On the road in France • Part 1
Our newest French Châteaux & Hotels book is published today. Leafing through the 380 dreamy places, you'd never guess the herculean efforts that go into checking they all deserve their place.
Géraldine Roul and Ann Cooke-Yarborough, devoted Sawday's servants both, set off to visit properties and meet owners and inspectors. The only problem was, they ran into snow. Lots of it. They take up the story...
After two good days of meeting inspectors and owners in Paris, our trip begins. BUT we hear snow has arrived and we have to prepare to screw up the schedule we spent hours and hours creating... They are saying it’s not too bad on main roads, so we set off for the Autoroute du Soleil, the motorway that leads to the sunny south. They weren't telling the truth we discover. We find no sun, just masses of uncleared snow and we manage 80kms in two hours. Sadly we have to cancel lunch with owner/inspector at La Grande Métairie.
We travel with a thermos of hot tea and a hot water bottle. It's hard-going... we are being blinded by salt flying up from wheels and it cakes the windscreen. The screen washers are frozen and the hot tea has no effect: the washer bottle has a thick layer of ice on it. We buy a flagon of -15°C antifreeze at a motorway shop and are befriended by a delightful young mechanic who helps us remove the ice layer (with hotter tea?), fill the bottle with magic liquid and unblock the washer jets with a paper clip - after removing its plastic coating with his teeth – entirely beyond the call of duty but totally within that of gallantry: Vive la France!
We eat a wretched motorway sandwich in the car and continue, slowly, patiently south-east for our other two appointments of the day. The motorway is getting better in parts.
The side road to our first inspection is steep, snowy and slippery but we make it. The B&B has gentle, eager owners, but sadly it's just not quite right for us. Telling people we can't include them in our collection is never easy.
On to Le Canard au Parapluie Rouge and we are welcomed with smiles, happy wet paws (Ruby is a “labterrier” of the sweetest kind) and flaming logs in the sitting-room wood-burner.
Dinner at this B&B is as good as it is beautiful, both food and table; Kathy, who gives an arms-wide welcome, admits to being a perfectionist. She and lovely Martin - so relaxed and helpful a host - love every timber and tomette of their old house and regale us with tales of its renovation mingled with memories of their
years in the balmy Caribbean while we gasp, through double glazing, at the three-inch snow cushions on the garden chairs.
We sleep in the cosiest beamiest room we could wish for. Ahhh.
Tomorrow... fun at Lalbenque, and the truffle market.