Saffron – the most expensive spice in the world!

The main saffron-growing countries are India, Iran, Spain, Greece and Italy. But there’s also a small saffron crocus producer based in Boutenac-Touvent, only 5 kms from Bel-Air Gites.

Did you know that it was once grown in Saffron Walden in Essex, hence the town’s name?

Safran de l’estuaire‘ have been producing saffron in the hillsides overlooking the Gironde estuary for several years. It is the perfect location for growing this exceptional plant.

The ‘crocus sativus’, more commonly called the saffron crocus, is extremely delicate. It is not suitable for intensive cultivation because the flowers have to be hand-picked. It is the stigmas inside the saffron crocus that give the spice it’s deep colour and sweet flavour. These stigmas can only be picked by hand because machines are not delicate enough.

High Price

Each saffron crocus produces just 3 stigmas which are hand-picked and dried. It takes 250,000 stigmas to make 500g of saffron, and that’s the reason for it’s expensive price tag. However, you only need to use a small pinch of the spice because it is very strong. Too much and it can taste quite bitter

To ensure you are getting the best quality for your money, look for a deeper colour. Deep red with orange tips is considered to be the best. Inferior saffron can also look slightly frayed and worn. If you’re buying saffron in markets abroad, beware of cheap deals – the real thing is always expensive. 

Preparation

Saffron is mainly harvested to be used as a spice for cooking or flavouring tea. It will keep for several years if stored in an airtight container, in a cool, dark place.

In cooking, it needs a little preparation to draw out the colour and evenly distribute it throughout the dish. Steep a few threads in a little warm water, stock, milk or white wine for about 30 minutes before using. Then add the liquid to the dish, usually towards the end of cooking.

Health Benefits

Because saffron is rich in antioxidants that’s why it’s claimed to have so many medicinal benefits. There are a number of common ailments which herbal saffron supplements can help with.

Generally it’s safe to use in small doses and very simple to add to any diet.

When taken correctly saffron has been known to effectively treat mild to moderate depression, asthma and insomnia. As well as arteriosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries, and pre-menstrual tension (PMT).

Saffron contains ‘carotenoids’, which are thought to cause toxic and deadly reactions to certain cancer cells. Such as leukaemia, sarcoma, and cancerous carcinoma cells. It can also help improve skin and eye health.

Well-being

It sounds like saffron is as good for your health and well-being as a relaxing stay at Bel-Air Gites. Maybe we should include a trip to the shop at ‘Safran de l’estuaire’ to our Top 10 list. What do you think?

Stay safe. Stay well.

Keep in touch

Rare sighting of an Imperial Eagle

Imperial eagle seen in the Charente

We’re very excited at Bel-Air Gites to read about the confirmed sighting of an Imperial Eagle (in french ‘aigle impérial’). Where this extremely rare bird was spotted is only a 90 minutes drive from here. We imagine it would be a shorter, more direct journey ‘as the eagle flies’!

In the last 30 years there have only been 10 officially confirmed sightings, but none previously in the Charente, or even in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.

For several minutes, Marlène Seguin was able to observe the raptor – a youngster two or three years old according to its plumage – and photograph it in order to immortalize this rare or even unprecedented moment.

By Elodie Gerard, 20th April 2020 on francetvinfo.fr
Permission to display the image has been approved by the copyright owner

Nesting more commonly in the great steppes of central Europe to eastern Siberia, these raptors are extremely rare in France. It could be that the recent covid-19 confinement put in place in recent weeks has changed the habits of the species. The reduction in human and transport activities, plus more favourable weather conditions, may have tempted the younger eagles to venture further into our region.

Famous throughout history

Heraldic eagles are found throughout world history as far back as the 10th Century. It was used as an emblem by the Holy Roman Emperors in the form of the ‘eagle-sceptre’. More recently the eagle was proclaimed the national emblem for the USA but it is famous in France too. The Grande Armée of Napoleon I carried the figure of an eagle on a staff into battle during the Napoleonic Wars.

Image credit: wikipedia

Watching & Listening

So you can understand why we are so excited about this news! We are searching the skies above Bel-Air Gites in the hope of catching a glimpse of this beautiful creature. I’m not sure we have the right habitat for them to nest nearby though. The Eastern Imperial Eagles prefers open landscapes like steppes and deserts with small forests or single trees. They’ve been known to populate agricultural areas, but only if there is enough food and trees for their large nests.

Photographing an imperial eagle

As well as looking out for them, we will have to listen out for them too, because the imperial eagle can be distinguished by its cry which sounds almost like a bark.

If we see or hear of another sighting we’ll definitely let you know. But in the meantime, please stay safe, and we are looking forward to seeing you at Bel-Air Gites very soon.

International Dance Day

a man and a woman dancing

April 29th is International Dance Day

Social-distancing might stop some of us from physically grabbing a dance partner, but what is stopping us from doing a few moves of our own on International Dance Day?

So, imagine for a moment that you could dance with absolutely anyone, anywhere. Who and where would it be and what song would you choose to celebrate this special day?

Professional dancers, like the ones we see on Strictly Come Dancing, are energetic, flexible and make it look so easy. But I’m sure it takes a lot of dedication and hard-work – and dieting! – to stay on top of their game.

Watching toddlers and young children dancing can be just as entertaining though. Toddlers in particular, when they hear music on the TV, they just automatically begin to move and sway, totally mesmerised. It must be the same the world over, and since the beginning of time.

Let’s dance!

Today it’s even possible to take online dance classes. Sounds like a good idea if you are considering taking up dancing as a hobby, or as a way of socialising or keeping fit. Practising a few moves at home would certainly give you some encouragement and background knowledge before signing up.

The Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute created this day in 1982 to highlight the amazing diversity and talent of dancers all over the globe on April 29. It marks the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), creator of modern ballet.

From: nationaltoday.com

Wherever you are on the 29th April try and grab a few minutes to celebrate International Dance Day. Music and dancing is good for the soul and we could all do with letting our hair down now and again.

At Bel-Air Gites we’ll have the music playing while we carry on with the gardening and getting our gites ready. Surely painting in time to the music can be classed as dancing…

Praise the Heroes

Elmgrove Primary School – Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@kmitchhodge

Staying in Saves Lives

Since COVID-19 confinement in France began, at Bel-Air Gîtes we have strictly followed Government and WHO advice. Thankfully, because of our rural location it has been fairly easy to adhere to the restrictions. Inevitably lives and businesses have been impacted, and sadly some more than others. But, if it saves lives, it’s the responsible thing to do and we will wait patiently until restrictions are lifted.

Because of family and friends in Ireland, Belgium, USA and the UK , we watch with interest the changes happening there as well. We are deeply concerned and saddened by the impact this dreadful virus has had on families and communities everywhere. From the ‘darkness’ though, there are some brilliant, shining examples of bravery – the medical services in particular. But, we shouldn’t forget front-line and back-office staff who provide services, day and night, that keep the country ticking over. Everyday things that we take for granted – all over the world.

Unseen heroes

There are so many unseen heroes – postal and delivery workers, benefit office staff, refuse collectors, social workers, shelf-stackers, hospital porters, cleaners. The list is endless. They are the people who can’t work from home, that put themselves and their families at risk, to help others. So many are volunteers too.

Quarantined France also recognises and applauds its heroes as do people all across Europe…. and we applaud all of these heroes.

Positive Note

Although lock-down in France has been extended until 11th May, there are signs that the spread of the virus is slowing. The numbers of infected people have not risen dramatically for several days and more people are being discharged from hospital. Let’s hope this continues and that people don’t get complacent. The sooner we can all start getting back to normal, the better.

We are all in this together. And will get through this by taking care of ourselves and taking caring of others.

Inspiring Stories

We can’t go without mentioning and saluting one incredible person who has been in the news recently. Captain Tom Moore, the WW2 veteran approaching his 100th birthday, fundraising for NHS Charities Together. He had hoped to raise £1000 by completing 100 laps of his garden before his birthday on 30th April. At the time of writing, this inspirational gentleman has raised over £20 million.

I’m sure he’ll receive a lot more then the customary telegram from the Queen on his birthday!

We would love to hear your stories about people you know who are heroes. They might be friends, neighbours, members of your family or maybe people you work with. Share their stories and shine the spotlight on them.

Who is your hero?

Blooming lovely!

All things bright and beautiful at Bel-Air Gites

bright and beautiful pink and orange flowers

The unseasonably warm March weather, which followed a very damp winter, has definitely confused the plants. At Bel-Air Gites we seem to be in the middle of a heatwave, with temperatures already in the mid 20s. But we’re not going to complain about the weather because now the garden is blooming bright and beautiful!

All the photos of the flowers were taken in our garden, and also a couple of others which are in bloom nearby. (Can you name them all?) We like to share these images with our family and friends because whenever we chat, they inevitably ask us what we have been up to.

With an average of 2250 hours every year the Charente-Maritime area is second only to the Cote d’Azur in terms of the amount of sun it gets.

Sunny Charente

When it got too warm in the sun, we took to the shade and started re-painting the gite furniture. All that’s stopping us from re-doing the whole gite complex is lack of paint!

And just look at that sky… not a cloud in sight, and we are only in April.

We can’t wait to be able to share all of this with you again ‘in person’. In the meantime, we’ll keep sharing our little diary.

From Bel-Air Gites, please follow Doctor’s orders . Stay safe and stay well.

Le Tour de France 2020

Post Updated 16th April 2020 – new dates, same route

The official Tour de France website has been updated following President Macron’s address to the nation on Easter Monday. He stated that large scale events would be banned until mid-July to contain the spread of COVID-19. In agreement with the Union Cycliste International (UCI) the organisers have now decide to postpone the race.

The new dates are for the race to start in Nice on Saturday, August 29th, and finish in Paris on Sunday 20th September. It will follow the same route, with no changes. The women’s event, ‘La Course’, scheduled to take place on the 19th July is postponed to a later date. As is the ‘Etape du Tour cyclosportive’, originally schedule to take place on the 5th July. New dates for these events are still to be confirmed, but they are expected to take place during the Tour.

Cyclists in the Tour de france

Le Tour 2020

Stages 10, 11 and 12 are just over an hour’s drive from Bel-Air Gites in the Charente-Maritime

Top priority

Since the COVID-19 confinement began, as responsible gites owners, we have strictly followed the guidelines of the French authorities and World Health Organization (WHO). We will continue to follow their instructions and advice to ensure the actions we take when we re-open protects our guests and staff.

Your safety, as well as the safety of our Bel-Air Gites team members, is our highest priority.  Rest-assured that we do everything we can to provide a safe environment for you and your family during your stay with us. Thank you for your continued loyalty and trust in Bel-Air Gites in these difficult times. To enquire about future bookings, please contact us directly.

adult riding a boke with 2 children towed behind
Dad, are we there yet?

If you are avid followers of the Tour de France then you probably already know the route. If not, then check out the full Le Tour 2020 route information here. Several of the stages are less than 90 minutes from Bel-Air gites!

yellow bicycle with a red and white rubber ring

Why not take the family and make a day of it at Ile de Re or Châtelaillon-Plage?

If you want to go a little further then combine the stage to Poitiers with a trip to Futuroscope. Make sure you check their website as they frequently have offers for free child places.

In August and September, when the Tour de France is planned to take place, the weather is usually in the mid to high 20’s. So when you’re not chasing Le Tour why not relax by the pool? Or check out some of the other great family attractions close by.

Book direct for the best prices, and the best family-friendly holiday experience at Bel-Air Gites, in the Charente-Maritime.

Keeping the kids entertained

Kids indoor activities – all free!

Playbarn kidscorner

When it’s raining and miserable outside, the last thing you need is young, miserable children inside. It’s not always possible to take them out anywhere, even when the weather is good. Instead of just plonking them down in front of the TV why not try some of these great FREE kids indoor activities?

Treasure Hunt

A great activity that could even have a dressing up theme – pirates, fairies, princes and princesses. Let them choose the theme and you write the clues. Try rhyming the clues for more fun. Put the clues in numbered sealed envelopes so that they can keep track of where they are up to. Each clue leads to the next one until they find the hidden treasure!

Make An Amazing Den

Just because they’re indoors doesn’t mean they can’t have a den or a tent. I used to love making a den with my siblings and making a great den actually takes a lot of skill. If you can make it as a surprise then better still. Make sure it’s roomy and maybe add a rug or a play-mat because you want this den to last a couple of days at least. Ideally use a few chairs, wide enough apart to make a good sized den, but not too wide that the blanket roof might collapse. A few pegs should help keep it in place.

Once you have built the den don’t forget the furnishings. These are vitally important and can be the difference between a great den and an AMAZING den that lasts for days. Add a few cars and trucks if there’s a play-mat, a little picnic hamper or a tea set, cushions for sitting or lying on.

And the best bit? Get in there with them and have some fun!

Pizza Party

This has the mutual benefit of the kids being creative and make their own meal. Find a simple online recipe for making a child-friendly pizza base or buy some of the ready-made bases so they can create their own toppings. If they have made it then they’re also more likely to eat it. And if the den is still standing why not have a pizza picnic inside?

Check out some great family friendly videos from Keith at ‘Jambon de Printemps’ baking with the kids

Bath Time Boats

Make boats for bath-time using empty plastic margarine of butter tubs. Then have fun in the bath racing the boats or loading them with different water-proof toys or figures, such as Lego, to see how much the boats can hold before they sink. Bath and playtime all rolled into one. 

We’ll share some more ideas with you very soon. How do you keep the kids entertained? And if you have any inexpensive, children’s indoor activities that you’d like to share with us, then just comment below.

We’d love to hear from you 

Cheap and Cheerful Gardens

Create your own space

We are extremely fortunate at Bel-Air Gites to be surrounded by beautiful countryside and stunning scenery. But whether it’s small or large, nothing beats having your own space. Our gite complex has acres of garden which is great for guests, but takes time and money to keep it looking good all year. That’s why we have been scouring the internet (and rummaging through cupboards!) to find some cheap and cheerful garden ideas.

At this time of year, before guests start to arrive, we would normally be visiting some of the public gardens in the region to get ideas. Sadly this year is very different for all of us. Instead of going out we are staying in and learning to improvise with some inexpensive ideas for the garden and gites.

Recycle old pans into new planters

We often buy new pots and pans for the gites or just for ourselves. And have also acquired a few from the local ‘broccantes’ (the french version of a car boot or flea market).

Because pans in particular are hard-wearing, they are ideal as an alternative planter. You just need a couple of drainage holes punctured in the bottom before potting your plants.

Old ladders used as a plant display

cheap and cheerful for kitchen or garden

This was an idea that a friend of mine shared with me. She painted an old step-ladder and then used it in the kitchen as shelving for some of her herbs and indoor plants, but it would also look great outside in the garden.

Solar lights

We love this idea because fairy lights in the garden add to the ambience of al fresco dining. Strings of small solar- or battery-powered lights in jars placed around the patio, or even draped around the door frames, cast a pretty glow over the garden after dark. They are a simple solution that doesn’t have to cost a lot and can be brought indoors to brighten up the dining table or a child’s bedroom.

Wherever you live, we hope you are enjoying some warm, dry weather. And that you have some outside space that you can call your own.

Please Stay Safe.

If you have any cheap and cheerful garden ideas, Bel-Air Gites would love to hear them. Please comment below or contact us by email.

Family fun for Easter

Have some Easter Family Fun!

The Easter countdown has begun! If you are not quite sure what to do for Easter, don’t panic. And don’t let coronavirus spoil the fun. There’s still plenty of time to collect a few ideas for activities for the little ones, that all the family can join in. With clues to solve and tasks to complete, they’re guaranteed to keep the kids entertained (and stop them eating all the chocolate in one go!)

Easter Egg hunting

This can be a great indoor or outdoor activity, depending on the weather. There are a couple of options too. The ‘treasure’ could be an Easter egg or a small gift. The fun for the kids is taking part! Like treasure hunts you can create a few clues. They have to work out the clues to find their way to the treasure. If you have more than one child then you will need more than one set of clues and treasure for each one too. Or a bigger treasure trove that they can hunt for together!

Alternatively, hide lots of little Easter eggs or small, wrapped presents, such as pocket-sized colouring books, around the house and garden for them to find. Don’t make it too easy though.

They will love pretending to be explorers or pirates looking for lost treasure so let them make up their own fancy dress to make it even more fun!

Craft Ideas with CDs and DVDs

If you have any old CDs and DVDs there are lots of great things that the children can make with scratched discs and ones you don’t use anymore. You can use almost anything for decoration but for painting them, acrylic paint is best. And lots of glitter! With the shiny discs and bright, colourful glitter, buttons and beads these would make wonderful, shiny wind-chimes for the garden.

For some fantastic, inexpensive ideas, check out these cute shiny fish and 25 recycled cd kids crafts

Egg and Spoon Race

All you need is eggs, spoons and somewhere to run. And don’t forget a prize for the winner. Use hard-boiled eggs, chocolate eggs or even marshmallows. If there are smaller children involved, maybe use something to stick the eggs on so they don’t fall off straight away. For more games to play for different ages go to – Kids Activities.

There are so many games you could even have your own Easter Olympics!

Crispy Chocolate Easter Nests

white tray displaying crispy easter nest cakes

It wouldn’t be Easter without crispy Easter nests.

If you haven’t got rice krispies, cornflakes or shredded wheat lightly crushed are just as good. The amount of the cereal will vary depending on their size and texture, so add a little bit at first to get the right consistency. And if you have any cake-cases these are great for displaying the finished cakes in.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice krispies
  • 100 g chocolate
  • 30 g butter
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup or honey
  • veg or sunflower oil for brushing
  • mini chocolate eggs for decorating
  1. Melt the chocolate and butter over a pan of simmering water.
  2. Remove from the heat, add the rice krispies and syrup, then mix it all together.
  3. Lightly oil a 6 or 9 hole muffin tin, divide the warm mixture evenly, pressing gently with your fingers to make a bird’s nest.
  4. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  5. Use a knife to ease the chocolate nests out of the tin, then fill with chocolate eggs.

I hope this has given you a few ideas for Easter family fun, and some of these can be adapted to use any time of the year. But whatever you do this Easter, please remember to stay safe.

Happy Easter from Bel-Air Gites

If you have any crafting or games ideas for children of all ages, we would love to hear them. Just get in touch or comment below.

Mysterra Labyrinth world

Step into a unique labyrinth park in the forest

This stunning park is set in 11 hectares of pine forest at the edge of the Baron-Desqueyroux Lake in Montendre. Mysterra adventure park is less than an hour’s drive from Bel-Air Gites and it’s a fantastic family fun day out.

There is a wide selection of activities, 7 different labyrinths for various ages and capabilities, games and competitions. Or you can just stroll, take in the peace and quiet of nature and admire the works of art.

There are scenarios to play where you will have to search for clues and work out the signs so you can find your way out. And you can use your smartphone or tablet (with the park’s free Wi-Fi) to help solve the puzzles.

The heart of the Mysterra leisure park

Because the park is in a forest and walking amongst nature. you must wear full and comfortable footwear. You’re advised to take bottles of water, a sunhat and plenty of sun-cream. Some of the unusual and unique labyrinth games can take up to 2 hours so be prepared for an exciting, entertaining day out.

For more details about seasonal opening times and prices, as well as buying tickets online go to – Mysterra Official Website. Or check out the TripAdvisor reviews

Or to see some of our other recommendations you can view our Top 10 List. There are so many places to visit near Bel-Air Gites that you will want to come back year after year. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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