Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Over lunch with friends in Chateauneuf du Pape the conversation turned from the pitiful absence of a simple meal in local restaurants to how best to insult inefficient French bureaucratic stiffs.

(On the latter subject I normally opt for 'inacceptable' but inevitably - as I do on our answermachine where I cannot seem to say 'aussitot que possible' without adding a tit and a piss - get tongue-twisted, so was on the lookout for a new word. We all liked 'lamentable' but agreed on 'abhérrant'.)

So what was this? Had we been here too long? Where had the conversations about how wonderful the produce and how excellent the system gone?

It was obviously time for a break and a weekend Italy called.

Our first stop was just over the border in Bordighera where we plonked ourselves down in the nearest family run trattoria and ate slippery and excellent spaghetti alle vongole for six euros.

After a creamy gelato we drank cappucino in the piazza in San Remo. It was twenty-two degrees, incense was streaming out of the pink church like smoke from Aladdin's pipe and as the smells - one of chocolate dusted Decadence and the other of Our Lord - mingled, we felt deeply content.

We reached the medieval hilltop village of Apricale in time for a nap in our room, the Mansarda dei Preti (the priests' - plural?...! - attic), where Christ in his crown of thorns watched over our digestion from the bedhead. Later, we descended to the bar for our 'welcome' glass of prosecco.

"Can we eat here later?" we asked, to which our hostess answered:

"Yes but you must reserve".

We informed her that we wanted to take a turn round the village first....

"Go up to the church but don't go down but you must reserve for dinner" she said creepily. We were clearly the only guests in the hotel.

Like Hansel and Gretel we sniffed our way downwards, dipping under ancient flying buttresses and stumbling on uneven cobbles, wanting to know what delicious confection our hostess was hiding. First we clocked restaurant number one advertising hand-crafted strozzapreti (Priest-chokers) and decided it would be appropriate to eat dinner there. However, our eye was caught by an article in broken glass on the wall further down. It was from the Sunday Times and Michael Winner was telling us that the meal he had had in our chosen trattoria was the most terrible he'd had in Italy. Far better to eat down the road.....

'Surely not that ugly building?' we wondered, and booked.

We ate ravioli a l'aroma di tartufo, potatoes and ceps, deer, boar, a gooey chocolate thing and gunpowder tea ice-cream. Not a vegetable in sight.

I had had what I wanted - a dishy flirty waiter with whom I could discuss the subtle differences between frizzy water, fizzy hair, acqua frizzante, and a fizzy drink, and a fabulously aromatic dinner. Julian, however, was uncomfortable with the power a framed write up from a silly fat Englishman could have over us and, more importantly, the feudal atmosphere it could create in a claustrophobic Ligurian village.

He was right to feel ill at ease as the next day we could hardly walk down the street for having pissed everyone in the village off for not eating in their restaurant, and we fled to the palm fringed anonymity of San Remo. There we dove into the leafy sea of the Tuesday market, brushing sensuously up against radicchio of all colours, armfuls of basil, rocket, borage, giant parmesan wedges, curls of miniature flowering courgettes, sundried tomatoes....

We packed up the car, sat on the beach for ten minutes and drove home through apple gold vineyards and past the Montagne Saint Victoire. Suddenly we were thrilled to be in signage-less well- organized France. At home we ground up fresh pesto in the pestle, slung together a selection of leaves and had a good bottle of Cotes du Rhone.


France is great, we thought, and there is at least one very good place to eat.


Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I'll bear your recommendation in mind next time I'm travelling in France! ;-)

7:33 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

you'd be welcome zinnia!

9:12 AM  
Blogger granny p said...

Is your restaurant open every day?

2:26 PM  
Blogger Egan said...

J'aime beaucoup Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

10:18 PM  

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