Fun and (some) sun on the French coast
October 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Now that we are just days away from fall break, I find myself thinking back wistfully to the wonderful week we spent in France at the end of August. We rented a house with friends in the small town of Le Pouliguen, in the Loire-Atlantique department and just along the southern border of Brittany. It boasts (along with the town next door, the ritzier La Baule) some of the widest sandy beaches in France. But it also has la côte sauvage—the wild coast—consisting of rocky coves and tide pools and dramatic, windswept vistas. Add to this wonderful daily markets, charming towns, scenic bike rides (even if a little heart-stopping with the kids), and the most incredible chocolate cake on the planet, and we all wished we were staying for longer than a week (even if our clothes couldn’t expand enough to keep up).
We spent a beautiful morning visiting the medieval town of Guérande, where the famous sel de Guérande is cultivated from a centuries-old network of salt marshes. Salt has been gathered here, largely in the same fashion, since the ninth century. The clay-rich soil allows the seawater to flow along the intricate trenches, and the sea breezes and relative abundance of sun allow the water to slowly evaporate so that the salt can be collected. The most delicate flakes first taken from the surface are the fleur de sel, but the coarse, gray salt, which contains some clay sediment from the bottoms of the marshes, reportedly has health properties not found in the more pristine version. Of course I left with a good amount of both.
And finally, Le Fondant Baulois. This cake is beyond superlatives. It is rich and chocolatey, of course. But it’s the denseness and gooey pudding texture and slight toffee flavor and local salty butter that make it truly an experience. All conversation stopped each time we partook of it, giving way to monosyllabic moans of approval. Just imagine the reaction when we noticed that the label actually says “La Baule – Paris.” Is it really possible this indulgence could be a mere one-and-a-half-hour train ride away (or a local bus ride for the lucky few among us)? I think our waistbands all got a little snugger just thinking about it.