During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, British tourists became intrigued by Les Relais Routiers the red and blue-logoed truck bistros along the main roads of France, which offer solid, good value lunches and dinners. No French truck driver will ever put up with bad food (have you ever seen a French workman with a lunchbox?), so the network became known as the place to go for a decent meal while travelling in France.
Today, Les Routiers are still known for their full “plats du jours” and a “must-stop” for anyone wishing to try what local French have been eating for decades. Most Routiers menus provide a multi-course meal with a communal starter, main and desert with cheese for 12-15 Euros (CHF 15-18). Sometimes, a litre bottle of red wine – certainly not a great vintage, but “honest” no less – is plumped down on the table for you to drink. As much as you want, and for free.
The Logis de France, on the other hand, is the up-market version of the Routiers. A hotel-restaurant network, which started over 60 years ago it now incorporates 2,800 independent establishments, mainly in France but also some in Europe, notably Italy, Germany, Belgium and Spain but none in Switzerland. The Logis are renowned for their quality and reasonable prices. They offer excellent food at a cost (CHF 36-75 for a full-course dinner), which won’t sear your credit card or wallet.
Furthermore, Les Logis with their distinctive green and brown fireplace signs provide decent rooms at decent prices ranging from CHF 45 to CHF 100 for two people. The assumption is that you will want to eat and drink in the restaurant and not then have to drive, particularly if you have enjoyed a good wine. So you can get away for a weekend and savour a superb dinner at prices – and quality – that you will be hard-pushed to find in Switzerland.
All Logis de France members share the same spirit and values, notably customized welcome and quality accommodation, but above all a regionally-inspired food tradition. There are no fewer than 257 in the Rhone-Alps region, most of them less than two hours’ drive from Lake Geneva: Evians, Thonon, Annecy, Chamonix, Megeve, Pays de Gex… When travelling as a couple or a family, we always try and stay at a Logis de France – and to eat there as well. Normally, we’re not disappointed.
Last weekend, my family and I took my wife for her birthday to a Logis de France, the Chateau Blanchard in Chazelles-sur-Lyon, some 30 km west of France’s second largest city and almost exactly two hours from Geneva.
The town is primarily agricultural but hosts a hat museum, suggesting greater glory days dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. What it does have today, however, is an excellent restaurant, which although not yet ranked as a one-star by the Guide Michelin, should be. We found it far better in the form of presentation, style and cuisine than several Michelin one and two-star restaurants that we already had tried in the region. We would even go as far as to say that the famous Troisgros (a three-star just down the road in Roanne), which, for my wife, was the best restaurant she has ever gone to, should start looking over its shoulder.
Run by two brothers, both trained at restaurant school and with work experience in France and Switzerland, the Chateau Blanchard’s food was exquisite. We do not normally go overboard with superlatives, but every dish was stunningly served as a work of art, amazingly prepared and tasty beyond imagination.
We tried several different menus with dishes such as butter-tender and lightly braised Charolais beef tartare, lightly-cooked duck and a deconstructed version of Bouillabaise with bar “loup de mer” or sea bass, plus an excellent red Chateau Brown Graves (CHF 42). Each menu cost CHF 55 for a starter, main course, cheese and desert. The same dinner of similar high standard in Switzerland would have cost at least CHF 200. So for those of us who are tired of paying high prices for unworthy or mediocre dinners in Switzerland, it’s well worth the journey into “la France profonde”.
Les Relais Routiers http://www.relais-routiers.com/
Logis de France http://www.logishotels.com/en.html
Hotel Chateau Blanchard http://www.hotel-chateau-blanchard.com/