Overnight stop in France Mulhouse aka two Philistines in La France Profonde

Two philistines in La France Profonde
pig 3

Every year GS and I take the old bone shaker for a trip back to Blighty.  It’s a thousand miles back. That means two full days of driving in ideal conditions, or in bad conditions it can take three torturous days.

GS drives. I have at times been allowed to take the wheel when GS is tired. But I don’t like overtaking lorries, I can barely keep my eyes open when we do and can’t help emitting a high pitched strangled scream.   Plus, if in doubt, like all seasoned drivers  I slam on the brakes.

Once, somewhere in the champagne region of Northern France I executed two emergency stops. This resulted in GS wearing most of his bottle of water.  All I’d done was pull away from the petrol pump.  

 I’m in charge of music, back rubs, snacks and drinks and finding a hotel with a restaurant and parking. 

Last minute packing
How GS views the drive home
How I view the drive home

We could have stopped at picturesque Lake Como on the Italian-Swiss border but we got there too early. The choice then was whether or not to stop in Switzerland or blat through for an overnight stop in France. Since neither GS nor I speak German, the temptation was to put a foot to the floor and tear up the motorways toward France.

I used to be reasonably decent at French, but that knowledge has been neglected too long.  If the French language was a dish I no longer pretend to have  a rich casserole of words to savour, rather  I have a crusty mould blackened empty yogurt pot at the back of the fridge. But GS doesn’t speak a word of French so to him so long as it sounds vaguely French he thinks I’m fluent and I can’t help myself. Switzerland is beautiful. Polished roads devoid of potholes  weave through mountain passes. Either side dark wooden chocolate box chalets lit cling to  steep hillsides backed by soaring mountains. In homage to  Swiss yodelling I put on Celine Dion and howled along.

Darkness falls quickly in mountainous regions and often without a sunset as the sun disappears behind mountains long before it does over the horizon.  One second it was light, the next dark but we were rewarded with a full moon in a cloudy sky. It was pink and draped with artfully composed clouds. 

‘Wow’ said I

‘It looks like Jupiter’ said GS.

‘It looks exactly like Jupiter.’

I was under strict instructions to find a hotel off the motorway with parking and a restaurant. Then I was under orders to telephone and make sure that the restaurant was ACTUALLY OPEN and not a figment of the Internet’s imagination. After driving for twelve hours toward bed and dinner  GS wants a cold beer and a hot meal. He does not want to find that ‘the hotel restaurant is shut for the winter/random day of the week/only does wedding receptions- but there is a handy vending machine for stale processed food’. I have the scars.

The big chain hotels had rooms but only pretend restaurant lures. But then I found a little boutique place  Les Chambres de Louise in Habsheim near Mulhouse. The restaurant was shut, but another restaurant Le tonneau ‘ in the village was open. We booked a table.

Gingerbread houses
Festooned in fairy lights visible from space
Bunnies and chicks on sticks

Mulhouse is just over the border from Switzerland in Alsace. Google maps threw a wobbly so we arrived late both GS and I with a sense of muddled deja vu. We both thought we recognised the village but had thought it was in Switzerland.

Habsheim is a pretty village of half timber brightly painted houses with pastel shutters.  In summer I imagine it has window boxes of trailing red geraniums but in February the half cobbled streets are silent, empty and puddled.  

The restaurant we were headed to glowed in the dark, festooned by fairy lights. It’s entrance was through the eponymous barrel.  We couldn’t change as we didn’t have the room access code yet anyway GS was ravenous. It looked quite posh which was awkward as I was in trackkies after a day folded up in the car, with no make up.

Inside the restaurant was packed with (smartly dressed) noisy diners. I haven’t seen a restaurant this busy since pre Covid. Every inch had a table, and each was packed. Fairly lights, twigs and a huge amount of felt rabbits and chicks on sticks filled every space presumably decorated for Easter. There was a momentary pause when the restaurant fell silent as I mangled a sentence in French.  The words that fell from my mouth were Anglais liberally sprinkled with heehaw, heehaw for GS’s benefit. The matre d’ ,presumably with his ears bleeding from the assault, answered in English.

The next second we were at our table with a cool glass of Alsace white that tasted of nectar. It may even have been a dessert wine. I didn’t care. I quaffed it like a shot of Tequila.

We might be only a stones throw inside France but one glance at the menu and it was clear that we were in La France Profonde- escargot, foie gras, frog’s legs. Crikey.  

There was no sign of the reasonably priced menu du jour I’d seen on the internet but we spied two plates of absolutely delicious food landing at the table next door.   Encouraged by alcohol landing in my blood stream I decided to go boldly forth where no Englishman has gone before.

The waiter brought us some mini pastry cups filled with some savoury soft thing possibly derived from fish, and warm bread rolls hidden in a sleeve of paper.  I tore into one vocalising yums. GS  started  inexplicably frantically looking under his napkin, on the floor, behind the plant with a chick on a stick. Peace returned when we realised that that the bread rolls were hidden from his view and I hadn’t scoffed the sole roll.

Emboldened by the Alsace white I attempted to translate the menu for GS just as the maitre d’ skidded to our table with a flourish and a bottle of wine.

‘Croustillants’ they must be …er… shrimps.  I bluffed. ‘Goats cheese’ said the maitre d’  He cracked open a bottle of cool red Alsace.  Oddly, the waiter gave it to me to taste.   It wasn’t as nice as the white but you can’t taste a sip of red wine and say you prefer white.

‘What are flesh-sh–knackers?’ I asked snorting a half hidden laugh as this sounded very Monty Python to my ears. 

‘Les Fleischschnackas are…noodles in broth, a local dish hee-haw, hee-haw” said the waiter. Wagamamas! Yay!

So with a Gaelic flourish I ordered frog’s legs followed by flesh-shknackers. GS  somewhat nervously went for the goats cheese followed by Angus steak. We tucked into the bottle of red.

A bowl of rustic chips arrived, as did a jug of very garlicky cream and a provencal olive and tomato sauce. We assumed it had been delivered to the wrong table and looked at it for a couple of minutes. But when it wasn’t retrieved we tucked in. Our mouths began to numb to the taste of garlic and the reassurance that our night would be undisturbed by vampires.

ìLesLes Fleischschnackas

A pond full of dismembered froglets with a heavy sauce of guilt
Definitely NOT Angus steak topped by a mushroom sauce
'What are they?' I whispered. 'Frog's feet?' muttered GS darkly

I forced myself to eat a pond full of the dismembled lower bodies of the tiny delicate frogs. Dusted in breadcrumbs and infused with garlic they tasted like chicken wings marinated in guilt. I like frogs ( I like chickens too) and the massacre of fine limbs was appalling. The next day when I googled whether they were humanely killed, I almost turned vegetarian.

There was a sudden power cut then the packed restaurant then erupted into a chorus of ‘Bon Anniversarie’ and the maitre d’ came over with a tiny cake decorated with a ship’s flare.

Then with the lights turned back on the Maitre D’ went to another table, got out one of those hand held table vacuums and started vacuming a customers hair which was an unexpected development. 

A bowl of unidentified morsels arrived.

‘What are they?’ I whispered

‘Frog’s feet’ muttered  GS darkly.

Next the Fleshschnackers arrived- heavy savoury swirls in a brine broth.

GS was expecting Angus steak and tucked in happily to what he thought was steak with a green pepper sauce, embellished with mushrooms, his favourite food.

I nicked a ‘mushroom’ from his plate. 

‘Those aren’t mushrooms’ I said. GS’s jaw froze mid bite.

‘They are! They are!’ he said, frantically pushing them aside looking for the steak beneath. No steak was present.

‘What are they then?’

‘Are you sure you want me to tell you ?’ GS’s fork went down.


Now GS loaths liver but kidneys are unmentionable.

‘It’s ok, it’s ok, we’ll swop’ But the plates were too hot to switch so we quickly swopped places. 

The maitre d’ flew over.

‘Everything ok?’

We looked at each other. 

‘Angus steak’ said GS plaintively suddenly fluent in French. We understood from the acting that followed that due to thick fingers he had punched in the wrong order. He whisked away both portions and reappeared later with a delicious steak and yet another portion of flesh-sh-nackers which are NOTHING like Wagamamas.

It was late when we left the restaurant having discovered that it wasn’t just the frogs that had been skinned but us too. It was expensive at 170 Euros for two but quite a lot of that was refreshments.

The food that we recognised and ordered was delicious. Going native is always a risk, I will add frog’s legs to the list of banned foods- foie gras, veal anything cruelly produced. But they were tasty. The fleshshnackers I’ll probably pass too. But the steak was great!

GS said it was very nice … for a Bush Tucker Trial.

I will watch while you are sleeping....
Room with a view of the loo. The Louvre. Why? why? Who thought that was a good idea?
The breakfast room ceiling. It was a very arty salon.

Somewhat the worst for Alsace wine we broke into the Chambers having finally received the key code. Plunged into darkness we failed to find our key at first, but a quick call to the helpful owner, awoken from her bed, sorted that out.

Our room was pretty and comfortable although I found the green cat picture a bit satantic for my taste. Interior design wise it was unorthodox. The ensuite, immediately adjacent to the bed, was separated by a smokey glass door that left nothing to the imagination. Obviously neither GS nor I have bodily functions and only use the bathroom to clean our gnashers.  Plus whenever you opened the door it scraped across the floor making a noise that would make nails going down chalk boards seem like the sweet singing of Christmas carols.

If you want to wake up and have your eyes focus on the ceramic bowl of a toilet this is for you.

High brow French art
Bit blowy out
HMS Hurrah for Blighty
A gentle cruise across The Channel

After a pleasant continental breakfast in the artfully decorated breakfast salon, we began our streak across France. We flashed past trees  heavily laden with baubles of mistletoe balls, flooded fields from burst river banks and depressing signs for war cemeteries.  At the side of the road ‘art’ appeared- globes, triangles, patches of colour. 

We were racing for the ferry  and our short Channel Cruise a full twenty four hours early. Luckily, possibly due to the howling sideways gale, the ferry operator waived the alteration fee and let us through. In the car park seagulls attempting to fly were battered into a stationary hover by the wind that shook the car.  Nipping off to the duty free terminal was impossible- forcing the door open against, the wind immediately blew my hair vertical and attempted to  take my jumper off much to the amusement of the car behind.

Our passage was a slightly screamy affair. Two coach loads of teenage Germans screeched at every gentle roll  or pitch of the ship (despite nuclear strength hard stares)  until our nerves were serrated. 

Back in the Garden of England, Google Maps took us on a tour of the single track roads and flooded fords outside Dover.

Finally a couple of hours later  we got home.  The house was still standing, it hadn’t developed a new leak or been take-over by squatters. The Aga started almost first time.  Nothing beats your own bed and bed linen, nor waking up to the sound of Starlings nestling in the eves.  

Definitely Starlings.

Do you have overnight pit stops in France? Where is your favourite place? 

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Thank you!


  1. sounds like an adventure!

    1. Thank you Sarah,it was a giggle!

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