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Where else in the world boasts the acclaim of “classically training” chefs? Nowhere but France, of course. The French culinary scene is truly a gift, with its perfectly prepared baked goods, savoury delicacies, rich dairy products and flavourful wines. One of the best ways to fully experience the offerings of this gastronomic mecca is to taste your way through France. Whether you focus on Northern or Southern France or make your way through the country by train on a culinary-inspired tour, these are the best destinations to get acquainted with the tastes of France.
The City of Lights, Paris, is the world’s most romantic city not just because of the glittering Eiffel Tower, the charming districts and sounds of the “language of love” being spoken all around, it is also thanks to the food. Paris is home to over 40,000 restaurants, and this is in addition to vendors that can be found throughout the city. Truly, it is hard to find a bad meal, no matter the time of day. For breakfast in Paris, sample a traditional croissant or indulge with the chocolate variety, pain au chocolat. Crepes complete with either sweet or savoury filling can be found throughout the city, as well. Lunchtime brings a wealth of options, including fantastic sandwiches on fresh baguettes. Try coq au vin, escargot, foie gras or duck confit for dinner, and for dessert, crème brûlée or macarons.
With an extensive coastline, fertile farmlands and miles upon miles of orchards, Normandy is a haven for fresh ingredients and simple, tasteful cuisine. This region is renowned for its seafood, with beautiful fish, lobsters and mussels being fished from the salty azure waters. The crowning jewel of the Normandy culinary scene, though, is Normandy scallops. There is no shortage of restaurants featuring these delicacies. Moving further inland, farmlands fill the landscape, producing some of the best dairy products in all of Europe. Delicious soft cheeses, such as Pont-l’Évêque, Camembert, Neufchâtel and Livarot, are some of the most popular productions; however, the butter and cream produced here are also top-notch. Some eateries even combine the dairy with the region’s third speciality: apples. While in Normandy, try Pré Salé lamb, a dish made of sheep raised in salt marshes; Teurgoule, a sweet, sticky rice pudding;; and Calvados, a brandy made of the apples and pears that grow in Normandy.
Many oenophiles know the region of Burgundy for its bold red wines, but what many people do not know is that this region is equally beloved for its food. Burgundy’s gastronomic delights tend to be on the richer side, with liberal use of the region’s speciality beef, Charolais, and you guessed it, wine. The fruitful farmland here offers the perfect grazing grounds for the Charolais cows, as well as for dairy cows, which are used to produce the region’s speciality cheeses: Chaource, St-Florentin and Époisses. The fertile soil is also perfect for grape vines, the bulk of which are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Burgundy. Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, has its own claim to fame, with its spiced mustard. While in this Eastern locale, be sure to sample boeuf bourguignon; the original coq au vin; pôchouse, a wine-infused fish stew; Oeufs en meurette, eggs poached in red wine; and chocolate snails for dessert.
You cannot taste your way through France without visiting the undisputed culinary capital of France - nay, the world - Lyon. This destination was first recognised for its culinary achievements in the early 19th century and is now home to 20 Michelin Star restaurants. With over 4,000 eateries in Lyon - 1,500 in Lyon City alone - there are myriad places to experience the fresh, unique offerings of this ideally situated region. Located near the confluence of the Saône and Rhône Rivers, and within close proximity to the Rhônes-Alpes, fresh foods are abundant in Lyon. Farms in the region raise Bresse chicken, one of the world’s finest species, and goats to produce the highly acclaimed Saint-Marcellin cheese. Lyon is located smack-dab in the middle of two of France’s beloved wine regions, the Beaujolais and the Côtes du Rhône, so beautiful red wines are served alongside the destination’s most beloved dishes, including various sausages, quenelles, Lyonnaise salad, saucisson briochev and Cervelle de canut - a cream cheese dip made with garlic and fresh herbs.
A coastal paradise in the South of France, Provence is one of the best destinations for foodies who appreciate Mediterranean flavours and traditional offerings. The dishes in Provence are created using simple, seasonal ingredients, most notably olive oil, garlic and tomatoes, which are found in various dishes accompanying seafood, beef and vegetables. With the close proximity to the coastline, Provence’s cuisine relies heavily on fish, mussels, clams and shrimp. Olives have grown in this region for thousands of years and are pressed to make beautiful, golden olive oils and a now-world-famous starter, tapenade. The fertile lands also make it possible for inland farmers to grow beautiful fruits and vegetable, including the grapes needed to make Côtes du Rhône and dry rosé wines. Provence is the birthplace of three widely regarded dishes: ratatouille, a roasted vegetable dish; bouillabaisse, a complex fish dish that is highlighted by four types of fish and a beautiful broth; and salad niçoise, which contains fresh lettuce, a variety of vegetables, hard-boiled egg and tuna. The specialities here are as diverse as the region itself.
Champagne is beloved around the globe for its production of sparkling wine by the same name. Vineyards and wineries can be found scattered throughout the region, and wine drinkers that favour something other than champagne enjoy local pinot noir and chardonnay. There is much more to Champagne than just wine, though. This northern area has strong Belgian influences and is a lush, green paradise, covered in forests alongside the vineyards. In these forests, wild game and the forest floor’s truffles influence the local cuisine. Regional dishes not to miss include Reims ham, which is cooked with nutmeg and coated in yellow breadcrumbs; Pieds de porc à la Sainte-Menehould, a top-secret pig trotter recipe; Champagne sauerkraut; Rethel white sausage and Reims mustard, which is created using Champagne vinegar.
The cuisine in France ranges from elegant to homestyle and varies by the region you are visiting. Taste your way through these regions by rail. When you are ready to set out on the gastronomic adventure of a lifetime, select one of these tours from Holidays By Rail, Avignon and the Flavour of Provence, Alsace & the Route des Vins, or French Impressions and contact a Rail Specialist today.