So far this one has eluded me.
Perhaps it has eluded others too. I think it’s because there are so many factors in question. It is unlikely they all are in alignment. The perfect picnic is a phenomenon quite well suited to motor travel. The car can hold a lot of things necessary for “dejeuner sur l´herbe”. You can peruse a lot of places at your leisure too whereas cyclists tend to
carry fewer things (walkers much less) and tend to be happy just to stop riding at any point. As a cyclist I have eaten in some really unsavoury locations and not minded too much.
I recall that the American mustard concern Grey Poupon ran an ad focusing on what they called a tailgate picnic. They imagined a Rolls-Royce tailgate and provided a recipe involving chicken breast and quite a lot of Grey Poupon whole-grain mustard. I didn’t get a hold of the Rolls but I did try the recipe. It was vile. Notice how Grey Poupon associated a good picnic with a good car.
As a motorist it hasn’t worked out for me. The locations haven’t provided the right degree of bucolic perfection while still constituting a place in nature. There seems always to be something missing from the always-huge inventory of things. And most certainly, the meteorological conditions are seldom what you want: mild and windless are my preferences. You need some sunshine too but also some shelter and shade. And, finally, the rest of the team need to agree that this, this is indeed the spot to stop.
At the core of the problem is the tension between spontaneity and organisation. For a really nice picnic you want to have all the things ready in advance. At the same time, to stop when the mood takes you adds a vital and important element to the pleasure of the whole enterprise. But planning a picnic has something of the futile pursuit of setting out to have a good time. One of the Mills (senior, I think) said that happiness was something that one felt while going about other goals. Pursuing happiness itself is a hiding to nothing. You are bound to be disappointed.
Nonetheless I have planned picnic stops and having written this I need to plan another very soon. As far the good ones have featured a nice place and bad food from convenience stores. While motoring across Ireland this summer (avoid) we stopped by a lake near Nenagh and while the food was alright the lack of a picnic table marred proceedings. The best recent one was entirely spontaneous: an uncannily warm October morning with absolutely no air movement and bright sunshine.
We had absolutely to take advantage of the conditions and so we raided a convenience store, drove off in a hurry and breakfasted by the undisturbed surface of the Limfjord in NW Denmark. What did we eat? Looking back, I regret it was not fresh bread, cheese and chilled champagne (driving). We ate rice pudding with fruit compote with plastic spoons and struggled to smear cream cheese on slices of ryebread. We lacked the plates, clothes and glassware and, most of all, the coffee and cake that was demanded. It was memorable, and possibly the best morning of the last five years. And imperfect. Achingly, annoyingly imperfect.