La Charite sur Loire: The Hidden Gem

 

 

None of the guidebooks said much about La Charite sur Loire.  The landing was as described and not particularly impressive.  It was nestled next to a grain silo in an industrial parking lot.  Scruffy trailers lined the fence.  There was free water and electricity.  Along a route where water availability is sketchy, water hook ups are a big plus.  We filled the tanks, took a shower, and headed for town.

Before we left we tried to make reservations at the top rated restaurant in town.  No deal!  Auberge de Seyr is frequently booked four weeks in advance.  Finding a suitable alternative meant taking a hike into La Charite sur Loire.  It was blisteringly hot, and muggy.  2.5 kilometers never seemed so far.

Donna opted for a sooner the better pace.  I opted for a slow Southern saunter.  We met in the middle and were thankful when the cool breezes off the Loire appeared.

We sat down at the first cafe we found.  The special written on the door promised a cold drink for 3,60 euro.  We ordered the citron.  What arrived was a 1/2 glass of freshly squeezed juice, sugar, and a pitcher of water.  The drink was alcohol free, but it packed a lip puckering, gland torturing kick.  More water, and more sugar were added.  The kick was barely diminished.  It was exactly what we needed.

Refreshed we visited the church, Notre Dame de Charite.  It was blessedly cool.  Then we hit the tourist office.  Donna had the girl working the counter call for reservations at the completely full Auberge de Seyr. Somehow we got reservations for two at 7 pm.  It was either a language thing, or a special deal with the tourist office.  Either way, I was half afraid we’d show up for dinner and find out it was a big mistake.

We walked the main drag for two hours.  During that time we looked at every menu on display, bought bottled water, and got drinks at Babette and Eva.

Babette and Eva is listed in the guidebooks as a dining destination.  The food promised to be locally sourced with purveyors listed on the menu.  It sounded like a good second choice.  Babette was supervising the installation of outdoor umbrellas.  So we asked her if the bar was open.  After a consultation with a gentleman who turned out to be a guest Babette invited us in.

Babette and Eva no longer serves dinner.  It is a bar with snacks and music nights.  The decorations were dusty antiques and for sale.  Donna opted for a table and a bench.  I opted for the adjacent red leather chair.  A shandy and a glass of wine appeared in no time.  The workman who was installing the umbrellas tried to tell us a joke.  Since we were Americans he wondered if we had, “Meekreephomes like the En Ess Ahh?”  It took a second, but I finally joked that Obama was listening to us as we spoke.  With some semblance of understanding we shared a chuckle.  America’s clumsy international spying efforts had made an impression!

While the guidebook fails to gush about La Charite sur Loire it does gush about Auberge de Seyr.  It is listed as one of La Charite’s delights.  It gets 4 1/2 stars in a town full of 3 and 4 star restaurants.  It’s often booked weeks in advance.  Even though the tourist office promised us reservations I was still wary.  Their promise was good.  We had legitimate reservations to the best La Charite has to offer.

What La Charite’s best looks like is pretty good.  What it tastes like is even better.  First up was a salad with sun dried tomatoes, a cheese filled puff, jambon, and a little scoop of creamy ice cream.  The ice cream was a pleasant surprise in 90 degree weather. Putting a scoop of ice cream on your salad would work anytime.  Its coolness wakes up the palate.

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The main course was Beef Bourguignon.  We’d seen it served, and tried variations.  This was the real deal.  Tender beef and a perfect balance of flavors enhanced by the local wine.  I don’t usually eat leftovers.  It’s a leftover from a childhood of eating them.  I justify it with some sound food science, but it’s a food prejudice.  A prejudice I overcome for a few items eaten cold, and only cold.  Add Auberge de Seyr’s Beef Bourguignon to the list.  I’d eat it on a crusty baguette for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a midnight snack.

The dessert course was right out of our regular dining playbook.  Chocolate pie for Donna, “Of Course!”  And a lemon tart for me, “Of course!”  The flavors impressed.  The chocolate was dark and rich.  The lemon tart was tart.  Auberge de Seyr earned its stars.

The following day we hiked back into La Charite for the Saturday market.  It was everything a Saturday market is supposed to be…fresh and colorful.  We bought a baguette, fresh chèvre, cherries, and an olive mix.  I couldn’t resist buying another sausage and a pound of freshly ground coffee.

 

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