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Just a wonderful discovery! La Clayette in Bourgogne (Burgundy), the Brionnais, is an unassuming township (rather than just a village) with an amazing (still privately-owned) chateau as the central and main feature of the town.
It is a chateau with evident and obvious 'attitude', ancient, classic, and 'repunzle' type! A familial statement of authority, wealth, and power! Landed gentry and an air of aristocracy permeates through every granite stone of the battlements and walls of the place.
It is surprising, of course, that the French Revolution's hordes of local 'paysanne' did not destroy its original nobility, and , therefore, the heritage of its current family owners.
Perhaps, the current owners are really 'nouvelle riches', modern-day 'bourgeoisie', and not true, direct descendants of the guillotined mortalities of the past.
However, this musing is irrelevant in the sense that the Chateau in La Clayette is certainly an amazing historical statement, and a beautiful, magical wonder of a bygone age, set 'smack' 'bang' in the middle of this tranquil township of the Brionnais.
It is simply stunning!
Now, if there is one thing that living in France teaches you it is to make sure that you are well informed as to when villages and towns are holding their 'Fêtes' or 'Spectacles'.
It can be very irritating to arrrive for a wander and find that you have missed some event by one or two days.
La Clayette is a large village in southern Burgundy, approximately 45 minutes away from our base in Perreux, near Roanne. La Clayette, like most villages, holds week-end events throughout the year, and on this particular Sunday the final day of a show-jumping event was taking place in the beautiful chateau grounds.
We headed off just before lunchtime, taking a cross-country route, off the main roads, from the village of Iguerande across rolling countryside with incredible views and vistas around every corner.
We were travelling through the Brionnais. I was endeavouring to make a mental note of all the little villages we travelled through so that we might visit on another journey out.
You can also get easily to La Clayette by a more direct route through Charlieu and Chateauneuf, (both of which are worthy of a stop-over)
La Clayette is extremely pretty, with shop-lined little streets climbing up from the turretted Chateau, (parts of which date back to the 13th Century), and its large lake.
There are cafes and bars intermingled with 'Brocante', Antique, Art and Artisan shops.
Before we ventured into the chateau grounds we decided to lunch at a little bistro directly facing the chateau, called 'La belle Epoche'. We had visited this place a few weeks before, and they serve a great 'steak au Charolaise et pomme frites'. (This, of course, is also the region famed for its breed of Charolais cows).
Now, I'm not known for my love of horses (and certainly not riding them!). I have always believed them to be far too big, intelligent and 'knowing' to then insult them by climbing onto their backs,(okay, I admit it, I'm scared of them!). On the other hand, Brian believes himself to have some of the genetic spirit of John Wayne or Clint Eastward inside him, and finds it difficult to resist having an occasional ride even though he usually comes close to death every time!
This aside, both of us appreciate the attraction of a well-groomed horse, along with a well-groomed expert rider, (especially in Brian's case, when he has the tendency to 'oggle' at the prettier, young female riders immaculately turned out and poured into tight white jodphurs and high leather boots!).
And so to the main reason for our visit. ' CONCOURS HIPPIQUE', organised by the French society for horse show-jumping.
By the time we entered the concours through the very impressive main gates of the chateau, the afternoon equestrian events were just about to start with introductory background music made up of 'chanson Francais' and Eric Clapton!
As seems so typical over here, this was a very well organised, professional affair, but also extremely relaxed and family-friendly (almost like a local garden fete in the Cotswolds!).
There were several marquees, including a bar tent, and a home-made ice-cream stall, various stands selling all sorts of 'horsey type' products, and an exhibition of local art and crafts. There was, of course, the obligatory food tent which had been serving regional delicacies for lunch, and were now diverting their attentions to the preparation of afternoon crepes and waffles.
We settled down close to the main arena as the first competitors were assessing the various jumps.
Nothing compares to watching these types of events at first hand, and close-up. The horses were well-bred, fit, groomed and sleek, shining in the afternoon sun with their platted manes and equally well turned out riders.
These were obviously people with ability and style, and it was a pleasure to watch their serious competition. We really felt a part of the whole event, getting very excited at each clear round – which, to be fair, were very few and far between. We squinted through the sunlight at the electronic scoreboard to verify the marks and name of horse and rider.
We marvelled at the ability of some of the riders, and sympathised with ones that occasionally fell at the jump. I'm glad to say that there were no serious injuries to either horse or rider, and the whole competition was held in an extremely amicable and a characteristically French 'laid- back' way.
There was much music, and lots of 'people watching', particularly the local aristocrats, and the 'horsey set', and the odd lady and gentleman in their equivalent 'Sunday best'.
We stayed until after the formal presentations of trophies for the rider, and rosettes for the horses, and left at about 5 O'clock – although it was obvious that the event was carrying on well into the evening.
What a day! It was fantastic! And I think we will definitely be booking it in again for next year!