“We’re retired, right?” I keep reminding myself of this as I’m toiling away in and around our staircase. My attempt to build a paneled wall with cabinets alongside the lower flight of stairs has been, so far, a long slog. And it continues. My pre-retirement vision of being retired has required a radical revision.* Instead of long, relaxing walks, lazy wine-lacedf afternoons of sedate contemplation, care-free come-and-go-as-you-please explorations interspersed between long periods of sublime irresponsibility, I’ve found our post-work lives to be more like … well, work. At least in the sense that we seem to be constantly busy. Busy with appointments; busy with bureaucracy; and, especially, busy with projects around the house. It’s frankly kind of exhausting.
Nevertheless, do not, dear reader, mistake this for a complaint. Even on its worst day, being retired beats working (at least any job I’ve ever had) by a country mile. We’re both enjoying it immensely. And we wouldn’t change a thing. Well, if someone more skilled than I offered to finish this damn staircase for me, I wouldn’t say no.
Cherie was recently searching for new places to visit in the area and she stumbled upon a small town 30 minutes west of Fougères which holds the designation of Petite Cité de Caractère (roughly translated: a little town of distinction). Cool, we thought. Let’s go! Anything to get me away from the stairwell. [Can an inanimate object be an arch nemesis? I shall have to ask the superhero sages at Marvel.] Besides, the name of the town alone is distinctive: Bazouges-la-Pérouse. So, we took the day off and made our way westward toward the Couesnon valley.
Cherie and I have a pilot/co-pilot arrangement. She drives. I navigate. We’ve found that, if we reverse these roles, we tend to arrive more quickly; unfortunately, the place where we arrive is not the place we intended to go. So, like I said: Cherie drives, I navigate. It’s an arrangement that works best for us. As navigator, I quickly discovered that Bazouges-la-Pérouse is only something like three or four kilometers away from le Château Ballue where we had just been a couple of weeks earlier (see our previous post: Topiaries and Tea: Château Ballue). In fact, one could easily stay at the château’s hotel/spa and take a nice country walk to Bazouges and back for the day.
We parked in the town’s central square. The weather was agreeable and the planting beds in the square were overflowing with colorful blooms. Amongst the flowers were were happy to see that some enterprising gardener had also included tomatoes, peppers, and a few other vegetables and herbs in the mix. Nice.
After admiring the flora, we quickly came to the realization that this town is quiet. One might even say sleepy. No one was about, save for three locals having a sedate coffee on their private terrace. It being lunchtime, the post office, mairie and tourist information office – all huddled next to each other at the administrative end of the square – were all closed. On the other side of the square were a restaurant and a boulangerie. We were looking forward to a bit of lunch. Disappointingly, it was obvious that the restaurant was no longer in business. And the boulangerie was closed. Hmnphf! We happened to visit on the one day of the week when the sole boulangerie in town was closed. Stomachs protesting, we carried onward.
There is a very helpful map in the square which points out highlights of the town and surrounding area. The map also outlines two walking routes for visitors to follow. One of the routes explores the countryside and includes Château Ballue on the itinerary. But that was a bit more walking that we were prepared to take on that day. Besides, we were more interested in seeing the town. So we took up the town route. Which we almost immediately lost. As with many things like this, the signposts for the route were too intermittent, missing or too well hidden for us to follow. So, what began as a curated visit, quickly became a random wandering amongst pretty little streets hemmed in by a good number of interesting houses and gardens.
Bazouges-la-Pérouse sits atop a hill surrounded by pleasant countryside of scattered woodlands and farms. Several points on our amble amongst the streets afforded lovely panoramic views of this. The town is not big, sheltering around 1,800 inhabitants. Sadly, most of the active commerce appears to be located on the edge of town, huddled around a small chain grocery store. The town center appears to have suffered, with many closed shops and empty spaces – we found only one active restaurant (although it was closed while we were there), a bank, a pharmacy, a shop selling fishing tackle (an obsession amongst the rural french), a couple of small art galleries, a florist shop and the aforementioned closed-on-wednesdays-boulangerie. There is also a library, a couple of small schools, a health center and the ubiquitous church. All in all, the atmosphere left us feeling that the town is a bit tired. Sadly, it seems to suffer from the same curse of small towns everywhere in the world: increasing urbanization and the drift of employment away from the countryside to large cities. Some rural communities have been lucky enough to discover strategies to fend off this kind of malaise, but all too many are sinking under the weight of desertification. We hope that Bazouges will find a way to recharge itself without losing its heritage and character.
Approaching L’église Saint Pierre et Saint Paul
Notable amongst our visit was the church. L’église Saint Pierre et Saint Paul is a lovely stone church in excellent condition, ringing out the hours as it has done for centuries. The interior has enjoyed a thorough renovation in recent years. All of the wood and stonework is in excellent condition and the vaulted timber roof has been repainted with great care – all of this highlighted with the latest in LED lighting fixtures, subtly installed throughout. Objectively, it’s beautiful. And the restoration has been executed with great skill. But, for me, it’s just a little bit too clean. Too pristine. The past sanitized, like an aging celebrity, struggling with their mortality, smoothed and recolored – a once interesting person with a lifetime of experience written on their face, become unrecognizable – bland, banal. Despite my pedantic quibbles, the church is worth a visit. There are many examples of excellent architectural and figural woodcarving, and unusual pulpit accessed by two sets of steps wrapping around its supporting pier, and a lovely altar with a towering, carved reredos.
Ironically, the most surprising and rewarding discovery in Bazouges-la-Pérouse wasn’t in the town at all. A few hundred meters south of town, down a winding country lane, stands a well-preserved late medieval fortified gateway. Amidst verdant corn (maize) fields and a stand of oak, hazel and fir trees, two squat towers are connected by an archway through which a narrow drive crosses a dry moat and enters a complex of buildings where there was once a seigneurial manor. This is probably all that remains of the original manor of Martigné. The gate structure was apparently purchased in the 1990’s by the town and restored. The complex of house and farm outbuildings within remain under private ownership, so we were unable to intrude. No matter. The gateway was reward enough. It’s a little gem of late medieval architecture and we were so glad to have made the effort to find it. If you like this sort of thing, we highly recommend it. A word of caution, you might avoid driving down the narrow farm lane which leads to Martigné if you are in a large motor home; there is only a small turnaround at the end of the dead-end drive and you will likely face the prospect of having to reverse all of the way back to the main road. That being said, it is well within walking distance from the town (about 2.2 kilometers, or 23 minutes) if you are reasonably fit and have the time to do so.
And with that, we bid you adieu. We must prepare for a visit from our new friend Claudia, a neighbor who lives just up the street from us. Claudia is french but speaks quite good english (also italian and russian, apparently – show-off!) and we invited her over for “apero”(aperitifs – a french tradition of getting together for a casual pre-dinner snack and drinks). It will be our first true use of our newly refurbished sun terrace. Now that the major phase of work on the terrace has been completed we have purchased a set of outdoor furniture and a sun shade. At long last, this is a comfortable area to lounge in the sun (or under the shade), listen to the birds, and look out over the tranquil Parc du Nançon directly below. Lovely. We still have a bit of work to do on this part of the house, but it’s now usable and we’re ready to entertain when the weather is fair. Lucky us!
*For anyone keeping score, that was olympic-level alliteration. Judges?