Tag: family holiday

A pinch of art and a large dose of love

“Cuisine is a few grams of passion, a spoonful of technique, a pinch of art and a large dose of love”

When chef Eric Bendel wrote this, he clearly meant it. His restaurant is in the middle of nowhere, well actually right bang in the middle of France in Bruères-Allichamp. We were driving South and found that all the hotels in Bourges were full. A short drive on an empty route départementale and we were grateful to find a small hotel along the Cher river. Les Tilleuls isn’t the prettiest of hotels, rather a long 60’s wooden affair.

No credit card or passport were asked, what a delight and oh so rare these days. Our rooms were clean and comfortable although sound proofing is probably not high on the list. The big surprise came when we sat down for dinner. The menu is a short list of about nine items that change fortnightly and you choose how many you want. Children just get smaller portions, no fish and chips to be found anywhere.

When I read Eric’s poem I figured we should be in for a treat. When I read the menu, it was definitely an artist talking. Proof was definitely not just in the pudding. It started with not one ‘mise en bouche’ but two: three verrines each of cress, celery and cucumber gazpachos followed by crayfish with a courgette soup topped with herring caviar, all beautifully presented.

It’s one of those menus some people find pompous. Verrines are pretty little glasses filled with soups or layered puddings. Gaspacho is after all a cold soup. Yes it’s nouvelle cuisine if that means a pleasure for the eye and yes there were foamy additions to perfectly balanced plates. Last time I had a meal that made me feel like a child again was when I ate at Les Ambassadeurs, the Crillon’s restaurant in Paris. Proper posh with a stool for my handbag. Jean-François Piège was in the kitchen, I was scribbling notes for a magazine. This time, I was with my family, paying my way. Seeing my children get all excited by beautifully presented plates and happily discover new tastes was a joy.

Laure has done a great job decorating the restaurant, husband Eric clearly cares passionately about his work, attention to detail is faultless; although I must admit there were only two tables that night, being mid-week and off holiday. At around £60 per person for four properly crafted courses including nice wine, aperitifs and digestifs, we got an evening that we will remember for a long time. The joy of the unexpected, the subtlety of tastes, the fun of new discoveries; the love did show.

Some call it professionalism. That’s not enough. The passion has to be translated to provide a memorable experience.

I can still taste the mini pistachio rice pudding with strawberry cream and poppy mousse.

Thank you Bourges for being full that day.

Hotel restaurant Les Tilleuls

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la livre va drolement loin!

Il semble que la presse britannique pousse les Anglais à rester ‘at home’ cette année. Ils peuvent bien essayer mais un Anglais ça veut du soleil et il faut le dire, la planète chaleur se fait désirer en ce moment. Pourtant, partout où je vais, j’entend parler des langues étrangères. C’est vrai que, si on arrive euros en poche, le budget a soudain meilleure mine, et en ce moment plus que jamais, c’est un atout.

Ce soir, je n’ai pas eu le temps de cuisiner donc en bonne franglaise, me voila partie acheter un ‘fish and chips’ dans notre chipie de Beaminster. Dame Chinoise presque incomprehensible mais un excellent poisson dans une panure légère valent le coup lorsque la paresse ou le manque de temps prennent le dessus. Ma petite famille de quatre a été nourrie pour 17 euros, soit 15 livres. Il y a deux ans, le taux de change vous aurait fait payer le même repas 22,5 euros.

Alors je comprend pourquoi ça parle français, espagnol et néerlandais dans les restaurants et les bars du coin. Pour un super rapport qualité prix, c’est plutot bien par chez nous! A bientot?

Moi, je pars en vacances en France, pas super pour le budget, mais j’ai besoin de voir ma famille… et le soleil fera du bien!

Fool’s Well

Hundreds of big yellow plastic capes with ‘Le Puy du Fou’ written on the back is one memory I am not about to forget. The Fool’s Well, as it would translate, is best visited when the sun is shining. ‘Le Grand Parc’ is indeed a very large park where in one day, you are taken from the Middle Ages to the 19th century through plays and amazing stages. As luck would have it, we chose to go on an ‘orange alert day’ when, unbeknown to us until later, the weather forecast from meteo France recommended we should stay indoors. Luckily, you can buy large plastic yellow tents with a hood that cover your whole body and keep you reasonably dry. You can also buy baseball caps to keep the sun out of your eyes on sunny days.

The yellow capes gather on the seats around the Well and a narrator appears, telling us the story of the Puy du Fou. There used to be a castle where we are now seated with a beautiful young dame.  To our right, a mount opens and from a cloud of smoke a woman appears, on a bed. She wonders where her castle is, where her birds have gone. As the story unfolds, birds of prey appear. Falcons fly low over our heads, vultures shake their feathers and seem to say: “So, what we gonna do now” as if they came straight out of Disney’s Jungle book. The bird keepers do an amazing job of keeping their birds under control. The play lasts over 30 minutes but even soaked -and getting wetter still- we were left wanting for more, thankful the birds did not mind the rain.

In normal circumstances, this is the time when I head home for a dry heated room. But this display has proved that this is no ordinary place. The next show is only 15 minutes away, we have to see what the Vikings have to offer. The stage is bigger, there are around 20 actors around a lake. The yellow capes laugh as a huge black cloud opens up, a few capes give up, most are enthralled and stay put. A viking boat has appeared from under the water. Are these still figures, swords in hand, real people? I won’t tell you, I hate it when all the surprises are spoilt.

The Roman arena at Puy-du-Fou
The Roman arena at Puy-du-Fou

Next stop, a huge arena. The yellow capes, probably keen to warm up, perform a football-like wave (arms up, stand up, pass it on to your right and start again). Another feast with gladiators, lions, tigers and much participation from the crowd. Later, the Battle of the Dungeon tickled my fancy mainly because the baddies were English. The children loved the narrator, dressed as a Fou (clown).

5.30 finally arrives, time for the Musqueteers. Am I glad I waited for this? Well, I have never seen anything quite like this before. More smoke, water and lights are used to amazing effects. Spanish dancers and horses perform a perfectly synchronised show that make 40 minutes go like a flash. The rest of the day was not just spent going from one show to the next. We arrived in a 1900’s town centre (BOURG) complete with bakery, sweet and toy shops, we passed the 18th century village with its potter, ironmonger and post office and walked through the medieval city. But we still did not manage to do everything. My children want to come back as they have noticed there is a separate entrance with yet another castle. It is bigger still than any impressive display we have seen today and is only open in Summer. It is Cinescenie, claiming the biggest stage in the world with extravangant technical effects and over 1,000 actors. I am under strict instructions that we have to come back in the Summer. I’ll wear jumpers and winter coat just in case, but I’ll be there.

Le Puy-du-Fou, Vendée, Western France

http://www.puydufou.com/uk/