a famous twitch of her nose, cast a spell on the nation?
She was my childhood hero, an irresistible sorceress named Samantha Stephens,
a role model "perfect housewife"* who lived on the small screen in my living room.
The sitcom classic was fittingly named "Bewitched".
*yeah yeah, I know, women's choices were pretty limited in 1964....
With characters like Samantha & Darrin, nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz,
Larry Tate, dotty Aunt Clara, Uncle Arthur and glam-queen mother-in-law Endora,
the vintage comedy held me captive for thirty minutes week after week.
With her paranormal powers, Samantha could conjure up George Washington
for a spur-of-the-moment washing machine commercial
or fly off to Paris to meet her mother for a girl's-day-out.
But most often, she used her magic to help hapless husband Darrin
as he struggled to climb the corporate ladder, eager to
live out a normal middle class life -- aka the American Dream.
Speaking of hocus-pocus, our travel adventures and dreams of
future travels cast a spell on those of us who can't curb our travel appetites.
More often than not it is France that puts the double whammy on our hearts.
Every so often, it hatches a curve-ball so exceptional,
it can only be attributed to wizardry.
In this case, the sorcery applies to a unique village in the Loire Atlantique, just
a quick train ride away from elegant Nantes*, one of our favorite cities in France.
Clisson is a small town that delivers a peculiar bonus -- an OPTICAL ILLUSION.
One moment you're in France, the next you're in.... TUSCANY!
"The real secret of magic lies in the performance."
David Copperfield, American magician/illusionist
Clisson was built -- or should I say re-built -- to resemble a romantic corner of Italy.
As soon as you pass through the Pays du Loire vineyards*, you'll discover
a ruined castle, an irresistible river, and narrow winding streets that feel
just a bit different than your typical French village.
Fire up your imagination and you can see it -- a French salute to Tuscany.
*featuring the region's trademark Melon de Bourgogne vines which magically produce
a wonderful mineral-rich white wine called Muscadet
When the medieval town was mowed down during the civil war of
the Vendée (1793-1796), the charred remains of its castle and town center
were rebuilt by Francois Frederic Lemot and the Cacault brothers.
A little imagination, a dash of abracadabra -- and boom,
the charming Tuscan-faced town of Clisson was (re)born.
'We were given one country and we've set up in another."
Frances Mayes, American author of "Under the Tuscan Sun"
as one of Napoleon Bonaparte's favorite sculptors.
Long before he became an accomplished artist,
the young Lemot needed to learn his craft.
It was that experience that forever shaped his life both at work and at home.
The moment he first laid eyes on Clisson, Lemot was reminded of his youth
and the many fine days he enjoyed a classical fine arts education in Italy.
He wished to recapture the memory of his time as a student, recalling
the beautiful landscapes and architecture of his adopted land.
For much of his life, he devoted much time, talent and money to this effort.
Artist Pierre-René Cacault and his brother, art collector Francois Cacault,
conspired with Lemot to recreate Clisson into their own Tuscan fantasy.
Together they labored to shape both buildings and landscapes
into a vision worthy of an Italian oil painting.
The 13th century Chateau de Clisson was a priority.
Lemot purchased the castle ruins, admiring its fortress-like details.
As a visitor, you'll marvel at the cannon ports, arrow slits and
medieval minutiae that evoke days of old.
Nicholas Poussin, hoping to transform Clisson into his vision of an oil-worthy masterpiece.
As you walk through Clisson, note the terracotta rooftops and Italian-influenced
villas including Lemot's own, a neoclassical gem surrounded by
picturesque gardens and parasol pine trees.
Look for the Eglise Notre Dame de Clisson, a church originally founded
by Olivier V (Le Vieux) de Clisson in the 14th century.
It was renovated in the 19th in the Italian style with a Tuscan bell-tower
and Renaissance-style fresco adorning the stone-vaulted choir.
"When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky."
Buddha, Hindu Prince/Founder of Buddhism
One surefire way to investigate the distinct character of a city is to stop
by a local market -- and Clisson doesn't disappoint.
Its Les Halles is a must-see destination, a 15th century timber frame
structure that channels hundreds of years worth of local culture.
Grab a coffee or a beer and sit a spell.
You'll fall under the siren song of community.
The locals all show up for their daily dose of gossip,
their characterful faces animated under the ancient wooden beams.
This covered marketplace hosts a highly regarded farmer's market
once a week which we disappointedly missed -- but then there's
always lunch in a new town to make everything right again....
The menu of the day was found just a block from the old castle.
It worked wonders on a pair of hungry travelers -- not exactly earth shattering
as far as French cuisine goes -- but an especially good beginning (autumn soup)
and ending (a chocolate cherry fantasy) -- an essential reward for
our voyeuristic adventures in Clisson.
"If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff."
Remy from "Ratatouille"
Well, ok, I'll admit it may be a bit of a stretch -- smoke & mirrors, a little blue sky
and an overactive imagination -- but as you wind your way around
dungeons and castle walls, think about the famous last words
of one of Italy's most famous Renaissance painters*: "Happy".
*Raphael, considered one of Italy's most important Renaissance artists
Happy. That's what your day in the Tuscany of France will feel like.
Surely that's worthy of a little wink and a nod.
Enjoy a glass or two of the local Muscadet de Sevre et Maine wine
and in no time you'll be singing my all-time favorite Ella Fitzgerald tune,
"Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered".
And oh, by the way, this sleepy little town also produces a
MASSIVE open-air rock, metal & punk festival called Hellfest.
If that's not magic, I don't know what is.
After all, this is France -- and it's all good.
Be a good witch. Fall under the spell....