I drove up to the Vendée in the Pays de la Loire in north-west France today to go to Les Terres Cuites d’Aizenay and pick up the tiles that they had specially made for me. The whole trip was 850 kms there and back and having left at 8.00 am, I got back this evening at 7.30 pm. But every minute was worth it because this factory has everything that I like about ‘la France ancienne’.

The last time I was there was almost exactly 8 years ago to the day but the proprietor greeted me and said that he remembered it well, just as I did. He took the trouble on that occasion to show me around the factory, which didn’t take that long because it’s still a small, family owned and run business just as it was when his great-great-great (I think that’s the right number of ‘greats’) started it way back in 1868 I think it was.

And although some ‘modern’ parts have been added (if you can call them that) the heart of the factory remains the kilns which remain unchanged and are still in use today just as they were then, fired up by lengths of scrap wood that is stacked in huge piles that are replaced as the wood is burnt. And everything is still done by hand just as it always has been. It’s the only way that the product finish and quality can be maintained and it’s why the factory’s products are still in great demand for the renovation and refurfishment of ancient buildings in many parts of France.

More of why I went to the factory tomorrow, but here’s a shot of its outside, taken from Google Steet View and edited by me to improve it’s quality. The factory itself had changed not at all since I was last there but my GPS had some minor problems getting there because there has been a great deal of road building in the area and the industrial area in which the factory is situated is also being quite drastically expanded.

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Here’s a shot of the factory’s ‘showroom’ which also hadn’t changed since my previous visit. I wish that I’d had the time to take a shot of it myself because this one is taken from the company’s web site and is of very poor quality.

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Here’s a shot of the open-sided outdoor store where my tiles were stacked on a small pallet waiting for me and from where I loaded them into the boot of my car.

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And to finish off, here’s a shot also from their web site showing one of the kilns being stoked up with scrap wood.

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Because of Covid, I made a couple of baguette cheese sandwiches last night to take with me together with a flask of tea this morning. That way I only had to stop twice for refreshments and once at a Casino supermarket for fuel. This is the first long road trip that I’ve made since the start of the Covid crisis and from what I could see, it was business as usual everywhere except in the roadside cafés and restaurants that I passed. And traffic seemed to me to be more or less completely back to pre-Covid levels.

All of the factories and businesses on the myriad of industrial estates that I passed appeared to be in full swing and on the face of it, I would say that although there may be a shortage of Covid vaccine in France, its economy looks as though it’s much closer to being back firing on all cylinders than that of the UK. Journalists and commentators in the UK keep crowing that the UK will be first out of the starting blocks in terms of economic recovery but I think that unless people start getting back to work in the UK, any advantage from early vaccinations will be lost. And big time.

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