When the French go on road trips, they don’t hold back even on the food.

When the French stop for a roadside bite, they can expect to pay less than €15 (approx. RM72) for a full meal of starter, main, and dessert. But those in the know don’t just stop for the attractive prices; the classic roadside restaurants of the French “relais routiers” also offer a unique look at local cuisines and promise friendly encounters for vacation-goers in transit. There is even a guidebook listing those offering fully homemade fare.

The summer of 2020 offers little in terms of travel possibilities, but one can always dream of future vacations and make the best of what is possible. While many are relying on cars for their holidays this year, the lunch choices for French travellers taking to the highways go far beyond the ubiquitous fast-food restaurants to include the French version of a truck stop.

These low-key establishments are generally the domain of professional truck drivers, but they also welcome families. Among décor that is anything but trendy, diners can discover local dishes, regional produce, affordable prices and a no-frills side to France that will naturally please adventurers. In the oldest French highway stopover, Beg-Ar-C’hra in Plounévez-Moëdec, Côtes-d’Armor in France’s northwestern Brittany region, the tone is immediately established with a sign that reads: “Here, since 1870, we eat, we drink, we socialize.”

The 2020 guide of French ‘relais routiers’ roadside restaurants has been published.

History of a legend

Before being known as a type of restaurant, the “relais routiers” were actually associated with the title of a newspaper called “Les Routiers,” founded in 1934. The paper detailed everything to do with roadway transportation, the profession of truck driving, and shared accounts of truck racing. At the time, in order for drivers to have time to read the paper, the food stops with the most trucks parked outside were chosen as the best spots for the paper to be distributed.

In the current context, in which these mom-and-pop restaurants are struggling due to decreased activity along autoroutes and competition from large chain restaurants, those which still honour the spirit of the classic “relais” are listed in the Relais Routiers guide, whose distribution was delayed because of the coronavirus lockdown but is now available.

How can they be spotted?

The half-blue, half-red sign indicates the roadside restaurants where the cuisine is homemade and the price for a meal including starter, main, and dessert doesn’t exceed €15 (approx. RM72). They often propose local dishes, such as “gardianne de taureau,” a traditional stew of bull meat, at L’Etape in Senas, Bouches-du-Rhône. Along the lines of the Michelin guide, which awards the best restaurants with stars, the best “relais routiers” get tiny casserole symbols. Sixty-one establishments can boast this distinction.

Historically, these stopover restaurants have been required to offer parking space. The guide also notes those which are open on weekends, offer free wifi or even accept dogs.

The “relais routiers” are also listed at www.relais-routiers.com (in French).

(Hero & featured image credit: Unsplash/ Joackim Weiler)

This article is published via AFP Relaxnews.