Note to one’s self – look up the local delicacies (especially cakes & sweets) before visiting abroad, that way you won’t miss out on anything important.
A month ago I spent a week cycling around Carpentras in the south of France with a group of friends. We had such glorious weather, it was up to 32c, double what people at home were having.
The owner of the hotel we stayed in gave us a few of these sweeties to try. She called them our equivalent to ‘EPO’ to get us up the hills. We were climbing Mt. Ventoux which is a kind of cyclist’s mecca – I managed to cycle it without stopping from Bedoin, the hardest route and one which they ride in the Tour de France, albeit slightly faster than myself! Sorry, I’m blowing my own trumpet, but I am rather proud of that achievement.
Carpentras offers four sweet treats, candied fruits, Calissons which are made from ground almond paste (pâte d’amande), sugar and candied cantaloupes, with a paper thin wafer at the bottom, and a topping of sugar glaze – I saw these many times and could have bought some but didn’t realise they were from the area – nougat (which I did buy a small bag of but it contained three dead moths – I think the hotel had purchased these a while ago – and Berlingots. Berlingots are boiled sweets with white stripes flavoured lemon, orange, mint, coffee and my favourite, anise (or aniseed). They go back to Pope Clement V in the 1300’s and are said to be made from the syrup of candied fruit and used to be very popular until around the 1950’s and 60’s, then the dentist’s put a stop to it or people became more health concious. They are just liked old fashioned boiled sweets, nothing exciting but obviously have a lot of history.
Our first evening we dined just around the corner at ‘Chez Serge‘. I really liked it there but my companions didn’t. Two of us had steak which was great but the other two had fish which they found rather uncooked and soggy. There wasn’t a lot of choice on the menu so needless to say we didn’t return. They also found it a little ‘pretentious’, but sometimes I like a bit of pretentiousness. Anyway, this dessert was a delicious strawberry ice cream which was really quite rich and a sponge base with strawberries atop. This was served on a flat slate – which is actually a pet hate of mine, as are wooden boards – decorated with quartered strawberries with tiny pieces of fresh mint.
This was one of our most favourite desserts and meals. The setting was quite beautiful and we had a very pretty cycle along the Gorges de la Nesque – which is the start of another route up to Ventoux – to the idyllic village called Monieux where we found Les Lavandes restaurant, owned by the local mayor. We had the plat de jour which was fantastic and the cheesecake was out of this world. A very fresh sponge with a cream cheese filling with strawberries and a crisp, curved biscuit, a little like Marks & Spencer’s Belgian biscuit curls but this was hand made – served on a slate plate but I shall forgive them for that seeing as it was so divine. Then it was downhill all the way back down the gorge where I clocked up the speediest descent – I am in no way competitive.
On the day we arrived in Carpentras it was a little before lunch so we treated ourselves to a cake each at the local patisserie, Martichon. Also there they sold some lovely looking chocolates, the Calisson’s I mentioned before and of course the Belingots – which seemed to be almost everywhere. I was going to purchase some chocolates but as the weather was so, so hot, they most probably would have melted by the time I returned to the UK and it looked like I couldn’t just have three or four, I had to have a certain weight and they weren’t cheap. Shame. An opportunity missed. Anyway, this rather tasty looking rum baba was just that. With fresh fruit inside a fresh sponge, a little custard and a slight flavouring of rum. A very nice start to our trip.
La Petite Fountaine was a delightful restaurant in town which we visited twice as it was so good. We went there on our last evening to end the holiday. This was a wonderfully fresh chocolate sponge with hot chocolate oozing from the middle. Served with almond ice-cream which was yummy. The dish was presented with a swirl of custard sauce too.
As I said, we went to La Petite Fountaine for our last evening and to push the boat out I had the ‘assiette’ – one of each of the desserts! It was fantastic. I had to pay a few euros extra but this was worth it and they wrote the name of the restaurant in chocolate on my plate. Our review of this lovely little restaurant will be coming up soon, so look out for it.
Oh look, here’s me up the the top of Mt. Ventoux!
Living life, loving cake – and France!