(CNN) — Albert Van Limbergen set off by bike on June 28 from his residence simply outdoors of Liège, Belgium, seeking a croissant.
But slightly than heading across the nook to a native 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 avenue again from the Mediterranean Sea in Nice.
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 crimson 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: certainly one of Frédéric’s signature croissants made utilizing lavender grown on a broad 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 vibrant meals coloring cooks off within the oven), Albert took a chew by the flaky crust and into the feather-like layers of buttery pastry inside, remarking upon the refined however distinct herb taste — the results of lavender-infused water that’s kneaded into the dough combination earlier than baking.
Frédéric mentioned 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 akin to croissants, pains au chocolat and pains aux raisins.
And when Albert, flicking by TV channels at residence at some point, stumbled upon a phase on the information about a Nice baker and his lavender croissants, the seed for his two-wheel journey was sown.
For somebody who admits to adoring every thing about lavender “from the smell to the taste and the fields of blue, green 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 few days off from work, I’d sometimes 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. Previously, he’d reached Perpignan, towards the Spanish border on France’s western Mediterranean coast.
It was, nonetheless, 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 eventually, departure
On the Côte d’Azur, Frédéric first heard of Albert in early 2021 when certainly one of Albert’s mates, half in jest, fired off a handwritten letter to the boulanger.
“If at the end of June, you see Albert arrive on his bike, that will be the objective, the goal of his voyage (achieved),” the writer wrote.
Not lengthy after, one other set of Belgian mates on vacation within the seaside resort visited the bakery and handed on Albert’s cellphone quantity. The pair quickly spoke for the primary time, and a plan was hatched for June that 12 months.
“There were a few things that got in the way,” Albert explains — particularly pandemic-driven journey restrictions. “But it all served as motivation to get on the road as early as possible in 2022.”
Finally, a 12 months later, he was able to depart.
Three mates had volunteered to take care of his beloved rescue animals, a farmyard filled with horses, cats, canine 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 toes) summit of the Col de Cabre mountain move.
Frédéric Roy and Albert Van Limbergen met at Roy’s boulangerie in Nice, France.
Once crossed, the lavender-hued landscapes of northern Provence have been his reward. Closer to Nice, there have been the red-ochre gorges of the Mercantour National Park to navigate earlier than he lastly swept up onto the Promenade des Anglais and a view of the town’s well-known Baie des Anges to accompany the ultimate few kilometers.
“I carefully planned a route along smaller rural roads to avoid motorways, busy regional roads and cars as much as possible,” Albert says. He averaged 12 hours (together with stops) and 100 kilometers (62 miles) a day.
“I’d stop for a plat du jour (daily special) for lunch and at night, I’d pitch up in a campsite,” he says. There have been simply a few hours of dangerous climate to cope with throughout the entire two weeks.
He saved in each day contact with Frédéric, sending images and sharing his geopositioning.
“Frédéric followed me,” Albert says. “He knew when I was stopping in a restaurant, for a beer, at a campsite, even by the side of the road. He just couldn’t actually see me.”
Frédéric saved his almost 10,000 Twitter followers up to date on Albert’s progress, posting his images and sometimes a map of the day’s route.
The afternoon when Albert lastly arrived, Frédéric was able to rejoice with native beer and crimson, yellow and black balloons — and, after all, a plate of contemporary lavender croissants.
“We chatted for a few hours about lavender, nature and life in general,” says Frédéric, talking to CNN Travel by cellphone. “He came back the next day, and we spoke for a few hours more.”
Lavender-infused water is kneaded into the croissant dough. The meals coloring that offers them this vibrant 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 basic assortment of viennoiseries.
He’s 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 a week.
As France grapples with claims that as much as 80% of croissants offered 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, home made croissant that’s so integral to its culinary heritage. It’s very becoming for somebody whose surname is a homonym of “roi,” the French phrase for king.
He’s 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 never actually made a croissant in their lives,” he says. “I just want people to know what they are buying.”
At Boulangerie Roy Le Capitole, that is a croissant that is taken three days to make — the candy spot to realize the right consistency and a barely nutty taste, in line with Frédéric — utilizing solely the best high quality components, 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 12 months. Besides the fresh-from-the-oven crates that he hand delivers to Nice’s legendary Hotel Negresco — the beachfront five-star lodge that welcomes politicians, royalties and celebrities — for breakfast each morning, he’s often offered out by lunch.
On weekends, it is commonplace for the queue outdoors his bakery to wind across the avenue nook.
Room for enchancment
As for Albert, he spent two days sightseeing in Nice earlier than beginning the lengthy journey again to Belgium. This time, although, he solely needed to cycle the roughly 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Nice to the small inland village of Puget-Théniers, the place a buddy had pushed to choose him and his bike up.
And what did he consider Frédéric’s lavender croissants? Were they well worth the two-week journey?
“They were good, but I think they could be improved even more,” he says. “In Belgium, we often put pastry cream in croissants. Lavender and pastry cream, now that would be magnificent.”
Chrissie McClatchie is a Nice-based journey author and guidebook writer whose tales from the Côte d’Azur and past have appeared in BBC Travel, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet and extra.