Agricultural landscape near Cognac, Charente, France
In the nineteenth century phylloxera, an aphid-like insect, ravaged the vineyards of Charente along with nearly half of all French vines.
A major part of the grape stocks of this region was replaced by cereal plantings, which still predominate in the landscape.
The vineyards were gradually restored around the city of Cognac, where the production of the liquor of the same name has steadily increased.
Growing on chalky soil, the ugni blanc grape (known locally as saint-émilion) yields a wine that is distilled and aged in oak casks, giving rise to cognac.
The stock currently being aged exceeds the equivalent of 1 billion bottles.
The trade name Cognac (Konjak) is reserved to this area alone, limited by legal decree since 1909, and is divided into six vintages.
The Cognac region is home to more than 15,000 vineyards in an area of 350 square miles (900 km2), producing more than 190 million bottles of this prestigious beverage per year; more than 90 percent is exported, chiefly to the United States and Japan but also to other European countries.
Gardens at the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, Maincy, Seine-et-Marne, France
"The Turkish carpets"-decorative gardens of boxwood hedges-of the château of Vaux-le-Vicomte have been drawn by the landscaper-architect Achille Duchêne in the early twentieth century.
Designed for Nicolas Fouquet, minister of finance, the château was built in five years by approximately 18,000 workers.
The garden, set off by several lakes and fountains, is 8,000 feet (2,500 m) long, which required the destruction of two hamlets.
Fouquet invited the young king Louis XIV to visit in 1661; offended by the splendor of his subject’s abode, the king ordered an investigation of Fouquet and had him arrested.
Le Nôtre, the gardens architect, was assigned the direction of the royal parks and gardens.
He designed other gardens La française for the châteaux of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Saint-Cloud, and Fontainebleau,
but his masterpiece remains the gardens of Versailles, the palace of the Sun King himself.
The largest plant maze in the world, at Reignac-sur-Indre, Indre-et-Loire Department, France
In 1996, the year the largest plant maze in the world was created at Reignac-sur-Indre in Touraine, 85,000 visitors came to admire and lose themselves in the middle of its 4-hectare (10-acre) expanse.
Each year, a maze of corn or sunflowers emerges from the ground over the summer, is harvested in the autumn, and then reappears the following year in a different form, thanks to a well-proven technique of sowing and marking out.
This site takes its inspiration from an older tradition in the art of landscaping.
During the Renaissance, Italian gardens spawned an abundance of mazes in which people could walk, get lost, hatch plots, and exchange gossip.
This lightheartedness somewhat dispelled the sacred and sometimes threatening character of the great old labyrinths associated with Gothic cathedrals and with the Minotaur in Greece, or further back still the hundreds of stone labyrinths known as Troy Towns, which are scattered along the shores of the Baltic.
Were they used for sun rituals, for dancing, as Stations of the Cross, for initiation rites?
The modern maze retains a little of the symbolic mystery attached to the Streets of Jerusalem and the Walls of Jericho.
Landscape of brightly colored fields near Sarraud, Vaucluse, France
On the Vaucluse plateau, an arid limestone upland in the east of the département, lavender fields blossom in the Mediterranean summer heat.
Cultivation of fine lavender began about 1920; the crop was distilled to produce an essential oil for perfume.
Now, however, it faces competition from lavandin and synthetic products.
By 1992, annual production had dropped to 25 tons (a sixth of production totals in 1960).
This decline is all the more worrying in that lavender cultivation, which makes use of arid land, supports rural communities in mountainous areas where agriculture is in decline.
A program to relaunch and modernize this activity was started in 1994. In 2000, 9,884 acres (4,000 ha) produced 65 tons of essential oil (70 percent of world output), and a further 1,235 acres (500 ha) produced flowers and bouquets.
The perfumed, purple carpets that are strewn over the landscapes of Haute Provence are also a considerable asset for tourism in southeast France. In less than a century, the evolution of rural life has given this little flower an important role in developing the local economy.
Car breakers, Saint-Brieuc, Côte d’Armor, France
Crushed before being piled on top of each other, these vehicle carcasses are waiting for a time when they might increase in value.
Before reaching this graveyard, cars at the end of their life are dismantled, depolluted and items of value are removed for the second hand market or for recycling.
There are around 2,000 car breakers in France but only 400 of them are certified by the National Committee of Automobile Professions as respecting safety and environmental protection rules.
Breakers, the last link in the automobile industry chain and the first link in the recycling chain, have a key part to play in the processing of waste generated by the automobile market.
In France, around 1 ½ million vehicles go to the breakers each year.
The European End of Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive, which requires automobile manufacturers to recycle 85% of their vehicles by weight from 2006 (95% in 2015), is the first step towards sustainable, responsible management of the sector.
Training arena in the hippodrome of Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines, France
The hippodrome of Maisons-Laffitte, near Paris, boasts one of the largest equestrian training centers in France, with tracks and stables that accommodate close to 800 horses.
In the training arenas—shown here is the Adam arena—the grooms exercise the young horses and prepare them for jumping obstacles before allowing them to run the practice rink and racetracks.
The hippodrome of Maisons-Laffitte hosts more than 250 races each year, featuring a total of close to 3,000 contestants.
Horse races account for a considerable portion of the gambling industry: more than $100 billion is bet on racehorses throughout the world each year; nearly half that sum, $44 billion, is placed by the Japanese.
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