Niall Hampton

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Previewing 2015 'vans is hard work – find out how the brands' menus fared in our Editor's light-hearted review of launch (or should that be lunch?) season

As Napoleon once said, an army marches on its stomach. The same is true of the international motorhome press corps, which attends various new model previews every summer, hosted by some of the Continent’s leading producers.

There’s no correlation between the quality of the hospitality and any eventual review, of course, but the manufacturers go to considerable expense wining, dining – and often entertaining – members of the media from Europe and beyond. And as these launches take place in locations close to their respective factories, they offer a useful flavour of each manufacturer’s local patch – great for providing a bit of context.

My first foreign launch of the summer was courtesy of Chausson, at Chateau des Broyers, in La Chapelle-de-Guinchay near Mâcon, France. To be expected, it was a very civilised event, with a band playing outside before we took our seats for dinner. Veal in mushroom sauce was followed by a cheese selection, all washed down by a fine Juliénas Beaujolais from the chateau’s winery.

As excellent as the cuisine was, the evening lives on in the memory thanks to a can can and pole dancing routine from the twin female singers in the band that provided musical accompaniment during the meal. ‘Ooh la la!’, as they say in France… 

Verdict: 7/10 – great food and hard-to-dislike entertainment 

Ten days later, it was the turn of Dethleffs. The popular German brand’s annual launch is one of the hottest tickets of the summer, and this year there was an added twist, as it was held during the football World Cup. With attendees from over 20 countries, here was a theme that everyone could easily identify with. 

So up went a big marquee in a car park next to the factory in Isny, decorated with footballs and fake grass, with a nod towards host nation Brazil provided by a Copacabana-themed cocktail bar serving caipirinha. Dethleffs staff sported red football tops, making them easy to find when one had to enquire about the departure time of the last minibus home. 

Some food was also going around in the beer tent. Our set-piece World Cup lunch featured Roulade Von der Putenbrust mit Mozzarella und Rohem Schincken (roulade of turkey breast with mozzarella and uncooked ham) and Cassata Siziliana mit frischem Fruchtsalat (Cassata Siziliana with fresh fruit salad). I only know this because the menu was also in English. 

The entertainment package included some Brazilian dancers in Mardi Gras costumes, big screens on which to enjoy the football (England wasn’t playing, thankfully) and very large table football tables that at least 20 people could get round. On each side. 

Verdict: 8/10 – great atmosphere, good delivery and a superb finish

Niesmann + Bischoff’s 2015 launch was the next on the list, at the Jakobsberg Hotel in Boppard. A smaller-scale event than the Dethleffs convention, the N + B bash eschewed a football frenzy in favour of a Wild West-themed buffet, while patriotically screening the German team overcoming Algeria in the World Cup during the meal. 

We crammed our plates with Spicy smoked beef mit Paprika und Zuckerschofen (spicy smoked beef with paprika and mange tout), Caesar salad, turkey lemon steak, spare ribs and rib-eye steaks, and Kleine burger von Rind mit Gurken, Zwiebein, Tomaten, Kase, Eisbergsalat (small beef burger with cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, cheese and iceberg lettuce). A pleasing combination of chocolate brownies with vanilla sauce, NY cheesecake and pancakes with blueberries concluded our meal. Fortunately it was only a short walk to my room.

As well as hosting Niesmann + Bischoff every year, the Jakobsberg Hotel has another claim to fame. A former Jesuit monastery, it was converted into a hotel in the 1960s by the son of the founder of Haribo – small bags of complimentary Haribo sweets are left in each room and a giant Haribo bear greets visitors in reception. Someone in the family clearly has an interest in big game, as display cases full of African animal taxidermy and supporting memorabilia line several of the corridors, although sadly there was no translation into English. 

Verdict: 7.5/10 – not sure what real cowboys would have made of all the salad, but otherwise very good 

My next appointment was with Hymer in Bad Waldsee. The venerable European producer doesn’t have to hire out a chateau or build a marquee; instead it can call on the ground floor of the Erwin Hymer museum, a fine-looking building across the road from the factory. 

A cosmopolitan buffet was on offer, highlights being chicken curry and rice and curried vegetables. This certainly kept the British contingent happy, your correspondent included. 

As with other launches, the Hymer event presents an interesting dilemma: do you work through lunch to get better access to the vehicles on display, or instead opt for a hearty lunch and get beaten to the plum test drive slots by your French and Italian contemporaries? 

Verdict: 7/10 – good menu selection; definitely worth sacrificing a test drive for 

Time to hit the road again, for the Knaus preview at the Dorint Resort and Spa in Bad Brückenau. Knaus is Germany’s biggest-selling motorhome brand, so rocking up at one of the Bavarian royal family’s former palaces was neither a surprise nor a disappointment.

Another quality buffet greeted the travel-weary delegates: Gemuse currycremer suppe (curried vegetable soup), Rinderhuftsteak an Rotweinzweiben und Resmarinjus (steak in red wine sauce with rosemary juice), Italienishcer Gemasesohmarru mit krauterschmand (Italian vegetables with sour cabbage and cream) and crème brûlée – all well accompanied by Radeberger Pilsner beer. 

Verdict: 8/10 – a hearty spread in most agreeable surroundings (I could get used to this) 

The final Continental preview of the summer was Adria, at Novo Mesto in Slovenia. And our hosts quite literally pushed the boat out on this trip. Following a lunch on the bank of the River Krka which included Cigansko nabodale (gypsy skewer: pork, beef, turkey) and Domáca paštéta (home-made pâté), we took to the river on a party boat while a troupe in traditional Slovenian costume serenaded us with traditional folk songs.

Dinner that night was served at the nearby Castle Hotel Otočec (Slovenia’s only water castle, fact fans), on a terrace overlooking the River Krka. Appetisers consisted of duck breast with courgettes and red radishes on cottage cheese with horseradish and apples, followed by nettle soup with cappuccino (me neither). 

For the main course, we tucked into lamb loin on roasted polenta with cheese and glazed onions and roasted peppers with smoked oil. To conclude, we were given a sweet chocolate variation; something was clearly lost in translation there but it still tasted good. Our hosts were keen for us to have an authentic taste of Slovenia – job done – and that extended to the local wines, which included some excellent bubbles. 

Verdict: 8.5/10 – fine food and drink, accompanied by some valuable cultural insight

Thanks to Chausson, Dethleffs, Hymer, Knaus and Adria for their fabulous hospitality – here’s to next year! 

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