Mention the word Gourmet to pretty much anybody and “France” is going to pop into their head. This is not by chance! France just about invented the whole idea of gourmet food with the development of regional dishes into sophisticated pieces of art, created by master chefs from the best kitchens in the world. No surprise to find the word originated in France in the 18th century and that in 2010 French Gastronomy was added to the UNESCO world list of intangible cultural heritages!
However we would not like you to think that all the best food is reserved for high end restaurants, absolutely not, the French are nothing if not democratic and they believe that everybody is entitled to eat well from the farm labourer to the millionaire!! Indeed, in our view, one of the best meals in France is a simple crusty baguette baked freshly, smothered in delicious paté and washed down with a little local wine …stunning in the countryside while basking in the Gallic sunshine!
French gourmet food grew out of the regional dishes that came to be refined from the middle ages onwards. As the royal courts grew so did the renown of their chefs as they pushed the limits of what could be created from the wonderful produce all over France.
There really is so much to see and taste and one of the best ways to do this is in a comfortable motorhome with all the freedom you need for touring these gastronomic hotspots along with the benefit of having your own kitchen if you wish to take some of that vibrant local food and produce your own masterpiece!
Every region has its own unique flavours and specialities, here’s our take on what defines the gourmet identity of some of the better known regions.
Burgundy and Franche-Comté
Within the realms of Burgundy you will find some of the best known French food, wine and cheese. It really is impossible to do a gastronomic tour of France without spending time here. The marriage of meat, chicken and fish with the delicious wines of the region gives Burgundy its distinctive identity in food terms with dishes like Boeuf Bourguignone, Coq au Vin with Bresse Chicken and Oeufs en Meurette (poached eggs in red wine sauce).
Of course, the traditional frogs legs and snails come lathered in garlic butter so if you’re brave enough to try them, make sure everybody else in your motorhome has them too! Liberal helpings of everything along with Charolois beef, Dijon mustard, possibly the best wines in the world not to mention the cheeses such as Morbier, Comte and Epoisse make the region an outstanding gourmet highlight. So start with a little Crème de Cassis or a Kir (courtesy historically of the Mayor of Dijon no less!) and set off among the beautiful countryside of Burgundy with its rich history and really you may find that you get no further!!
Loire Valley and Central France
Apart from the obvious delights of the beautiful French Chateaux, the majestic Loire and some of the prettiest villages in existence what else has the Loire valley got? Well let’s start with the plump fruits and vibrant vegetables grown in this superb climate with strawberries and cherries along with melon and the famous mushrooms “Champignons de Paris”.
Dishes of wild game are popular and fresh water fish from The River Loire is especially sublime covered in the mouth-watering Beurre Blanc Sauce. Wines are light and refreshing here with whites and rosés abundant and the little village of Vouvray lending its name to a delicious sparkling wine that sums up all that is perfect about the Loire, summer and sunshine in a glass! The very distinctive and delicious Goat’s cheeses from the area are the best in France and are often covered in a light covering of edible ash which was the traditional way of preserving them and giving them their distinctive taste!
Champagne, Lorraine, and Alsace
In the north east of the region you will find a large Germanic influence in food due its proximity to the border and popular dishes of game and ham are in abundance. The ever popular Quiche Lorraine originates here along with a large variety of other quiches. The star of the region though is the world famous Champagne which legend has it began life here at the hands of the famed Monk Dom Perignon.
Whoever created it there is no doubt that the sparkling wine from this region is the best in the world and the only one to be legitimately called “Champagne”. A visit to some of the great Champagne houses is a must and if we had to choose one it would be Ruinart in Reims, it will put a hole in your pocket but is a sublime experience.
Just as fantastic is rolling through the countryside pulling up at little French villages tasting superb local Champagnes with some strong Munster or creamy Chaource cheese before strolling to your Motorhome in the vineyard to sleep off the food, wine and cheese before doing it all again the following day. Tastings at smaller, village based producers are usually free and their Champage is a real bargain.
Picardy, Normandy, and Brittany
The northern coastline supplies many of the wonderful shellfish and fish that grace the tables of this region with scallops, sole, lobster and especially mussels being some of the most popular dishes here. Thick hearty stews such as Blanquette de Veau are a favourite and it is also home to the Galette, a buckwheat version of a pancake which is eaten as a savoury or sweet option. The profusion of apple trees in the region lends itself to the best cider in France and it also renowned for Calvados which is commonly used in sauces as well as a “Digestif”. The well-known Camembert cheese originates here and is considered the best in France. It is often accompanied by honey which is a fantastic mix, another speciality is baked Camembert which is truly yummy and worth the drive alone!
Bordeaux, Périgord, Gascony
Not unlike the Burgundy region the Bordeaux area is obviously famous for its wines and these make their way into many of the dishes however you will find some notable differences in cuisine with a propensity toward patés and terrines and it is also famed for its production of Foie Gras.
Food is often very rich with duck appearing on practically every menu. However, proximity to the sea also brings fish to the table too. Lamb is also a favourite with Agneau de Pauillac popular and as you can imagine, many of these are paired with scrumptious big Bordeaux wines. Hearty Gascon cuisine and powerful, top class red wine, a match made in heaven but don’t forget to take your appetite!
Toulouse and the South
As we go further south we find the type of food changes again as this area is noted for its poultry, hams and especially it’s sausages with the Saucisse de Toulouse being the king of them all! Indeed this rather famous sausage makes it into the signature dish of the region “Cassoulet”. There are many versions of this casseroled staple often made with another favourite of the region, haricot beans.
Fish is very prominent and the traditional Bouillabaisse (fish stew) originates from Marseille in this area. This is another area noted for its Foie Gras and veal and if you are lucky enough to visit at the right time,truffles! Roquefort cheese is a favourite of the region and this pairs well with the often under rated red wines.
We are now entering the sunshine belt of France and consequently this is reflected in the produce and dishes served. You will find citrus fruits bursting with sunshine along with fantastic vegetables, fruits and herbs. Superb olive oils are used in many recipes. The cuisine is a mix of seafood from the Mediterranean in the south with lamb, beef and chicken are popular.
You will also find an Italian influence near the border with garlic and anchovies making their way into Provençal dishes and sauces such as “Provençal”. Truffles abound in Provençe in the winter and goat’s cheese is a perennial favourite. Wines of the region are lighter with excellent roses from Provençe and Pastis (an aperitif) appears everywhere. Due to the fantastic climate salads proliferate with “Salad Niçoise” being the top dog in the coastal regions. Banon is a delicious local cheese arriving wrapped in a chestnut leaf and all the tastier for that – Enjoy!!
The great thing about discovering France’s gourmet pedigree in a campervan is that you can spontaneously choose from dressing up and sampling the delights in a Michelin starred restaurant to cooking some sublime, fresh ingredients on the barbeque in your tee shirt and shorts.
Whichever bit of France you decide to explore and whether you choose to eat in or out, there is always good food and there is always somewhere convenient to park up for the night so pick up a motorhome and plan your personal gourmet adventure in the culinary capital of the world.