Just a soupçon from the land of cheese and wine
One of the reasons we love travelling is discovering the unique flavours of a country or a region. We always try to eat and drink what is local to an area, as it really gives you a taster of where you are and what flourishes in that region.
Nougat on a market stall, Annecy
And no surprise, one of our favourite countries to indulge in this is France. The French make it so easy. As you would expect, dishes do overlap as you travel around and like many countries, they often have their traditional dishes that are synonymous throughout the land.
Local produce - Reims
However, it’s not until your journey from region to region that you really appreciate the differences. From the produce, you’ll sample across the lush mountainous landscape in the east, to the local delicacies in the sun-kissed Provence hills in the south.
Local market in Nice, you’re never too far from garlic
We’ve yet to discover all of the regions of France. Nonetheless, we have had the pleasure of touring around on and off for the last 25 years. Hey, there’s no rush, and it’s a great excuse to return.
So just a soupçon of the delicious and not so delicious flavours we’ve sampled en-route.
Our French road trips always start from the southeast of the UK, so, often we scoot through the north of France and don’t really stop. However, we recently visited the historic city of Amiens in the Somme department in Hauts-de-France.
We came across a dish named ‘Ficelle Picarde’ which is a dish regional to Picardy.
This is quite a filling little number and consists of a savoury pancake stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, and ham.
Ficelle picarde, Amiens
Place Charles de Gaulle, Lille
With the city of Lille located so close to the border of the beer nation Belgium, the locals do appear to enjoy a beer over wine. So, that could be why one of their local dishes is the Carbonnade Flamande, a hearty beef and beer stew. Definitely one for the winter months.
A helpful guide
I love nothing more than planning a trip through France and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our French road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.
I’d say a little more Normandy to be precise, as we need to discover Brittany a bit further, although some dishes do overlap. Galettes are a good example as their origins are Breton; however, they do appear to travel well.
A gallette with Camembert and cream, Normandy
They taste all the better washed down with a glass of Normandy cidre.
Cidre de Normandy, Normandy
A traditional French dish that can be found across most of the country is steak tartare (although its origins are mixed). Steak tartare is undoubtedly not a dish for the vegetarians amongst us. As it is made from finely ground raw beef and often has onions and capers folded in. While we were in Rouen, Gary enjoyed the Normandy version, which had apples and a shot of Calvados to blend with it.
Steak Tartare, Rouen
France produces some tasty soups, one of my favourites is Soupe de Poisson. And there is no better place to have it than beside the harbour in Honfleur. More importantly, it needs to be served with all the trimmings, including croutons, grated Gruyère and a thick rouille, mmmmm.
Fish Soup, Honfleur
A dessert synonymous throughout France are profiteroles, and I have quite a soft spot for them and sampled more than my fair share. However, I must say some of the most delicious ones I’ve had were in a ‘Casserole Bouchons’ in Caen. Perhaps not the traditional chocolate variety more caramel, but the choux pastry and filling were incredible.
Possibly the best profiteroles, Caen
The north-eastern region of France is a food lover’s and wine lover’s paradise. It’s full of so many exciting flavours, from the vast selection of cheeses to the delicate bubbles of Champagne.
Roses on end of vineyard, Champagne
Cafes in Troyes
Place Stanislas, Nancy
If you’re familiar with Alsace wines, you’ll remember the little green-stemmed glasses that it is served in. Gary and I couldn’t resist buying a couple as they are so unique to this lush area France.
Those green stemmed glasses, Alsace
It’s also in this region that they serve tarte flambée, which we could never refuse, as they are so light and flavoursome. Our favourite is the traditional variety with crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and lardons. However, we have since tried one with apples and cinnamon in Strasbourg.
Tarte flambée, Alsace
Don’t miss out on the fine selection of charcuterie served here, this is one of Gary’s favourite dishes for lunch.
A traditional Charcuterie in Troyes
Now, Gary also took one for the team while we were in Troyes and he chose the andouillette de Troyes. For those of you that are vegetarian, or faint-hearted I would suggest avoiding it or just watch someone else try it. Gary rarely doesn’t eat his food; however, it wasn’t the taste that was putting off so much it was the unbelievable smell.
Andouillette de Troyes
To end this section on a more upbeat note, we come to Gary’s favourite French dessert, and that is îles flottantes (floating islands). It is a traditional dish that is served north to south and consists of meringue floating on crème anglaise. However, you don’t actually see it that often. So, whenever we do see it, there is no other option for Gary.
îles flottantes, Troyes
It made us laugh
We were sitting in a restaurant in Caen, and French family next us ordered an îles flottantes. The waiter replied back that this dish wasn’t on the menu, and even with our very limited French when the gentleman’s response back was ‘merde’ we knew it wasn’t to be.
A stall full of Saucissons on the market, Annecy
In this region, be sure to pay a visit to Lyon, also known as the ‘the belly of France’. Here Gary chose a local dish named quenelle which is creamed fish poached in a light egg coating and apparently very delicious.
The Macaron shop, Annecy
I made the mistake of not translating a local Lyonnais speciality into English and decided upon Tablier de sapeur. Which is breaded beef tripe, needless to say not my greatest choice, as tripe is not my thing.
A little town we recently discovered in the Jura region is Arbois. This town is so pretty and has some exceptional wine and food.
A fondue typical of the Arbois region
Here you’ll find the little-known vin jaune (yellow wine) and vin de Paille (straw wine). The vin jaune is similar to sherry, so it is quite intense.
We decided to eat at La Finette, which serves regional dishes and even though the temperature was quite warm outside, Gary couldn’t resist ordering the Comté fondue.
Although saying that I ordered the French classic ‘soupe à l’oignon’, when this is cooked well and served with the trimmings of French bread with melted cheese on top, it is a treat.
A bowl of French Onion soup, Arbois
Have you seen?
Ahh beautiful Provence, when I think of Provence, I think of a crisp, delicate glass of light rosé wine. Sitting in the dappled sunshine without a care in the world and olive groves stretching as far as the eye can see.
Rose & fromage, St Remy-de-Provence
A visit to this region isn’t complete without stopping by in Avignon. In this picturesque town is where Gary had his most memorable crème brûlée. He can still remember the delicious lavender flavour infused within it.
A Café in Avignon
With Provence in your rear-view mirror meander along the ochre Côte d'Azur coastline. This is a stunning part of France, and I never tire of visiting. Our little hideaway here is Villefranche-sur-Mer where we sit and watch the daily catch being sold on the harbour front. Some lucky person will be enjoying a fruits de mer.
The fish stall, Villefranche-sur-Mer
However, if it’s the bustling vibes of a local market you love, then head just around the bay to Nice. There’s a wonderful market in the Old Town just waiting for your custom.
Fresh Fruit at the market, Nice
Now does Montélimar ring a bell? Well, it certainly will for those of you with a sweet tooth, as this is the home of nougat.
A nougat shop in Montelimar
Then with a little hop south back on the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. You’ll discover the unusual sight of the oyster and mussel beds in the saltwater of the Bassin de Thau.
The Oyster beds
Good to know
The French roads are so easy to drive upon, particularly on the autoroutes. They are often quiet and free-flowing. The main thing you need to bear in mind is that the autoroutes are usually toll roads.
Keep your credit card handy as it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to pay.
This is a region of France I’d certainly like to discover more of. We’ve visited a few places; however, there is so much more. One place I loved was Saint-Jean-de-Luz, nestled in the Bay of Biscay and it’s so close to Spain. You can really see and taste the influences of Basque in the cuisine.
The harbour at Saint Jean-de-Luz
One dish that Gary and I both enjoyed was piperade which is a typical Basque dish.
It is made from onions, green peppers, tomatoes and the local red Espelette pepper, which gives it a delicious boost in flavour.
The old town of St Jean-de-Luz
Espelette is only 14 miles (23km) from Saint-Jean-de-Luz and is an amazing little town. Lots of the houses and local stores have the Espelette pepper hanging all around the outside of their walls.
A cheese shop in Espelette
Something to make your travels easier?
Travelling through France always brings a smile to my face. There are always the classic sights that you see while strolling around.
Artisan Boulanger Patissier, Paris
My favourite will always be watching locals wandering around armed with their freshly baked baguette. You are never too far from a boulangerie in France, and everyone buys one to enjoy fresh for that day.
Fresh bread on the market, Caen
Wherever you are, whether it’s a large city or a small village the traditional stores, street cafés, are so often serving those French classics.
A blustery day in Paris
And what’s not to love about rubbing shoulders with the locals while they go about their daily shop in ‘Les Halles’. These beautiful cast-iron buildings are the mainstay of many French towns and are usually bustling most mornings.
Les Halles, Troyes
So, while you’re in this charming country always keep a lookout for the French food and drink that just sings France.
For us, it wouldn’t quite be the same if we didn’t see the good old Croque Monsieur, confit duck, vast selection of cheeses, a patisserie, oeufs en cocotte and of course a Ricard.
A glass of Ricard
The choice is yours
You have various options when visiting France if you’re travelling from the UK. Firstly, you can jump in your car and hop on Le Shuttle, this is our preferred option.
Also, you have the choice of letting Eurostar take the strain. You can catch a train from London St Pancras International direct to Paris. Then France is your Oyster.
Alternatively, if you are flying in, head direct to city of your choice, and check out the deals on Rental Cars they cover all budgets.
Inspired to visit France?
We love the food and culture in this charming country, why not start building your own road trip?
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