Maybe the location where I had them on that second occasion had something to do with it. It was in little restaurant called ‘La Route d’Or’ in my all-time favourite village of Candes Saint-Martin on the confluent of the Loire and the Vienne River. The name of the restaurant refers to the ‘Route de Compostella’, the famous pilgrimage route to the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostella. The current religious itinerary dates from the 11th century, but there are indications that a pagan version existed long before that date. Since 1993 the Spanish part of the route is part of the Unesco World Heritage.
Every year pilgrims from all over Europe travel down this road. Some walk, alone or in small groups, sometimes accompanied by an animal, such as a dog or a donkey for company. Others cycle or use an agricultural tractor or other unusual vehicle. Real pilgrims, who make the journey out of religious conviction, try to live of the land and depend on the goodwill of the local population or the hospitality of an abbey or a local priest to find a free place to spend the night.
The narrow main road that runs through the village of Candes Saint-Martin, is part of this famous route. The restaurant ‘La Route d’Or’ is located in an little yet attractive old building on the small square and steps leading to the ‘Collégiale Saint Martin’, the roman style church where Saint Martin died in 397 A.C. (398 according to some other sources … but who’s counting after so many centuries?).
During our first stay in the Loire Valley in 1999, the restaurant was closed on the day we passed through the village. It looked very attractive, though, and we decided we would come back the next time we were in the area; taking into account that Tuesday was the restaurant’s ‘jours de fermeture’.
La Route d'Or in the village of Candes Saint-Martin
That next time was in 2003. We had taken a brisk walk up to the top of the bluff overlooking the village and the confluent and we were quite hungry when we came down. We saw that the door of the restaurant was open. Two cyclists had parked their bikes against the church wall and were having a drink on the little terrace. When we walked up to the door, the proprietor came out to welcome us. The interior was very cosy, with the original limestone walls showing. One of the two dining rooms had a nice open fireplace. There was no fire burning, however, as it was mid-June. A wooden staircase led up to a small mezzanine.
I can’t remember what we had for starters, but my friend and I both had stewed rabbit leg with green lentils, which had been cooked with small chunks of carrots and pan-fried ‘lardons’ (bacon strips). The rabbit leg was juicy and tender and the lentils had a lot of flavour and were not starchy at all. We had a bottle of a red local wine with our meal. By the time we had finished eating it had started to rain. We therefore had our coffee inside instead of on the terrace outside, where by then the two cyclists had gone.