Soupe a l”Oignon

2lbs of onions (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup of butter, plus some extra to butter parchment paper
1 – 1 1/2 quarts beef stock
2 tsps sugar
1 cup of red wine
6 oz baguette
2 tbls butter
3 oz gruyere cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. cut parchment into a round to fit your saucepan

2. melt butter and add onions, season with salt and pepper

3. butter the parchment paper and press down onto your onions, cover the pan and cook for about 20-30 mins over low heat. Stir occasionally

4. heat stock in another pan, bring to boil, and reduced by one third. This should take about 20-30 mins

5. remove lid and parchment from onions, and sprinkle with 2 tsps sugar

6. cook the onions for a further 10-15 mins, until they are caramelised. DO NOT LET THEM BURN

7. add reduced stock and the wine to the onions and boil

8. reduce heat and simmer for about 30 mins

prepare topping –

1. preheat oven to 350 * cut baguette into 1/2 inch slices

2. melt butter and brush each side of baguette slice

3. place in oven until lightly brown, turn once

4. grate gruyere cheese

5. ladle soup into bowls, and add 2 slices of baguette, sprinkle with the cheese and serve,  Bon appetit

A Day Out In Amiens

Here’s an idea for anyone contemplating a September or October holiday or short break in Northern France.  If the weather stays nice, and you fancy a bit of an outing, then just over an hour’s drive from Huby St Leu you’ll find the fine city of Amiens. There’s a magnificent cathedral, of course, the biggest in France, excellent shops, art galleries, museums (including the house where Jules Verne lived and wrote) and hundreds of restaurants and cafes, but the sight-seeing trip we suggest is to “Les Hortillonages”.

These gardens form a patchwork of 300 hectares (1.6 square miles) of vegetable, fruit, and flower gardens in the heart of Amiens. They are interlaced with 40 miles of small canals, known as “rieux” in the Picardy dialect, and you can visit them in special electrically-driven boats modelled on the market gardeners’ own traditional “barques à cornet”.

Les Hortillonages, surrounded by the Avre and the Somme rivers, have been cultivated since the Middle Ages. You will find them a peaceful and picturesque place, seemingly far from the modern bustle and noise of the city, yet within sight of the cathedral towers. This idyllic place is the work of generations of men and women who have created their fertile market gardens on land reclaimed from the river marshes. Until the early 20th century, fruit and vegetables from the Hortillonages fed the city of Amiens. Now, this rich land, which can produce up to 3 harvests per year, still supplies a regular Saturday fruit and vegetable market in the city, as well as an annual quayside floating market festival, where the growers in traditional costume sell produce direct from their boats.

You can expect to find radishes, cauliflowers, turnips, lettuce, leeks, artichokes, potatoes, carrots, onions and many other vegetables, as well as blackcurrants, redcurrants and even melons, on sale fresh from the Hortillonnages producers.

The Pas De Calais Is Made For Golf!

The English gave so many sports to the World that that it’s nice for a change to find one that’s generally agreed to have its origins in Scotland. Although games similar to golf are on historic record as having been played in Holland and other countries, it is beyond dispute that the modern game is derived from the Scottish version.

Devotees of golf call it the greatest of all games. By its very nature it teaches patience, humility, concentration, and even-temper, while good manners and fair play are implicit in the rules. The player himself is the referee, recording his own accidental infractions and always awarding himself the appropriate penalty prescribed by the rules – no protests, arguments or intimidation. Imagine that in a game of football!

Golf came to France with British visitors in the 19th century, and because Le Touquet and Hardelot were initially developed largely by and for the British, golf was an integral part of the development plan. These resorts, along with Wimereux on the coast north of Boulogne gained fine courses as a legacy from the days of the Entente Cordiale.

Every golf course is different, and each has it’s own special character. Around here they are unusually varied. The courses at Abbeville and St Omer are very hilly, so extremely tough physically. Those of the Nord, around the Lille area, like Bondues, Brigode and Thumeries are mostly within gentler, flatter, wooded parkland sometimes with a fine chateau as a centrepiece. Amiens and Dunkerque have relatively new courses. At Dunkerque you play among the remains of a 17th century Vauban fort; at Amiens they’ve planted a wide variety of specimen trees with an eye to colourful foliage and blossoms. Also relatively new is the wonderfully attractive Belle-Dune course at Fort Mahon which starts in an aromatic pine forest, crosses bleak seaside sand dunes then a couple of lakeside meadows before re-entering the woods to finish beside the reeds and rushes of another lake.

One thing that you’ll find constant at all the clubs in the region is the warm welcome extended to visitors and new members. If you do join one of these clubs you’ll find there are lots of opportunities to meet and make friends with French golfers from all walks of life. Your French will improve tremendously as you learn to shout “Belle balle!” instead of “Good shot” and converse fluently with your playing partners after the game in the club restaurant. All the clubs encourage members to play competitively with lots of competitions and events at which even beginners and high handicap players can win valuable prizes. If you’re a better player you may be picked for club teams playing in inter-club leagues, which give you the opportunity to play competitively on the other courses in the region.

French Golf clubs do not generally have complicated and lengthy joining procedures. They usually ask for little more in the way of formalities than your signature on a subscription cheque. You’ll find the atmosphere in their clubhouses pleasantly unstuffy, and rules about behaviour and dress are regarded as simply unnecessary among civilised French people.
You can find lots of information on golf courses in this region on internet sites such as:

Frogsiders North France Golf Course Guide

Bring a Bike to Northern France

This part of France seems to be wonderful cycling country. And if that sounds a little hesitant, it’s only because being a recent recruit to the cycling cause I can’t claim to have a great deal of knowledge about the cycle-friendliness of all of the countryside in the whole of the region.

I was recently persuaded back onto a bike again after many years of not owning one. My last bike was stolen in London in 1980. I had only had it for a year or so and used it occasionally for fine weather commuting from Clapham Common to Fleet Street, but otherwise it only emerged for gentle Sunday rides with my 7 year-old son around the paths of the Common.

Anyway, to get back to the point, friends from Montreuil persuaded me to go on some gentle rides around the countryside. What a revelation! Once you’re away from the roads and on the country cart tracks and lanes, you could be 100 miles from traffic, houses and other people. From Montreuil you will encounter some fairly steep hills in whichever direction you go, but if you want to ride on the flat, there’s plenty of signposted rides on the coastal plain anywhere between Etaples and Le Crotoy. My cycling friends tell me that you can take your bike on the local trains for free, too, which means you could choose a nice downhill route for your first long ride, and then take the train back!

The Nord region, too, looks to have plenty of flat countryside, perfect for gentle cycling, and although you might not think it very interesting when seen from a car, you’ll be truly surprised to find how much more there is to see and appreciate when you’re on a bike. Somehow, lunch always tastes a lot better, too, whether at a humble friterie or a restaurant, if you’ve earned it by pedalling to get there.

On our first ride my biking friends broke me in gently. We covered about 12 kilometres of delightful country before stopping at an excellent restaurant for lunch. I could take a lot of this sort of exercise I thought. After lunch we pedalled on for another 18 km or so before splitting up – they were riding back to Montreuil while I had a short ride home. On subsequent outings they stepped up the distance and soon had me used to 40km or so with a more modest pizzeria or cafe lunch stop.

Don’t go without a map, though. My experienced biking friends don’t, and once when I ventured out on my own I found out why not. Can you be lost when you’re only 3 miles from home? Well I found lots of lanes that ended in ploughed fields or farmyards. Eventually I was forced to take to the roads. I had ridden 10 miles before finally reaching home.

So, I bought a new bike. Not too flashy, but made of aluminium and with plenty of gears. I rode it back from the shop, too. So far the saddle doesn’t seem too uncomfortable. And this brings me to the only downside I have discovered to biking, so far – has anyone ever invented a really comfortable saddle?

Welcome to the “Forêt” Blog

At last Près De La Forêt has a blog page where we can keep you informed about all the latest news of our holiday house in France, and interesting things that are going on in the area.

enjoy a holiday in France

Près De La Forêt is the name of our comfortable 3-bedroom house in the village of Huby St Leu, near Hesdin in northern France.  There are lots of good reasons for choosing this area for a holiday house – here are some of them:

  • It’s only an hour from Calais Ferry Port or the Channel Tunnel
  • It’s in the pretty 7 Valleys region which has long been a favourite holiday are for  French and Belgian families
  • It’s close to the famous beaches of the Cote d’Opale, in cluding Le Touquet, Hardelot and Berck
  • There are several high quality golf courses within half an hour’s drive – including the top quality courses at Le Touquet, Hardelot, and Belle Dune
  • The 7 valleys is great walking, biking and riding country
  • It’s ideal for nature lovers and bird spotters
  • The town of Hesdin is a pretty and historic old market town
  • The battlefields of Agincourt (1415) and Crecy (1345) are close by.  Many First World War battlefields and memorials, including those of the Somme (1916) are just an hour or so away
  • Good quality restaurants offering meals at reasonable prices abound in the area
  • You can visit many chateaux, theme parks, museums and other historic sites in the area
  • The strikingly pretty and historic town of Montreuil sur Mer with its cobbled streets and ancient fortified ramparts is just a few minutes away
  • The restaurant “La Grenouillere” near Montreuil was recently voted the 54th best restaurant in the world!  Make sure your credit card will stand the strain, though

You can enjoy a taste of life in the real French countryside by booking a family holiday, or just a short break, at Près De La Forêt.  What are you waiting for?  An invitation from President Hollande?