The way travel is today, it is about a quarter of the price to fly between England and the South of France than it is to drive. When we were children, flying would have been the expensive option and it was cheaper and more usual to drive. I remember one such trip, couped up with quarrelling (or singing, not sure which was worse) siblings in a small cramped car with a couple of stop-overs in a camping site along the way, until we reached our destination of Grasse. Today the trip can be done in a day, thanks to the Autoroute and the Channel Tunnel and this is what The Artist, His Daughter and I recently did on our way back from the UK.
We left Ealing, London at crack of dawn and headed off to Ashford to take the tunnel crossing to France. I love going through the tunnel, its all very efficient and very entente cordial between the English and the French. You leave the English customs people (for some reason they always pull me over for a check and I’m always grateful I don’t have a couple of Scotties, in the back that I’m smuggling out of the country!) and drive onto the train, where you are greeted by French staff waving you on to your parking spot. Its sort of like a hand-over from the British to the French (and if you know anything about Anglo/Franco history, for this to be in any way cordiale is a miracle). You then sit back in your car for the next twenty minutes and catch up with a bit of shut eye.
Sooner than you know it, you are in France and driving on the right. From there onwards its a hard 10-12 hour drive down the Autoroute. The Autoroute (motor or freeway) is a toll road and costs about €76 one way, but the roads are usually (outside of August, when every single French person goes on holiday) un-congested and the facilities clean and efficient and they even give you free eau de cologne in the toilets. How very French!
The first place we stopped was near Troyes and when I saw that they were serving real food in the restaurant, cooked on site, I was sorry we had brought a picnic. But when I saw that the Régionales Spécialités were Andouilette de Troyes Lentilles vertes à la créme de moutarde à l’ancienne, Intestines sausage with green lentils cooked with cream and mustard,
I was quite pleased after all that we had opted to bring our own lunch bought from Marks and Spencer’s the day before. But also on offer was Jaretton Braisé, pork knuckle, Entrécôte ‘grillé, steak, roast chicken, Toulouse sausage, burgers, rice, potatoes and green beans as well as Coq au vin, which actually looked quite tasty.
What I love about the French, whether, on the train, or on the motorway, there is no concession made to modify thier 4 course midday meal, just because they are on the move and not at home.
The meal typically starts with some cold meats.
or even a salad
The Main course is then followed by cheese, nothing processed.
Followed by dessert. A choice of Ils Flottants, Strawberry tart, Lemon Meringue pie
Tarte Tartin, an Egg flan, Yogurt or Fresh fruit.
And just because they’re driving, there’s no reason to let the side down and not have their lunch time bottle of wine (if not for the driver, for the passengers at least!)
Of course, if you decide to DIY and bring your own picnic, there are plenty of tables and benches laid out under the trees for your use.
And the coffee you buy in the coffee machines, is excellent
You can even choose which country you want it from
Another thing I love about the motorway, is that inside the shops, they have a section of Produits régionales, which means you can pick up a bottle of Champagne, whilst driving through the Champagne region
Mustard when passing by Dijon
Wine from Bourgogne
And you know when your getting close to home when you get to Montélimar, the Gateway to Provence and they are selling herbes de Provence
Alongside their famous nougat.
I always have to remind myself that all these things are available to buy in my supermarket and that buying them in a motorway service station, does not constitute buying a souvenir from somewhere I have been.
After the long drive (and I hope I haven’t lost you on the way with too much detail) we finally came to the sign we had been longing to see.