One of the advantages of a Breton Bikes holiday is the freedom to sample good French food without putting on weight ( well at least not very much!).
A typical day starts with packing up your home and all your worldly goods for the quick dash to the nearest boulangerie for breakfast. This is best shared as experience has taught us that the optimum breakfast intake is one and a half pain aux raisins, for others two pains au chocolat would suffice. An early start is recommended as these delicacies sell out quickly. The next stop is the nearest café for coffee. It is acceptable to take your own food into bars whilst buying drinks there. It is usually over breakfast that the details of the route are passed around the group to be marked on the maps. A reflection of our obsession with food is that the information we all demand is "Where are we having lunch?"
But first the coffee stop. Beware eating anything as lunch is coming.
Lunch comes in two forms; but whichever form you pick you must prepare early as the French eat at midday.
Firstly – the picnic. Sometimes in warm sunny weather it is nice to be able to stop somewhere picturesque and eat whilst enjoying the scenery. Whilst in the boulangerie buying breakfast, you can also buy bread. A visit to the alimentation/supermarche is required to buy cheese, pate and fruit – not forgetting the wine! If you are lucky enough to be near a local market you can get everything there. The produce will be fresher and reflect the region’s specialities.
Secondly – (to be recommended) the long leisurely lunch in a local eatery. The French are excellent at providing "Le menu" a full lunch at a very reasonable price. This means starter, main course, cheese, dessert and often with "vin et café compris".
Crème caramel/Iles flottante
Mousse au chocolat/crumble/glaces
It is essential when having a long leisurely lunch to sample the local wine as provided in a plastic top bottle by Le Patron. But beware dehydration – drink lots of water as well. To aid digestion allow a period of relaxation before resuming cycling.
A stop for coffee/beer is often advisable before arriving at the evening campsite. A patisserie may also be visited if blood sugar levels are dropping or you can’t pass that gorgeous looking cake!
Again the evening meal can come in three forms (or not at all if you have already eaten too much).
Firstly – the picnic. This is similar to the lunch time one in terms of content but is usually eaten in the campsite. It is not unusual for the group to pool the edible contents of their panniers. Again this is washed down with either wine or beer. We would allow one bottle of wine per person.
Secondly – you can always eat out again especially if the weather is wet or cold. Le menu is usually more expensive in the evening, but can contain more variety.
Thirdly – and to be recommended especially if lunch was only a picnic, the gourmet Trangia dinner. This is prepared on the campsite by individuals or as a group effort. The latter gives more scope for a wider menu, as cooking utensils can be shared and used for different dishes. A themed menu is then possible, eg curry nights, seafood nights, couscous nights. A cassoulet night is the simplest as this involves supervising the boys stirring the tinned cassoulet in saucepans! A curry night could include a mild chicken curry with yoghurt and a more spicy lamb curry with spicy mushrooms as a side dish. Seafood is often langoustines and mussels, though on one occasion a campsite owner lent us a large pot so that we could cook whole crab. Couscous is best served with ratatouille and merguez sausages and chickpeas, seasoned with epices de couscous. As well as allowing a bottle of wine per person, on seafood nights remember to get extra white wine for cooking the seafood.
Of course this guidance does not have to be adhered to rigorously, but some variation on this theme should happen each day to ensure maximum pleasure on your holiday!
Tips and useful hints
This guide has been based on our experience of led tours but can be adapted to your own holiday.
Remember that this is a cycling holiday so don’t get upset when Geoff suggests you get on your bike. Cycling ensures you have an appetite for your next meal and helps you digest your last one.
Always cook for Peter as he has the biggest utensils.
Don’t take the boys shopping – just take their money and get them to do the washing up..
If a group of you are eating in a restaurant nobody leaves before the bill is paid.
Keep an eye on the time, if you are too far ahead of the rest of the group at midday they may stop for lunch without you.
Picnic food – remember a saddle bag is not as cold as a fridge. Camembert can turn nasty overnight. Pate and any meat are best eaten on the day of purchase.
Pain de compagne keeps better than baguette – especially between the saddle bag and tent.
Wine should be drunk on day of purchase as bottles are heavy to carry. Do not take Geoff’s advice to buy wine in plastic bottles – this is cheap and nasty. It is possible to buy inexpensive good wines.
When in France it is worth sampling some of the country’s drink including mur kir, beer, cider, calvados, Raphael. Pastis should only be sampled if you like aniseed. Chocolat chaud is also recommended. Orangina is the most popular soft drink and is widely available. French bars sell coffee, hot chocolate and orangina as well as alcohol. Coffee is usually sold black unless you specify you would like it white. It is also usually sold in small cups unless you ask for "un grand café".
It is worth sampling Breton specialities. The most well known are crepes. They are served with savoury or sweet fillings. Galettes are ‘crepes’ made from buckwheat (savoury).
Milk is sold in bottles of UHT and not pasteurised in cartons. It is usually semi skimmed.
On Sunday you should look for a lunch stop as supermarkets are usually only open in the mornings and it is not always possible to find a restaurant open in the evening. On Monday you are in danger of going hungry as alimentations and supermarches are often closed. Be prepared!
This article has been written by two Breton Bikes experienced chefs and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the management.
Evelyn and Jennie
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