France is world-renowned for its haute cuisine. However, some of the best food is what you’ll be able to take away and enjoy in a sunny courtyard or perfectly-regimented garden. The most iconic French street food must be the crepe: delicious, cheap and filling as a main or a dessert. Start your mornings with un pain au chocolat or un escargot from a bakery, try a baguette sandwich or a falafel for lunch and end your evening with a succulent gelato.
Sure, Paris is the capital of fashion, culture, sophistication. But what do you do when you just some sunshine and a laidback attitude? Head south to the French Riveria. While Cannes and Monaco attract the jet-set and star-studded crowd, Nice is a fabulous place to experience the true flavors of the Cote d’Azur without breaking the bank. If you can avoid it, don’t go in August: that’s when Paris shuts down and overcrowds the south.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Paris. But there is so much more to the world’s most-visited country. Hop a ferry to Corsica for unspoiled beaches, rugged mountains and spirited residents. Be awed by legendary Versailles, and continue on to explore the castles that dot the Loire Valley. Enjoy the scenic Normandy countryside, dotted with idyllic black-and-white cows—and resulting melt-in-your-mouth butter. Go wine tasting in Bordeaux and sip some bubbly in the only authentic Champagne region, Sample the African-influenced dishes in Marseilles, and try cliff jumping in Cassis for a bit of an adrenaline rush.
In France, restaurants aren’t trying to turn tables: good food is much more serious business than that. Settle in by ordering un carafe d’eau (tap water) and a glass of house wine before choosing un entrée, un plat principal, un dessert, a cheese plate and un espresso. Keep your bread on the table, not your plate: it’s simply another utensil, used to push meat onto your fork or sop up delicious sauces. At the end of your dining experience—and don’t feel rushed—ask for l’addition (the bill) and don’t feel obligated to tip.
One of the most common refrains of disappointed first-time tourists in France: the French are rude. Let me break it to you now: they’re not just being rude to you because you’re English-speaking, or American, or loud. Pessimism is practically a national sport in France, but that certainly doesn’t need to ruin your trip. A few cross-cultural tips: smiling and eye contact with complete strangers is taken as a come-on, thus is generally avoided. They appreciate exact change and a bit of politesse—always start a transaction with bonjour. Take your conversation volume down a notch, particularly when in restaurants or on public transportation. Most of all—don’t take it personally!
About the Author
Christine’s first trip to France was at age 11, where she fell in love with pains aux chocolat, modern art and Galeries Lafayette. She spent summers in Provence and Paris in high school and university, and moved to Nice after graduation. Even though Christine is currently living in Melbourne, Australia, she’s still a Francophile at heart. Follow her adventures at C’est Christine or on Twitter.