Best French food trips of 2016
From patisserie in Paris, to butter in Britany. We've travelled around France to find the best places to eat and drink. Here are our top ten French food trips
South Pigalle, Paris: 10 best places to eat and drink
Check out author of the Wallpaper* City Guide Paris Sophie Dening's guide to Paris' once overlooked SoPi neighbourhood. A must-visit for its artisan patisseries, hip bistros and stellar cheese shops. If you're travelling to Paris for the patisserie alone, check out Sébastien Gaudard’s Rue des Martyrs boutique. Whether you want a choux bun, or a jar of crème de marrons (chestnut cream), you'll feel like a child in a sweet shop. They look almost too good to eat, but don't let that stop you. After all those cakes, a coffee might be in order, so stop off at KB Café Shop. After spending time in Sydney, the French owner wanted to bring some Australian influence back to France. It's got a relaxed vibe and the beans are roasted on site so they're as fresh as can be.
Savoie, Mont Blanc: where to eat and drink
Under makeshift wooden wigwams in a field above Lake Annecy 300,000 snails are snoozing. Despite that large number, snail farmer Philippe Héritier can’t keep up with demand from local chefs. His gros gris (big greys) are prized because they’re more tender than traditional Burgundian snails, and because they taste better (a fact he ascribes to letting them gorge on the rich grass of the French Alpine foothills).
Terroir is key to Héritier, who also produces biodynamic wines on a five-hectare vineyard, the Domaine des Orchis (domainedesorchis.fr). Here he grows local grape varieties such as altesse (white) for the local Rousette de Savoie wine and mondeuse (red). As with the snails, Héritier believes that his wines taste better because the vines are cultivated in pesticide-free soil that’s alive with micro-organisms and shares nutrients with wildflowers and grasses.
You are what you eat – or absorb through your roots. It’s not a new concept, but it’s one I’m happy to swallow with a chilled glass of 2014 Roussette de Savoie and a helping of snails, served sizzling in butter, parsley and garlic (plump and soft, they’re far less chewy than those I’ve tried in the past).
Provence: where to sleep, eat and what to do
Hilltop Crillon Le Brave is a vision of Provençal style; a clutch of honey-hued, pastel-shuttered houses surrounded by slopes carpeted with olive groves and vineyards. Now a gourmet hotel in Provence’s agricultural heartland, its chefs gather pork from the Ventoux, asparagus from Mormoiron and trout from the river Sorgue (in autumn the hotel offers truffle-hunting breaks). While they’re transforming it into elegant dishes, spend your time playing boules in the terraced garden, relaxing by the pool or the tiny spa, or exploring further afield: Avignon is a short drive away.
Whether you opt for Jerome Blanchet’s fine-dining restaurant (and dishes such as young pigeon cooked two ways with a crumble of sweet onion and peach flavoured with verbena), or rustic Bistrot 40K (produce from within 40km of the hotel), the focus is on seasonal and local ingredients. Blanchet offers a seven-course tasting menu, à la carte and a menu of the month. In August it might be tomato-themed, in September, mushroom.
Normandy: where to sleep, eat and what to do
Calvados, cream, butter, cheese, apples, cider: like many places in France, Normandy is not easy on the arteries. It is, however, a superb place to sample AOC-status booze and food made by small, unfussy family producers, many of whom have been perfecting their produce since William the Conqueror started peppering the landscape with castles. Just a short hop across the Channel, it’s recently been made more accessible thanks to new self-guided tours designed by accommodation outfit Sawdays. These link up its most special places to stay with local distilleries, cider houses, orchards, farmers’ markets and artisan food stores.
Brittany, France: where to eat & drink in 2016
You’re never more than a frisbee’s throw from a crêperie in Brittany. The northwest corner of France is famous for its pancakes – sweet, wafer-thin crêpes smeared with salted caramel or buckwheat galettes stuffed with artisan sausage. It’s also a popular bucket-and-spade destination. But there’s more to Brittany than beaches and pancakes. Its larder is bulging with cider, oysters and onions; that French stereotype, the beret-clad man on a bike with a string of onions round his neck, was an ‘onion Johnny,’ hopping from Brittany to Britain to sell sweet, pink onions from Roscoff.
Butter is also big in Brittany – rich, creamy and seasoned with fleur de sel from the Guérande – but, surprisingly, cheese is not. The region’s fertile farmland is marbled with dairy herds but it’s one of the few areas of France not to produce its own AOC cheese. “Why?” I asked, browsing brie de Meaux at a sprawling market on the Place des Lices in Rennes, Brittany’s capital. A Gallic shrug. “No mountains.”
Local chef Sylvain Guillemot laughed at this. Money not mountains, he told me, is the real reason. “The French government put a tax on cheese. Butter could be sold fresh and eaten immediately so was exempt.”
The Dordogne: best places to eat and drink
There’s a reason why the Dordogne river has long been a magnet for those of us in search of classic beauty: it undulates through some of the loveliest parts of France, curling round towns and villages of gasp-inducing gorgeousness and, despite the odd sighting of jet-skis, gives the impression that nothing much ever changes. Chateau de la Treyne, clinging to the steep banks of the river, intensifies this impression, with its baronial, wood-panelled rooms, vast open fireplaces and sense of serenity. Our elegant room looks out onto the river, its misty morning majesty quite the way to start a day. As is a breakfast of tiny, freshly made omelettes, cured ham, just-baked baguette and pastries, homemade jams and butter so luscious you could eat it by the spoonful.
It’s hard to tear ourselves away from this historic luxury, but we do manage a wander to nearby Souillac (not for food, but for the slightly creepy Automaton museum; unmissable if you love the bizarre). And Sarlat, whose Saturday market is almost impossibly over-subscribed at the height of the summer season. As with many tourist destinations, the restaurants haven’t the greatest reputation, so we content ourselves with buying fat, vac-packed sausages and figs from the covered market in the Église Sainte Marie. For a blissful bout of people-watching at the heart of the market square, we park ourselves at hilarious Jimmy’s Bar, a rockabilly French fantasy of a US diner, to eat oysters from one of the nearby market stalls and quantities of chilled Bergerac rosé. The house look is 50-something Suzi Quatro.
Les Sources de Caudalie, Southwest France: where to eat, sleep and what to do
Twenty minutes’ drive from Bordeaux, Les Sources de Caudalie is the epitome of French country chic. There’s a stone manor house at its heart, a small lake, and a hard-working kitchen garden, plus a hamlet-like extension of new suites. Great food and wine are the focus at this gastronomic getaway, but even the finest dining (the hotel’s main restaurant, La Grand’Vigne, holds two Michelin stars) is done without fuss.
The three restaurants at Les Sources have most tastes covered. Celebrate a special occasion with dinner in La Grand’Vigne and enjoy a meal where even the table salts stick in the memory (one of ours, blended with Bordeaux pimento, was the colour of roast peppers). The cheeseboard comes with fresh cottage cheese, from a local dairy, served with a dot of cherry jam.
Read about the rest of our visit to Les Sources de Caudalie, France, here
Bordeaux in winter: where to eat, drink & stay
This city’s robust signature dishes, rib-sticking entrecôte cooked in red wine, butter, shallots, herbs and bone marrow sauce, confit duck and lamprey, come into their own in winter, and it’s an excellent place to shop for foodie stocking fillers.
At L’Olivier you can order casual dishes such as crisp pizzas with Parma ham, purple artichokes and rocket leaves, or whole grilled sole with herb dressing, but the main attraction is Restaurant Joël Robuchon, which sees the stellar chef at full creative sparkle; a jewel-like starter of king crab, with lobster jelly and caviar.
Les Carroz d’Arrachés, France: a trip around the French ski resort
French ski resorts, as a rule, are not as chocolate-box pretty as those in Austria or Switzerland. But there are exceptions, of course, and Alpine chalets that fall the right side of cowbell chic. Les Servages d’Armelle is one of them. In the little resort of Les Carroz d’Araches near Flaine, at the foot of the slopes of the Haute-Savoie, this hotel and restaurant is built with timber from an old farm. It has an authentic log-cabin vibe, the creak and reek of wood, with the odd nod (pony-skin stools in the bar) to the 21st century.
On piste Chef Pascal Flécheau, originally from the Loire, trained with two of the country’s best chefs: Jean-Claude Garzia and Eric Pras. The menu veers towards hearty mountain cuisine, albeit with an inventively modern twist. This isn’t fondue and tartiflette territory. Think French charolais fillet steak with onion compote, carrot and parsnip mousse and dauphinoise potato, sweetbreads with risotto, cream, parmesan and truffle oil.
Sète, France: where to sleep, eat and what to do
Sète’s sandy beaches are thronged with visitors during summer, but the peninsula has bigger fish to fry than tourism – it’s the largest fishing port on the French Mediterranean coast, and behind it is the oyster-filled Thau lagoon. It’s picturesque, too – from the hillside ‘Little Naples’ district to its boat-lined canals, the 19th-century facades are an attractive reminder of the town’s prosperous wine-trading heritage.
Local recipes – such as octopus-stuffed tielle pie – have stood the test of time, many brought by the Italian immigrants that settled here in the last century. The best seafood restaurants are along Quai Maximin Lucciardi near the harbour, where you’re likely to spot fishermen unloading still-writhing stock.