What a feast! Tour de France food and drink gems

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - Plat du Tour: Vin du Tour: Home du Tour: Jam du Tour: Best stage: Best scenery: Next stage:

PARIS — For three weeks, as the Tour de France rid­ers did their thing, a team of jour­nal­ists who fol­lowed them valiantly ate and drank their way through the gas­tro­nomic of­fer­ings along the 3,540-kilo­me­ter route. From the start in Ger­many, through Belgium and Lux­em­bourg, and around France they sam­pled the lo­cal bev­er­ages and dishes, sift­ing good from bad so you won’t have to.

Taste of the Tour, a daily sport­ing, cul­tural and gas­tro­nomic guide to Stages 1 to 20, recorded their find­ings.

Here, as the Tour wrapped up on Sun­day with the fi­nal Stage 21 to Paris, is their “best of ” the gems and must-try treats wait­ing to be eaten, drunk and dis­cov­ered by any­one who fol­lows in the 104th Tour’s foot­steps:

In many ways, it’s un­fair to sin­gle out just one din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence from the three-week gas­tro­nomic marathon also known as the Tour de France. The stinky Herve cheese in Belgium, for ex­am­ple, was as mem­o­rable as the pun­gent blue Ro­que­fort sheep’s cheese served by young farm­ers on Stage 14 to Rodez. And the Ja­panese food at the race start in Dues­sel­dorf, cater­ing to its large Ja­panese pop­u­la­tion, held its own against some of the sig­na­ture dishes that towns across France proudly of­fered to Tour vis­i­tors. But in this ex­alted com­pany, one din­ner sur­passed them all. The Gouts et Couleurs (Tastes and Col­ors) restau­rant in Rodez has one star in the famed Miche­lin food guide. The only ques­tion, af­ter a five-course treat of gas­tro­nomic in­ven­tive­ness that bor­dered on art, was why the cozy place doesn’t have more. The veal and the choco­late sor­bet dessert were oth­er­worldly.

The Tour cham­pion tra­di­tion­ally waits un­til the very last stage into Paris to en­joy a flute of cel­e­bra­tory Cham­pagne in the sad­dle as he rides to the fin­ish on the Champs-El­y­sees to col­lect his win­ner’s prize of 500,000 eu­ros ($582,000). Those who fol­low the rid­ers around France, writ­ing about, film­ing and record­ing their feats for his­tory, can­not in good con­science show such re­straint. And that’s not their fault. Hon­est. In­vari­ably, Tour towns proudly ply race vis­i­tors with their lo­cal tip­ple: a cherry brandy in east­ern France, bou­tique Cham­pagnes on Stage 6 that went past the home of France’s wartime hero and for­mer pres­i­dent Charles de Gaulle, and some Bur­gundy reds so mem­o­rable on Stage 7 that it be­came in­creas­ingly hard, as the glasses added up, to re­mem­ber what they were called. But a high­light from the mul­ti­tude of vine­yards crossed or neared in the past three weeks would be Con­drieu, north of the fin­ish of Stage 16. The ap­pel­la­tion spreads over just 100 hectares in north­ern Rhone, close to the vine­yards of Cote-Rotie. Its wines are dry with flo­ral and fruit flavors. They don’t come cheap, but these ex­cep­tional elixirs need to be tried at least once.

The bed and break­fast revo­lu­tion that has swept across France, pro­duc­ing an as­tound­ing ar­ray of al­ter­na­tives to fea­ture­less ho­tels, has made fol­low­ing the Tour a far more pleas­ant and liv­able ex­pe­ri­ence. Cheaper too, be­cause com­fort­able home­s­tays are of­ten bet­ter value than ho-hum ho­tels. How does a night in a me­dieval fortress sound? In Baraque­ville in the south of France, one fam­ily of dairy farm­ers charges just 20 eu­ros ($23) per per­son per night for a bed in their giant for­ti­fied home, with a break­fast of fresh bread, jam, milk straight from the cow and as much cof­fee as your heart can han­dle.

If there was a yel­low jer­sey for the best home-made jam, Mar­lene Gos­set would win it. Her Matin Tran­quille bed and break­fast on a hill over­look­ing Liege in Belgium, the fin­ish of Stage 2, is a haven of com­fort, tran­quil­ity and good taste. Mar­lene is a de­light­ful host. And her jams ... oh! Made from fruits from her back gar­den, full of fla­vor and not too sweet, they turned break­fast into a ray of sunshine.

Stage 12 to the Peyragudes ski sta­tion in the Pyre­nees seemed tai­lor-made for Chris Froome to ex­e­cute one of his dev­as­tat­ing up­hill at­tacks and put the Tour be­yond his ri­vals’ reach. But on the ab­surdly steep fi­nal ramp on a high-al­ti­tude land­ing strip, the three-time cham­pion sud­denly ran out of gas. The Bri­ton’s wheels seemed to be glued to the road. He huffed and he puffed but he couldn’t bring his race lead home. French rider Ro­main Bardet scram­bled up the 16-per­cent gra­di­ent to win the stage, and Ital­ian Fabio Aru took the yel­low jer­sey of Froome’s shoul­ders. The moun­tain airstrip was a film­ing lo­ca­tion for the 1997 James Bond ad­ven­ture To­mor­row Never Dies. Twenty years later, it pro­vided the most dra­matic twist in the story-line of the 104 th Tour.

Be­cause it mostly takes smaller roads, the Tour is treated to some of the best scenery France has to of­fer. The Izoard pass in the Alps was the high point, with the high­est moun­tain-top fin­ish, won by War­ren Bar­guil on Stage 18, and the most breath­tak­ing views. At an al­ti­tude of 2,360 me­ters, only a few hardy flow­ers and trees have adapted to the rar­efied air. The huge gray slopes of scree lend the place a sur­real feel. This was the first time in the his­tory of the 114-year-old Tour that a stage fin­ished at the top of the pun­ish­ing and fa­mous climb.

All good things must come to an end.

See you next year.

PHO­TOS BY REUTERS

(left) are seen with a giant statue at the start of a stage dur­ing the 104th Tour de France cy­cling race. For three weeks, a team of jour­nal­ists valiantly ate and drank their way through the gas­tro­nomic of­fer­ings along the 3,540-kilo­me­ter route.

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