There’s no denying it – France is the undisputed culinary capital of the world. With more Michelin starred restaurants than almost any other country and a wine history that dates back to the medieval times, France’s identity is steeped in gastronomy. Plus, the country has over 27 distinct regions producing some of the most pungent goat cheeses, robust red wines and decadent souffles in Europe. To ease you in, we’ve hand-picked five of France’s most well-known and inspiring regions to help you swirl, sip and savor like a true Francophile.
In Provence, olive oil is about as sacred as wine and grows just as abundantly. But don’t expect to find your run-of-the-mill grocery store EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) here. The oils produced in Provence have a similar depth and richness as some of the area’s top wines – so you’ll definitely find visitors sampling the oils as they would any vino varietal – determining the viscosity and notes of each oil (think freshly mown grass and artichoke). Oil like this isn’t used for cooking, so make sure you grab a bottle to pair with a crispy loaf of French bread or a platter of tomatoes. Another great pairing is with the mouthwatering Banon goat cheese, a culinary gem found in Provence. Alternatively sweet and strong, a serving of this is tres-magnifique with a bottle of Provencal rose, a sprinkling of Herbes de Provence (a special herb blend famous to the region) and a dash of olive oil and sea salt.
Must-Try: Herbes de Provence, tapenade, pissaladière, salade nicoise, bouillabaisse and ratatouille.
When to Go: Experience the sea of purples that spills across Provence when the lavender fields are in full bloom from late June to early July.
It’s hard not to get awestruck as you drive through the winding roads of the Loire Valley, home to over 300 medieval castles like the spectacular Chateau de Chamboard. In addition to Disney-esque castles and small villages, the area is also highly regarded for their white wine varietals, like Sancerre. And, in towns like Anjou for example, you can enjoy a wine tasting inside an actual castle landscaped with a verdant and lush garden surrounded by vineyards. Often paired with the light and refreshing Sancerre is the valley’s other well-known treat – smooth and flavorful chevre cheese. Opt for a spread of this soft-as-butter cheese with slices of roasted game hen or smoked fish from the Loire River.
Must-Try: AOC goat cheeses, fish from the Loire River, tarte tatin, pikeperch in butter, roast game.
When to Go: Summer is the best time to view the gardens surrounding the castles of the Loire Valley. The Château de Villandry and Château de Chenonceau are two must-visit destinations.
No place brings out the sparkle quite like Champagne – known the world over for their bright and bubbly sparkling wines. Most tastings take place far from the vineyards in the cool, chalk cellars of big-name brands like Taittinger or Moet & Chandon. However, not all varietals carry a heavy price tag. Champagne sold in the eponymous region is quite affordable, so you can stock up on souvenirs or simply pop and enjoy with a hearty slab of well-buttered bread. Champagne is also known for its Gothic cathedrals, like the staggering Notre-Dame de Reims, and spiced gingerbread cookies.
Must-Try: Champagne, Chaource and Langres cheeses, gingerbread from Reims, boudin blanc (bloodless sausage often served with chestnuts or truffles), potato galettes.
When to Go: Late summer is an ideal time of year to taste the bubbly beverage.
Planning Ahead: If you’d like to tour a Champagne house such as Taittinger or Veuve Clicquot conducted in English, you will want to book your tour well in advance.
There are more Michelin-starred restaurants in this region than any other wine region in the world, making Alsace one of the most discerning areas in France for dedicated foodies. Having been handed back and forth between Germany and France for centuries, the region’s main grapes are Germanic varieties, like dry Riesling and sweeter Gewürztraminer. Gewürz translates to “spicy” and has aromas of lychee, pineapple, passion fruit, mango and citrus. Pair a glass of the area’s Gewürztraminer with some of the regions’ five-star cuisine, like tart flamabe or savory onion tarts. Also known for their strong and notoriously “stinky” cheeses, a platter of Epoisses, succulent sausages and spice bread can’t be missed.
Must-Try: Sausages, sauerkraut, bretzels, spice bread, tarte flambée, baeckeoffe (pork and potato stew marinated in dry Alsatian wine), Alsace onion tart, coq au Riesling.
When to Go: Although you may need to bring extra layers of clothing, winter is an ideal time to visit this region. Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, has been holding its famous Christmas market since 1570.
This landlocked province is admittedly famous for its pinot noir and chardonnay, but its also known for its bounty of Burgundy truffles, a highly regarded ingredient for hipster chefs and foragers all over the world. A few shavings can transform any dishes, from handmade pastas to a simple roasted chicken, into a culinary masterpiece. Not quite as fancy but just as delicious, the area is also known for its tangy Dijon mustard, which hails from – you guessed it – Dijon. Époisses, a pungent gourmet cheese that’s often served alongside tart jellies or refreshing white wines, is also a specialty of Burgundy.
Must-Try: Beef bourguignon, Beaujolais Nouveau, Dijon mustard, Époisses cheese, summer truffles, escargots à la Bourgogne and coq au vin.
When to Go: The Dijon International Gastronomic Fair, one of France’s largest food festivals, takes place every fall, making it an optimal time to visit the Burgundy region. Plus, it’s still warm here in September and October, and the vineyards are at their most fragrant and robust with color.