Posts Tagged ‘France. blogsherpa’

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Travel Writing: Putting in the legwork

April 12, 2009

 

It’s not all wining in trendy Marseillais caves à vin and dining in the next best place to eat before Michelin. Hiking in the rain to hidden rocky coves, walking dodgy streets, cruising by pedal-power along defunct railways … Putting in the legwork is all part and parcel of a travel writer’s job which is precisely what makes it such hard work, so darn inspiring.

 

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Dine Well, Dine Savvy, in Southern France

April 1, 2009

 

Peppers at the Provencal Market by Michael Gwyther-Jones
Peppers at the Provencal Market by Michael Gwyther-Jones

Having eaten out every day for the past two weeks (and set to do so for another four), I categorically confirm the following top three tips for dining well, dining happy in southern France:

 

  1. Do not be bullied into ordering a bottle of water. Even in the most multi-starred Michelin restaurant, it is quite acceptable to ask for une carafe d’eau. A nonchalant ‘une carafe’ will do should you really want to say ‘I know what’s what in this Frenchie neck of the woods, so don’t mess with me!
  2. Go on, be a devil, rip a chunk off that bread and wipe your plate with it. It goes against the best of English table manners but it’s soooo satisfying, honest.
  3. If you’re unsure precisely how to eat something, don’t be afraid to ask for un petit conseil (a little advice). This is something I have done on several occasions with magnificent results (and not only on truffling matters at Chez Bruno). Take last night at the Hotel des Deux Rocs in Seillans: As starter I ordered saumon dans un macaron et salade japonaise. What came was two plates, one displaying a ‘flower’ of raw salmon with a sweet macaroon at its centre, the other an Asian-style patty of flaked raw and cooked salmon, mixed with hazelnuts and Asian spices, and topped with tart rocket and other green. I didn’t even pretend to know which plate to tackle first, to which I was told ‘don’t hesitate to eat them together, the sweetness of the first neutralises the acidity of the second’. And indeed, the orgy of contrasting tastes was fabulous.
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Road Trip: Lake Geneva to the Med

March 24, 2009

 

Col de la Haute Croix, nr Grenoble, by gaetanku

Col de la Haute Croix, nr Grenoble, by gaetanku

Being so fixated on getting to St-Tropez by noon to have a decent afternoon’s work, I somehow managed to ignore the six-hour road trip south … from Lake Geneva to the Med. It was a glorious journey. Fuelled with two pre-departure coffees and four apples to munch en route, I was up with the larks and speeding direction ‘Annecy-Chamonix-Mont Blanc‘ by 6am. My Twingo practically purred as I drove between mountain peaks in the untouched Vercors National Park; snaked up and over the snow-hugged hairpins of the Col de Haute Croix mountain pass; razzed 130km/h past Sisteron’s rock-perched citadel; gave a nod to the monks frozen in stone at Les Mées; glanced wistfully at the ‘Gorges du Verdon’ exit; lusted after all that lavender I wouldn’t get to see around Manosque; motored passed the Luberon turn-off. Up to Aix-en-Provence where I joined the A8, the drive was rather like a slow-motion, cinematic version of a ‘Best of Northern Provence’ movie in fact.

 

By contrast the A8 was rammed with cars speeding hell for leather towards Nice. Five minutes short of my St-Tropez exit, warning lights flashed and all three lanes screeched to a death-defying halt. To pass the two long hours it took for fire crews to clean up the accident, I read the Provence chapter of Lonely Planet’s France guide, researched in 2008. Excellent tip by Parisian-turned-Londoner co-author Emilie: To avoid the worst of high season traffic (or in my case a crashed flaming lorry full of courgettes, aubergines and other Provencal veg) peel off at Le Cannet des Maures instead and follow the D558 road across the Massif des Maures to La Garde Freinet and Port Grimaud (from where you can sail Signac-style to St-Tropez). 

Joyous was the final approach to St-Tropez. It being March and low season, traffic was as silky smooth and fluid as that huile d’olive every second shop in Provence sells. I dumped the car in the hotel car park, skipped to Place des Lices, plopped myself down at a sun-facing table at Le Café and ordered a nice cup of tea and slab of Tarte Tropézienne. I had arrived.