Saturday, August 19, 2006

Comedy of errors in the beautiful French countryside

Whenever John and I take a road trip in France, we inevitably make several blunders. They're usually navigational because if you miss one teensy-weensy sign on the highway (no prep signs), it could cost you a half-hour of extra driving. But this time, before we even took off for our trip to Brittany for the four-day weekend last week, I made a huge hotel reservation blunder that cost us an extra 3-4 hours of nail-biting on the road. It all turned out all right in the end, thank goodness. But when I booked a place in Morlaix (way out in the west of Brittany), I thought I was booking it near St. Malo and Mont St. Michel, very popular sites for European and American tourists. It was mostly my fault for not knowing French geography very well, but the discount site I was on was a bit deceptive saying the hotel was near St. Michel. Alas, the tiny village of St. Michel is not the famed Mont St. Michel with the amazing abbey-topped little mountain off-shore which can be accessed by foot at low-tide.

Quiet Morlaix was actually the better bet for a more relaxing trip since it's not the ideal place for most tourists (the majority of shops were closed for the French "conge-annuelle," or annual freeze, that happens each summer from mid-July to mid or late August). Without the shops, it was still a very charming little town with its mini-train ride for tourists, harbor of little boats, awesome 18th-century viaduct (a hundred yards from our hotel!), and half-timbered homes (two of which we visited) from the 16th-century. The food was good and cheap. Our favorite was Ar Bilig, a simple creperie with the best crepes ever! We had two lunches there, and profitted at least once from their 8,90 euro menu which is composed of a ham-egg-cheese crepe, a butter or sugar crepe, and a chocolate or jam crepe. Their perfectly chilled alcoholic apple cider from the maker Kerne, was the best I have ever tasted. Just the right amount of sweetness, and I could barely taste the alcohol (4.5%). The restaurant two doors down from them had good crepes, too, but had a great petoncles and frites deal for 11,50 euros. The petoncles seemed to be baby scallops, served marinated and steamed in their shells. Delicious! The best fries on our trip.

Morlaix's first big industry was piracy, and somewhere along the line, it became tobacco products. Their large factory just recently shut down, so I'm not sure what they have left besides tourism.

Our biggest navigational error came early on in the trip. John planned for us to stop at a particular distillery in Normandy to buy some calvados, the famed liquor distilled from apples, but we took the wrong highway and realized our mistake way too late. Another wrong turn put us in the direction towards the coast, specifically towards the pretty harbor town of Honfleur. I told John, since we're all the way out here, let's just go to Honfleur since we've never been there before. That was the nicest detour ever. We had a delightful, ridiculously inexpensive lunch at the cute Au Nelly's, which only seats about 30-35 people inside. I had an appetizer of raw oysters, a main dish of mussels and fries (moules frites), and a floating island (ile flottante) for dessert (for those of you who don't know what that is, it's a light meringue floating on a bit of creme anglaise -- mine also had a little caramel added on top). The fries were tasteless, but everything else was marvelous, and it only cost us just under ten euros! In Paris, this meal would have cost around three times as much.

We drove through Deauville, which is pretty much a resort town for Parisians. It was very beautiful, but much larger than Honfleur. Kind of ritzy with all the upscale shops and expensive homes. Nice place to walk around though. Next time.

And next time, I will finish telling you about our Brittany trip.


Sarah said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip--isn't it delightfl to stumble across places you've never heard of and end up loving them as much as where you wanted to go in the first place? It seems like that can happen so easily in Europe!

Caroline Jou Armitage said...

Yeah, it's great. I hope I make more mistakes in the future!