Saturday, 25 September 2010

G.W.R's and Formidable Pizza......

A  G.W.R. {Great Wee Road}
Hullo ma wee blog,

I'm Back!!!

Sitting here in the kitchen this cold and windy morning it's strange to think that just a few days ago we were still in France, still experiencing temperatures in the high 20's, even at height such as we were usually at { the Ubaye valley is higher than Ben Nevis, Scotland's biggest mountain}. Jausiers, the village where we stayed, is in this relatively secluded valley high in the Alps of Haute-Provence and is connected to other valleys, and indeed to Italy, by some magnificent high mountain passes. As usual we did loads of driving in our hire car and discovered some Great Wee Roads. Much of the driving was done at very high altitudes and we even drove the {allegedly} highest road in Europe, the 'Col de la Bonette' at over 2800mtrs {9,000ft} Some of the roads were in reality SWR's {Scary Wee Roads} but the difference is often negligible - a few extra heartbeats at least - so let's stick to GWR's for now. There will be lots more about GWR's in subsequent posts for sure.


                     Nice Video From A French Group I like.....

We had an early flight from a cold and wet Edinburgh at 5am and flew via Amsterdam Schiphol to Marseilles. I hadn't had much sleep the night before as I had a last minute job application to do for a job I had just found so ended up with only 2 hr's kip before the flight. {The hotel room we booked was far too hot and the a/c didn't seem to be working either so I wouldn't have slept much more anyway} On both descents I thought my head was going to explode with pressure I could not get rid of, something I have experienced only once before, so I was completely drained by the time we got to Marseilles. Getting luggage and the hire car was problem free though so we were soon on our way for the three and a half hour trip into the mountains. On the ground at last, on our way and especially back in France, I felt rejuvenated and was looking forward to the drive. I love motoring and driving a strange car in a foreign country doesn't bother me at all, odd as that may seem.  It was a scorching hot, clear-skied day and our adventure had only started.

We stopped at a motorway services station after an hour or so to get some food after the long journey - we had been up about 9hr's by this time - and we needed to stretch our legs and freshen up. Amusingly - well for me anyway as she's managed to avoid them so far on our trips - The Lovely G had her first encounter with a pissoir, that lovely and most basic of France's toilet 'facilities'. She was dumbstruck that a 'lady' could be expected to use a loo which is simply a hole in the ground with two footpads and for a moment or two went all Swiss on me. { Please don't ask me to go into Swiss lavatorial provision or I could be here all day. Just imagine white, gleaming and often luxurious. The biggest worry you have is "Jings - will someone come in and give me a wipe too!" or "Will I get a row for using this as it's clearly never been used before?" }  We sat and ate our sandwiches  at some benches laid out under the trees and I mused on why you can sit pretty close to a French motorway enjoy the sun, eat good and reasonably priced food and yet hear almost no traffic noise when you would be deafened - and spattered with rubbish - if you tried the same here.

Soon we were on our way again and left the motorway to start the climb up into the mountains properly, the road quickly getting narrower and twistier as we began to gain altitude. I could see signs that Autumn was coming in the lack of vibrancy in colour of some of the trees as they lost the summer bloom. Once in the Ubaye {OOB-aye not OO-Bah-Yay as I thought} the mountains began to close in and we could see that we were heading for some serious mountains. Town gave way to farms, farms to high pasture and to trees closing in on the roadside, hills and mountains glimpsed through the gaps. Red squirrels showed in the trees and were even brave or stupid enough to occasionally run across the road in front of us. Our hire car, a Renault Scenic as thankfully the Lovely G had gone for a bigger engine than normally chosen for a holiday jaunt in consideration of the kind of roads we expected, performed fantastically and I can't tell you how pleased I was with it's performance, ride and economy over the whole holiday. Suffice to say my next car may be a.........

A Visitor Leaves....


As we got higher we could see the temperature drop from the near 30 degrees at the coast to the mid 20's we would become accustomed to in the high valley. It took an hour or two to become used to the new vehicle and to the local ways of the road. Here the locals don't come so close to the rear end as they do elsewhere before they pull out, nor flash their lights as in some places. By the time we were well into the valley I was comfortable with both and becoming tuned in to the different road signs. 'Chaussee deformee' became an increasingly familiar sign - it would stay that way for the duration of our holiday - and road surfaces generally began to deteriorate just a wee bit. French authorities though are doing lots of work to remedy the situation and roadworks are a common sight. As we moved into the true alpine region house styles changed and now were often interspersed with the familiar wooden Alpine chalets that are found from Switzerland right down through all the mountainous regions and across the border into Italy and France. It's familiar to us from The Lovely G's Swiss heritage and made the area feel welcoming. The road style, often cut into vertical rock faces and often with huge overhangs was less familiar as strangely I've never driven in Switzerland, relying on the fantastic railways there. Soon we were approaching Barcelonette, the small town which was near our mountain hide out and as we swept past we tried to see what our new environment would really look like. It looked old, with few new building that I noticed and the center of town looked tightly packed with tall Italian style houses. It wasn't easy to get an accurate feel though with one eye on the unfamiliar road. Even this main road was substantially narrower than I'm used to here and with a log barrier on one side it was a careful squeeze by many of the trucks and logging wagons that were fairly tanking down the road towards us. Just as we got to Jausiers I realised that we were much closer to the Italian border than I'd realised and obviously this was a main route into this part of France for lorries coming through the mountains.

Our apartment was small, simple and clean, which is all you need for a short stay. It had the softer electric lights that are so common in France, seeming to give off a much paler, yellower light than the white light of our British homes. Our bedroom was on a mezzanine floor above the main room, light and airy. We unpacked quickly, freshened up and decided to head off out to explore the village. Soon it became obvious that the village was very small and we would be best to head back to Barcelonette to try and find a choice of restaurants for our first meal {even though the apartment was self catering} and a short ten minute ride took us back to town where we parked near the town center and walked into the main square. The town was quieter than I expected for 7pm on a Saturday night and some restaurants were closed which I found a bit odd.

View from the apartment.


We walked down the main shopping street past the square, stopping to read the menus for the restaurants there and trying to decide in that weary traveller kind of way just exactly what we were looking for. We looked at creperies {G, surprisingly, said no even though it's one of her favourites} and Greek, we saw tapas and raclette, fondue and Italian and eventually we settled on just a simple pizza. We still had to decide on where to go as there were a couple of potentials and eventually I pulled her in the direction of one we had passed back near the car. I'm glad we did as we had two of the best pizzas I think I've ever tasted in that small unprepossessing restaurant. My pizza of mountain cheese, ham, potatoes and olives was thin as a sheet of paper and beautifully crisp. The flavour was just out of this world and even the though potato on a pizza would normally be a no-no for me, it was absolutely on the money. The Lovely G had gone for a Goats cheese topped offering with other bits and pieces, again described as a local version and it too was just sublime, dressed with just a touch of honey which gave it a lovely sweetness and richness. Although I love goats cheese and honey as a combination, {What? You've not tried it? You've never lived!} I've never thought to combine it on a pizza but it was just sublime. I can't think of another description.

The Square, Barcalonette.

It's strange how often we go on holiday and immediately stumble upon a restaurant that becomes an instant favourite. 'The Patio' in Barcelonette was just one of those places. Beautiful and simple inside with white walls, dark wood and ancient arched ceilings, the tables were simply but tastefully laid out with red napkins and gleaming glasses just crying to be filled with some great wine. Friendly and attentive staff, smilingly and helpfully appreciative of visitors prepared to speak the language and great service made the place an instant winner for us even before we had sampled the food. The owner, who showed us to a table told us about the place; the room through the rear and the doors opening out onto a patio for outside dining. I suggested to the Lovely G that maybe we could go and sit outside but the owner smiled and said that unfortunately that was not possible, it was far too cold at this time of year. I laughed and said that to us it was very comfortable, much warmer than at home, but he just smiled in polite disbelief that anyone would want to be outside in anything short of 30 degrees. So, we had to settle for a table inside. The restaurant was quiet to start with but got busier and by the time we finished our meal there were quite a lot of customers in enjoying the food and the atmosphere. We paid a remarkably small bill considering the exchange rate and grinned as we talked enthusiastically about it on the way back to the car. We decided there and then on the first night that this wee place would be where we would come for our traditional slap-up-end-of-holiday-meal as we headed back to Jausiers for the first night of our adventure.

See you later.


4 comments:

coastkid said...

Lovely post Al.
always wanted to ride there on the motorbike when i had it,maybe one day cycle there...
good luck on the job front!

Alistair said...

Stunning place CK. Loads of cyclists - it's often part of the Tour de France and we learned to be careful on quiet high roads as exhausted and over excited cyclists could sometimes come round bends out of position onto you. We saw some looks of real anguish passing cyclists coming up those phenominal hills as we were going down. {and some impressively aged cyclists too}

Tried to post on the first flight post last night but couldn't for some reason and having a few issues this morning too. Not sure if it's blogger or the old lap top playing up......

Morning's Minion said...

"Housekeeping cabins" are a nice option to motels--the nicest we've encountered were in the maritime provinces of Canada.
The high mountain roads sound daunting. During our years in Wyoming, we got used to high altitudes--our son's home is at nearly 8000 ft--and many of the mountain passes we traveled in the west are 9000 or more. Ear-poppers!
I should have liked to watch the creation of those pizzas.

Rebecca S. said...

I had to read your description of your pizza to my family, as it sounds heavenly. I will be sure to ask our local cheesemaker if she has ever served her goat cheese with honey. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful journey - enjoyed the photos too. More please?

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