France 2007 Day 4: St-Véran to Molines
Our bed at the Hotel L’Astragale was king sized, and comfy. Yet for some reason, sleep wasn’t particularly easy. Maybe it was all the cheese and rain from the previous day.
My mood wasn’t hugely helped by being in a temporary state of slumber, only to be woken by lightning and thunder at 6am. Images of wandering around the Queyras dressed in waterproof trousers filled my mind – rustling and sweating with every step as the rain poured down from the clouds overhead.
As it turned out, it was the world’s shortest thunderstorm. Barely seconds after the rain had begun, and it had stopped again. By the time we got out of bed for breakfast, there was even a hint of sun peaking through the clouds.
And as for breakfast – what a choice! The tables seemed to be piled high with all manner of assorted food stuffs, including one which seemed to be just laden with bowls of nuts.
I love continental breakfasts – the piles of bread, cheese, cereals and so on just seem to be the better way to start the day than the pile of heavy, greasy sausages, bacon and eggs which are the preserve of British hotels. You start off thinking you can never eat too much of an British Breakfast, only to find just days later that you arrive at the breakfast table, hunting out desperately something with fruit and a bit of fibre that you can cover with milk…
After eating our fill, we packed up, picked up our lunches (dutifully transferred into our more secure plastic tubs) and bade St-Véran goodbye – today looking just a bit nicer with the rain having stopped.
Our path initially took us along the rather flat navette road – a closed off car wide track on which white minibuses would occasionally zoom along taking people down towards the GR 58 footpath, before leaving the road and heading up a gentle ascent up to the Col de Longet.
It was reasonably easy going – something I was particularly grateful for given the fact my legs hadn’t exactly recovered from the previous day, and were still giving me the odd twinge. Given we had to ascend 811m in the day, I didn’t want there to be any problems, and thankfully none were had.
Being off the GR 58, it was also a peaceful walk with nothing but the shrill whistles of the local marmot population to keep us company. These large ground squirrels were also incredibly at ease with our presence – leaping around the hills without a care, or occasionally popping out of their burrows and just watching us go by.
After walking up hill in deep conversation about the merits (or lack of them) of work canteens, we arrived at the Col de Longet (2701m) which offered some frankly amazing views of the Vallon de Longet – the valley which we’d walk on later. With some cool breezes blowing, we descended a little and perched in a sheltered little spot for another well deserved pile of food.
One good rest later, and we headed off – almost immediately hit by another problem. Whilst my leg had been fine going up, it clearly didn’t want to go down. To describe my right knee as “positively painful” would be an understatement. Every downward footstep would send shockwaves to my knee, and another bout of stabbing pain which was not exactly the most welcome news given our afternoon schedule would see us come down a total descent of 1099m.
The one thing I really needed was flat. Unfortunately we were near the top of a very high mountain. This was not going to be fun. Much of the descent through some lovely countryside became just a battle. There was no option but to walk – muttering and cursing under my breath with every move.
After much pain and suffering (and cursing under the breath) whilst steadfastly trying to keep a stiff upper lip, we got down to a place called Pont de Lariane. After a relax (and for some reason – some completely unknown reason – talking Catherine out of trying to get a taxi from there), we walked along a path alongside the river Aigue Agnelle. On the map, our journey to our hotel looked quick and simple (ha!)
Thankfully the path was now reasonably flat, and I could struggle on reasonably. It was just… long. Only my sheer stubbornness saw me keep walking at this stage. For some insane reason, the pain of dodgy knees was bloomin’ NOT going to stop me from finishing this days walk.
But with just wanting to collapse and rest, it was probably not really the right time to be so stubborn. Getting to our final destination seemed to take an age – we were ticking off items o instructions, but didn’t seem to be getting closer to the end. Even the arrival of the ski drag lifts on the landscape didn’t help. The fantastic views didn’t make it any easier.
It wasn’t until we hit the Téleseiège de la Burge that the end seemed to be finally in sight. This huge ski lift started right next to our hotel – we were nearly there! Unfortunately it also meant more downhill – we had to descend down a rather steep ski piste, whilst (annoyingly) the ski lift chairs were going down empty.
That they were going down at all had initially confused us, but it turned out that the ski lift was doing a roaring trade in taking happy looking people up the hill to a fantastic looking summer toboggan run. Under normal circumstances I would have almost run to the hotel, dumped our stuff then dragged Catherine out so we could go up the hill we’d just walked down, and then zoom down it again on a tin tray.
No more, just no more
It was not to be. It was getting close to 6pm when we arrived – disheveled and tired – at the Hotel l’Equipe at Clot la Chalpe, near Molines. Even the nextdoor museum of bees and honey couldn’t tempt me from taking a shower, training in vain to do some cooling down stretches without being in agony, and collapsing on the bed.
With my feet up, I could admire the slightly odd sight of our hotel – complete with the wood. Local wood craftwork featured a lot in our hotel rooms – usually in the form of wood furniture, however the owners of l’Equipe had clearly taken it two steps further. Almost everything in our room was made out of dark wood – even down the wood wall panels and the lampshade, which gave it a slightly strange feel to it.
After a traumatic day, a nice glass (well, okay, bottle) of wine was in order as we sat down for our tea. Catherine’s non-meat eating having been discussed, the owners had decided to give us a copy of the a la carte menu (in English), giving us both the choice of what to eat. As it included a couple of veggie options, this worked out quite nicely, however did deny me the chance of trying what everyone else was having – the plat de jour, which was not on our menu as an option, seemed to be big piles of rabbit legs with some courgette based side dish.
No doubt if I’d felt more confident in my French to ask – or indeed, had actually just thought to ask – I’m sure some could have been provided. But I didn’t, so I didn’t get to try what the rest of the hotel was tucking into.
Catherine had a goats cheese salad, followed by pasta with a tomato and basil sauce. The thought of eating pasta in France does seem slightly strange until you remember that the Queyras region is actually right next door to Italy – and indeed at various points has been in Italy, not least when the Italians invaded in 1940.
For myself, something called “raviolette” which appeared to be a potato dumpling (larger than gnocchi) on a bed of spinach, and baked with cheese on top. This was then followed by Pike with a saffron sauce – served slightly fussily with small potatoes, rice, a kind of courgette cake, a pastry arch and, rather strangely, a cooked tomato. That’s not to say it wasn’t tasty, but you could imagine Gordon Ramsey’s reaction if he popped in and had seen the presentation.
Next came the cheese course – something which proved to be the work of a genius. The wooden board was piled high with a huge selection and just left on our table meaning we could eat as little, or indeed as much, as we liked!
We must have eaten about five or six different cheeses each, however the true piece de resistance came in the form of a rather pungent thing in a ramkin, which had an almost curdish look to it. The extremely intense taste didn’t so much hit the tongue, more whack it with a big stick shouting “TASTE ME!”.
Such was its strangeness, we just had to ask what it was. It transpired it was a melange of lots of different cheeses – all mixed up in a little ramkin! The chocolate mouse which followed, whilst really nice, just didn’t seem to be able to compete with the taste buds as well.
Serviettes and a bag
It was also at l’Equipe that we were hit with a puzzle. Almost every table bar ours featured a padded envelope at it – something we’d also seen, to a lesser extent, at the Hotel La Cascade in Ceillac. What was in the envelopes proved to be a continued topic of conversation. Did they include some sort of free gift? Were people on some sort of “surprise” holiday where they next days itinerary was handed to them with their evening meal? If so, why did no one open the envelope and go the French equivalent of “Wow!”? Why were the envelopes just left on the table with a Gaelic shrug?
The real answer turned out to be a bit less interesting, but equally puzzling. Each padded envelope it transpired, contained a cloth serviette.
This just raised further questions of “why?” And therefore why didn’t we have one in a mysterious padded envelope? The answer was not forthcoming, until a search on Google revealed a review of a hotel in Italy where the serviettes came in similar sounding bags. At that hotel, it transpired that the serviettes were only cleaned weekly and the customer used the same one every night during their stay. Presumably l’Equipe and La Cascade worked on a similar model. As we’d only eat in each dining room for just one night, there was no point in giving us one to re-use.
However at that point, we didn’t know. The mystery behind the padded envelope and the serviette would not be explained – we went to bed, in bafflement.
|Number of different cheeses eaten on day 4|
For more photographs of this holiday, have a look at my France 2007 photo set on