There have been some articles bemoaning the decline in the quality of restaurant food in France. I have to say that during my eight-day ride down the Loire – from Mont Gerbier de Jonc to La Baule and the Atlantic – this was not my experience. This cyclist pedalled happily on his stomach! Equally importantly we were well housed at night.
On the eve (16th September) of the start of my Loire descent we stayed and ate @Auberge de Bachasson just 800 metres from the source of the Loire at Mont Gerbier de Jonc. This is well up in the mountains and the buildings reflect this, even though this is only 100 kilometres from the Mediterranean. The Auberge was renovated three years ago and our room was very comfortable, which you might not have guessed from the outside of the building.
We ate simply and well – I had an assiette of local charcuterie followed by a piece noir – a steak – finishing with a chocolate mousse, which I thought was a deserved indulgence and doubtless helped on the long descent to Le Puy-en-Vélay! A Syrah from Les Vignerons Ardéchois nicely lubricated the répas.
The first stage finished at Retournac, which is on the Loire, staying up in the quiet and beautiful hills above the town at the lovely Ferme Equestre Les Revers. It was a beautiful, clear sunny afternoon at Retournac in marked contrast to the weather in the morning when I set out from a decidedly unfriendly Mont Gerbier de Jonc – cold, misty and wet.
That evening we ate in the small town at Le Comptoir de Nos Pères with smoked salmon and gravlax to kick off followed by a slow-cooked leg of duck. I finished with a slice of apple tart. All this was accompanied by a bottle of Jaboulet Côte du Rhône 45 parallèle.
Why you might reasonably wonder did the next stage (18th September) stretch from Retournac to Renaison in the heart of the Côte Roannaise? A chance to get a quick impression of the vintage here, perhaps? In part but only a small consideration. No, the overriding imperative was to eat at the Restaurant Jacques Coeur, run since 1981 by Jean-Yves Giraudon, and, in particular, to have Le Poulet Jacques Coeur – a signature dish since 1946.
During my visit to the Côte Roannaise in March I had eaten here and seen that this was a speciality – chicken with morilles cooked in cream and topped with a pastry case. I was determined to return and it proved to be worth le voyage!
Some very good foie gras, cheese and a dish of fruit poached in the wine from Vincent Giraudon, Jean Yves son, completed the menu. We enjoyed a pichet of Vincent’s 2011 Eponymé vin de pays Aligoté followed by a 50cl of Thierry Bonneton’s 2011 Boutheran, Côte Roannaise. This confirmed the good impression I formed of Thierry’s wines during my visit in March. He badly needs someone to advise him on pricing his wines in a sensible and logical fashion.
Immediately I arrived at Renaison it started to pour with rain. One heavy storm was quickly followed by another. I blame the Sérols, who decided to start harvest on this day, picking 1.5 ha of Gamay. Rather aptly these grapes were for a sparkling wine cuvée called Turbulent!
We stayed next door at the very hospitable and welcoming Hotel Central – a traditional but comfortable French hotel.
(Part two to follow next week – in theory it will cover the stages from Nevers to the Ocean at La Baule but we will just have to wait and see if it actually pans out that way …).