I love languages (I speak French and Spanish), and this led me to love travelling, which in turn led me to love food, wine and small hotels. If you pay huge sums of money you can always buy yourself good food in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but not all of us have huge sums of money to spend on such places. At my age, I fortunately don’t have to try and live on $10 a day, or whatever the going rate is for backpackers, but in order to travel as much as possible I am careful with how I spend my hard-earned cash.
My father used to take his family on car trips through France and Spain in the days when you could just start looking for a little hotel somewhere near where you were driving at about 4.30pm, using only last year’s Logis guide for reference. These days that is more of a risk because there are far fewer family-run hotels where Madame cooks and Monsieur looks after reception and the vegetable garden, so you have to do more research, and sometimes you make mistakes. However I’ve been lucky enough to find some wonderful places run by wonderful people and I would like to share them with like-minded travellers who also enjoy the characters and the stories that you come across when you travel that way. It’s not an age thing, people of all ages enjoy independent travelling, you just have to be someone who can enjoy the occasional surprise and the frequent delightful discoveries that are out there to be made.
There is a place for cheap faceless chain hotels, sometimes they are just what you need. When I go on holiday, however, I like places with character and menus that are something more than “international food”. In the small hotels that I love the menus also tell me about local wines, so I started discovering those as well – again, I am absolutely not a ‘wine buff’, I can’t talk about ‘noses’ and ‘bouquets’ and I can’t afford more than €6 to €8 a bottle, so I can’t rely on “I’ve paid a lot for this bottle, so it will be good”. But the independent producers that make this kind of wine are usually passionate about their craft, they are often the 3rd, 4th, 5th generation of their family to be earning a living this way and they have such interesting stories to tell; what’s more, quite often we find a wine that actually impresses our friends who really do know about wine!