There may be no other country that reveres food quite as much as France does. Think of buttery, flaky croissants, perhaps studded with chocolate or almonds. Consider creamy, farm-produced cheeses with tastes that are as unique as the stories about how they were created. Dream of desserts that are the decadent exclamation point at the end of a truly memorable meal. Then imagine wines that are the perfect accompaniment to all of these delicious offerings.
Not sure where to go to get the best local food that France has to offer? Why not consider a culinary food tour. I’m a big fan of food tours because they often afford visitors a great opportunity to not only experience the sites but to enjoy the cuisine in a more intimate way. You’re able to interact with the tour guide and visit some off-the-beaten path restaurants that only the locals know. Although we didn’t use a food tour when we visited Germany, we did ask locals what foods to try and they didn’t disappoint. Curryswurst, anyone? Had we had more planning time, I would have scoped out food tours.
If France is on your travel itinerary this year, French Country Waterways has luxury barge cruises that travel along France’s canal system. It operates four barges that follow five itineraries in the French countryside, traveling along routes that have been selected to highlight some of the most charming and picturesque stretches of canal. The eight- or 12-passenger barges explore Alsace-Lorraine,
Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, Central Burgundy, Champagne and the Upper Loire Valley.
Trips include daily excursions and plenty of opportunities to explore the towns along the canal route, but perhaps the biggest draw of these cruises is the opportunity to sample the best of France’s culinary offerings. Among the six-person crew on each barge is a classically trained chef who takes the freshest ingredients – including many picked up along the journey – and blends them using classic French techniques coupled with the current trend toward lighter and healthier cuisine. Passengers enjoy continental breakfasts, buffet lunches and four-course, candlelit dinners, all in the comfort of the barge.
Each day there’s a fresh selection of breads and buttery croissants that are brought on board from the villages the barge passes, and a highlight of lunch and dinner
is the presentation of an array of French cheeses. There’s often a box of delicious chocolates or other sweets to sample at the end of the meal, most of which come from local confectionery shops situated in towns along the route.
And to complement all of this is a selection of some of France’s finest wines. During the cruise, passengers are offered more than two dozen different wines, at l
east half of which bear well-known labels from Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyards. Guests also get to enjoy vintages that are new to them, as these wines come from family-owned properties whose limited production is rarely if ever exported. In addition, each itinerary includes at least one excursion to a vineyard for a private tour and tasting.
At the end of the trip, each guest receives a copy of the menus they’ve enjoyed, along with lists of all the cheeses and wines that have been introduced along the way, and the barges’ chefs are happy to share recipes for favorite items. Each itinerary also includes a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant, giving passengers a chance to sample some of the best dining in the country.
I’m all for off-the-beaten path experiences and adventures, especially when it comes to finding great places to eat, but I’ve been so impressed with food tours as of late. This may be because they often are organized by locals designed specifically to show off some of the best their locations have to offer and not necessarily the “touristy” hot spots.
Have you been on a food tour either in your hometown or on vacation? What was your experience?
Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com which is part of the USA Today Travel family and TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom among other print magazines and online media outlets.