Ambling up to Cherbourg


Driving from the Cote d’Azur to Cherbourg is a 1,350km trek over thirteen or so hours behind the wheel, depending of course on the number of “bouchons” (traffic jams) that you encounter on the French autoroute system. To be fair to the companies that operate the autoroutes, they do their best to communicate with users about likely problems through frequent radio bulletins (alas, always in French, which makes them less useful to “les etrangers”) as well as taking steps such as not planning roadway maintenance during periods of peak travel.

Nevertheless, not everyone is content to attempt a 1,350km drive without a stop and so it was for our return home to Ireland. This time we decided to stop in Bourges, roughly 750km along the road, and stopped at the Hotel de Bourbon Grand Mercure. The hotel reservations site that I use regularly is booking.com, and the reviews of the hotel indicated that it had a strong track record of satisfying people, so the decision was made.

Unfortunately the gourmet restaurant (L’Abbaye Saint-Ambroix) hosted by the hotel in a rebuilt medieval abbey was booked out. Such is life. We did manage to eat breakfast there before departing and enjoyed the surroundings, even if the breakfast itself was expensive by French standards at EUR17 each. We had only booked a standard room and were allocated one on the third floor under the roof. The room was perfectly adequate –compact, clean, and no cause for any complaints.

On the recommendation of the front desk we sallied forth into downtown Bourges to the “Au Serat” restaurant and were delighted by the service and food that was available there. The restaurant was busy and the staff worked at a high tempo but found the time to be pleasant at the same time, which isn’t always the case. Both the Hotel de Bourbon and the Au Serat restaurant are recommended should you find yourself in Bourges.

Resuming our route to Cherbourg, the remaining kilometers passed without any great trauma. France continues to invest in new roads and the A88 autoroute from Tours to Le Mans allowed us to plan a route that completely bypassed the rat’s nest of traffic that invariably occurs anywhere near Paris.

Despite a sea that occasionally caused some movement, the MV Oscar Wilde Irish Ferries voyage from Cherbourg to Rosslare passed without any problem. The ship’s stabilizers coped well with the swell whipped up by the wind as we left Cherbourg and headed towards Land’s End and the weather got better as we neared Ireland in the morning, making a final approach across a sea that had a surface that was almost glassy.

As a change, we tried the Berneval full-service restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a reasonable meal (the Crozes-Hermitage was surprisingly good). The food was accompanied by music provided by two young musicians playing a violin and accordion. Neither of the two players seemed to have any idea of Irish or French music, which you might expect to be played in a restaurant on a ship plying between Ireland and France, so we had to be content with a selection of what seemed to be Hungarian gypsy music.

Irish Ferries has changed its policy this year and now allows patrons to take two courses out of three, charging EUR29.75 instead of its previous all-in price of EUR36.75 (the full menu is available for those who can struggle through master dessert). Perhaps the current harsh economic climate has convinced Irish Ferries that they should do more to convince passengers to use their restaurants, which is always a good thing. It was noticeable that the ferry was not too busy, something that was surprising for travel on August 8 in the middle of the major holiday season. Not good news for ICG shareholders!

– Tony

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About Tony Redmond ("Thoughts of an Idle Mind")

Exchange MVP, author, and rugby referee
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