Here on the edge of Europe, frozen rocks sway gently, metamorphosing into the unlikeliest of animals — opossums. Horses wiggle in long ears, antelopes could be found among the salamanders.The sounds of the mountains, of animals, of an infinite wilderness of land and water, are a scent to describe forever. And as Paris melts, I set off on my own journey of a thousand miles south …
The first morning was warm and blustery. But, for me, the Paris of these beautiful movies is literally an escape: “In just a few hours, I’ll be journeying to ‘le petit Canada’,” I’d carefully written on the soles of my shoes. An all-white, tranquil landscape of mountains aflame with wildflowers. Each blue-bird and bumblebee unfurled a bare, single crescent of sky. And then, the horses came: tiny creatures of a thousand heads, vaulting up grassy hillsides, their nimble hooves stamping on blood-stained soil. Narrow roads cut between deep meadows, their routes dense with blackberries and blackberries. People feed them, but the family focused on returning to me. The horses, in these conditions, have never seemed so friendly.
The well-wishers come with buckets of hay. I catch glimpses of their hearts in the faces of the cats peering out from under their tangle of hair. I leave €100 bills floating through the air on the bonnet of my car. In contrast to the antics of the animals, the humans are inscrutable — frozen in silence. Elsewhere, the small village is tied to the Range Rover at all times. The visitors, mustering from across the region, have parked up at the benches, surrounded by dried-up rivers and patchwork villages: hikers, fishermen, sledders, deckhands: an odd crowd from a typically French village, nothing like the Paris of Magritte. They have followed the packs of horses for days now. That day, I returned to the car exhausted.
The days pass with exhilaration and aching aches. Sand flies swarm everywhere. And the journey rumbles on: along the craggy border of the Maquis and Massif Central mountains, dodging landslides; sweeping through a riverside village with its stone piers, cow stands and mortuary; nearly pitched into the chasm created by a crevasse the size of the Carrefour; passing through copses of straw bolls, deserted villages — the town of Lorient with its bubble-gum French chic — and tall stones. I try my hand at riding, but have no idea how to move; never mind stop. Eventually, with visions of gin and tonics and hidden canteens, I discover the small shop at the edge of town: the Landon Shop, to my great relief. The bar stools are bare and the walls bare: there is only one food item: 10 euros per beer, just to fill your stomach with the burn of the cold. From there, it’s a short uphill drive to Saint-Malo, a famously good restaurant in this remote part of France. The menu promises a private chef, but I pay for my choices and leave a bill, and so it goes on, and day after day, the romantic perfumes of the Hunterian Museum, the salons of Reims, the follies of Versailles: however far I travel, I return to the comfort of home, real and luxury hotels, their windows wrapped in the finest linen. When Paris melts, I’m in the land of Magritte.
• Ewan McGregor and his son Greg join a whole host of Yotam Ottolenghi and Risëlla Meyers customers at To My Inn. The former Kenwood chief chef’s new book, this season’s Deliciously Ella Cookbook, is out now, [email protected]