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Where to go in France for fabulous food;a great village


Abra
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Host's Note: I've split this off from "In France.....Proper Manners" because a quest for a good food area seemed worthy of its own space.

Thanks for your encouragement, everyone. After all, I'd much rather be known as "l'Americaine toute a fait gentille et charmante" than "cette Americaine qui manque completement du savoir faire." Or whatever they might say.

We haven't yet decided what part of France, so if you have any suggestions about a great village, not too small, not too big, not too many ex-pats, and with fabulous food all around, fire away!

Edited by John Talbott (log)
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Abra, what an embarrassment of riches!

It depends on what kind of climate and regional food you're most keen on, also on whether you want a village or a small city. Do you want to live near the sea? In the mountains? In the country? Near a large city?

You could go for somewhere super-charming like Uzès in the south of France, on up to somewhere like Laguiole in the Aubrac (and eat Aligot, mm), or around Saint-Pourçain in the Bourbonnais, it's beautiful (esp. with the Sioule river) and there are lots of gastronomic goodies.

The Loire Valley has some great possibilities; I'm partial to Chinon. Or further toward the coast: Nantes (a city and not a village). In Normandy, places like Villers-sur-Mer or Cabourg (I was there last weekend) have a lot of charm; Honfleur is too touristy, though beautiful.

I like Burgundy and the Jura - if you're into wine, you might pick somewhere like Volnay or Meursault. Spitting distance from Beaune and charming in their own right. In the Jura, there is Dole, which I think has its own eccentric charm, or the more conventionally quaint Château-Chalon.

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Abra, I'd concentrate more on regions and their special characters than cities or villages in particular. I'd suggest first you pick the region, then you find the village.

France is so diverse and has such an array of climates, landscapes, local languages and cultural styles that it's not easy to direct you from scratch. What are your preferences ? The sea, great seafood, sandy coasts, rocky coasts ? Or the land, the countryside, wide open or hilly with hedgerows? Mountainous or flat? Hot, dry and sunny or mild with a little rain at times? Are you keen on milk products and green pastures or do you rather crave dry rocky land and fragrant herbs? Do you like gathering shellfish at low tide or taking a stroll to a goat cheese farm? Does the place have to be in a wine-producing region? Do you want lots of fruit trees around? Do you want to spend time in the confit and foie gras culture? Would you like to get a grasp of the truffle culture in Winter? etc.

I think the West might be a good idea, because it has such a nice climate in the Summer and is still lively off season. I mean places like Charentes, Poitou, Vendée. And the Southwest (Périgord, Quercy, upper Languedoc, lower Pyrénées) never disappoints because it's so culturally rich, including foodwise. I find Brittany (South of Brest) amazing, personally I'd pick it any day, but it's not a wine place. I'd avoid Provence except in the upper parts, which can be beautiful but a bit lonely too. Etc. Maybe you should express your desires so that we can narrow your search.

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Abra - I think you'll have a wonderful time no matter where you choose.

Rather then specific advice I can share with you the decision making process Linda & I went through when we were preparing to buy in and then move to France. (mind you we had already spent a lot of time in France over the years.)

First we decided no cities. (easy as we're country lovers with dogs). Then we eliminated the North on weather; too cold & grey. Then we eliminated Provence as too expensive & too many 'foreigners'. We eliminated the Loire & Dordogne as being too much Eastern England given the number of British. The Rhone, Jura & Massif Central just didn't appeal to us for reasons we can't quite figure out.

So, this really left the South West. Roughly from Montpelier over to Coulior on the coast & up to Biarritz & Bordeaux on the West. Why? Good climate, relatively low house prices, great food & wine. Most of all friendly people.

We then spent several weeks starting in Montpelier & working our way sort of North & West. We ended up in Parisot in the Tarn et Garonne. Have regretted it for a minute.

Don't know if this helps or not, but I guess I'm saying that you should eliminate the non-starters then focus on where you think you might like. You'll know the right place when you see. it.

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Such a lot of good suggestions! We really only know Paris (can you ever know Paris?) plus we spent a couple of weeks in Cotignac, plus I lived in Megeve for a few months in my misspent youth.

We're thinking no cities, no snowy Alps, no too hot unless we have a pool (we both love the cooler climates). So I have been poking around (online, mind you) the Lot, Auvergne, and the whole Southwest in general. I feel drawn to Brittany but have never been there. We love all food, so that's a very hard thing to use as a decision point. I'd live near Aix just to eat callissons every day! Montelimar for nougat. Anywhere with good wine, cheese, honey. The smell of the garrigue entrances me. I'd like to look at vineyards and lavender fields, and some sort of water in my view would make it perfect, but we're in love with the idea of an ancient town all stony and as different from home as it can be.I'm going to research every one of the places you all have suggested!

And I've really highjacked this thread - maybe a mod could cut and paste this into a new thread on Moving to France, svp?

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Reading what you just wrote I'd suggest two places in the South: the Corbières in Languedoc, and the Lauragais also in Languedoc. Two very different landscapes, not far apart. Corbières is perfect for the smell of the garrigue, is reasonably close to the sea, very quiet and still relatively unspoiled. Lauragais is the region between Carcassonne and Toulouse, a wonderful countryside.

If you crave lavender fields you should try Haute Provence, around Digne, Gréoux, Forcalquier. Still much less spoiled than coastal Provence. Further up North, there is Drôme provençale, quiet and gorgeous, but could be a tad lonely in Winter. Bear in mind that some parts of "France profonde" (Northern Provence, very rural Auvergne) can get a bit boring in midwinter if you do not have a job and family there. Maybe you'd be better off with a place closer to the coast and not out in the sticks.

Brittany is one of my favorite places, it's a different world. I recommend the South coast, between Morbihan and Brest. I go to the Belon region every Summer and it's like paradise - like many places in France, but it's one I'm acquainted with. And the seafood!

Normandy is quite nice too. Particularly the pays de Caux, the pays d'Auge and the region between Caen and the D-Day beaches (the D-Day beaches are amazing in their own right too).

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The only reason the sea coast isn't high on my list is because we live on an island already, and see the water all the time. If it weren't for that, seafood and rocky coast would be right up top.

I've done a lot of cooking from The Cooking of Southwest France and we love that food, so I find myself leaning in that direction. Forcalquier is a nice little town with a very nice market (where I had my first Banon), and I remember the market in Salerne and the one in Aups as being really nice too. In fact we're thinking that a market town is really high priority for us. So I've written down all of your suggestions and now I'm going to Google each and every one of them and see what I can find.

You guys are great!

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If you're really into food, I'd suggest Beaune. It's a very nice little town, and the few expats around are pretty sophisticated. The food/wine scene is amazing, I think the food there is some of the best in all of France (and I really love Provencal fare). The markets are also some of the finest I've seen in a while.

So I'd say go to Beaune.

I know I am this summer.

Cheers! :cool:

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I'd agree with the advice given, plus ask some more questions of you (or add questions for you to ask of yourself): what is your ulterior motive for spending a year in France, besides eating well? Will you be working (in which case you need to find facilities that enable you to do your work)? Will you be using your home as a base from which to travel (you might want to choose a village that has greater access to major arteries or trains)? What do you want in the way of weather (the North is cold and damp in the winter; the Alps are snowy)? Are there particular aspects of food and/or wine that most interest you? (Go where they are.)

I'd also suggest that you get this neat "Survival Handbook," Living and Working in France by David Hampshire. A lot of essential information there.

Edited by SuzySushi (log)

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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I know that Abra lives in Washington State and is used to endless rain, but I wonder if Brittany's climate is too wet and cold to spend a year's getaway in. I don't know, but my limited experience in that corner of the hexagon has been damp.

Spent three weeks in Languedoc this summer and loved it. The food isn't as good as Provence (so they say, I ate and drank quite well) but the countryside is lovely and tourists are few. Uzes has a classical music festival if you're into that sort of thing and there's a (bloodless) bullfighting culture that I am dying to explore. And Costieres de Nimes wine are cheap and swell.

What a lovely dilemma to have. Have fun figuring it out.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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What a lovely dilemma to have.  Have fun figuring it out.

I agree with Busboy, What a lovely dilemma to have.

As everyone knows, I'm Pariscentric, but if be told (a la The Road) that I could not live in Paris, given your parameters of food and place, I'd do Annecy, Languedoc or the Ile de Yeu. (specifics given on demand)

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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As a region, Alsace will give you all you want. About as far from the sea as you can get! There are not too many ex-pats. English isn't a problem. Possibly more starred restaurants then any region except for the Paris area.

Looking somewhere between Strasbourg and Colmar would be a good starting point. If you choose a village on the Rhine plain it will probably be as hot in summer as the south of France. Or for somewhere with a bit more variation in climate you could find somewhere closer to the Vosges mountains and live among the vineyards.

http://www.tourisme-alsace.com/en/

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Me? I'd move to Barjac (34) in the Languedoc. One hour from Avignon, half that to Ales, Anduze and Uzes. Several quite decent restaurants, handful of serviceable ones. Lively Friday market. Small ex-pat community, tourists in season, arts and antique festivals throughout the year. All necessary and quality services (medical, food and wine, couture, funereal). Wonderful weekend escapes within a couple of hours: Auberge du Cedre which boasts one of the finest Languedoc wine lists around, Le Mimosa our hands-down favorite for a lovely dinner by Bridget Pugh and extraordinary wine paring by husgand David, Auberge de Saurgras (a hidden gem for lunch or an overnight, too small for a website), Nimes, Arles. If this isn't enough incentive, check out Graham Tigg's recommendations which have never disappointed.

Not convinced? Book a couple of test nights at La Serenite and become a convert. :wub:

eGullet member #80.

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As a region, Alsace will give you all you want. About as far from the sea as you can get! There are not too many ex-pats. English isn't a problem. Possibly more starred restaurants then any region except for the Paris area.

Right on! I only hesitated to say this earlier because I've been talking up Alsace to death on eG. But's it's a totally hidden-away spot filled to overflowing with charm and wonderfully warm, hospitable people, and ridiculous amounts of sinfully delicious food (the link in my signature will lead you to some pages of photos of fabulous restaurant meals and gastronomic adventures in the region.) But you don't have to limit yourself to parts South of Strasbourg. The north is equally wonderful, just less well known. But I must add, the winters are freezing there!

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

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If a market is important, then you would probably like inland Brittany, not far from Rennes, where one of the most famous markets of France is held. Le Marché des Lices is so great that people come there by TGV from Paris with their shopping carts on the weekends.

Nobody has mentioned a region that is probably one of the most bewitching and most desirable for a medium-long stay: Val-de-Loire, which is beautiful, friendly, mild climate, lots of great food and outstanding produce (esp. fruit), beautiful architecture. Culturally it's the Frenchest place you can go to; the purest form of French language is spoken there. I particularly recommend the regions of Anjou and Touraine, around Angers and Tours, as well as the Nantes region which is culturally part of Brittany but still very much part of val de Loire. Great markets, great cheeses, butter, etc. Below that region you might also like the Berry (around Sancerre, Châteauroux, Bourges, La Châtre).

Auvergne, either the Northern part (Puy-de-Dôme) or Southern part (Cantal) is like Brittany, another world — the problem is that it's extremely addictive and that you'd certainly want to go back there. It does that to many people.

As for Alsace, I'm not sure. I love that country but it is not exactly French; if I were coming from the US I'd stay in Alsace for the sake of staying in Alsace; if I wanted a French experience, I'd go elsewhere.

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I can't tell you how much fun I'm having researching all of these suggestions. Each one allows me to envision a whole different life. I have to say, Ptitpois, that I secretely love the sound of a place so addicting that one never wants to leave.

Some research and discussion with my husband yesterday revealed that we probably do really want to live right in a village, as opposed to a country house a few kilometres from one. There are tons of country houses to rent, and many fewer village ones, so that makes the search more challenging/thrilling. While chasing down one rental advertisement I did get quite enamored of the look of Laguepie, I have to admit.

Can someone tell me how to do accents here? My French is good enough that I cringe to type it unaccented.

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Can someone tell me how to do accents here?  My French is good enough that I cringe to type it unaccented.

Type something like café or Joël Robuchon in Word, then cut and paste. But a few years ago the Society issued a policy not to use accents in order to make searching uniform. See here:
Spelling

In general, avoid accent diacritical marks: cafe, not café, even when it’s the proper name, as in Café Gray (which should be Cafe Gray, in the Society vernacular). This, and the following, will improve search engine results:.....Saute, not sauté or sautee (past tense is sauteed, however)

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Can someone tell me how to do accents here?  My French is good enough that I cringe to type it unaccented.

Type something like café or Joël Robuchon in Word, then cut and paste. But a few years ago the Society issued a policy not to use accents in order to make searching uniform. See here:
Spelling

In general, avoid accent diacritical marks: cafe, not café, even when it’s the proper name, as in Café Gray (which should be Cafe Gray, in the Society vernacular). This, and the following, will improve search engine results:.....Saute, not sauté or sautee (past tense is sauteed, however)

Personally, I agree with Abra and many of you out there: I cringe at typing the French words without the accents. It seems to me that the search engines need to be updated (read 'fixed') rather than the people who use the search engines...

At any rate, Google (for one) ignores accents when doing a search.

To satisfy all, I usually try to put both e.g. "I went to Café Gray (Cafe Gray) the other day."

In my humble opinion. yada yada

John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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Me?  I'd move to Barjac (34) in the Languedoc.  One hour from Avignon, half that to Ales, Anduze  and Uzes.  Several quite decent restaurants, handful of serviceable ones.  Lively Friday market.  Small ex-pat community, tourists in season, arts and antique festivals throughout the year.  All necessary and quality services (medical, food and wine, couture, funereal).  Wonderful weekend escapes within a couple of hours:  Auberge du Cedre which boasts one of the finest Languedoc wine lists around, Le Mimosa our hands-down favorite for a lovely dinner by Bridget Pugh and extraordinary wine paring by husgand David, Auberge de Saurgras (a hidden gem for lunch or an overnight, too small for a website), Nimes, Arles.  If this isn't enough incentive, check out Graham Tigg's recommendations which have never disappointed. 

Not convinced?  Book a couple of test nights at La Serenite and become a convert.  :wub:

One minor note to add on this: As has been discussed elsewhere, French Markets can be a mixed bag, with small local farmers often obscured by larger commercial enterprises that buy produce from a wholesaler or the many stalls selling bootleg African pop music, provencal "hancrafts" and so on. Uzes -- whose Saturday market isn't bad at all -- also has a Wednesday market open only to local producers and with a heavy emphasis on organic or "bio" produce. Worth knowing about if you're in the area.

Another thought that just occurred: staying somewhere in truffle country might help the long winter months pass quickly -- a few moments of googling "truffle market" might pay off if you're thinking Provence, Languedoc or the Southwest.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Nobody has mentioned a region that is probably one of the most bewitching and most desirable for a medium-long stay: Val-de-Loire, which is beautiful, friendly, mild climate, lots of great food and outstanding produce (esp. fruit), beautiful architecture. Culturally it's the Frenchest place you can go to; the purest form of French language is spoken there. I particularly recommend the regions of Anjou and Touraine, around Angers and Tours, as well as the Nantes region which is culturally part of Brittany but still very much part of val de Loire.

Um, see my earlier post...

Tours and Angers might be too large of towns, but there are many smaller, beautiful places. And from Angers to Nantes is the area to go if you like eel. Mm!

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Um, see my earlier post...

Of course, sorry.

Tours and Angers might be too large of towns, but there are many smaller, beautiful places. And from Angers to Nantes is the area to go if you like eel. Mm!

I wrote "the regions of Anjou and Touraine, around Angers and Tours". I did not mention cities.

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As has been discussed elsewhere, French Markets can be a mixed bag, with small local farmers often obscured by larger commercial enterprises that buy produce from a wholesaler or the many stalls selling bootleg African pop music, provencal "hancrafts" and so on.

What you just described is a popular French market.

They're all over the country. You just have to be careful about the Provençal handicrafts but basically it's at those markets that you will find the best stuff. It will take some picking and browsing, but that's what market shopping is about, and those markets are where the locals shop.

I'd be suspicious of a provincial market that wouldn't have the bootleg African music, cheap clothes and acrylic blouses, hardware and knives, roast chickens, cut-price china stalls, with all the interesting stalls mixed in, and would put on an "authentic" or "artisanal" look (I am not mentioning the "marchés biologiques" which are a different matter), for that one would be more likely to be the tourist trap. And, as has also been discussed elsewhere, not all stalls at markets have to be owned by producers. Stuff bought from local wholesalers can be perfectly decent.

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Tours and Angers might be too large of towns, but there are many smaller, beautiful places. And from Angers to Nantes is the area to go if you like eel. Mm!

I'll second the area; we stayed and ate and shopped and drank very well indeed between the two Loir(e)s.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Hmmm, no votes for Cognac, I see. Who can help me understand why? Is it that they have an every day market so it's likely to be not the real thing we all hope to find and love? Unexciting cuisine unless you've been liberally sampling the local spirits?

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