France and its flavours

In Europe, Food, France, Our Journeys, Sense, Senses by Janis4 Comments

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.

A collection of large, artisan, nougats for sale on a market stall

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.

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2 tables and chairs outside a gift shop painted in deep red, providing local gastronomic food produce from the Champagne-Ardenne region.  The shop is called Terroir des Rois which roughly translates I from the soil of Kings.

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.

A stall in Nice, France, displaying varieties of potatoes and a selection of fresh garlic.

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.

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The north of France

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.

The Ficelle Picarde, a regional dish of Picardy, consisting of a pancake stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and ham, covered in a creamy cheesy sauce served in an oval pie dish

Ficelle picarde, Amiens

The scene of cafes that line the edges of Place Charles de Gaulle in Lille, northern France, underneath beautiful ornate buildings with the town's Clock tower in the background

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.


North-western France

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 Breton buckwheat galette filled with camembert cheese and sliced potatoes.

A gallette with Camembert and cream, Normandy

They taste all the better washed down with a glass of Normandy cidre.

A bottle and 2 glasses of Cidre de Normandie served at the edge of the marina of Honfleur, filled with small sailing boats.

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.

A plate of steak tartare served with a side salad and fried potatoes.  this dish has a regional twist in that is covered with poached apples and shot of calvados spirit on the side

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.

Traditional bowl of fish soup served with crispy croutons, grated hard cheese and a remoulade on the side

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.

Three profiteroles stuffed with different flavoured ice creams topped with toasted almonds with  a dollop of whipped cream on the side, all drizzled with caramel sauce.

Possibly the best profiteroles, Caen

Rick Stein’s Secret France

If this article has whetted your appetite and you would love to discover more, purchase a copy of the book ‘Rick Stein's Secret France’.

Then let the adventure begin.


North-eastern France

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.

A view of young vines growing in the champagne region of France and you can clearly see red roses at the end of each row placed there to aid pollination

Roses on end of vineyard, Champagne

I also love the landscape and architecture in this region, the rolling vineyards around Alsace, Reims and Aÿ are such a pleasure to roam around.

A view of a mass of tables and chairs on the pavement side of the historic city of Troyes. The backdrop is the half-timbered buildings synonymous with the region.

Cafes in Troyes

Then there are the eye-catching half-timbered homes in Troyes and the stylish town square in Nancy where families and friends congregate to dine together.

A view from the centre of the square Place Stanislas with three storey buildings with cafes at the bottom.  You can also see the black & gold wrought iron gates and lamp posts.

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.

Tables and chairs at a cafe in the Alsace region of France with the distinctive green glass stemmed wine glasses synonymous with the area.

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.

A thin and crispy Tarte flambée, A speciality of the Alsace region, topped with crème fraiche, thinly sliced onions and fine lardons of smoked bacon

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 shop, painted bright red, in the historic town of Troyes

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.

An Andouillette de Troyes served with sautee potatoes and a creamy garlic sauce

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, Or floating islands desert at a Bistro in Troyes.  The desert consists of poached meringue on a bed creme englaise, or cold custard, drizzled with a caramel sauce.  This example is also dusted with freeze dried red berries

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.

Central eastern France

This whole area of France has some exceptional flavours. With the rich Beef bourguignon and Coq au Vin from Burgundy and the incredible local market in Annecy, I’m sure we’ll return.

Stall in Annecy’s food market displaying regional cured hams, meats and  sausages.

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.

A traditional macaron shop in a side street in Annecy.  Shop windows are full of tempting local sweet delicacies.

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 bubbling pot of cheese fondue served in a cast-iron saucepan over a low heat.

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 large bowl of French Onion soup served in a cast iron cooking pot with a ladle to help yourself.

A bowl of French Onion soup, Arbois

Have you seen?

While travelling through this beautiful country keep a lookout for 12 of France’s incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you may want to add some of these to your road trip.

South-eastern France

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.

2 glasses of rose a wine and I cheese board with a selection of local produce  and fresh bread with the chutney in the center.

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 cobbled street scene in Avignon, France, with tables and chairs lined up outside a cafe

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.

A fish stall next to the small harbour of Villefranche sur Mer with the fisherman's boat moored alongside.

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.

A fine selection of fresh softs fruit on market stall in Nice, France.  The stall is beautifully laid out with the bright colours of peaches, greengages, plums, kumquats and strawberries

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 shop in Montelimar dedicated to the sale of nougat, in the region renowned for this sweet treat.

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.

A lagoon just outside Sète in France filled with raised wooden oyster frames from which the seafood is cultivated

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.

South-western France

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 of Saint Jean-de-Luz in late afternoon when the fishing boats have returned for the day

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.

Cobbled lanes in the centre of St Jean-de-Luz framed by traditional four story buildings, the traditional colours of green red white evident in the decoration of the town.

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.

The front of a cheese shop in Espelette, decorated in a mass of red dried Peppers for which the town is famous for.

A cheese shop in Espelette

Something to make your travels easier?

Throughout France

Travelling through France always brings a smile to my face. There are always the classic sights that you see while strolling around.

An elegant woman passing by I traditional artisan boulanger pâtissier on side road in Paris.  The front of the art deco styled shop is panelled in wood with 2 large windows displaying chandeliers inside, there is a deep burgundy canopy covering the upper portion of the store.

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.

Loaves of fresh French bread on sale on a market stall in France including a pain du champagne

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 black and white image, taken from inside a café, of a woman passing by with red umbrella, wrestling against the elements, on a stormy day in Paris

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.

2 elderly women walking past the grand Marche des Halles in the city of Troyes on an overcast day.  The building Is home to an indoor market some supporting many local food traders.

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.

Glass of record served with a jug of water for you to mix as you desire.  Once you mix the 2 clear liquids the resulting drink turns a cloudy whitish colour

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.

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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Comments

  1. I’m glad I didn’t read this hungry! It’s been so long since I’ve been to France. You’ve covered so many regions and their delicious foods..I really do need to get back. Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

    1. Author

      France is an incredible place to go on a food discovery, some of the flavours are so distinct from region to region. Luckily for us there is so much more to sample.

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