Planning the Perfect Gastronomic/Driving Holiday

'Happiness is the journey, not the destination' - Reginald Ribeye, 2013 (and probably someone else, c.1850)

There is nothing quite like the thrill of not knowing what the future will bring. With holidays, the opposite tends to be true - most people go away to relax, safe in the knowledge that everything is taken care of. I like the best of both worlds, so when I plan my annual summer trip, I plan-it a bit/wing-it a bit. So what satisfies my adventurous spirit and also my longing for relaxation...?


Yes, two weeks in my convertible car, with my beautiful wife, stereo blaring, and some planning already under my belt. Obviously, being such a chubby gourmand, I need to go to places with a sound culinary reputation. Also, since I live in a bustling city, I long for some greenery, some twee cobbled village streets and a few sandy beaches - but mixed with various metropolitan experiences to keep the cultural spirit alive.

The first questions are, where to go and when? Well, the easiest answer for a Londoner who wants a close-by, but resolutely foreign experience, is to hop on a ferry to France. The advantages are a million-fold - great food, good weather (mostly) and within a distance which allows you take your own car. Taking your own car is fabulous for those who don't like packing clothes. Just sling your stuff in a variety of supermarket carrier bags, into the boot and across the back seats, and away you go! A rental car is a different matter - of course it's cheap and easy to pick up a car from the airport and start your road trip from there, but there is nothing quite like setting-off from your own house, in your own car, with your own stuff. One year I made it all the way from London to the mountains in Salzburg, Austria - an exhilarating feeling to be so far from home under your own steam.


Quite a lot, actually. We take iPhones and Blackberrys to ensure that we have constant access to wifi internet in the zillions of B&Bs and cafes which carry the black and white logo. Before we go, we decide on an 'Ultimate Destination' and then give ourselves 3-4 days to slowly meander our way there, and 2-3 days back (returning home always seems to be quicker than going away. I have no idea why) after a week spent lazing around at the U.D. Last year's U.D. was Nice, and this year's was Biarritz. Both in the south of France, but culturally a universe apart. We are musing a trip to Italy next summer, but my money's on France again (maybe Languedoc). Sorry to the fanatical lovers of Italian grub, but I mean, how much cheese and tomato can I really be bothered to eat?

So, as soon as I confirm with Mrs Ribeye the location of the U.D., she springs into action routing the trip there and back. For a two week trip (more is a bore, less is depressed), you won't want to drive more than about 2000 miles total. Which means that you will be in the car for about 4 hours per day for the trip down, then a week-off from driving entirely (apart from the odd day trip), then 6 hours per day back. Don't use the biggest roads or motorways. It's a road trip, not a race.

Make sure you have plenty to see on the way through the many towns and villages. Mrs Ribeye is a fan of anything chateau-ish. I'm more of a river or canal-side road kinda guy. It makes a nice combination to see a wide range of scenery. Stop at towns with a bit of life in them. Not cities, mind. What you really need is a town with an old part for seeing and eating in and a newer part for exploring and shopping. I used to like quaint one horse villages, but I'm over that now. Each step must be carefully planned in advance to ensure you arrive at each destination in good time. My general rule is 12pm for lunch, 4pm for evening. After that and you risk rush hours and the panics start to set in as to whether you'll be able to park, get a dinner reservation, get petrol etc.

It sounds like a lot of bother, but it isn't really. You find the right towns, perfectly spaced apart, and you get online for the best and cheapest deals. We stick with B&Bs rather than hotels because they are more homely and less covered in prints of 'Polished Pebbles in the Moonlight' all over the walls.


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