Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Swimming pool anecdote

Staying at a Chambre d’hôtes (Bed & Breakfast) is something we’ve started doing since I won first prize in an internet quiz about the Loire Valley in 2007. You can read all about it here.

Winning that prize was probably one of the best things that could ever happen to us as it almost coincided with the closure of our favourite hotel in Tours in February 2008. The owners, who have become friends of ours over the years, have retired and the hotel is being transformed into a residence for affluent senior citizens.

For nine consecutive years we had a lovely time there, and we met many charming and interesting people from all over the world. During our first three stays (in 1999-2000-2001) patrons mainly consisted of large parties of Americans who were on an organized cycling trip through the Loire Valley. During the day they cycled from one château to another, their luggage being sent ahead to the next hotel and gourmet restaurant where they would spend the night. I admired them for their stamina, as I don’t know how they managed to cover the daily distance on their bikes after eating every evening a full gastronomic dinner with appropriate wines!

There are lots of little anecdotes I could tell you about, like our meeting with Alfred, the wooden legged duck, our chat with a young couple from California who were on their honeymoon, a television crew filming for a documentary, etc. But the best story of all is probably our pizza luncheon by the pool.

Having no photos of that memorable lunch by the pool, here's a picture of some rowing boats on the Anglin in the village of Angles-sur-Anglin in the Vienne department.

One evening we were having pre-dinner drinks in the veranda, from where we had an excellent view on the driveway and the little duck pond. It was about 8 p.m. and people started to arrive for dinner. All of a sudden we saw a pizza delivery man on a moped puffing up the driveway towards the entrance of the hotel. The guy stepped of his bike, opened the delivery box and took out two pizza and two 33 cl bottles of coca-cola. He walked into the lobby and, without taking off his helmet, went up the stairs without even looking at the girl at reception. He came down five minutes later, counting the money he had been given, hopped on his moped and drove off … leaving patrons and hotel staff completely flabbergasted.

The next morning the whole hotel had heard about the little ‘pizza incident’. The proprietor’s wife was very upset. What shocked her most was not so much the fact that people had wanted a pizza, but that they’d ordered a take-away meal when staying in a hotel with a two Michelin star restaurant. “My husband can cook pizza too. If only they had asked! He would have been glad to make them a pizza, and even serve it in their room. We offer room service after all!” And then she looked at us … “Would you like to try one of my husband’s pizzas?” she asked?

Although we liked the idea, we didn’t want to create a precedent. “You know what?” she said, seeing that we felt slightly uncomfortable “What if we were to serve it by the swimming pool … at lunchtime.” The pool being in the far end corner of the immense garden, there would be no other people around at lunchtime. We therefore agreed.

We left on our daily excursion, which we cut short to be in time for our ‘luncheon appointment’. When we arrived at 12.30, a table was set by the edge of the pool, and a chilled bottle of dry Vouvray wine was waiting for us. Only seconds later the headwaiter appeared carrying a large tray with on it two hot pizzas straight from the oven. The crust was made of fine and crunchy puff pastry, not exactly what you would expect from a regular pizza. Finely sliced, but extremely juicy tomatoes, shredded basil, creamy mozzarella pieces and some splashes of virgin olive oil made an excellent topping. The taste was rich and yet delicate and went extremely well with the fruity white wine.

We had and excellent and romantic meal, all by ourselves, without being disturbed, as everybody was either out for the day or having lunch in the restaurant’s dining room. And do you want to know the best part? Later that evening the proprietress told us that the pizza and the wine were on the house. How lucky can you get?



Nadege said...

I don't know about Europe, but ordering pizzas when you stay in hotels in the US is not unusual at all. "Take outs" are probably not as popular in Europe, but ordering Thai, Chinese food... and eat it in your room instead of dressing up and go down for a formal dinner is a nice change.
That was our problem when we went to Moorea 4 years ago and had to eat formal dinners every night. We wanted grilled fish but every night the food was covered (drenched) with sauce and it was too fancy. Californians are used to light food (grilled, steamed...) with vegetables and nice salads. Believe me, I understand than generally when people go to restaurants it is to eat something they wouldn't cook at home because of the long process of making fancy dishes but when you are on vacation for 1 month, you get tired of the rich food. It is good, but not to eat every night. Plus in the US, if you order fish, they ask you if you want it baked, poached, grilled... In France they don't offer that option. It also seems that potatoes and rice is served more often that green vegetables. Maybe it is why french food in the US has lost a lot of its luster; people go for Italian, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Chinese food... I would say french food is last on the list, eaten occasionally and generally when it is cold since it is so heavy. The exception is pastries. French and Viennese pastries are very good. In the US, their deserts are way too sweet.

Carolyn said...

Martine, what a great story! You have had some fun times in France. Your photo from Angles makes me think that someday in France, you and we will run into each other, because we like the same places.

ladybird said...

Nadege, Take-away food has become more popular in Europe over the last decade. In Belgium, Chinese, Thai and Turkish Doner kebabs and Italian pizzas are the most sought after.

I agree with you that it is difficult to eat fancy dinners every evening while you're on holiday. That is one of the reasons - apart from our favourite hotel closing down - why we now stay in B&B's. This gives us a lot more freedom when it comes to meals.

I had no intention to critize when I wrote the pizza anecdote, but it seemed so unusual and 'so-not- done' in those days (1999-2000) in Europe that I thought it was worth mentioning on my blog. I hope I didn't offend anyone. And if I did, I hereby would like to apologize. Martine

Carolyn, I would like that very much ... but maybe we should give 'luck/chance' a helping hand! :) Martine

Nadege said...

Martine, you didn't offend me and hopefully I didn't offend anyone either by my comment. It is just that since I have lived in France and the US (though longer in the US now but my whole family is in France), I know what Americans like and how they "function"... That anecdote is unusual to you (and Europeans) but not in the States. I got carried away by my long comment because last week I read an article in Paris Match about 6 french chefs who went to New-York "they are the ambassadeurs d'une gastronomie francaise enfin moderne, metissee, surprenante et decontractee. La revanche des nouveaux!". I find it sad that french cuisine is not liked anymore because of its creamed sauces, buttery this and that. The thing too is that a lot of time when you eat in expensive restaurants in France, it is too formal. I know it is hard to make everybody happy but the dining experience in the US is different than in France, expensive or not. When I was in France I watched a show about B&B and "chambres d'hotes", the criteria required to be called chambres d'hotes. I love B&B; in the States, generally, they only serve breakfast but I am glad to know that in France, they serve dinner too and you can have the freedom to tell them what you would like to eat.

Nadege said...

Sorry Martine I am back because I wanted you to know that your blog is so sweet, you could delete my comments if you don't feel comfortable with them. I remember of two instances of controversies on "Avignon in photos" about McDonald in France (people eating at those type of food joints) and another blogger commenting in his blog about another blogger. Of course, they got close to 100 comments and I don't want to do that to your sweet blog. But you must know that I really like American people and when it is justified, I will defend them. Of course the people ordering pizza could have been from any country in the world, but since Americans do that often, I had to comment and voice my opinion. Also the comment about rich food... is because California started the whole "health food" craze and I happen to live in SoCal.

ladybird said...

Nadege, I'm not going to delete your comments as my blog is open to all honest and decent comments

I fully understand your feelings about French gastronomy. I used to be a big fan, but getting slightly older, I can nolonger eat and digest all these rich sauces and dressings. But it can be great ... the wining and dining ... every now and then ... on special occasions. But give me a good pizza anytime, and I will eat it with a lot of gusto. Friends ??

Martine. :x)

Nadege said...

I have to say that sometimes I read a blog really fast and my comments can be a bit "off".
I think blogs are so wonderful because they let people exchange their opinion, as long as they respect each others and they can learn from one another. Friends, of course!

Jean said...

I read that same article in Paris Match last week because it was picked out for us by our French teacher to read. (She's a lovely lady from Lyon who now lives in Derbyshire.) The gist of it was that New Yorkers are abandoning French restaurants for places that serve a greater variety of European and other cuisines. I suspect this simply has a lot to do with fashion and that going to a French restaurant is no longer the "in thing".

However, when we have had holidays in France where we have stayed in hotels for several days, we have become over-stuffed with rich and sophisticated food. That is why we also tend to use self-catering accommodation, even if it is a tent !!
We have observed that when you eat out in France you get very few vegetables. People eat lots of vegetables at home so I suspect the restaurants serve richer food because it's different from the cooking at home and therefore a treat.
Thinking about the Americans who ordered take-away pizza, I can relate to that. Sometimes, how ever good a holiday is or how good the food is, sometimes you just want something that reminds you of home. For me it would be a cup of proper English tea and a plate of egg and chips !!

ladybird said...

Jean, I know how you feel. After a holiday abroad( France or elsewhere), the first thing I do is eat a good old Belgian classic.

I remember that when I returned home from my annual language holiday in England in the seventies, I always begged my mother to prepare sausages, boiled patatoes and cauliflower with a cheesy bechamel sauce ... :) Yummy!