Monday, January 6, 2014

The Hostellerie de la Croix d'Or (1270), Provins, France, the oldest hostel in France

Our friend Yves recommended that we pay a visit to Provins, a little-known mediæval town in the Ile-de-France region in north-central France, about 1.5 hours by train from the Gare de l'Est in Paris.  This is a nice train ride, going through towns and rolling countryside farms.

After the train ride, we walked toward the Cité, the historic part of the medieval town which is now protected by a UNESCO world heritage classification.  We stopped to eat the Hostellerie de la Croix d'Or in the lower city, along an ancient pedestrian way leading to the ancient upper city (1 rue des Capucins, tel: 01 64 00 01 96;   As the sign proudly declares, this hostel was founded in 1270; it has been operating ever since, which makes it the oldest hostel in France.  It was restored in 2004, but the facade has not been changed since it was first built.

Viollet le Duc is someone with whom I have a love/hate relationship.  He was a powerful architect of the 19th century who managed to become entrusted with restoring dozens of important French medieval buildings, including Notre Dame Cathederal, the main structures at Carcassone (which he both restored and violated, placing northern roofs on southern French buildings), etc.  He wrote an encyclopedia on medieval buildings, including drawings.  Here is his drawing of this medieval hostel.

There were three menus on offer (a "menu" is a multi-course meal with a fixed price).  You can also order from La Carte (what North Americans would call the full menu).  We selected the middle-priced menu, about $45 each which proved to be something very special.   It also helped that it was 1:30 p.m. and we were hungry.

Janice opted for "La tarte fine à la tomate et basilic frais..." which was simple, yet presented very pleasingly.

My entrée (first course)  was shrimp (langoustine poached in cream with crab) ravioli. I was not supplied a spoon, but the fresh bread served nicely to sop up every last drop of the sauce.

With assistance from the very friendly and helpful waitress (who admitted to speaking English only at the end of our meal), I managed to select a half bottle of absolutely superb Saint-Émilion, a grand cru (great growth, classification).  It is the best wine I have tasted for some years.

For my main course, I selected the a sort of sausage composed of layers of different kinds of fish.  The orange mashed sweet potatoes and purple potatoes were excellent.  The mixture of legumes were served in a delicate cup made of filo pastry.  Of course the sauce was cream based, and wonderfully flavoured with a bit of curry.  All of the seasonings were delicate, yet had real depth. 

 Janice had the plat médiéval, featuring guinea fowl with sweet spices.

I saved a glass of the Bordeaux for my cheese course.  I forget the names of the cheeses, and I did not elect to have a slice of the other four.  The bottom cheese was made in Provins and was my favourite of the local cheeses.  In France, the marriage of red wine and cheese is unbeatable. 

Janice selected the fruit carpaccio plate--fruits sliced utterly thinly, served with dollops of sorbet made from some of those fruits.  It was perfect for her.

Another table had four people about our age, a dignified foursome who obviously enjoyed their meal and conversation.

I also walked around the restaurant just a bit, to see what other rooms were like.

This little room with its long solid old table is perfect for 10-12 people. 

I don't have a photo clearly showing how tall the ceilings were, but we estimated ours to be about 22 feet high.  The walls were at least a yard thick, including inside walls.  It was obviously an old building, nicely modernized. 

 In my book, this establishment is worth a return visit--annually.