It’s strange how certain smells, sounds and tastes can instantly transport us back to memories. Sometimes they are sad memories, like how the aroma of my Grandfather’s tobacco reminds me how much I miss him and his tales from my childhood. Simply opening the suitcase that I keep in the corner of my office that contains some of his belongings, books, his WW2 diary are all things that remind me of him. Snapping open the clasps of the lid with that spring loaded suddenness is enough to trigger the smell, the thoughts.
Other times, it’s taste. I tasted Persimmon conserve this week. It’s a fruit you rarely see in the UK and I have only ever tasted the conserve once before, yet it triggered a whole series of thoughts in me that brought back memories of some good times and the time I tasted it.
We were running late.
En route from the UK to Nice. The exciting prospect of a pan-European delivery road trip was wearing off a little. The Peage was looking less and less appetising.
What had looked enticing and exciting a few hours earlier was changing shape to resolve into a challenge for our gritty eyeballs. Now, despite the support of the seats in the Mercedes Benz CL55 AMG and the big Merc’s effortless cruising ability, in the early evening light we knew that we were going to need a bed for the night.
We exited the next slip road, dropped the Euros into the toll bucket, rolled forwards into the parking area and stopped. There was some rudimentary 4G data so a quick search gave us options.
Whenever I can, I avoid hotel chains, especially in France and southern Europe. There are so many wonderful small hotels, Chambre d’Hotes and tiny guest houses that offer wonderful food and accommodation.
Plus there’s always the excitement of what you’re going to eat and who you’re going to meet.
A rather clunky telephone conversation with my schoolboy French, talking about The Pen of My Aunt and we’ve established that there’s a twin room and dinner, plus there’s a few hours before dinner, Plat d’Jour. The lovely lady on the phone urged us to take our time, we were only a few kilometres away and she would have some refreshments waiting.
The CL55 AMG is a big, wide car.
Even though it was left hand drive, it was still slightly ungainly as we threaded down the bumpy country lanes, mirrors brushing the summertime grass at the roadside, disturbing the seeds heads as we passed.
We arrive at the destination. The photographs from our internet search don’t do it justice. It’s a picturesque old collection of buildings, lovingly restored and surrounded by rolling countryside.
To this day, I wish that I had made a note of it’s location. I did at the time, though it’s now sadly lost. All I know is that it was around Clermont Ferrand, as we’d been discussing the old racing circuit only moments earlier.
Rolling into the parking area, we join a collection of old locally plated cars, plus a German registered Opel of some vintage.
Alongside the faded paintwork of the Simca, the scruffy Renault and the farmyard machinery, we feel ever so slightly over dressed in our silver with black leather projectile, shiny diamond turned alloys still gleaming behind the slight layer of brake dust from the day’s activities.
I feel the urge to hide the AMG around the corner, the silver monster definitely a little too much Hugo Boss, our jeans and T shirts far more fitting with our surroundings.
The rumble of the V8 doesn’t go un-noticed, however, so there’s no hiding our ostentatious transport. The lady on the phone steps outside to greet us.
We’re shown to our room, pristine crisp white sheets, lovely period decor and an aroma of lavender from the window ledge.
Dinner was in around 90 minutes, Plat d’Jour – that’s Dish of The Day to you. My favourite, as I don’t have to choose in my tired state. Also, I know that someone has decided what we are eating, that it will be locally sourced and it will be good.
A shower, a quick 20 minute nap on those crisp sheets before descending, then I’m doing my usual thing of avoiding clunking my head on the old wooden beams as we join our fellow travellers.
What followed was a memorable meal. Pork fillet, Potato Gratin and steamed broccoli. What’s not to like? Above all, though, it was additionally memorable for the conversation of our hosts and fellow diners / travellers.
There was a young French couple, on holiday. There’s was the Simca. They spoke only a tiny amount of English, plus French at 190 kph
An older German couple, travelling to Spain to see their children. They spoke a tiny amount of English, slowly but correctly. The Opel was theirs.
A Spanish couple. Travelling on foot. They were hiking the Christian Trail that stretches from Spain, all the way through France and up through the UK. A remarkable journey that they were truly enjoying. No car for them. Instead, each day they walked until they felt the need to rest. They spoke good English and a little French.
Between us, we enjoyed the hilarity of multiple translations, as one person understood what someone meant, then translated it for the others in the group.
Our tale of being caught speeding on the Peage earlier that day triggered both dismay at the size of the fine, then hilarity at our predicament.
I’m not a huge eater of cheese, Andy even less so. I tend to stick to the ones I’m familiar with. That evening though, I was offered locally made cheese from the farm just along the valley. Every now and again, you eat something that astounds you. The crisply white colour, coupled with the Mozzarella like texture enticed me.
Tasting it, the creaminess was unlike anything I had tasted as a cheese before. The pride in our hosts was evident. Cheese is a serious business in this part of the world.
The following morning, the farmhouse kitchen was the breakfast location. And that’s when I tasted that Persimmon conserve. Hot black coffee, a crisp baguette that must have been made only hours before, lightly salted butter, plus small jars of different jams and conserves. All home made.
It’s odd how, even though it’s a few years since I have thought about that long journey, those people, that meal and the following breakfast, simply tasting the conserve yesterday brought all of the memories flooding back to me.
These days I use Evernote and other tools to record the location of these great places that we all find. I could spend weeks looking for that small farmhouse once again and quite possibly never find it.
And if I ever did find the time, I wouldn’t be in that huge Mercedes AMG, beautiful though it was. I’d probably be in something smaller, lighter, more agile. Perhaps an old Peugeot 205 GTi, a new shape Renault Alpine, or a simple Lotus.
Great flavours. Good times.