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Traditionally baked French organic bread

For me there’s nothing quite like picking ripe fruit from a tree with your own hands and eating it on the spot. For some reason it always tastes better than the fruit you buy in a market or other shop. The same is true for fresh baked bread. There’s nothing quite like it. What could be better? Well I’ll tell you, organic fresh baked bread that has been baked in a real traditional bread oven. Add fresh laid eggs and salted butter and you have one awesome lunch. Simple but delicious. In fact delicious doesn’t quite do it, there must be a better word to describe such a wonderful indulgence.

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Even before the loaves are cooked you just know they are going to be GOOD.

It might be an indulgence for me but it’s work for Virginie and Yannick. On a bright sunny and very warn July day in La Creuse in the centre of France it’s no joke to be loading a brick lined traditional bread oven with dried twigs and branches until the whole oven is evenly heated to over 400 degrees Celcius! Virginie’s day began at 05-00 and the bread finally came out of the oven some 6 hours later.

Once the oven is up to temperature, the ashes are removed and the stones are cleaned down. The bread, made from organic flour from just a few kilometres down the road is placed inside in neat rows and the metal door is sealed to keep the heat in. What do you think they use to seal the door with? Yep, you guessed it, some bread dough rolled up! Very clever. This is such a natural product that there is no waste, even the dough used to seal the door gets eaten by their aged dog Banjo. He loves it and it might just be the secret to his long life.

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It’s a labour of love. Maybe that’s the secret to why this bread just tastes better than any other that you can buy anywhere.

After just 35 minutes the door comes off and the bread is removed. The smell of fresh baked bread makes you hungry. Even though I had vowed not to eat another thing after my meal the previous night (when I was invited to share a beef bourguignon but that’s another story) I could not resist Virginie and Yannick’s offer of eggs and bread for lunch. I was not disappointed. Amazing how such a simple fare can taste so damn good when the ingredients are of such high quality and so fresh.

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Loaves going in to the oven. The door is sealed with dough and 35 minutes later the most delicious bread comes out.

Virginie works with a type of co-op where artisans sell their wares at local markets. Of course this bread is not cheap how could it be? But I think it compares very well with the best bread you can buy anywhere else especially when you consider that it doesn’t go stale or mouldy for ages. Naturally I had to buy a loaf and although it’s huge I dare say it won’t last very long. It’s just not possible to have just one piece. It’s deadly. So good.

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After 35 minutes these beautifully browned loaves are ready for eating. It might be an old and primitive way to bake bread but the end result justifies the effort. No question.

A 50 km round trip for a loaf of bread might seem extreme but it’s worth the effort and anyway Virginie and Yannick are lovely people so any excuse to go and say hello is welcome! My only fear is that by the end of a summer here in this beautiful neck of the woods I am going to be 20% heavier than I was in the springtime. Oh well, it will have been worth it!

If you happen to be in La Creuse and want some awesome organic bread baked the traditional way you can find them hard at work on the weekends in a little town called Sannat not far from Evaux les Bains. Worth the trip! ninyan@hotmail.fr

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Stunning French mill for sale

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‘Come and eat with us chez nous’ said my new friends Jean Francois and Cristelle. Nothing could have prepared me for where they lived. My jaw dropped and my eyes opened wide. I was speechless, those who know me know how rare that is. I was simply blown away.

Let me try and paint a picture if I can. We drove down small roads through stunning countryside, rolling hills splattered with brown cows, through forests of pine and along narrow lanes so little used that the centre of them was green. After a while we broke out into a clearing, over a bridge. ‘We’re here’ said Henri, park anywhere.

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Towering over their granite house is a viaduct, an extraordinary structure which is now condemned but it’s still imposing and makes an impressive backdrop. The sound of the river is constant, a wonderful white noise that immediately relaxes you and makes you start looking for a hammock to chill out in.

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The river is fed through various channels which can be opened or shut depending on the need it then runs under the three story mill house where its power can be harnessed to produce 12kw! of power from a massive cast iron turbine in the bottom of the mill.

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Way back in the 16th century the mill was granted unlimited and free use of the water in the river by the king of France himself. That law is still in force today making this mill an extremely unusual and unique property. The use of water in France is heavily regulated but thanks to this ancient law the owners of the mill can do what they like with it.

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There are no neighbours. All one can hear is the constant and soporific burble of running water. It is an absolutely stunning spot. It’s about as close to heaven as we mortals are ever likely to get.

Jean Francois and Cristelle had a calm, peaceful and laid back demeanor and I can completely see why. I suspect I would too if I lived in such an amazing place. Over baked oysters! I asked why they wanted to sell and it’s easy enough to understand, with the kids grown up and flown from the nest they are looking for a place a bit smaller.

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Over the years they have done an extraordinary amount of work to the place and it is in excellent condition inside and out. Jean Francois is a surveyor so you just know the property has been restored not only well but to all the French norms. Cristelle is a remarkably talented interior designer with a unique touch which really makes their house a home.

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Personally I think they are mad to sell the place but I do understand. So how much will it cost to own this absolutely awesome and unique place? They are asking 1.2m€ which is a pittance for what it is. Sure, there are cheaper places in the region but how many mills like this do you think there are? And how many of those are for sale? Answer: None!

What an incredible family get away home this would make or perhaps a gite or perhaps the original mill could be reinstated. There is so much potential especially with unlimited use of the water running past. The river runs all year around. The house gets sun all day long.

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In this ever more crowded and noisy world places like this are fast becoming extremely desirable. I’d buy it myself but I’m about 1.19m€ short! Jean Francois and Cristelle are super people and willing to discuss all reasonable offers. They are in no hurry and I can understand that too. I’m not sure life after such an awesome place will ever be the same.

For those who don’t know the Limousin area of France I can tell you that a more beautiful area can scarce be imagined. Secluded but not isolated. Welcoming people and stunning countryside and wildlife. If you love nature and peace and quiet you will feel very much at home.

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Please email info@woodenwidget.com and I’ll be happy to pass on your enquiry to them. I wonder who the lucky new owners will be.

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