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

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Les Pavés du Nord

Recently Jean from A Very Grand Pressigny posted about the Tour de France coming through the village where they have their holiday home and the commotion it stirred in this sleepy Loire Valley village.

This reminded me of another great cycling race that once a year attracts hordes of cycling fans to the French Flanders, near the Belgian border. The race goes from Paris to Roubaix and is always held in early spring when weather conditions are still very unpredictable. The most famous and spectacular part of the race is ‘Les Pavés du Nord’ (the cobblestones of the North). There is one stretch that really sticks out: ‘Le Carrefour de l’Arbre’!

This time last year we visited the notorious ‘carrefour’ during our first midweek stay in the French Flanders. At this particular spot several country roads meet in what can be considered as the middle of nowhere. Most of these roads are still paved with bumpy and slippery cobblestones. The road isn’t completely flat, but slightly slopes down towards the edges. During the year these roads are used by the local farmers to drive to their fields which are omnipresent. The heavy tractors and other engines cause a lot of damage to the roads, creating potholes and loosening the cobblestones.

And here, also in the middle of nowhere, at the crossroad of the field roads, is located … a gourmet restaurant, called ‘L’Arbre’, because of the tree marking the famous crossroad.

Having booked a table there for dinner, and knowing about the odd location, we decided to check out the ‘route’ during daytime before checking in to our BandB in the nearby village. It turned out to be a very wise decision as we would never have found the place in the dark February night. The drive was quite an adventure and later that night my friend noticed that the bumpy and shaky ride had even ‘killed’ one of the car’s headlights.

Thanks to our afternoon reconnaissance trip, the actual night drive to the restaurant was uneventful and we spent a splendid evening enjoying the restaurant's specialty: seafood. We had oysters to start with, followed by a scallop risotto for me and a nice piece of cod for my friend.

One of the wall paintings featuring a Belgian cycling champion.
I can't remember whether it is Johan Museeuw or Freddy Martens,
as they both won the race in their glory years.

After the meal we sat in the little salon sipping coffee and pousse-cafés while we watched how three large North Sea crabs tried to escape from a large fish tank. One actually managed to climb up the rocky wall lining part of the tank. Suddenly, however, it lost its grip on the slippery surface and tumbled down, landing on the floor beside the tank. We called one of the waiters telling him what happened. He didn’t seem surprised. “Cela arrive tout le temps.” (This happens all of the time), he said and put the crab back in the water. He explained that sometimes, when arriving early in the morning, after the restaurant had been closed overnight, he found up to five or even six crabs lying on their back on the floor or crawling around in the restaurant.

During our after diner drink we also had a closer look at the wall paintings featuring the cyclists who over the years have won the Paris-Roubaix race. It was nice to see that many of them were Belgian and we left the restaurant being proud of our fellow countrymen’s achievements.

This year the Paris-Roubaix race will be held on my birthday. But according to the newspaper the ‘Carrefour de l’Arbre’ will be sealed off completely for cycling fans to avoid accidents. Apparently, last year the cyclists were pushed and shoved around by drunken fans that blocked the already dangerous, slippery and bumpy roads. Although I’m not a cycling fan, I’ll certainly be watching the race on TV, if only to relive the memory of that lovely dinner.

BTW and just in case you're interested: the restaurant 'L'Arbre' is located in the village of Gruson.



Leon and Sue Sims said...

April 11, your birthday, the Paris Roubaix and we fly out from Paris. How badly organised are we.
It is Museeuw in the painting but this race has been won by many famous Belgium riders - they love the tough conditions.
The Aussie, Stuart O'Grady has also put his name in the record books of this great race. I'll be sad not to be there when it is run this year. Can anyone record it for me please?????

ladybird said...

Leon, I'd like to help you with the recording, but unfortunately don't have a dvd recorder:( sorry!