(CNN) — Albert Van Limbergen set off by bike on June 28 from his dwelling simply exterior of Liège, Belgium, seeking a croissant.
However somewhat than heading across the nook to an area store, he was en path to southern France. Two weeks later, on July 12, he reached his vacation spot: Boulangerie Roy Le Capitole, artisan baker Frédéric Roy’s unassuming neighborhood bakery one road again from the Mediterranean Sea in Good.
Albert arrived mid-afternoon to applause from a small crowd together with Frédéric and his spouse, Katia. He was nonetheless dressed within the biking gear he’d worn for the final leg of his journey: a purple hat, a yellow polo shirt and black bike shorts, the colours of the Belgian flag. And he did not wait lengthy to style what he had cycled greater than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) throughout two international locations for: one among Frédéric’s signature croissants made utilizing lavender grown on a large limestone plateau excessive up within the Côte d’Azur hinterland.
Admiring the faint violet hue (all that continues to be as soon as a layer of brilliant meals coloring cooks off within the oven), Albert took a chunk by way of the flaky crust and into the feather-like layers of buttery pastry inside, remarking upon the delicate however distinct herb taste — the results of lavender-infused water that’s kneaded into the dough combination earlier than baking.
Frédéric stated his bakery is the one one he is aware of of to promote such a flavored viennoiserie, the French time period for the group of candy baked pastries comparable to croissants, pains au chocolat and pains aux raisins.
And when Albert, flicking by way of TV channels at dwelling someday, stumbled upon a section on the information a couple of Good baker and his lavender croissants, the seed for his two-wheel journey was sown.
For somebody who admits to adoring all the things about lavender “from the scent to the style and the fields of blue, inexperienced and violet,” Albert discovered himself galvanized.
The journey wasn’t the primary time the retired transport skilled had based mostly his travels round his favourite plant.
“If I had a couple of days off from work, I would generally drive to the Ardèche in France to eat lavender ice cream at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc,” he says.
Nor was it the primary time that he’d cycled nice distances for pleasure. Beforehand, he’d reached Perpignan, towards the Spanish border on France’s western Mediterranean coast.
It was, nevertheless, the primary time he’d set off seeking new lavender taste experiences by bike.
Lavender fields alongside the route supplied a preview of the flavour that motivated Albert Van Limbergen to cycle to southern France.
Albert Van Limbergen
False begins and at last, departure
On the Côte d’Azur, Frédéric first heard of Albert in early 2021 when one among Albert’s buddies, half in jest, fired off a handwritten letter to the boulanger.
“If on the finish of June, you see Albert arrive on his bike, that would be the goal, the objective of his voyage (achieved),” the writer wrote.
Not lengthy after, one other set of Belgian buddies on vacation within the seaside resort visited the bakery and handed on Albert’s telephone quantity. The pair quickly spoke for the primary time, and a plan was hatched for June that yr.
“There have been a couple of issues that received in the best way,” Albert explains — particularly pandemic-driven journey restrictions. “Nevertheless it all served as motivation to get on the highway as early as doable in 2022.”
Lastly, a yr later, he was able to depart.
Three buddies had volunteered to take care of his beloved rescue animals, a farmyard filled with horses, cats, canines and fish, whereas he was away. Carrying little greater than a sleeping bag, a tent, a change of garments, instruments for bike repairs and seven liters of drink — and sporting flip-flops, his footwear of selection — he began to pedal.
The itinerary he plotted out took him previous the Belgian cities of Ciney and Dinant, crossing into France close to Charleville-Mézières. He headed south previous Burgundy’s vineyards to Lyon after which adopted the Rhône River to Valence the place he ready to sort out the 1,180-meter (about 3,870 ft) summit of the Col de Cabre mountain move.
Frédéric Roy and Albert Van Limbergen met at Roy’s boulangerie in Good, France.
As soon as crossed, the lavender-hued landscapes of northern Provence had been his reward. Nearer to Good, there have been the red-ochre gorges of the Mercantour Nationwide Park to navigate earlier than he lastly swept up onto the Promenade des Anglais and a view of town’s well-known Baie des Anges to accompany the ultimate few kilometers.
“I rigorously deliberate a route alongside smaller rural roads to keep away from motorways, busy regional roads and vehicles as a lot as doable,” Albert says. He averaged 12 hours (together with stops) and 100 kilometers (62 miles) a day.
“I would cease for a plat du jour (every day particular) for lunch and at night time, I would pitch up in a campsite,” he says. There have been just some hours of dangerous climate to deal with throughout the entire two weeks.
He saved in every day contact with Frédéric, sending photographs and sharing his geopositioning.
“Frédéric adopted me,” Albert says. “He knew after I was stopping in a restaurant, for a beer, at a campsite, even by the facet of the highway. He simply could not really see me.”
Frédéric saved his practically 10,000 Twitter followers up to date on Albert’s progress, posting his photographs and sometimes a map of the day’s route.
The afternoon when Albert lastly arrived, Frédéric was able to have a good time with native beer and purple, yellow and black balloons — and, after all, a plate of recent lavender croissants.
“We chatted for a couple of hours about lavender, nature and life typically,” says Frédéric, talking to CNN Journey by telephone. “He got here again the following day, and we spoke for a couple of hours extra.”
Lavender-infused water is kneaded into the croissant dough. The meals coloring that offers them this brilliant hue largely bakes off within the oven.
The Croissant Crusader
Frédéric first began making lavender croissants two-and-a-half years in the past, including them to an unconventional vary that features raspberry, pistachio, choco-banana and hazelnut-flavored croissants that sells alongside the extra traditional assortment of viennoiseries.
He is been hooked on his craft ever since he began as an apprentice baker in his early teenagers, regardless of the 4:30 a.m. begins six days every week.
As France grapples with claims that as much as 80% of croissants bought throughout the nation at this time are ready-made, mass-produced variations cooked from frozen, Frédéric is rising because the nation’s croissant crusader, a work out to champion the standard, do-it-yourself croissant that’s so integral to its culinary heritage. It is very becoming for somebody whose surname is a homonym of “roi,” the French phrase for king.
He is devoted a lot of the previous 5 years to petitioning the nation’s politicians for a croissant de custom française (conventional French croissant) label, much like what already exists for the baguette.
“Some bakers have by no means really made a croissant of their lives,” he says. “I simply need individuals to know what they’re shopping for.”
At Boulangerie Roy Le Capitole, that is a croissant that is taken three days to make — the candy spot to realize the proper consistency and a barely nutty taste, in accordance with Frédéric — utilizing solely the best high quality substances, together with 100% pure French unsalted butter.
He can bake as much as 1,200 pur beurre (100% butter) croissants a day, relying on the time of yr. Moreover the fresh-from-the-oven crates that he hand delivers to Good’s legendary Resort Negresco — the beachfront five-star lodge that welcomes politicians, royalties and celebrities — for breakfast each morning, he’s normally bought out by lunch.
On weekends, it is common for the queue exterior his bakery to wind across the road nook.
Room for enchancment
As for Albert, he spent two days sightseeing in Good earlier than beginning the lengthy journey again to Belgium. This time, although, he solely needed to cycle the roughly 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Good to the small inland village of Puget-Théniers, the place a pal had pushed to choose him and his bike up.
And what did he consider Frédéric’s lavender croissants? Have been they definitely worth the two-week journey?
“They had been good, however I believe they may very well be improved much more,” he says. “In Belgium, we frequently put pastry cream in croissants. Lavender and pastry cream, now that might be magnificent.”
Chrissie McClatchie is a Good-based journey author and guidebook writer whose tales from the Côte d’Azur and past have appeared in BBC Journey, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet and extra.