Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Famous Five in Brittany

(A cycling Update on the traditional Novel and
Quips about French life.... as seen by a French cyclist,
who still writes in franglais after living for 46 years in the UK.
Apologies for that!)

DAY 1 – Arrival at Saint-Malo, cycling to Pléherel-Plage and visit of Fort-la-Latte
Pam, Liz and Terry (to be known thereafter as The Terrific Trio) arrived on Saturday 26 August at St-Malo after a long night crossing having managed somehow to sleep a little... but probably not enough to face the challenges ahead. F&F met The Trio at the harbour. Whilst Frank led the way to Frehel, accompanied by Gerald, a French friend, Françoise picked up the panniers and went off by car. The 45 km ride from St-Malo to Frehel is not long, but present enough bumps on the way to make it challenging mostly after a bad night's sleep. However there is a reward... the beautiful sea views and this first contact with colourful Brittany, particularly on a sunny day, with its welcoming villages of pink granite cottages and contrasting slate roofs and the blooming geraniums, hydrangeas, agapanthus that thrive in this part of the world. After a non-eventful ride, lunch became an unexpected challenge, as it was only served after a whole hour's waiting and service proved harder than the hills climbed so far. A certain unpleasant aspect of French life is that restaurateurs believe they are so right, so much better than anybody else that they do not need to apologize, even in these days of Trip-advisor reviews - very frustrating. A “cultural” afternoon was spent visiting Fort-la-Latte, a fort erected on rocks just by the sea to ward off the English.... this was in the pre-EU days... An approach which might prove useful in the post-Brexit days???

DAY 2 – Sunday - Saint-Cast-le-Guildo
After Saturday challenges, it was decided to have an easy short ride. So we went to St-Cast-le-Guildo, a sea-side resort with 7 beaches which guarantees that even the main beach never gets crowded on the sunniest of days. It was a trip down "memory lane" for P and T who had participated in F&F's first cycling tour in 2009. The Five and Gerald set off by a Voie Verte which in part was an old railway track some 100 years ago. It is hardly used by motorists but one is in danger sometimes of meeting with gigantic tractors... this is when we make sure that we hide in the ditch for fear of getting squashed to pulp. Getting to St-Cast by the flattish cycle track was no hassle and we were soon at “Le Maryland's Pub” for aperitif, followed by a picnic lunch facing the Grande Plage. The local ice cream parlour obliged with dessert. Seeing us in our cycling uniforms, they certainly were generous with the portions. Perfectly refuelled, we set off home by the "pretty" route for which there is a price to pay... it is far more hilly and the short inclines with high gradients seem to appear rather often on this stretch of the coastal road. Nonetheless everyone coped well. Bikes were out again to go to dinner at La Potiniere in Sables d'Or-les-Pins with a return journey in the glowing light of sunset after a farewell to Gerald who was off to Chartres to work the next day.

DAY 3 – Monday - Jugon-les-Lacs
Frank thought that The Five should go to Jugon-les-Lacs whilst everyone was still in good form at the beginning of the week. The route to Jugon is reasonably easy with a fair amount of descent... which of course turns into ascent on the home journey.... First stop was at Le Neptune Bar in Henanbihen, the only bar in the area which has survived the fatal epidemic of bar closures because of the Drink & Drive legislation and also, because for today's young French people, it is not cool enough to go to the bars like their parents, grand-parents did... instead, they fill their car boots with cheap supermarkets booze and loudspeakers and go off to make their parties anywhere in the open-air... with dire results for the local bars. The Five travelled across the large Forest of St-Aubin, enjoying the cool shadow of the oak trees which also make perfect sound insulation. No noise could be heard except for the swishing of the wheels on the tarmac and the odd pigeons calling for its mate. The Five soon reached Jugon, a small Cite de caractere, famous for its very old Breton style stone houses and its location near a huge lake. Over the latter years, it has become a magnet for British Expats. There is now "Le Charity Shop" in the middle of the main street, a concept previously unknown to the French. Picnic lunch was taken by the lake, colourfully decorated with its pedalos and kayaks. The cloud cover of the early morning had disappeared by then and had been replaced by blue skies and a hot sun reaching 28 degrees.... bad news for the return journey! It was going to be a hot and muggy 25 miles ascending course..... additional watering-holes were necessary. Combining refreshment and culture is not always easy in the countryside, but we found La Ferme du Chateau, a small auberge by Chateau de la Hunaudaye, a magnificent ruin of a medieval castle. However the cool shadowy front garden of the Auberge won the day and the Château visit was postponed indefinitely. The rest of the journey was hard and painful mostly as to shorten the route, Frank lead the way up the Vaurouault climb, a kind of wall on which F&F can test their fitness... the ladies walked up pushing their bikes whilst the boys managed to continue riding with the odd zigzag. Too tired to cycle the 2 miles to dinner, Frank swapped cap and became “chauffeur” to drive everyone to Ty-Faitaud, a friendly Breton Creperie.
Photos Day 3

DAY 4 – Tuesday - La Costarmoricaine.
This is the name of a cycle ride from Erquy, a small fishing town, organised by the Erquy Cycling Club annually on the May Day weekend. When they participated a couple of years ago, F&F joined some 500 cyclists with different level of fitness. Frank always enjoys this ride and thought it would be good to show sections of it to Pam, Liz and Terry. Starting from home, there is no time to warm up as within 500 yards, it starts climbing going up Pleherel-Plage village main street which was a bustling High Street 100 years ago with 27 shops, now down to 2: a baker and a mussels restaurant, which are opened only in the summer... so up went the Five, passing the beautiful beach of Frehel unusually shrouded in a veil of mist on that day, up through the moors, full of yellow gorse with a few speckles of purple of heather. The seascapes are outstanding at this level mostly if there are the odd white sailing boats in the distance on the deep blue of the sea, sometimes turning to emerald, hence the coast is known as the “Cote d'Emeraude”. After a photo stop at Cap Frehel lighthouse, the Five continued their journey on flattish roads.... at times with big open country views dotted with church spires in the distance, sometimes through the cosiness of the woods with the aroma of freshly cut timber. Picnic lunch was to be in the very well kept and flowered village square of Pleven. On the return journey, passing by one of these egg laying factories, so common in central Brittany, Françoise stopped to take photos of happy hens... they may have to share their bedroom with another thousand sisters but at least, they are allowed outdoors and can pick at the ground and scratch the soil and do what hens like to do before laying their eggs. The uneventful journey home was broken by a tea stop at La Bouillie where The Five were the only customers that afternoon ... like most afternoons. Tea breaks of course do not exist in this part of the world. French cyclists do not need tea breaks as their rides are more likely to start early morning and finish by lunchtime for which they go home. Meanwhile, for the Five, dinner arrangements almost turned into a disaster... the local mussels restaurant decided suddenly to add an extra weekly day off without warning and was closed. It is true that most of the French holidaymakers are back home preparing for La Rentrée (return to school for pupils and students). Yearly big reports are made on TV about this event as if it was the highlight of the calendar. I remember the fear that all this fuss created in me when I was a school girl, with new books and stationery to purchase which must conform to the edicts of teachers and schools. The worry it instilled in my peers and me in case we would be punished because Mothers had bought the wrong pencil, the wrong colour notebook, etc...!! It is also a costly business as it is estimated that French parents spend every year €450 per child to kit their offsprings out. Low income families are given grants to cope with this expense. The Five then drove to another restaurant also unexpectedly closed to end up at the casino restaurant... with a frosty welcome as they are not gamblers... Still the food was good and reasonably priced since it is subsidised by the gamblers obliviously losing their money. "Le malheur des uns fait le bonheur des autres".

DAY 5 - Wednesday - Does French Gastronomy still exist? That is the question...
In a region where most eateries are Creperies serving buckwheat galettes as staple food, in a country where from north to south one is more likely to find pizzerias, Turkish kebabs or hamburger joints... (McDonald had the biggest growth in the number of its restaurants in France for many years) and where it is now fashionable to have "Fish & Chips" on the menu, followed by “Fruit Crumble”... (F even saw "Trifle" on a restaurant menu last week and Shhhh..., the French do not know that these desserts have been served for years in the UK before reaching their plates!), it is increasingly hard to find “fine dining” restaurants... To come back to "The Five"... The Trio had been cycling for 5 days in a row since leaving their homes. F&F thought that perhaps it was time to have a day off the saddle, mostly as the weather forecast religiously read by Liz each morning, was promising rain by 11 am. Decision to go to the restaurant by car or cycle was put on the breakfast table. By 11 am the rain had not turned up... intrepid Pam said "Let's cycle!". And it was a mad scrum to the bikes to get to the reserved table at Auberge du Manoir for 1 o'clock.... With a distance of only 10-12 miles, it was not going to be a big challenge. However, the wind decided to be part of the show and... two miles down the road, the rain joined in... too late to turn back and go by car... only one thing to do was to stop and put waterproofs on... of course F&F waterproofs trousers are in England and it would have to be wet legs for them. Still rain water is said to be good for the skin. The Five arrived at the Auberge at 12:45 with time to get changed, freshened up and looking more like humans than the drowned ducks they had become... The cycle journey had opened The Five's appetite and a delicious meal of traditional French cuisine was enjoyed by all. Auberge du Manoir is certainly the best restaurant in the area with a discreet but attentive service, consistently offering a great experience in fine dining for the princely sum of 15.80 euros for a 3-course meal. Yet 10 mls away in the coastal touristy resorts, one has to part with 12 euros for a very thin galette and surly waiters... Meanwhile the rain had settled in outside and no matter how long The Five made their meal lasts... all the other diners having left, the Five had to face it.... and return to Frehel in pouring rain. Unfortunately the home journey is always more trying because of the hills.... still after a warm shower and a cup of tea, The Five were soon back to their chatter reminiscing over "this and that" with some alcoholic concoctions in their right hand... and hot soup for dinner.

DAY 6 – Thursday - Lamballe - Pleneuf.
A fair weather forecast was announced for Thursday and Frank took the lead for F&F's prettiest ride in the area. The morning ride to Lamballe was easy, mostly downwards with a stop at St-Aaron where the only Cafe/Bar/Tobacconist/Newsagent/Bread-seller/etc... had re-opened after its 3-weeks' break. Seeing it closed on each of their reccies, F&F had misgivings that they would ever count it as a coffee stop and thought it was another casualty of the Drink and Drive law... After a coffee break and a chat with the St-Aaron Club Cyclists enjoying their Pastis for aperitif, Françoise turned down an offer to join their club in the knowledge that she would never make the average speed of this “muscly” and hardened bunch... Lamballe was soon reached and The Five visited the small sleepy town on bike after their picnic by a man-made lake which protects the town from flooding. Lamballe is still the proud owner of 91 "lavoirs" (wash-houses) built along the river, the sight of which led the ladies to chat about laundry duties in times by-gone. Françoise reminisced about the hard washing days on the farm... as all the implements of the pre-automatic washing machine were on display in the old lavoirs... today's youngsters would not have a clue how to use these... the one element missing was the chatter that must have been heard all down the stream as the Lavandieres gossiped and laughed and shouted at each others to be heard above their bashing noises of the clothes to wring the water out of them. French country ladies never had a clothes wringers or spinners like their English counterparts just a kind of wooden bat... The Five then continued into the town looking at the medieval houses. For the return journey, Frank had chosen to go via the traffic-free coastal road. One of the prettiest roads along the Emerald Coast which starts with a beautiful view over the Baie of St-Brieuc. Before this, some very big lumps had to be climbed on a busy road with pesky lorries menacingly rumbling along about their business. Tea stop was at the charming leisure harbour of Dahouet with its many sailing and motor boats seemingly permanently moored there, waiting for their owners to come back at weekends or perhaps only during the next holiday if they live afar. So far it had been an ideal warm sunny cycling day. However a few rain drops were soon felt on the Five's bare limbs and they had to press on to move faster than the dark grey clouds. Their enemy, the wind, was far more efficient and speedier at pushing the clouds above their heads than the Five's legs at pushing the pedals; so by Pleneuf, the battle was lost and the Five were soon drenched to the bones mostly F&F who had totally failed to bring any waterproofs whatsoever, not even their jackets.... as if they did not know the area! Many hills remained on the way home and the beautiful sea views of St-Pabu Beach and Erquy Harbour had to be ignored in the rush back to Pleherel. Dinner that night was at La Himbert, whose waiter had the audacity of saying that their “Fish & Chips” was better than in the UK... when what they actually served was a triangular shape flat piece of supposedly cod more likely to be found in Iceland freezers than in any self-respecting Fish & Chips shops. Tripadvisor readers have been notified accordingly.
Photos Day 6

Day 7 - Friday – No cycling
By now, Liz had taken control of the weather forecasts and was checking several times daily ... so far Liz's predictions had been pretty accurate... and whilst Pam, the ever-optimist, would rather cycle whatever the weather, followed by Terry, a very hardened cyclo-tourist, the other three were not so keen in getting soaked for a third time... Liz's announcement at breakfast that it would rain heavily by 11 am was taken seriously as 11 am was the necessary departure time for Thursday's activities. 11 o'clock came without rain... what to do? To cycle or not to cycle... by 11:10, it was raining... that was going to be an enforced day off the bike. Frank offered to drive to a restaurant with a Menu "ouvriers" (workers menu) and The Five drove to The Guildony Restaurant at Notre-Dame-le-Guildo which F&F visit now and again and where they always receive a warm welcome by the French patronne, who has learned English and worked in Jersey. The Terrific Trio were expecting some canteen decor and tasteless nosh when in fact the large dinning room is smart and regularly modernised whilst the 3-course menu proved to be tasty with freshly cooked offerings. The menu of the day - which changes daily - was "Paupiettes de Veau" or "Supreme de Volaille aux Champignons". After a self-service first-course of crudités, salad, melon and charcuterie, the chosen main course is served promptly, so is dessert and coffee as the workers the restaurant mainly caters for at lunchtime, have to be back at their occupation within the hour. With drinks included and a bottomless basket of bread, the cost is just 11.80 euros, which is paid with luncheon vouchers by the workers and with poor value euros for the British tourists such as the Five, as the £/€ exchange rate is currently at its lowest. Still even at parity, these menus remain good value if one compares with what £10 or £11 buys in London eateries. With the drop in temperatures at night, the barbecue was rendered useless to cook dinner and cooking operations had to be transferred back to the kitchen!

Day 8 - Friday - Frank's "A" training ride and last cycling day for The Five.
Sandwiches were packed, weather forecast was to be good for all the day... Frank took the lead, first for a stage of flat roads to warm up the weary leg muscles and continued to Erquy and its fishing harbour. Scallop fishing is particularly important in the Baie of St-Brieuc and in season, the fans of the big shells can purchase them at the local Erquy supermarkets for a couple of euros per kg, yet served in a restaurant, it will set you back €25 for a few scallops swimming in creamy sauce... The road for the Five increased in difficulty as a series of big hills followed but the panoramas we
re worth the calves pain resulting from the hard pushing on the pedals. A few photo stops were de rigueur so was the picnic lunch facing Plage de Saint-Pabu, now deserted and completely emptied of its holidaymakers, yet it was only 1st September. The Five continued up and down to Pleneuf and its pretty flower arrangements, then onto flattish but windy roads towards St-Aaron, passing by the gigantic wind turbines and their continuous humming, dwarfing any humans. Soon the Five were back in Frehel for a well-deserved cuppa ... having completed the course on which F&F like to practice whenever they arrive in Brittany. The last dinner was taken at Le Petit Bouchot, originally a mussels eatery, which now also serves Fish & Chips, but this time, prepared as it should be. It is probably too late now in Pre-Brexit days, for French chefs to train in Britain's best fish & chips shops... so if you see Fish & Chips on a French restaurant menu, be ware before ordering!  

DAY 9 - Sunday - The Terrific Trio return to Portsmouth.
Sunday started as a very miserable and rainy day which would have prohibited any cycling should The Trio had stayed longer. Under the rain, The Terrific Trio joined the Brittany Ferries' queue at St-Malo to board the Bretagne Ferry for their day-long journey back to England.

During the week 24/8 to 2/9, The Five cycled:
- 423 km
- with 4239 m elevation
- and burned approx. 7000 calories each (based on Francoise's measurements). 
- Sorry but we have no record of calories input even less of beverages drunk during the same period. Let us just say that both were high enough...
- during their reccies in July and until 26 August, F&F rode 1,315 kms on the traffic-free Breton roads.

F&F 🚴🚴 thank The Terrific Trio 🚴🚴🚴 for their visit and the motivation it gave them to get seriously back on their bikes....🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴



Simon L said...

Lovely write-up - thankyou Francoise for sharing your trip with us.

Steph said...

A good read. Thanks.

Tim C said...

Thank you for this great report and your insights into the state of the nation and its food. Excellent photos too. Sorry I wasn't with you. 🐒 🚲