Friday, May 10th – Day 7, Pau
And so finally we were ready for the start of what may very well be the last Grand Prix in Pau, at least in its current format. I’m sure the organisers will find something to replace the Formula Three category, but it really won’t be the same. And for that I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the FIA. For now though, we would be treated one more time to the sight of those who may be the future stars of Formula One thrashing round the narrow twisting streets of the lovely town. It’s sad to think that this may not happen again, and I was in a somewhat melancholy mood for quite a lot of the weekend as a result. It’s particularly vexing given that I think Pau, which is very much the thinking persons Monte Carlo, is one of the sternest challenges these youngsters can face, and it’s good for them to race there for all sorts of reasons! For anyone who is interested, I wrote about some of those reasons three years ago here.
Anyway, putting that behind us, we set out for the day with a stop on the fabulous Boulevard des Pyrenees, the eponymous mountains looking incredibly crisp on a fine, sunny Friday morning. I’m sure I’ve never seen them quite so sharply defined before. We have known people come to Pau and never see them at all, so we were delighted with the views.
After a short while looking down at the cars on the road below (the avenue Leon Say), which runs almost parallel to the promontory of the Boulevard, we moved into the Parc Beaumont, slightly reluctantly on my part as I do rather enjoy taking pictures from up there.
It’s not the sort of view you can often get, and apart from one unfortunate year when someone took the decision to barricade the area off, it’s a great place to watch from – and as it’s outside the circuit it’s also free. The Tour de France related names on the road also add to the fun.
From there we made our way, as we have always been wont to do, to Pont Oscar which is one of the other places around the track that still lends itself to photography when you no longer have a press pass.
There’s an element of scrambling involved, and it’s quite stressful on the ankles, but it’s worth it because you can get shots like this if you don’t mind hanging onto the fence and trying to balance on whatever you can find to stabilise yourself.
It’s actually now one of the two best places to take photos, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, and you need to move round to see who is performing well and who isn’t, who has the courage to attack the place and who doesn’t. We walked past the Palais Beaumont, where the casino is sited and where there is a very pleasant brasserie (and perhaps more importantly indoor toilets, rather than the portaloos that dot the park for this event and that are fine early on in the weekend but that can get very unpleasant as they start to bake in the sun). Here photography is rather more difficult, especially now there are two layers of fencing between you and the track, though it can be done with the right kit.
From here we headed towards Foch and the monument, which these days is where if it’s going to go wrong, it goes badly wrong. It used to be Pont Oscar that bit first, but then the road there was resurfaced and most of the bumps that could so unsettle a racing car were smoothed out. There are still the odd snares for the unwary, but these days it’s the kerbs round the monument that bite.
Sadly there is so much fencing that getting a decent photo as a member of the public is close to impossible. I understand why the fencing is there, but as with so many circuits I wish there was an alternative. The only places I’ve found of late where it’s possible to take good photos pretty much anywhere are Goodwood and Ahvenisto.
Anyway, after the red flag that finished the first session of the morning, we stopped for coffee in the park at one of the many stands that spring up for the event. It’s probably the only race circuit I know where you can get a coffee for €1 so it’s unique in that respect. Actually for an extra €1 you could get a returnable “eco-cup” which made a nice souvenir if you “forgot” to return it (we have a set of 4 now). For the second session we walked round the back of the stands and further into the park where again there is an area that enables you to get some very good shots.
Well, you can if someone who is not a marshal, and who therefore probably shouldn’t be trackside on a live track, isn’t standing on the inside merrily texting her friends for a large part of the session…
Luckily she’d gone by the time this happened:
From there we scrambled down the mini-amphiteathre in the parc and headed towards a corner that may or may not be called Buisson, where again with a bit of manouevring and some decent quality kit on which you can turn the autofocus off, you stand a chance of some reasonable shots coming your way.
There’s a nasty little chicane that tends to focus their minds there.
Towards the end of the session we headed back to the Foch grandstand because it had a handily placed screen where we could see the times at the end, and I caught up with a couple of old friends who were busy watching their drivers intently.
The photography is still rubbish though, even if you can see the whites of their eyes!
Once they’d finished, we decided that we would head for lunch at the Hotel Parc Beaumont, a habit we seem to have got into over the years. Their terrace sort of overlooks the track, or at least it would if they’d just trim the hedge back, and it’s lovely out there on a sunny day with a bunch of tin-tops whizzing past. One of the local ducks seemed to think so too, as it waddled up the terrace and started pecking at the restaurant door. Given that Pau is the land of duck cookery par excellence, this seemed somewhat risky to us!
We settled down in the sun, and the waiter, Fabrice, brought us the menus, the wine list, and a small amuse bouches of rilletes with some lovely toasted baguette slices.
We had a think, and decided that the dish of the day would be good. This turned out to be a very nicely cooked and present piece of stone bass, so no surprises there; both R and I were perfectly content with it, and especially with lovely frothy sauce that soaked into the mashed potatoes so well.
Lynne went for the crab meat salad and green asparagus, which was also pretty impressive, though it has shrunk slightly from the portions of former years.
I was much amused to note that the wine glasses were made in Lausitz, which is another stalwart of the racing world. Stolzle seem to have been around quite a lot longer than motor racing though.
We had considered not having dessert but the offer of a “fraisette” proved irresistible. It looked pretty irresistible too!
After that we had a coffee and then roamed around the park a bit more, heading back towards Buisson again, but stopping off before the amphiteathre again, where the Twin Cup proved more than a little entertaining.
They’re really not suited for a circuit like this, but you try telling the lunatics behind the wheels.
After that we headed towards the paddock to see who we could find, and encountered a variety of people we know, and quite a few we’d almost forgotten, or at least hadn’t seen for a couple of decades. It was a pleasure to see Juan Pablo Montoya again, as I think the last time we’d seen him, he’d been winning at this very same track.
We also found Ferdinand Zvonimir Maria Balthus Keith Michael Otto Antal Bahnam Leonhard von Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, Royal Prince of Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia or as he’s more commonly known – no, not Keith! – just Ferdinand Habsburg. He’s a lot of fun as well as being a much improved driver over the last couple of years.
Once they were all ready to go out for qualifying we headed for the inside of Gare, where the photography was even worse.
And unlike in previous years, we were ready early for dinner so we headed to a bar we know, Au Grain du Raisin, where we offed a couple of glasses of Jurançon molleux, before heading off to dinner down on Rue du Hedas.
This road used to be a grubby, unremarkable part of town, but work by the local government has revitalised the area, and now there are two large playgrounds, a wide car-free road, several restaurants, areas of greenery, and light displays at night. It’s really lovely. As is the restaurant, la Table d’Hote.
Outside it looks as if it’s set in the town wall, but inside is modern, light, airy, with a playful sense of fun in the decor, and serious intent in the cooking.
They were also very patient with the seven of us, and more than able to meet E’s requirement for something interesting but non-alcoholic to drink with her dinner. They scored well on both counts. After we’d all figured out what we wanted, they brought some tiny amuse bouches, with smoked salmon and a creamy cheesy base.
There was some superb bread too, but we all tried to lay off it as much as possible. I started with a lovely (but badly photographed) fricasee of green asparagus, with poached egg and bellota – or if you prefer pata negra – ham from just across the border in Spain. The egg ran into it and brought everything together. These were classic flavours done perfectly.
Lynne’s starter was ricotta and lemon ravioli with a citrus sauce and she said it was refreshing and creamy but wouldn’t let me have any!
The other starters were popular too, and included a tartare of gilthead bream, with crushed avocado, and a piquillo pepper sauce:
For mains I opted for the crunchy prawns, with creamy risotto and piquillo peppers, because as anyone who knows me will know, I am still on an obsessive hunt for the world’s best risotto. This one got pretty close.
I did share this with Lynne, because I also wanted to try the excellent crispy fried veal sweetbreads, with green asparagus. I love sweetbreads but you see them so rarely in the UK. These were very good indeed.
R went for the pork, a pan-fried pluma (loin end) of French pork, with a reduced rosemary jus and pronounced it tasty. It too was accompanied by piquillos, a common ingredient in these parts.
I couldn’t manage a dessert. Instead I opted to share a portion of Ossau-Iraty cheese, which was very simply served with a portion of black cherry jam. I would get through a lot of this cheese, one of my favourites, during the next few days.
R had a Paris-Brest with single cream and chocolate sauce which looked good, but there was no way…
After that we paid the bill, enjoyed the lights, and wandered back to our apartment where we struggled to sleep because of the racket from the Place Gourmand food festival that had been set up in the Place Georges Clemenceau. It was only by shutting the shutters completely that we were able to get a modicum of silence.