Did we mention the food in France?
We live in foodie-central here above San Francisco and below the Napa & Sonoma wine country. Farmers markets, artisinal cheeses, micro breweries, organic, free range everything, restaurants and winerys galore. (And hey, the marajiana plants are progressing nicely.)
Still, you can’t beat France.
Now, one of the many misconceptions about covering the Tour de France is that you have plenty of time for a culinary tour on the side, after the stage. C’est pas vrai.
Wrong, sadly, so wrong.
The working press — and by that we mean anybody required to file a story but usually two or three each day — isn’t rushing off to some impossibly delicious meal at a rustic French bistro or Michelin star filled restaurant.
There simply isn’t time for that food vacation. Those guys will be in the salle de presse for a minimum of two hours, generally three and possibly more. This is the time of year they make their reputations and everyone is cranking. Those men and women will write until evening, then drive anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes to find their bed.
By that time, the good restaurants have stopped serving and you are left with whatever little place is open and begging them to scrounge you up something. Sometimes they do, sometimes not.
Fortunately, that’s not our Tour de France. We’re not knocking out 3-4 stories, chained to a laptop with an editor waiting to post the story on the web.
Non, pas moi.
We’re more fortunate in that while we have a magazine assignment or two, no instant turn-around wisdom is required except for the Twisted Spoke blog and that’s something we look forward to.
So barring the mishap and getting lost in the dark on the backroads of France, we were able to finish our race day earlier than most. That means food and wine and pleasant revelries of France.
Now, it’s possible to have a bad meal in France like anywhere else, just as you can get a lousy plate of pasta in in Italy and crappy tapas in Spain. Still, there’s a food culture here, a respect for local and fresh and skill in the kitchen.
A baguette is an event in France, a chunk of cheese a definitive statement about the glory of the empire, and the wine, well, there are plenty of philosophers in France and that’s one of the reasons why. Nobody complains about living in France.
Now we weren’t dropping huge dollars on expensive meals in France but the pleasure was always there. Just walking into a simple country inn was the guarantee of a perfectly cooked local dish of chicken or fish and a terrific and affordable bottle of vin de paysage.
We should also mention that daily event called the Village du Depart. Each day the Tour sets up a little village, an exhibition open to anyone with a credential, where the host town shows off its local cuisine, wines, cheeses and whatever else goes down the gullet.
It was hard to restrain ourselves and on more than one occasion, the promise of free rose or champagne at 10 in the morning was too much to resist. Then there was the gorging on sausage and cheese and sometimes the race almost seemed a bonus, an “oh-yeah, maybe we should hit the road before the caravan leaves and the race starts.”
The fact is, you’re chasing a race all over France, day in, day out for three weeks and these bike racers are the fastest in the world. This basically means you have one food opportunity en route. Stop twice and you’ll blow the finish. It’s a decision that’s worth planning but always leave room for that little town that calls to you.
We remember a beautiful small town, half way thru a stage, where we stopped, walked around, had a terrific meal and several glasses of wine. The restaurant was no more than 150 meters from where the riders would pass in front of the central town church. We had a discussion with the bar owner about pouring the rest of our red in plastic cups so we could walk out and watch the pros fly by.
But this was France and they didn’t have any plastic cups. This exchange threw off our timing and we had to hustle out front just in time to catch the action. A disaster averted.
The photo above was from a small town fair, a Saturday or Sunday. One of the places you see in the distance that are too tempting to pass by. Bread, cheese, wine, bike race. Sounds like a tres bonne idea.