Getting back to a relaxing pace
16.12.2012 - 16.12.2012 16 °C
After a bit of a hectic pace set through Spain, Biarritz and Bordeaux we had a choice to make. We could either stick to the original plan of driving across to Toulouse and Carcassonne and being more touristy; or getting back to a more relaxing pace and choosing something a little different. There is so much to do here it is impossible to do everything but we thought the Eastern Pyrenees could probably be squeezed into another trip so we decided to book a couple of days in a B&B in Lourdes which was close by and we thought would make a good base to see some of the mountains.
The B&B Erin chose was a relatively new place run by a couple named Marete, a lady who was Danish by birth and studied languages and dance, and her husband Jean-jacques who was an architect from Brittany. The deciding factor was the fact that in their blurb they said they made home-cooked meals for their guests and by this stage we were a little disheartened by the French cooking and we wanted to see what it was really like.
Erin was desperate for fresh veges as the French restaurants we have been to seem to see vegetables as something evil that needs to be boiled in oil and sauced to within an inch of being beyond recognition and then placed to the side as an oily, drab garnish to be poked at and dismissed. I don't know why (Actually I blame Master Chef) but I expected the French to respect the natural flavours of their ingredients but we have been sorely disappointed on this front. We have since been through the supermarkets and there is nothing wrong with the produce and we have even resorted to cooking our own fresh green beans and it seems that the effect of hot water is the same here as it is in Australia. Anyway, at this point we thought maybe it was just a restaurant thing and home cooking would be different. More on that later.
We drove out of Bordeaux with mixed emotions. We were a little surprised by how much we liked it (it is likely our stumbling on to fantastic croissants and coffee had something to do with this) and we have mentally noted this as a location for a longer visit in future. We again chose to take the scenic route which we thought would see us arriving in the late afternoon (well, not so late but getting dark). We had a very pleasant drive for the most part as we munched on baguettes of cheese and tomato and finished off the viennessoise (croissants).
As we got closer to Lourdes the Pyrenees started looming out of the clouds. At first you could barely see what was cloud and what was a snow-capped peak. Allanah was getting very excited, she really wants it to snow hard while we are here in Europe. By the time we got into Lourdes the mountains were part of the landscape and though we were still a good 20minute drive from actual snow we felt like we were in the mountains. We got a little lost on arrival trying to find the B&B. Lourdes, like many European towns is a nest of one way streets and it only takes one mis-step to end up a long way from where you want to be and very stressed.
In the end we pulled up at the gate and drove in to be greeted by Marete and Jean-Jacques, their dog, cats, kittens and horses. The B&B itself is a large house which has been converted to house a number of double rooms and a family suite downstairs whilst the hosts live upstairs. Jean-Jacques is in the process of installing a swimming pool and jaccuzi.
We realised too late that we had not made it clear in the booking that we were keen on the home cooking so we weren't able to dine there but there was a restaurant pretty much across the road which Marete said would serve a typical winter soup called Garbure which sounded just what the Doctor ordered. I had a lie down while Erin and Allanah started watching a Dvd of the life of St Bernadette of Lourdes grotto fame.
We went to the recommended restaurant around 8pm and it was a lovely, though very empty place being the low season between summer hikers and winter skiers (apparently the season is more Jan-April). Looking at the menu it was clear there was no Garbure and that they love their tripe. Actualy there were only a few tripe dishes which we managed to dodge by selecting the set menus. Once again, the food was nice but really heavy with sauce and it was difficult to tell what the vegetables actually were. I had fresh oysters, followed by fish covered in cheese and onion (gratin) and a veal steak with what looked like a mushroom mousse and there were 2 lumps of white mush, one which tasted like cauliflower in a bechamel sauce and the other I really don't know but may have been cheese and onion???? The steak was rather thin and covered in a red wine sauce (jus) just to make sure you couldn't taste the meat. Again, it was quite nice, the steak was tender and I'm sure it is how it was meant to be but I was just expecting a bit more respect for the ingredients from what was clearly a fine dining establishment. Erin and Allanah had fish with the same sides. Erin had a foie gras starter and Allanah had an absolutely delicious mushroom risotto with calamari. The desserts which came with the set menu were very nice, no complaints there at all. After this very heavy meal washed down with a local wine, we made our way back to domaine de marete for a sleep.