Not to belittle the history or the landmarks, but the food is arguably the main highlight of a France vacation. The French gave us modern cuisine and have cultivated the world’s foremost gastronomic culture, so you can expect excellent food when you travel through the country. Of course, there’s the question of what to eat where when heading through France. That’s where we come in.
We’ve put together a foodie itinerary through many of France’s key cities and regions, highlighting some of the culinary pleasures of travelling here. We start in Paris and head clockwise throughout the nation, sampling foods in Normandy, Alsace, Burgundy, and Provence, among other regions. A journey through France includes long meals, leisurely paces, light breakfasts, delicious baked goods, cultivated fine dining, hearty red wines, and incomparable bread and cheese. So without further ado, let’s go on a journey through one of the world’s greatest food nations.
Find Your Appetite in Paris
Like almost all journeys to France, ours begins in Paris, the nation’s capital and the eternal City of Lights. People come here for the romance, the art museums, and the overwhelming atmosphere of Culture (with a capital “C”). It’s the atmosphere that makes Paris so attractive as a honeymoon destination, but the food has something to do with it as well. It’s one of the world centres of gastronomy.
On your France vacation, begin your day with a stop at one of the countless bakeries that fill the city. Grab a croissant or other baked good and head to a nearby café to enjoy your croissant with a coffee. After a morning at a museum or one of the many landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, head to a bistro or café for a light lunch, or, even better, stock up for a picnic and head to one of the city’s many green spaces, like the Jardin du Luxembourg. Grab some meat from a charcuterie shop, some aged camembert or brie from a fromagerie, and some bread from a bakery and enjoy a picnic while basking in the warm sun.
Occupy yourself in the afternoon by visiting some of the many other landmarks in Paris, from the white Basilica de Sacre-Coeur to Notre-Dame Cathedral to the lesser-known, but just as stunning church, Sainte-Chapelle. If you get hungry while sightseeing, grab some crepes from a food stall or indulge in some chocolates or baked goods (it’s always a good time to visit a bakery in Paris). As the day winds down, find yourself a bistro or brasserie to spend a few hours eating French favourites like duck confit or coq au vin, or take advantage of the city’s excellent international restaurants and feast on sushi, pasta, or Moroccan chicken tagine. Splurge on one of the city’s many Michelin-starred restaurants or go low-key with steak frites in a local favourite. After dinner, enjoy a parfait or mousse with a glass of red wine or an aperitif. Rinse and repeat this cycle for as many days as you’re in Paris on your trip to France; you won’t be disappointed since there are always new delicious flavours to discover.
Dairy in Normandy and Champagne in Reims
From Paris, turn north into Normandy and spend some time visiting the beaches of D-Day and stopping off at Bayeux to see the remarkable tapestry that recounts William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066. While seeing these historical sites, take advantage of the region’s fresh seafood at some of the seaports like Le Havre or Dieppe. If you like mussels and scallops, you’re in for a treat.
Of course, you don’t have to be a seafood connoisseur to enjoy food in Normandy and Northern France. The region is known for its dairy products and produce, so lovers of the land will have as much to appreciate as seafood lovers. In particular, Normandy is renowned for apples, so try everything from apple tarts to apple cider to an apple brandy, known as calvados, when you visit on a France vacation. For cheese lovers, the region is home to camembert, one of the world’s most delectable aged cheeses. Also be sure to liberally apply butter to all your baked goods while in Normandy; the region has the best butter and cream in France.
Turn east and hit Reims, the unofficial capital of the Champagne region. After seeing Reims Cathedral and visiting the Palace of Tau, get up to speed with France’s most exquisite sparkling wine. The city is filled with Champagne Houses and wine cellars, so take your pick and try respected brands like Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart.
German-French Cuisine of Alsace
Continue southeast and reach the borders of Germany and the Franco-German region of Alsace. Passed back and forth between Germany and France throughout the early modern era, Alsace has incorporated key elements of both French and German cooking into its cuisine. As such, it’s a great spot to enjoy some heartier food than you may be used to in France. The region’s capital, Strasbourg, should be your main destination.
In Strasbourg, sample both the French and German sides of the region with an appetizer of foie gras, which might wipe you out with its incredible savouriness. If you still have an appetite, try some choucroute garnie, which seems as German as sauerkraut with its offering of cabbage with salted meats and potatoes. No two dishes of choucroute garnie are the same, so depending on the restaurant, you’ll experience a different family recipe. Alsace is also famous for flammekueche, which is a kind of flatbread, pizza-like dish, made with baked dough covered in cream, onions, and bacon, and then baked in a wood-fire oven. You may not want to go back to pizza once you’ve had a taste.
Red Wines of Burgundy and Gastronomic Lyon
Turn south and continue into the famous wine region of Burgundy, where the land flows red with robust wines. Almost every dish in Burgundy takes advantage of the region’s wines, from famous beef bourguignon to coq au vin to all manner of stews that entice our senses once you walk in the door of the restaurant and smell what’s cooking. The capital, Dijon, is a good place to stay on your France vacation, as it has access to many vineyards in addition to its historical sites. The city is also the home of the famous French mustard, as well as the wine cocktail, kir, which is a shot of crème de cassis covered with ample white wine. Try the kir, but don’t give up the opportunity to try another Burgundian red if you have to choose between the two.
After visiting vineyards and swimming in the wonders of French wine, continue to Lyon, which has recently given Paris a run for its money as the gastronomic capital of France. The cuisine here is all about meat and fish, and borrows from a wide variety of regional influences, as the city sits at the conflux of two main rivers. Take advantage of the growing number of world-class restaurants in Lyon and sample some local favourites like andouillete, a type of coarse stuffed sausage, and grattons, which are abundant in Cajun cooking but have roots back to Lyon. Also, keep in mind that Lyon has many Beaujolais vineyards nearby, so you won’t be lacking for good red wine when you visit.
Sunny Flavours of Provence
Continue south and reach the coast and the picturesque landscapes of Provence. Stop in the port city of Marseille and see its fascinating Mediterranean sites, from the Romanesque-Byzantine Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde to the Old Port where fishmongers have sold their wares for generations. If you enjoy fish, try the bouillabaisse, the classical Provencal dish that’s essentially a fish soup.
Turn east and head to Nice, where salads and vegetables reign supreme. Perhaps most famous of all cuisine nicoise is the salade nicoise, which consists of fresh greens, olives, anchovies, tomatoes, and boiled eggs with a lemon and olive oil dressing. You’ll also often find green beans and boiled potatoes in the dish as well. It’s incredibly appealing; who thought salad could be so delicious? Also popular in Nice and much of France is ratatouille, the famous vegetarian dish consisting of cooked eggplant, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and a mixture of herbs. Few dishes better capture the bounty of the land.
If your appetite still isn’t satisfied on this French journey from north to south, you could easily turn west and head to the mountainous region of Basque country, where Spanish flavours influence the cuisine and spice becomes abundant. You can also turn northwest and head into Bordeaux, where wine and stew are king. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Bordeaux is merely for comfort food; it’s been labelled as the top new city for restaurants in France and has been making a name for itself on the international food scene.
There are so many incredible flavours to try on a France vacation. A trip through the country is a culinary adventure, where you can sample centuries of gastronomic innovation and take advantage of a national culture that puts food and drink above all other pleasures.
Hungry yet? Bon voyage and bon appetit!
For Wine Lovers, a France Vacation Can Be Rewarding