We had agreed to meet friends at a hotel just outside Les Ancizes-Comps, deep in the Auvergne somewhat to the northwest of Clermont Ferrand. The hotel claimed to have a view of a lake, which was promising, and was about as far as we wanted to drive in one day having travelled overnight on the ferry to Le Havre. It was, as ever, a Logis hotel, this time with two casseroles and two chimneys, i.e. within our budget and promising some simple but tasty food.
We arrived shortly after our friends, about 6.30pm, and barely had time to admire the stunning unspoilt landscape and lake before our friends informed us in shocked tones that the hotel manager had told them that supper was from 6.30 to 7.30. This was a little surprising, and must have been particularly upsetting for our friends, who are Spanish; no self-respecting Spaniard would even begin to think about supper until around 8.30pm.
We took a deep breath and decided to discuss this after checking in, which we did, then took our bags upstairs. The deep breath was a strategic error, I have to reveal, indeed any breath at all was not be be advised. The whole hotel smelled strongly of a combination of new plastic and that sort of “this isn’t really hideous antiseptic floor wash” antiseptic floor wash that they use in hospitals and that is, in fact, really very hideous. We tried to hold our breath as we climbed the stairs, then flung open the (plastic) windows in our room before dropping our bags on the (plastic) floor and leaning out of the window to breathe again.
I must say that the view was very beautiful, rather like the Lake District on steroids and with more pine forests.
The lake appears popular for fishing, with a few boats artistically moored just by the hotel, which has an uninterrupted view over the quiet road across the lake and down to the little bridge at Pont du Bouchet.
However, man (or woman) cannot live on views alone, and after nearly 7 hours of driving that day there was a certain urgency in us to find cold beers and a leisurely Logis supper overlooking the lake.
We armed ourselves with another deep breath from outside the window, then rushed downstairs to find Monsieur. After some discussion we managed to negotiate supper to 7.45, and there was no way we were going to improve on that so we settled down at a table on the terrace to our beers and a chat.
At 7.40 Monsieur started laying the table around us and giving us menus, and at 7.45 on the dot he wondered if we had chosen yet. We went for the menu of the day, to make things easier; true, it was not enormously expensive, but it consisted of Ardennes pâté, followed by tinned ham in a packet “port” sauce and served with tinned vegetables, and finally fruit salad consisting of a mixture of fresh and tinned fruit. To be strictly fair, it was not disgusting; however it also could not remotely be described as two casseroles worth of Logis food. Maybe breathing in all that plastic had ruined our palates……?
The wine we chose was interesting, albeit not particularly refined. In our quest always to try local wine, we ordered a Côtes d’Auvergne from Chanturge, one of the tiniest appellations in France, just 6 hectares of it. It was a dry red, 100% Gamay grape, and you could almost taste the basalt from its land of origin around Clermont Ferrand. I’m glad we had it, and it would probably have come into its own with a full flavoured game dish, however I wouldn’t rush back to buy it again.
After supper (or tea, as our Spanish friends were thinking), we strolled round the beautifully peaceful lake, over the Pont du Bouchet and down to the water’s edge where some of us tried to impart the skill of stone-skimming to others, with mixed success.
Finally we returned to our plastic hotel, up the plastic-lined stairs and into the plastic-floored room, breathing the plastic-infused air, and I briefly tried to imagine what would happen if all the plastic in the world were suddenly to be spirited away – I got as far as imagining the shattering of all the window glass and the shrieks of unfortunate hotel guests that I had forgotten to make allowances for as they loitered under the windows or climbed the stairs, then I hastily stopped in the interests of common humanity. Sleep came easily, and was not disturbed by plastic nightmares.
My epilogue to this adventure is that the following morning, having paid for the hotel (curiously, in plastic-coated euros – is this a French theme?) and waved goodbye to our friends we stopped a little way up the road to look back and sighed one more time with pleasure at the pretty green scenery.
What a beautiful area – next time I may try a different hotel.