always conscious that these comments are subjective. Each person has a different level of expectation when selecting a holiday property and for us it has been impossible to accurately benchmark with confidence what we offer against similar properties. Each website is the showcase of the proprietor with their own recipe for success.

We are always delighted that guests take time to make a comment in the Guest Books. Not only do they give us a warm glow and great pleasure, but they provide valuable information when deciding upon changes and improvements each year.

In summary we felt:

  • Our guests are important and their holiday time must not be wasted
  • We wanted a reputable guarantee of quality for that was easily understood.
  • We want to maintain our high reputation and high return rate.
  • It was a good discipline and a self-audit.

Why did we not do it before?

It was difficult to make valid comparison between properties with the classifications of Gites de France, Clevacances or similar. They have very little meaning for anyone not resident in France and it is even more difficult for guests who come from different parts of the world, where expectations and standards of provision might be different. The old validations were often carried out by organisations also promoting rental properties so ran the risk of not being impartial.

The results!

It took money, stress, time, energy and lots of enthusiasm and has been well worth it.

The audit took place in mid-October and the result came very soon afterwards. It then had to be sent to the Prefecture for approval, which we received in December 2011.

We applied for 4 star rating for each property. The Grange and Poppas gained 4 stars with ease and with a couple of tweaks would have gained 5 stars.  The Grenier was awarded 3 stars, since although it is equipped to the same standard as the other two, the total floor space can not be counted since some of the ceilings are below the minimum height of 1.80 cms. This is a problem for many rural properties.

We were delighted with the outcome and feel that the 3 star rating for The Grenier accurately reflects the price differential between The Grange and The Grenier.

The benefits so far.

We can not demonstrate any results for increased business as it is too early. However, it gave us a very clear insight and a good structure to help us organise our yearly maintenance programme differently. We are still uncertain and amused about the need for a salad spinner and full length bathroom mirror in each property, but the Guest Books for 2012 might provide some feedback!

The badge

The journey to get classified took time as the system was promoted but the structure was not in place as rapidly. Keen readers will notice this example is 2010, so now to find the 2011 badge for our website.


Agence de Developpement Touristique en France

Demande – Plateforme de demande de Classement des herbegements touristiques

Our audit was done by Headlight Audit, but there are other bodies registered with COFEC.