Start of a hard week’s driving around – I’m going on a tour of my French customers and contacts, and they’re widely spread out! First off to Alsace and Champagne, then into Picardy, skirt around Paris, then over to Brittany, turn around into the Loire Valley, back via Burgundy and Franche-ComtÃ©. But the summer days are long, and with any luck there won’t be too much tourist traffic yet.
Today is the long drive. To get anywhere near my first port of call, I have to set off at 7 am, negotiating the busy A4 autostrada over to Milano and then into Switzerland. After the last few hot, sticky weeks, I long to get somewhere cooler but the whole of Europe seems to be a furnace, with even the Swiss mountains bare of any snow. I listen to the news reports as I drive: “ozone levels high…conserve water to avoid shortages…” What?? Water shortages in Switzerland??? But hot it certainly is, touching 38Â°C in Basel! The A/C in the car is on full blast, but the heat radiates through the glass anyway. At least the roads are clear and I get to my first customer in Strasbourg at 4 pm. Quick meeting, then back on the road again: the motorway around Strasbourg is busy, but the traffic soon clears as I rise up in the Vosges and onto the plain of Lorraine. This must be the place in Europe most similar to the American prairies: endless wheat fields, punctuated by grain silos on the horizon. So boring does the road become, that the motorway is enlivened by colourful geometric shapes, presumably to stop drivers nodding off! I finally make it to Reims, my overnight stop at 20:15, about 1.050 km from Bassano!
I check in the hotel and quickly find a good restaurant: Le Volland Gambetta, in 13, rue Gambetta, between the gothic cathedral and the romanesque St. RÃ©mi. I can eat al fresco, in a courtyard surrounded by flowers.
I am served an amuse-gueule of purÃ©ed cucumber, very refreshing, reminiscent of the classic Indian raita, just what is needed on this hot day!
I choose as a starter cuisses de grenouille served with a light creamy risotto. Very delicate, an excellent complement to the frogs! The main course is equally delicate: shrimps in a wonderful saffron and basil sauce, with a cocotte of steamed vegetables.
Reims (together with Epernay), is of course the capital of Champagne, but I can’t bear the stuff! Is this heresy? Maybe, but I find Champagne acid and indigestible, so I choose a cool Pinot Noir Alsace instead!
The dessert is mouthwatering: a tarte aux pommes on a puff pastry base, grilled with cassonade sugar, a drizzle of maple syrup and a ball of vanilla ice cream!
An excellent meal that irons away the tiredness of the day’s drive!