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Freewheeling gastronomic adventure in Montreuil-sur-Mer

Ancient buildings atop a citadel at Montreuil-sur-Mer

Sarah Daly hops on an electric bike and works up an appetite for a dining experience with a difference.

As a resident of Montreuil-sur-Mer in Pas de Calais, I am a regular visitor to Le Touquet, just 10 miles away on the Opal coast. I love its bustling atmosphere, clean sandy beach, colourful beach huts and elegant architecture.

Arched stone gate to the citadel of Montreuil-sur-Mer

I’ve never cycled to it though. I tried once, but my ancient mountain bike and equally ancient legs just weren’t up to the task. When I found out that I could do the journey using an electric bike, without substantial capital outlay, I was intrigued. Montreuil styles itself as the gastronomic capital of northern France. So when I discovered the outing included lunch, provided by a respected local chef and taking place in the historic citadel of Montreuil, I decided that, in the spirit of exploring the area in which I live, I really should give it a go. It was a tough decision, as you can imagine.

Club Énergie Vélo

Man and woman hold up glasses of sparkling wine, smilingClub Énergie Vélo is the brainchild of boutique B&B owner Tim Matthews (www.maison76.com).  It links the coastal resort of Le Touquet, associated with the Paris elite, and his hometown, the medieval ‘foody’ town of Montreuil. Pulling in Énergie Vélo in Le Touquet to provide electric bikes, Pas de Calais Tourisme and the tourist office of Montreuil-sur Mer to help promote the scheme, it was launched at the start of 2020.

It is funded, in part, by a partnership between Pas de Calais and Western Belgium. The aim is to unite local, seasonal food and drink from both regions. The scheme uses environmentally friendly pedal power to give diners a gastronomic experience, in an unexpected location. Crucially, the chosen ‘venue’ is one that you would not normally eat in. Hence the name ‘Dîner Insolite‘ (an unusual meal). Guillaume Duvivier, chef at Le Clos des Capucins in Montreuil, joined forces with Tim. He provides the ’dîner’ experience to guests on their arrival in the ‘historic quarter of Le Touquet’, as Montreuil  is sometimes known.

The cycle and dining experience has proved to be a perfect way to enjoy the lush, and largely level, coastal hinterland.

Le Touquet to Montreuil by e-bike

Beautiful countryside in northern France, grassy hills and wild flower meadows, Montreuil-sur-Mer

We all met at Le Touquet’s Palais de Congres on a crisp and sunny autumn morning. Our group of ten were kitted out with gleaming and fully charged electric bikes, helmets and bottles of water. We had a quick lesson for electric bike novices like me and set off inland. In the past, Montreuil’s 16th century walls and citadel would have looked out over saltmarshes, making it a strongly fortified coastal port. Now the land between the two towns is dotted with marshes and waterways where you’re likely to spot herons, egrets, assorted ducks and other wildlife. If you’re lucky you may even glimpse an elusive kingfisher. Or even the storks which have returned, after an absence of decades, to breed in the area.

The weather for our trip was sunny and pleasantly warm. It was also very quiet, as the route includes only a few stretches of main road. Otherwise, we were travelling along cycle paths, empty backroads and rural tracks. At a sedate pace, with stops for photo opportunities and a slurp of water, it took us around two hours to reach the citadel – and our lunch. The last mile or so was largely uphill. The value of an electric bike became very apparent as we climbed towards the fortifications of this historic town. Without the added power, I would very definitely have been pushing at that point.

An unusual dining experience

Man pours sparkling wine and serves delicious fresh vegetables at a picnic in Montreuil-sur-Mer

Inside the picturesque Citadelle de Montreuil, on the spot that normally hosts the annual Les Misérables ‘son et lumière’ show, we were greeted with a glass of award winning Belgian sparkling wine. Apparently when the judges discovered it was manufactured so far north, they ordered a retest. It still won. The producers, who use the chardonnay grape in a similar way to Blanc de Blanc champagne, put their success down to the fact that the vineyard sits below numerous wind turbines. The increased airflow apparently protects the grapes from frost, so even the sparkling wine has ‘green’ credentials.

The meal, created, cooked and served by Guillaume, was sumptuous. A creamy risotto of porcini mushrooms was followed by lamb from the salt marshes of the nearby Somme. Or a vegetarian dish of locally sourced produce. Both included delicate leeks, sundried tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables. There was also anise hyssop, a herb I hadn’t tried before, but will definitely seek out again. The pretty, purple flowers carried an unexpectedly distinctive and delicate aniseed flavour.

Wines, carefully paired with each course, were introduced by wine expert Fabienne. And, paired with a selection of Pas de Calais and Belgian cheeses, there was also the option to try a craft Belgian beer. Finally, a rich, sticky apple tart rounded off the meal. After eating there was time to explore the citadel. The panoramic views from the high walls are fabulous. Then we set off back to Le Touquet. After dining so well we were all glad that the first part of the return journey was downhill.

Find out more

Dîner Insolite trips from Club Energie Velo include electric bike hire for the day. Plus you’ll be supplied with a helmet, water and support vehicles. You’ll be joined by a local guide, all entrance fees are covered and you’ll enjoy a four course meal, with aperitif and wines.

To find out more or to book your own gastronomic bike ride, contact tim@energievelo.com or marion@pas-de-calais.com Details: Club Énergie Vélo

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