26 reasons to fall head over heels for France! Everyone has their own personal reason for falling in love with France. For some it’s the Eiffel Tower, for others it’s boulangeries or fromageries. For some it’s sipping a glass of Sancerre in Sancerre or indulging in a ripe Camembert in its home town in Normandy. We asked Martine-Bertin Peterson of Goût et Voyage cultural and gastronomic tours of France, what her favourite French things are…
Apéro, bread, cafés
Apéro. This delightful tradition is such a pleasant and social way to wind down the day – in a cafe or at home with friends. A glass of wine or pastis or Lillet and some nibbles and good conversation…ahhhh.
Bread. Let’s be honest. Is there any bread, anywhere in the world that can beat an artisanal baguette? I suggest not.
Cafés. This French institution is still alive and well throughout France. Each one is similar yet each one is different- from the view to the regulars to the people watching, nothing compares to the experience of whiling away some time in a French cafe.
Dehilleren, Eze, Fromage
Dehilleren. As a foodie and ardent cook, I cannot resist wandering around cookery stores and E. Dehillerin on rue Coquillière in Paris, is the granddaddy of all cookery stores. Founded in 1820, the store carries every imaginable cooking, cutting and baking tool. Every time I visit, I discover items I never knew I needed but immediately must have – a parsley mill? Bien sûr! A small copper pot for making flambé? How did I live without it!
Eze Village. For one of the best views of the French Riviera and the Mediterranean Sea, take the winding road up from Nice to this charming and glitzy small town. Stroll through the botanical garden featuring a wide variety of succulents and cacti, tour the castle, wander (up, up, up) the narrow streets and pop into the boutiques. Lunch on the terrace at Les Remparts restaurant at the 5-star Chèvre d”Or Hotel is a splurge and a very special treat.
Fromage! Estimates of how many different French cheeses there are range from 250 -1000. Whenever I go to a market, I try to taste as many different ones as I can. The cheese mongers are eager to provide a taste of their wares and it is the best way to discover your favorites.
Gordes, Hermès, Ile-sur-Sorgue
Gordes. One of the prettiest Luberon hill towns, the stone houses precariously perched on the hillside are best viewed in the late afternoon when they are bathed in a golden light.
Hermès. This longtime French luxury brand still maintains all of its cachet. You may not be able to afford a Birkin handbag, but stop into an Hermès boutique and spring for a much more modestly priced signature scarf. You’ll feel oh so chic and you’ll marvel at the precise and time-honored wrapping of your purchase.
Ile-sur-Sorgue. This pretty town on the Sorgue River hosts a great Sunday antique market as well as a sprawling traditional market. I love majolica and have picked up several asparagus dishes and strawberry dishes over the years. If you can’t find gifts and souvenirs here, you won’t find them anywhere!
Jams, kugelhopf, lavender
Jams and jellies. The traditional jam and jelly techniques are still alive and well in France. Lovingly prepared jams such as apricot and thyme, melon and mint and sweet cherry are prepared in copper pots according to recipes passed down from generation to generation and will spoil your taste buds forever.
Kugelhopf. A German-style cheesecake baked with raisins and almonds and shaped like a bundt cake is an Alsatian treat. Often served for breakfast, it is a delicious way to fortify yourself before heading out the Christmas markets.
Lavender. There’s a good reason those Provencal fields of lavender garner thousands of likes on Instagram. The lavender fields at the Abbey of Sénanque have been photographed millions of times but go down any small road in Provence at the end of May or early June, and you’ll be rewarded with a riot of purple color and the sweet scent of the blossoms.
Menu, Navettes de Marseille, omelettes
Menu. When dining in France, whether at a small family-owned restaurant or a Michelin starred palace of fine dining, you can never go wrong with the “menu” – the chef’s selection of today’s 3 or 4 course meal. Unlike the often sad and uninspired “prix fixe” menu reserved for those pinching pennies in other countries, savvy French people know the “menu” is often the freshest and best price/performance option.
Navettes de Marseille. The navette is an orange-blossom flavored, boat-shaped cookie which can be found in markets and pastry shops in and around Marseille. One legend has it that the cookie was named to commemorate the voyage of Mary Magdalene and Saint Martha to Marseille by boat. Since they are quite firm, I enjoy dipping my navettes in a steaming cup of café au lait.
Omelette. I love eggs and fancy myself a pretty good omelet-maker. But my technique pales when presented with a perfectly prepared “omelette aux herbes fines”. It is said that one of the key tests of a French chef is his or her ability to prepare an “omelette a la bave” -a perfectly soft and runny omelet. France’s most famous omelet is that of La Mere Poulard in Mont St. Michel, Normandy.
Pétanque, Quimper, Roussillon
Pétanque. Drive through any small town in Southern France in the late afternoon and you are likely to see a group of older men playing “pétanque” also known as “les boules.” In our busy, digitally-driven world, it is a delight to see this traditional pastime survive.
Quimper. An historic town with half-timbered houses in Brittany. It gives its name to the distinctive faience pottery which has been manufactured there for more than 300 years. The hand-painted table service pieces are decorated with villagers in traditional attire and can turn any kitchen into French country chic.
Roussillon. Dramatic ochre cliffs mark the area around Roussillon. Take a stroll through two marked paths of the sentier d’ocres (the ochre path). And marvel at the contrast between the deep blue sky, dark green trees and red, orange and yellow landscape.
Supermarché, transhumance, Uzès
Supermarché. French supermarkets are a wonder to behold. The variety of yogurt, the selection of wines, the deli and prepared foods sections are superior to any of my supermarkets back home. I particularly like to browse the infant food section – pureed spinach and salmon, pureed artichokes, pureed carrots and cod. No wonder French children develop a sophisticated palate an early age.
Transhumance. The seasonal practice of transferring livestock from low pasture to high pasture, and the reverse, often involves herding the animals through town. If you have never seen hundreds of sheep filling the streets of St. Rémy while shepherds, often in traditional attire, coax their animals to move along, you are in for a very unique and charming experience.
Uzès. This city in Le Gard is an easy 40 km from Avignon and not far from the Port du Gard. You can visit the famous Roman bridge and Uzès on the same day. I love the architecture in Uzès. All of the buildings are made of the same light-colored limestone and so many of the old houses have been restored to their former glory. The heart of Uzès, the lovely Place aux Herbes, is the site of a very lively – and less touristy- market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Mont Ventoux, wine, Xmas markets, Zut alors!
Mont Ventoux. The highest peak (1909 meters) in Provence, Mont Ventoux towers over the landscape. The ride to the summit has broken the spirit of many a Tour de France cyclist, but you can opt for an easier way to reach the top by driving. Allow 4-5 hours to reach the peak and return. Be sure to stop on the ascent and take in the view of the lavender fields, the Puveze and Groseau Valleys, the Luberon, Ste-Victoire and on a very clear day, Marseille.
Wine. Whether your preference is red, white or rose, a French meal is never complete without a bottle of wine. Contrary to popular perception, the French are not generally wine snobs and are as happy to sip a 12 euro rose as they are to drink a 50-euro Sancerre.
Xmas markets. From late November through December, Christmas markets and fairs take place all across France. My favorites include the the fairy-tale markets in Strasbourg and Colmar as well as the santon markets in Marseille and Arles.
Zut alors! Oh darn (or damn). I couldn’t talk about my love of France without also mentioning my love of the language. Mellifluous, sonorous and often maddeningly frustrating la guerre, war, is feminine, le sein, the breast is masculine), the French don’t mess around with their language. The venerable Académie Française.
Martine Bertin-Peterson of Gout et Voyage, runs cultural and gourmet tours of Provence where you’ll make heart-warming memories and visit the most magical markets, villages and sites…