Insights

A Guide to the Perfect French Culinary Vacation

From perfectly roasted chicken to steak frites to hollandaise sauce and beyond, French food and culture have hugely influenced the Western culinary lexicon, but there’s much more to cuisine française than the classics you know and love. In fact, the regional specialties throughout the chic country are highly varied. For Plated recipes, we use myriad French cooking techniques—Head Chef Elana, in fact, attended culinary school Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and we turn to her time and time again for French expertise. Now, we’re highlighting some of the country’s most food-forward regions, the specialties each area is known for, and of course, some recipes. Bon appétit!

Paris

With its sidewalk brasseries, charming patisseries, haute cuisine temples, and casual bistros, the famed city of lights is one of the ultimate culinary destinations. Whether it’s dessert or breakfast, the pastry shops in Paris are both ubiquitous and glorious. Having a pain au chocolat alongside your cappuccino is a must, as are the magnificent desserts like the St. Honoré cream puff or the decadent Paris-Brest stuffed with rich praline cream. Macarons—not to be confused with macaroons—are also a Parisian classic. The wafer-thin meringue shells are flavored with anything from passion fruit and chocolate to coffee and rosewater. Pierre Hermé is a much-loved place to sample a dazzling array of pastries and macarons alike.

For a lunch that’s both casual and impressive, try Le Comptoir du Relais in St. Germain. It’s a tiny spot, and you’ll likely have to queue up, but Yves Camdeborde’s classic French-with-a-twist fare is worth it, for sure. For a more casual lunch, try L’As du Falafel or Chez Marianne in Le Marais district. Paris is known for its falafel and other Middle Eastern specialties, and these eat-as-you-stroll options (hello, crisp eggplant, tahini, and pickles) won’t disappoint.

Chowing down on some classic bistro fare (think coq au vin and pâté) is a requirement in our book, and À la Biche au Bois is a sensational choice for an unabashedly rustic, excellent meal, as is the old school Au Pied de Cochon. For a steak frites for the ages, try Poulette, a brasserie with lovely ceramic tiles and a charming atmosphere. And, who can resist the original French onion soup? The lovely Les Philosophes in Le Marais serves a super-savory, cheesy version (in addition to many other delicious things).

Photo courtesy of Helen Cathcart for Saveur

Rhône

The Rhône valley is aptly named for the Rhône river, one of Europe’s largest rivers, which passes through both France and Switzerland. In France, the valley is known for its red wine varietals, including Syrah and Grenache. These powerful, juicy reds are (unsurprisingly) popular everywhere. (You’ve probably bought a bottle or two in the past.) Lyon is the largest city in the region, and it holds a vast collection of gorgeous medieval and Renaissance architecture, so especially if you’re a fan of that kind of thing, Lyon is the place to go. ​Classic offerings from Rhône (where legendary chef Paul Bocuse is based) include charcuterie like rosette de Lyon, a pork sausage, and a bevy of farmer-produced terrines, cheeses, and pâtés. You should definitely order Lyonnaise potatoes if you see them on a menu—they’re thinly sliced and pan-fried with butter, parsley, and onions. Saveur mag went as far to call Lyon the gastronomic capital—check out their extensive list of recs here.

Burgundy

Burgundy, or Bourgogne in French, is a region known globally for its wine. Located Southeast of Paris, Burgundy has five different subregions: Chablis, the Côte d’Or, the Côte Chalonnaise, the Maconnais, and Beaujolais. The three main grape varietals grown in Burgundy are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay. (Betting you’ve heard of the first two.) The most famous dish is bouef bourgignon, a rich beef stew with vegetables and plenty of red wine. Heavy, but worth it. Other snacks of note include cheesy, fluffy gougères (the original cheese puff), coq au vin, and garlicky, buttery escargot. If you haven’t ever tried the delectable snail, we encourage you do to so, asap. Be sure to also visit the stunning monastery town of Beaune, which boasts a Benedictine Abbey originating in the year 910.

Provence

Located in Southeastern France, Provence is one of the most beautiful places in France. The Calanques, a stunning series of cliff inlets on the coast between Marseille and Cassis, are a must visit. From glitzy beaches of Côte d’Azur (aka the French Riviera) to the port city of Marseille to the palatial town of Avignon to the atmospheric city of Aix-en-Provence, there are so many reasons to visit Provence. Arles—now classified as a UNESCO World heritage site—is an incredible Provençal attraction, home to a Roman amphitheatre that is still used today for concerts and events. Serious wanderlust happening over here.

The cuisine there is also very distinct, and the cooking method—à la Provençal—is famous in its own right. It refers to dishes prepared with garlic, tomato, and olive oil, often with the addition of olives, onions, eggplants, mushrooms, or anchovies. Pissaladière, a flatbread topped with olives, onion, and anchovies, is a classic in Provence, as is Marseille’s most iconic dish: bouillabaisse, a famous fish stew prepared with the freshest catch of the day. When it comes to booze, a sip of the strong anise-flavored spirit Pastis will do you well, though it is an acquired taste. Lastly, there’s rosé, which is said to comprise more than half of all wine produced in the region. Don’t mind if we do.

Photo courtesy of Christina Holmes for Saveur

Normandy

Well known as the location where allied forces invaded on D-Day, 1944, Normandy is a region located on France’s northwestern corner. There are many beautiful towns to visit there, from the capital of the region oft painted by Monet, Rouen, to the scenic island of Mont-St-Michel. Bayeux, which is known for its gorgeous tapestry, is home to many gorgeous, medieval buildings. The cliff-lined coast is stunning, and each town boasts insanely old churches alongside other must-see architectural beauts.

As for the food, Normandy is known for its dairy first and foremost—it’s home to the creamy, strong cheese known as Camembert. There is an active network of food and drink markets throughout the area, where you can also find delicious apples and apple cider. Saveur dedicated an entire article to the supreme reign of the apple in Normandy (it’s that good). Calvados, the apple liquor, is named after and produced in the region of Calvados, as is Bénédictine, often enjoyed before or after a meal as a digestif. Thanks to its location on the coast, seafood like mackerel, scallops, and shrimp are enjoyed widely—there’s even a shrimp festival with sea shanties and shrimp peeling competitions.

Brittany

Brittany is the northwestern-most region of France—a dramatic coastline area with medieval towns and tons of local tradition. The historic walled city of Saint-Malo is supremely picturesque, as are the much-loved islands off the coast: Île d’Ouessant and Belle Île. Hello, pristine beaches. There are multiple other towns to explore, the majority of which have an undiscovered feel to them.

Brittany has many elements of its own distinct culture, including the Breton language, which is related to Irish and Welsh. Breton cooking follows suit: One of the most well known dishes is the galette, a buckwheat crepe filled with savory ingredients. You can also enjoy sweet crepes sucrées, made with regular flour and folded over sweet ingredients, like fruit jam, nutella, or just plain sugar. Local cider is also a Breton specialty, as is the Breton Butter Cake, a very simple dessert largely comprised of eggs, sugar, flour, and butter. Because of its location on the coast, Brittany is home to amazing seafood, from cotriade, a fish stew, to homard a’larmoricaine, lobster sautéed in a spicy tomato sauce. The fresher, the better.

BRB, going to France.

Love French culture and food as much as we do? You should definitely try Plated.

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