Without doubt, one of the most iconic things about France is its food. The vast array of its famous dishes you see repeated around the world on restaurant menus is testament to this. But these traditional dishes often taste so much better on their ‘home soil’, by using locally grown ingredients and staying true to the original recipe and method.

Bouillabaisse a typical French dishOver the years we’ve enjoyed holidays in France ranging from winter holidays in the French Alps to city breaks in Nice and Paris, and long summers in Provence and Bordeaux.  To compile a list of France’s most iconic dishes is a tall order and we’re sorry if we’ve missed your French foodie favorite.  I hope you have the privilege of tasting some of these dishes whether you are on board a boat, in a city café or at a restaurant by the sea. Bon appetit!

 

  1. Tarte Tatin

Let’s start with a classic. This upside-down pastry contains fruit (usually apples) that is caramelized before being baked. It is usually served with crème anglaise or ice cream. This is a dish you learn to make at school and the teacher tells you the story about Stephanie Tatin creating this by mistake back in 1898 – she was trying to make a traditional apple pie when she accidentally left the apples in the sugar and butter for too long. In a hurry, trying to rescue the dessert, she put the pastry base on top of the browning fruits and then placed the pan in the oven.  A mistake that is loved around the world even today.

 

  1. Boeuf Bourguignon

A firm favorite, this delicious red wine based beef stew is always a winner with our family. Dauphinoise or Lyonnaise potatoes go well with it if they are on the menu. If you find yourself in Burgundy, you won’t be short of the opportunity to test the region’s most well known dish, but be warned, there are some strange variations out there. One time in Beaune we experienced the worst (bland and served with spaghetti) and the very best (too many to mention) Bourguignon we have ever tasted.

 

  1. Moules Marinières

Many a café and brasserie will serve this popular lunch dish.  A big bowl or saucepan of mussels cooked in white wine with shallots and parsley. Served with bread or French fries. The French recipe doesn’t add cream to the sauce (it really doesn’t need it). As with most fish and seafood dishes on a French menu, a glass of Muscadet is the perfect match, but a beer is often seen being sipped alongside this dish and it works.

 

  1. Blanquette de Veau

A creamy veal stew made with lots of butter, cream, and carrots. Traditionally the stew is thickened with a roux. And typically it is served with rice. It consistently ranks in the top ten when the French are asked about their favorite dish.

 

  1. Soupe à L’oignon (French onion soup)

French onion soup is made with meat stock and browned onions garnished with gratinéed croutons and cheese on top. It is very filling so good for lunch if you are spending the day doing some sightseeing. It’s a deeply flavoursome broth-like soup, hearty for a winter’s day.

 

  1. Steak Tartare

Who remembers the famous scene from Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean when he orders a steak tartare not realizing it is in fact raw meat – we still laugh when we see this dish on a menu.  Steak tartare is made from finely chopped or minced raw beef or horsemeat. It is often served with onions, capers and seasonings, sometimes with a raw egg yolk on the top. Most restaurants will serve it ‘deconstructed’ for you to mix to your own liking, but occasionally you will find it served as a premixed patty of meat.

 

  1. Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France. Traditionally containing duck, garlic sausage, pork skin and white beans, nowadays you’ll find any kind of cassoulet on menus – sometimes just sausage, sometimes beef. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.

 

  1. Confit de Canard

Quite simply, duck cooked in its own fat. This is a traditional dish of south west France. Often served plain it can also arrive in a rich sauce containing cherries, red wine or orange. You’ll most commonly find it sold in cans or jars in the shops and supermarkets.

 

  1. Bouillabaisse

An iconic Provencal dish from Marseille. It includes shellfish and at least three different types of fish, and is infused with saffron. It should be served with rouille (garlic and cayenne mayonnaise) that is spread on grilled bread or croutons. If you love seafood then you will adore a good Bouillabaisse, especially one made near a fishing village. How to spot a bouillabaisse from a fish stew: the bouillabaisse will always contain chunks of fish and seafood.

 

  1. Pissaladière

Here is something you can order whilst you are perusing the dinner menu enjoying your aperitif.  In short a pissaladière is a small pizza with onion, olives, and anchovies. Originating from Nice, the base is an almost pureed onion that has been caramelized. Believe it or not, this was once early morning fayre!

 

  1. Fondue Savoyarde

Fondue tends to be most associated with skiing and most commonly seen on menus of restaurants in or near the alpine regions. But you can enjoy it anywhere, especially on board, as you can buy your own fondue kit and they make for a fun DIY dinner. A big pot of melted cheese infused with white wine and garlic is the centrepiece. Have fun dipping cubes of bread into the beaufort or gruyere cheese. Savoie tradition says that if your bread falls off the fork into the fondue, you must buy the next drink!  Another melted cheese specialty, although originally from Switzerland is Raclette. Using a raclette machine, you melt the cheese over baked potatoes, ham and salami.

 

  1. Tartiflette

While we are on the subject of mountain food, we mustn’t forget Tartiflette. Savoie and Haute Savoie are home to this piece of carb heaven, a luxurious potato dish made with melted Reblochon cheese, lardons and onion, eaten as it comes.

 

  1. Coq au Vin

Somewhat bastardised in the UK as any old chicken casserole, an authentic coq au vin is worth tracking down. At its heart this is simply chicken braised in red wine with bacon, butter, mushrooms and beef stock. Depending on where you are in France you may find regional variations named to reflect the region’s own wine as a primary ingredient instead of the traditional Burgundy. Served best with creamed potatoes and buttered French beans.

 

  1. Coquilles Saint-Jacques (Gratinéed scallops)

This luxurious scallop dish is made by poaching them in white wine, topped with mushroom purée, covered with a sauce made of the scallop poaching liquid. Quite often they’ll be topped with breadcrumbs and Gruyere before being flashed under a hot grill.

 

  1. Escargots

We had to sneak them in somewhere. The stereotypical French dish. You may have a marmite relationship with these slimy creatures but when they are cooked in butter, garlic, and parsley you wouldn’t know you were eating snails. They are delicious and should definitely be on a foodie bucket list.

 

  1. Soufflé

Whether it’s a cheese soufflé you have as an entrée or a chocolate one for dessert, a soufflé is invariably worth that 15-20 minute wait! And who’d have thought it’s a dish that dates back to the early decades of the 18th century.

 

  1. Foie Gras

As controversial as it is, it is so popular in France. Made from the liver of a deliberately fattened duck or goose it is a dish of significant gastronomical heritage in France. In restaurants you’ll find it offered either as a mousse, parfait, or pâté. Its depth of flavour compliments so many dishes that you’ll note its inclusion as an accompaniment to other menu items too.

 

  1. Crêpes

Perhaps the most versatile of dishes on this list, the crêpe originated in Brittany but is eaten across France and French speaking nations. The crêpe can be savoury (known then as a galette) or sweet. It can also be one of the simplest treats with a sprinkling of sugar or one of the most spectacular – the renowned crepe Suzette. The beurre Suzette of the latter is a sauce of caramelized sugar and butter, tangerine or orange juice, zest, and Grand Marnier. The best bit? The waiter will often do the flambée at your table!

 

  1. Salade niçoise

As you may expect, this salad originates from Nice. The perfect lunch that often showcases the best of local produce, wherever you are in France. To a base of lettuce is added fresh tomatoes, boiled eggs, tuna (canned or freshly grilled), Niçoise Cailletier olives and anchovies.

 

  1. Crème brûlée

Last and by no means least is the crème brûlée, a custard based dessert topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel. Traditionally, the custard is flavored with vanilla and we personally think this is still the most delicious way to enjoy one. But nowadays you’ll find custard flavourings (like coffee) and fruit combinations (a layer of fruit purée beneath the custard) more commonly available.

 

So how did we do? If we missed any of your favourites, let us know what they are!

Christmas is unquestionably creeping up on us and before we know it there will be an abundance of festive events to look forward to. 

Lille Christmas market and Ferris wheelChristmas markets are a firm favorite for many and as far as we’re concerned there is a festive market for everyone. Whether you plan on visiting one locally or perhaps look to venture further afield; there are so many lovely ones that are well worth a visit, especially in France. Christmas markets not only make a great excuse for a weekend break with a loved one or group of friends but with amusements for children they make a memorable family day out. The majority of markets open at the end of November so you can get ahead on some of your Christmas shopping whilst having fun soaking in the festive atmosphere.

Known in France as Marché de Noel, the big three Christmas markets in France can be found in Paris, Lille and Strasbourg with smaller ones across the country. 

Whether you plan to drive, fly or take the Eurostar, wrap up warm, sip your vin chaud and enjoy the entertainment amongst you. Here are our top five must visit Christmas markets in France.

Lille Christmas Market

When: 18 November – 30 December 2015 (closed Christmas Day)

Where: Place Rihour, centre of Lille 

Travel: 1hr 22m from St. Pancras International, direct to Lille

If you plan on a proper shopping weekend then take the car, it is just over an hour from Calais, depending on traffic. The Lille Christmas market is somewhat an institution. Its presence in the city dates back for centuries and it has become the biggest of its kind in Northern France. Amidst the traditional wooden chalets selling local products and gifts to concerts and exhibitions there is plenty of entertainment too. The iconic Ferris wheel in the main square will give you a great view of the market and its towering Christmas tree that dominates this winter wonderland.

Lille retailers really go to town at this time of year with their festive themed shop windows. And with nearly 4,000 shops throughout the city there will definitely be something to suit every taste and budget. A true shopping haven!  

“Capital of Christmas” Strasbourg Christmas Market 

When: 27 November – 31 December 2015

Where: In front of the Strasbourg Cathedral in the historic quarter 

Travel: Eurostar from London St Pancras changing at Paris, journey time between 5-6 hours including changeover.

Just over 2 hours away from Paris is the historic, cultural and gastronomic city of Strasbourg. Situated a few miles from the German border it is easy to notice several Germanic influences at France’s oldest and Europe’s largest Christmas market. From the food and wine right through to the style of gifts available you’ll understand quite quickly why Strasbourg has twice been voted ‘Best Christmas Market in Europe’. Known to many as the Capital of Christmas, it has some 300 chalets across 11 sites attracting up to 2 million visitors during the festive season. If this doesn’t get you into the festive spirit nothing will!

The Christmas market is situated in front of Strasbourg Cathedral, with its Gothic towers and famous sky-high clock. If you can drag yourself away from the stalls, the cathedral is worth a visit in itself.

Throughout the city, town squares are filled with characteristic wooden huts:

Place des Meuniers hosts a foodie market where you can purchase delicacies from Alsace’s legendary small growers and producers.  The Alsatian Christmas delicacies market has further local products in Place d’Austerlitz.

There is a Children’s World on Place Saint Thomas, definitely worth a visit if you are taking the kids. And have some fun ice skating on Place du Château.

Visit La Petite France, an area of quaint buildings with Christmas shops and even a gingerbread bakery. Food on offer at the market includes sausages and choucroute (pickled cabbages) and their famous three-meat baeckeoffe stew.

Reims Christmas Market

When: 01 December – 04 January 2016 (closed Christmas Day)

Where: Place d’Erlon, rue Condorcet, rue Marx Dormoy and rue Théodore Dubois.

Travel: 2hr 16m London to Paris, on Eurostar

If you are visiting Paris then why not add on an extra day or two to explore Reims. Less than an hour from Paris by TGV it would almost be rude not to visit the capital of the Champagne region while in the vicinity. Known as the “Cité des Sacres”, Reims hosts a Christmas market that is set to fill you with yuletide joy, Christmas cheer and of course a little Champagne.

With entertainment from street performers, carolers, jazz bands, jugglers and organ grinders along with wooden chalets selling local crafts and delicacies there is lots to see and do.

Although the market attracts more than 1.5 million visitors over its month long opening it remains incredibly family friendly with animations for children, concerts, Nativity scenes, gourmet food stalls and even a funfair.

Nice Christmas Market

When: 05 December – 04 January 2016 (closed Christmas Day)

Where: Place d’Erlon, rue Condorcet, rue Marx Dormoy and rue Théodore Dubois.

Travel: 2 hr flight from London to Nice

The city is illuminated to set the celebratory tone for the abundance of festivities that take place throughout December. There’s a Christmas Parade and an end of year concert. Despite being on the French Riviera, you’ll very quickly feel Christmassy.

The market is set up set up on Place Massena, just at the edge of picturesque Vieux Nice. Over 50 wooden chalets selling arts and crafts, gifts, vin chaud and fresh socca (a local dish: pancake made from chickpea flour) Other attractions include an oyster and champagne bar.

In the centre of the city in the green park area is a Ferris wheel which is elegantly lit up. The palm trees that border the ice skating rink are also given a fairy light festive feel. What’s more the ice rink runs just four sessions each day, each lasting 1.5 hours. Make your way over to the Albert 1er gardens to find a festive play area specifically for kids.

Christmas Markets in Paris

There are a number of Les Marchés de Noël throughout Paris, selling art and craft products, local specialties, gastronomic treats for the Christmas dining table, toys and clothes. Plan a festive weekend to the city and wonder around the many markets Paris has to offer, mixed in with some memorable sightseeing.

When: 15 November – 04  January 2016

Where: All throughout Paris

Travel: 2hr 16m from London to Paris, on Eurostar

Avenue des Champs-Elysées

The largest Christmas market in Paris. Dazzling illuminations line this iconic avenue, up to 160 chalets line the Champs-Elysées between the Rond-point and Place de la Concorde.

Paris Notre-Dame

Marque chalets are set up in front of the city’s most famous cathedral. Although it is a relatively small market there are some 40 craftsmen, makers of clothes and accessories, wood turners and toys. There is also festive entertainment laid on each day such as street singers, puppet shows and stories for children.

Others include:

Saint Germain des Prés in the Latin Quarter

14th November 2015 – 4th January 2016

St. Sulpice in the Latin quarter

1st – 24th December 2015

Trocadero Gardens

13th December 2015 – 4th January 2016

Place des Abbesses

Late November – 1st Jan 2016

We hope that we have conjured up all sorts of festive shopping ideas for you, wherever you may be or wherever you’re intending to visit in France. Happy festive shopping from all of us!

 

A visit to a French chateau should be towards the top of your to-do list when you visit France. These homes of the nobility in times past offer a fascinating glimpse of social and political history stretching back centuries, and a chance to really savour the true culture of France.

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There are, sadly, plenty of stately ruins with perhaps one turret remaining intact, scattered throughout the countryside, most numerous in the Burgundy region. But many are restored and maintained, offering visitors a glimpse of the great halls, period furniture, the kitchens and gardens – a waft of domestic life for the honoured and wealthy in previous centuries.

French châteaux are not all of fairytale design like Carcassonne, famed worldwide as a stunning example of a medieval fortress. Some (less ancient) are of palatial style, such as the renowned Palace of Versailles, with architects designing not just to protect inhabitants from enemy hordes but to impress and entertain. A stately home.

The Château of Pennautier is one such, dating from 1620, and situated not far from Carcassonne and the Canal du Midi in the south of France. The Château is set in French style gardens amidst the vineyards of the Lorgeril family within the Languedoc Roussillon region.  The 10th generation descendants of the original owners of Pennautier still live there. And they have recently made their home available to private guests in an exclusive association with one of the superb floating vacations available on a luxury hotel barge cruise.

As part of an exclusive 4* hotel barge cruise aboard hotel barge Savannah you can fine dine in Château Pennautier and stay the night, explore the grounds and breakfast in the kitchen in the morning. You may also like to have exceptional tuition with a master oenologist and a master chef as part of this wonderful experience.

Hotel barge Savannah has three gorgeous double cabins for six guests and one single cabin, and is immaculately decorated throughout with quality furnishings, including upholstery by Christian Lacroix.

Delicious foods and wines are served throughout the cruise, in the dining room or on the shaded sun deck, whilst the Canal du Midi floats gently by.

The Hotel Barge Savannah Cruise and Chateau Experience

savannah-940x260This cruise aboard the Excellence rated hotel barge Savannah includes five nights aboard and an exclusive two days and one night at the Château. Immerse yourself in its history and culture, the beauty of its decorations and furniture, its cuisine and of course its wine produced from 360 hectares of vineyards in the Languedoc region.

As part of the experience you will enjoy an extensive (and delicious) introduction to their Domaines*, to taste and savour distinctive red and white wines, aged and young, fermented in steel vats and oak barrels. You will explore the subtle differences between combinations of grape varieties and the ways in which the soil, style and fermentation processes affect the flavour and character of thier wines.

Dining at Château Pennautier

Champagne from Bollinger is served as an aperitif in the high-ceilinged first floor salon, where the original decor and furnishings are still there for you to touch and enjoy, centuries old family heirlooms for you to walk on and sit upon. You will be charmed by this setting, especially when the musicians arrive to serenade you with classics from the folk tradition as well as Edith Piaff and Serge Gainsbourg.

Your 5 course dinner, with carefully chosen wines, will be served in the lower dining hall, a room adorned with original Classical-themed tapestries by Aubusson, a pink-marbled fireplace and a huge 16th century brass chandelier from Holland.

As this is a family home and not a hotel, the charming owners, Nicolas and Miren de Lorgeril, always make a point of welcoming guests personally and if they are in residence they will find the time during your dinner to come and greet you.

This is an evening of atmosphere like no other – soft lighting, gentle harmonies permeating along the corridors and from room to room, superb cuisine from Savannah’s own master chef and top quality wines from the family vineyards  – with the promise of heading up the sweeping staircase to your suite for the night. Perfect.

Accommodation

One of the bedrooms at Chateau PennautierYour room is large, renovated to the highest standards to combine original features – tiled floors, heirloom chairs and tables, wallpapers, window and light fittings – with modern sanitary ware, plumbing, and super comfy beds and bed linen. And when you wake, you will have a view over the extensive gardens and vineyards, where you might like to stroll before breakfast.

Day Two

Your delicious start to the morning is served in a room full of personal family artefacts – a quiver and rapier, a dresser of books and photos – with two chandeliers in the style of antlers, a huge armoire, a large stone fireplace and antique chairs. It feels like a family room into which the gamekeeper might stroll with a couple of pheasant for lunch or the coachman might take a quick nip of brandy before setting off to Carcassonne or further afield.

Indeed, your morning may continue with a wine workshop with Caroline de Beaulieu, Oenologist. This is a chance to savour and learn about the structure of different wines, and perhaps how and why they go together so well with cheeses and chocolate.

After a good lunch, you may like a cookery class at the Château by Stephane Reau and Frederic Vivas, which includes not only a demonstration of 17th century cuisine, but also kitchen equipment, presentation of dishes, menus and table manners. 

* The Lorgeril family estate now consists of 6 vineyards in the Languedoc Roussillon region, each producing distinctive wines:

  • Château de Pennautier
  • Château de Caunettes
  • Domaine de Garille
  • Domaine de la Borie Blanche
  • Château Moulin de Ciffre
  • Mas des Montagnes