Unusually, we needed to spend time near the Channel ports of Calais and Boulogne at the beginning of this week, en route back from France to England. And, to my great surprise, we made some good finds:
Firstly, a hotel that could almost be a large chambre d’hôte, in the middle of the fields in the rather flat Pas de Calais department, it is tucked back inland from the A16 motorway between Calais and Boulogne. La Ferme du Vert is in the sleepy village of Wierre-Effroy (never did find out how to pronounce it). The rooms are of a very good standard for a Logis de France hotel. We stayed in one of the better ones because the radiator in the one we were booked into didn’t function and it was a cold night! Fortunately the next door room was available and we were promptly moved – the bed was very comfortable and there was a huge bathroom – free wifi too! There are various prices of rooms depending on size and bathroom – certainly the stand-up shower cubicle in the original room we were originally booked into looked excellent!
A walk across the courtyard to the restaurant, which was almost a big farmhouse kitchen in style though with more formal service. The menu was short and really original, with a very well chosen wine list too. There was a distinct seasonal flavour to the offering and we started with an amuse bouche of artichoke soup. Brett chose the €28 Menu de Terroir, which included an excellent smoked salmon terrine, a hearty autumn beef stew, a simple cheese selection (they make their own cheese but living in the Alps, home of many fine cheeses, they were a little pale by comparison) and an exotic fruit selection/sorbet. I stuck to à la carte and had a filling pumpkin soup unusually served with floating scallops, followed by the most original venison dish – cooked 5 hours then served à la cuillère (by the spoon) with wild mushrooms and an artichoke terrine-type accompaniment. I should say that we had been at a huge Savoie wine tasting in Paris earlier in the day and I had tasted around 80 wines … but not swallowed one, officer, honest! So, Brett refreshed the palate with a local beer and I chose something big and comforting to cut through the acidity remaining on my palate! We were not disappointed with our choice – 2005 Vacqueyras from the classic Domaine de la Fourmone estate – really hit the spot.
The breakfast room in the main building was perfectly decorated and the buffet selection was just right. The whole experience would be much more enjoyable in summer, it has to be said as the rooms were rather cold, and with nice weather, one could enjoy the surroundings. Total bill for the two of us for meal, room (rate for the original one with shower that we had booked) and breakfast was €196 – fair, I thought.
Onto my morning appointment which was a quick visit to a wine shop on the ZA Marcel Doret industrial estate close to the Calais ferry terminal – La Grand Boutique du Vin has been there for around 10 years – previously there was a Perardel on the same site. It’s a big warehouse, but with wines nicely presented with a firm focus on French single domaine wines with some excellent names in all regions including a big Champagne range. New World Wines and beers are relegated to the back of the shop, which is more-or-less opposite to all the bigger wine shop names nearby including the very useful and recently re-vamped Majestic warehouse next door. La Grand Boutique had about 7 wines open for tasting and they are very happy and able to help with selections. It’s certainly worth a look for anyone wanting to buy French wines who does not have time to visit the regions.
With a return ferry booked from Boulogne at 15.00, lunch nearby was in order and Brett remembered somewhere he had enjoyed before a few years ago, and more importantly, he found it! In Wimereux, just 2km east of Boulogne the small Epicure Restaurant looks classic French and has a small menu choice. The fish menu at €31 changes each day. Everything was just right – cold organic salmon to start, followed by red snapper – both served with excellent vegetables (something that used to be hard to find in France). The cheese course was something you could only find on that side of the channel – Fromage Blanc Sorbet, which filled me up too much before the fruit/sorbet dessert. We were modest in our choice from a really excellent wine list and chose a half bottle (screw cap) of Alsace Pinot Gris from Paul Blanck – just the ticket too.
You must put up with (if that’s the right expression?) being around mainly English people in this area of France, though there were more French than English in the Epicure, but these were real finds and I was really very happily surprised.
For more travel guides to REAL wine regions, don’t forget to subscribe to Wine Travel Guides if you haven’t already … and why not give a Gift Subscription to all your friends for Christmas. Use the code D1BLG07 to receive a useful discount.