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Lunch stops and food detours needed on driving trip from San Sebastian to Iguerande, France

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slcorlis May 1, 2012 10:49 AM

Many thanks in advance to all who are able to offer suggestions based on their experiences. I've seen several threads from earlier this year centered around driving trips in some of the areas through which we'll be traveling, but most center around dinner/accommodations, and not as much around places to visit during the day.

We'll be spending a week in mid-June driving from San Sebastian to Iguerande, stopping each night for an indulgent dinner. Dinner reservations and accommodations have been made; we're now looking for ideas to fill the spaces between the planned stops. We're particularly interested in eating at small farm-to-table type places for lunch that offer a wonderful sense of place and an opportunity to engage with those who are passionate about food. We're also looking for any - sorry for lack of a better term - food experiences that can be had along the route, including tiny shops in tiny towns that make the best (fill in the blank here) you've ever had. Extra points for cheesemakers/cave tours and unique/up and coming vintners.

Monday - drive from San Sebastian to Hasparren, to stay/eat at Hegia, if it is indeed still open by then. If not, we'll need a new plan here.

Tuesday - drive from Hasparren to Lacave. Thoughts on going north through Bordeaux vs. south through Toulouse? We're booked at Chateau de la Treyne, but I'm not 100% sold on it. Assuming we haven't had to make a deposit (can't remember!), is there somewhere more interesting that could be booked at this late stage in the game? We'd need two rooms.

Wednesday - drive from Lacave to Laguiole, where we're booked at Bras for dinner/accommodations. May detour slightly south through Cahors and then drive over the Millau Viaduct and, if time permits, visit Roquefort-sur-Soulzon (is this worth it?)

Thursday - drive from Laguiole to Valence

Friday - drive from Valence to Iguerande, where we're staying for two nights in one of the cadoles at La Colline du Colombier.

I realize this plan sounds ambitious both in terms of distance covered and calories ingested. On future trips we'll have the opportunity to pick smaller geographic areas to really explore, and I look forward to returning to threads like Eating and Sleeping Outside of Paris for ideas. For now, however, any thoughts on the above are much appreciated. Mille fois merci.

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    Expatronomus May 18, 2012 08:54 AM

    I'll echo what many have already suggested - given your dinner (and breakfast) program, you're preparing for major gastronomic upset even thinking about also shoehorning in a significant lunch. It would be nice to be able to give you a list of all the fabulous little boutique-y picnic shops on your route, but it's much easier to do as others suggested, stop at any of the major supermarket chains to pick up a simple lunch. A) supermarkets are everywhere, and B) if you want to pretend you're almost french, you'll probably want to skip lunch anyway and C) you may hit a chance daily farmer's market in which A) and B) become nul et non avenant.

    Finally, the viaduc de Millau is much more impressive seen from below. Then you actually see it, instead of driving over it and trying to imagine what it looks like under your tires. To do that, you'd get off before the viaduc, at Millau (if coming from the north) and follow your GPS towards St. Cernon (D41 I think). You'll 'get it' when you get there. This is also the route to Roquefort, so no roadtime lost. Just outside of Millau, before you get under the Viaduc is a resto called the Chateau de Creissel. You could do much worse.

    Bonne route!

    1. PhilD May 2, 2012 04:14 AM

      I am a similar overly optimistic planner and driver, usually with pre-booked restaurant treats. I think the best advice for lunch is to accept something simple and don't plan. I wouldn't even plan a sit down meal, a roadside coffee and some pastries are usually OK. It won't be great but equally it won't be a distraction. I have tried planned stops: never seem to make the right progress and it adds stress. I have tried to be dynamic with a Michelin guide and mobile phone: anywhere good was full and diversions from major roads slow. And I have tried the picnic option: great if you can purchase before you set off, but I used to set off early. So all in all the dodgy roadside snack, a few coffees tended to work best.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PhilD
        mangeur May 2, 2012 03:07 PM

        Another contingency is the route, whether autoroute, national roads or departmental. Michelin time estimates usually work on the autoroutes, as does Phil's warning that you may not pass good picnic options. National roads, the old free system, and smaller departmentals will allow you to turn off for or go through towns. On these two latter, add at least a third to your time estimate, but you will have many chances to stop for mid-day provisions. When we are staying in an area, we shop in small owner-operated shops; when we are on the road, we more often use the very adequate supermarches.

        Here, for example, is a bakery that makes a specialty bread only available in that village, and part of the selection of local cheeses at a small town Intermarche, along with their exhortation to eat local.

         
         
         
      2. s
        slcorlis May 1, 2012 04:14 PM

        In my head I was imagining later lunches (and hoping our stomachs might stretch a bit more), so thanks for the reminder that lunchtime in France comes quite a bit earlier than in Spain, Theresa. Checking for market days is also a great suggestion - I'll try that now.

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          slcorlis May 1, 2012 01:40 PM

          I am admittedly guilty of biting off more than I can chew on such trips, and really appreciate the gentle suggestions to scale back the distance covered, mangeur and Parigi. I've learned the hard way (but never seem to remember) that Google driving times are inexact, and that it can take much longer than you might think to cover what seem to be relatively short distances when traveling on minor roads.

          Originally the trip was about hitting the Bras/Pic/Troisgros trifecta (all places my in-laws have had memorable meals in the past and that have been on our list of places to visit for quite some time) with a few stops between San Sebastian and Laguiole to break up the first part of the week. I know we're not doing any area though which we'll pass justice with such cursory visits, and believe me when I say I'm torn between wanting to hit several key places that happen to be spread over a large-ish geographic area and really getting a sense of one or two places. At this point the trip has been planned to an extent - plane tickets home on Sunday from Lyon have been purchased, some deposits made (La Colline du Colombier, for example, requires a deposit of one night's fee) - I'm not sure how much scope there is for major change. I had figured to be on the road by noon or so each day with dinner bookings for 9PM, which would give a few hours to explore along the way (longest drive seems to be about 5 hours?). Not a relaxing vacation by any stretch of the imagination, but the things you tell yourself are possible...

          The idea of picking up local specialties for picnics along the way is a very good one - it's likely that even if time permitted a huge lunch our stomachs would be grateful for something a bit lighter.

          I didn't mention it previously as this is the France board, but we will be in San Sebastian for 4 nights before picking up the rental car, so the entire trip will not be filled with long drives.

          5 Replies
          1. re: slcorlis
            mangeur May 1, 2012 02:07 PM

            Since you have so much time in San Sebastian, I do hope that you will include a sidetrip to Axpe and lunch at Etchebari, one of my favorite food/ambiance/vista memories. A few minutes east of Durango up in the hills, views to die for and incredible food, everything cooked on a grill. The finest beef I have ever tasted: 18 year old farm animal, retired and fattened for half a year, grilled by one of the world's best grillers. (Sorry for the off-board rec, but I don't see that you've posted recently on the Spain board, and I'd hate for you to miss this.)

            1. re: mangeur
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              slcorlis May 1, 2012 02:22 PM

              We ate at Etxebarri four years ago when we were last in San Sebastian and it remains to this day one of the meals for which I can recall the clearest memories. (Isn't it surprising how many individual courses at 'top' places are forgotten as quickly as they're consumed?). The beef in particular was fantastic - truly the best steak I have ever eaten. In addition, the produce from the garden was absolutely perfect, and we had an incredible smoked sheep's milk ice cream. We had quite the adventure getting there with the GPS being particularly useless and several calls placed to the restaurant where they pulled Lennox (the #2 and only English speaker at the time, I believe he's since left) out of kitchen to help us find our way. But what a stop, and so worth the trip! We'll be going back in June for another meal and I have every expectation we'll enjoy it just as much. Like Arzak, it's a must any time we're in the area.

              1. re: slcorlis
                mangeur May 1, 2012 03:01 PM

                Funny. We were equally lost, although I was our GPS. We finally inquired of a young woman on a bicycle, who had us follow her...up the hill and to the restaurant which we had passed multiple times, having missed its lovely, in-keeping architecture and low key signing.

            2. re: slcorlis
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              Theresa May 1, 2012 03:10 PM

              And don't forget that lunch time in France are a lot earlier than in Spain, especially in rural areas. Restaurants serve between 12 and 2pm, but few will be happy to see you turn up to eat later than 1.30. If you are not planning to leave until 12.00 each day (after having had breakfast) and if you are having "indulgent dinners" each night, then I would actively avoid restaurant lunches, otherwise you will just not enjoy your evening meals. The idea of picnics is a good one - but make sure you have bought your ingredients before the shops close for siesta at 12.00 (sometimes 12.30) until 4.00-4.30.

              Some supermarkets may be open during lunch times, but you would be better off getting food from markets or small charcuteries and patisseries. It might be an idea to check what days the local markets are on in each of the villages/towns you are spending the night in, so that you can plan to shop for your lunches there, or somewhere near there, each day.

              1. re: Theresa
                Parigi May 1, 2012 03:20 PM

                Saint Jean de Luz which is on the way between San Sé and Hegia or Olhabidea (outside the village of Sare) has a great makret on Tuesday and Friday mornings.

            3. mangeur May 1, 2012 11:11 AM

              I can't come up with reasonable lunch stops considering your previous nights' dinners and driving distances. Remember that breakfast after a destination dinner is usually a leisurely and sumptuous affair. And ferme-auberge lunches are often huge although informal..

              Might you consider scouring small towns you pass by for local specialties for picnics along the way? And remember that the country supermarkets (Carrefour, Intermarche, SuperU, etc.) are often treasure troves for local product: cheese and wine in particular as well as specialties like chestnuts, walnuts, prunes, nougat, etc. Note also that Mondays in the country are a nightmare: many shops are closed all day and the rest will only be open half day. And most food shops will also be closed mid-day, like noon to 2 or worse everyday. As we have learned over time, if you see someplace promising and it's open, stop while you have the chance. There may be little available when lunch time arrives.

              The market in Roanne is a good source of snack/picnic supplies for your cadole: good wine selection and excellent cheese shop.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mangeur
                Parigi May 1, 2012 11:25 AM

                I agree. The driving distance is such that all you can do is drive.
                Please do yourself a favor. Think more enjoyment and less marathon.

                Fo only 5 days, unless you hate to visit the places that you drive by, I would just stay in the Basque country 2 nights and Chateau de la Treyne 3 nights, and even that is far from the kind of leisurely enjoyment that those places deserve.

                If Hegia is out, Olhabidéa can be a consolation prize. But Olhabidea is also booked up much in advance.

                Chateau de la Treyne is quite nice, in a beautiful area with lots of good food and wonderful points of interest.
                One of my fave ferme-auberge is very near it: Ferme-auberge Calvel.
                I would stay put and enjoy northern Lot and the Dordogne, one of the most beautiful and best-eats regions, even for France. Even with 3 days, you are still going to miss a lot, lot more than you hit.

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