France may be just across the Channel – but it’s a world away when it comes to food. This is a country at the top of its gastronomy game, where food is celebrated and meals are savoured.
Everyday life in France is marked by three traditional meals when families and friends sit down and eat together; whether it’s a croissant and coffee for breakfast or a bowl of ratatouille for dinner. The good news is that it’s easy to cross the Channel and indulge in some good French cooking yourself. Regular and speedy Brittany Ferries crossings mean that you’ll be eating moules frites before the day is done.
There are lots of dishes that are famous throughout France but what’s really fun is discovering local specialities. Every region has its own dishes and these vary considerably across the country from choucroute (sauerkraut) in Alsace and bouillabaisse in Marseille to cassoulet in Toulouse and tartiflette in the Alps. Many of these dishes have humble origins and were created for farmers and labourers based on what ingredients were available at the time. Today, they are the must-try dishes when you are on holiday in France.
For families, France is the perfect country for eating. After all, where else in the world can you have chocolate-filled pastries for breakfast? This is one country where even the pickiest of young eaters will find plenty to eat. Just remember when travelling around, however, that restaurants and cafés have very set meal times; there is no point arriving for lunch at 1.55pm and expecting anyone to serve you.
Dishes in the northern regions of France have been heavily influenced by their neighbours. In the Hauts-de-France there’s a strong Flemish influence; one of their most popular specialities is beef braised in Flemish beer. Another local favourite, Ficelle Picarde, is a ham and mushroom crêpe baked in a rich cream sauce. Kids may or may not like the savoury crepe option but there are some sweet treats that they are sure to love. In Lille, you should buy a box of ‘Les Petits Merveilleux’, sweet, gooey meringue cakes in a variety of flavours. And in Amiens, the melt-in-your-mouth macarons are made with almonds and honey.
You’ll find a crêperie in almost any town in France but for the best crêpes, you must travel to Brittany. Breton crêpes are light and crispy at the edges and served with a huge variety of toppings. Make sure to try a Breton galette as well, a savoury buckwheat flour pancake that is delicious with melted cheese, ham and a fried egg. Brittany is also known for its seafood, including oysters from the fishing village of Cancale along the Emerald Coast.
No family holiday to France would be complete without a trip to the local market. Even younger children will enjoy trying out some of the local produce on offer. Most cities and large towns have a market at least twice a week, sometimes every day. Smaller towns and villages tend to have a weekly market. Some of these markets date back hundreds of years; the Marché des Enfants Rouges in Paris dates back to 1628.
In Normandy head to Bayeux for the Saturday market and lots of delicious local foods. This is where you can stock up on Normandy cheeses including Camembert, Neufchâtel and Pont l’Evêque. Make sure to buy extra to take home in the car with you. Apples are another local speciality and feature in many of the regional deserts, as well as the local drinks, cider and calvados. You’ll also find wonderfully fresh oysters and shellfish at the market. In restaurants you should order the Coquilles St Jacques (scallops) from Port-en-Bessin.
Atlantic Loire Valley is famous for its biscuits, including the famous Petit Beurre LU biscuits from Nantes. These are the perfect road trip snack! Other specialities include rillettes, a type of coarse pâté and fleur de sel, salt that is harvested from the salt marshes on the west coast. In restaurants you’ll find freshwater fish on the menu served with delicious beurre blanc sauce, as well as mussels and the Vendée Atlantic oysters.
If heading to Paris you will find that you can get practically any type of food. But when you’re in the capital you must visit some of the incredible Parisian pâtisseries. Family-friendly favourites include the tarte au citron (lemon tart), tarte aux fruits (fruit tart) and éclairs.
And this is why you really should drive to France from the UK; so that you can take some of the local specialities home with you. Travelling with Brittany Ferries means that you can stock up on local cheeses and liquors as well as pâté, biscuits, macarons, and bring a little piece of France home with you.