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French foodie treasures for the autumn

Gourmet holidays for foodies

The schools go back. The gardens look tired, at best blowsy. Leaves cover the lawns. Autumn is a time for changing gear.

In the UK we tend to take a pragmatic approach to autumn – time to clean the lawnmower, switch the wardrobes around, dig out the welly boots. Even worse, we set the clock ticking to Christmas by monitoring, and then complaining, when we see the first tinsel in the shops or hear the first sounds of Slade in the supermarket

The runaway train that is the countdown to Xmas begins some time in September, hurtling directly to Halloween and a spot of trick or treating before pausing momentarily at Bonfire Night on 5th November.

Meanwhile the magic of the changing seasons is quietly taking place. All too often the bounty of autumn around us is taken as a by-product of the season. Something to be managed rather than celebrated.   

Assorted cheese platter
Assorted cheese platter

Autumn in France

In France it’s rather different. It’s an industrious time when the abundance of nature is gathered and treated with reverence. Autumn is an excuse to turn the page of the menu and is synonymous with gathering and harvesting the raw ingredients for sensational cuisine. 

The orchards are busy with apples and pears being brought in. Many a French cider press springs into action and the sweet-sour smell of gentle fermentation begins to hang in the air.  

And the vineyards are a hive of activity with grapes being harvested in the annual vendange. Distilleries are cranked into action to produce fine spirits like Cognac, Calvados and the subtler Armagnac, as well as countless smaller-scale eaux-de-vie, marcs and country hooch.

Autumn is the season for foraging, increasingly popular in the UK but treated slightly more circumspectly by many. It’s common to see French foragers stumbling around the woods in search of truffles and all kinds of fungi. The French are a nation of fungi fanatics and, usefully, most pharmacists are trained to be able to distinguish the edible from the inedible.

Autumn in Paris
Autumn in Paris

It’s a busy times in all corners of France. Olives are harvested and pressed, late season crops like figs are brought in and the woods yield their chestnuts and walnuts. Traditionally families would plant walnut trees as they were so versatile providing food, timber, flour, cooking oil and even walnut ‘wine’.

All this activity and abundance results in sensational ingredients, memorable dishes and a cuisine that is deeply rooted in seasonality and provenance. How better than to indulge than on a relaxing holiday.

A taste of French autumn with Belle France

At Belle France we are keenly aware that walking and cycling holidays are not just for summer - they can be enjoyed during the spring and autumn too. In fact there are compelling reasons why autumn is the best time of all.

Balmy weather, not too punishing, quieter roads once all the tourists have headed home and a pervading sense of more time to linger on leisurely meals of real substance. 

Autumn in Alsace
Autumn in Alsace

Summer is a season of flimsy salads, floaty, snacky dishes that don’t weigh you down in a soporific haze. Lighter items at the lighter end of the culinary scale. All very well, very tasty and just what you fancy in the sultry months.

But the autumn menu seems to be the reward. The prize that we have all waited for. The crops, the raw ingredients have all been growing dutifully, ripening, plumping up in anticipation of the great season of feasting to come. 

So as the shadows lengthen outside and the leaves begin to curl, we can pour a hearty glass of red and peruse the menu.

We have put together some Belle France holidays, all with a ‘gourmet’ tag. Here are a few highlights. 

Six of the best Gourmet Holidays

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