Why France is the perfect autumn getaway for foodies – The Telegraph

Summer's over, but autumn is a wonderful season in France. From food festivals to vineyard harvests, here's why it's the ideal time to go
The French are truly gifted at cheering up the dourest days of the year – traditionally the months of October and November, when summer feels several generations ago, advent calendars are not yet upon us, and life needs lightening. 
English autumn has its moments, of course, what with pumpkins, treacle toffee, fireworks and Strictly Come Dancing. But the French are so much more full-blooded about it, tramping out into golden woodland and misty mornings, exchanging shorts for long trousers, the aroma of tanning lotion for the seduction of woodsmoke, fruit juice for red wine and salads for lusty simmered dishes. Cassoulet, daube, beef bourguignon, roast boar and other burly preparations are nature’s way of telling us that quinoa will never be sufficient. In Alsace, the choucroute nouvelle (“this year’s fermented cabbage”) and its array of cardiac-arrest pork cuts underline that autumn truly is the season of mellow meatfulness.
In this best of all possible worlds, there is ample activity to justify eating for six when there’s only two of you. Join, for instance, basket-toting French foragers forever fanning out through forests seeking wild mushrooms. Careful, though. You need to know your boletus from your death-cap toadstool or you’ll be pushing up mushrooms yourself. Best bet is to get your harvest checked at a nearby chemist – pharmacists are all mycologically qualified – or go with experts, like the forestry commission agents at Jupilles in the Loir (no “e”) valley, who will gleefully take you into the Forest of Bercé (carnuta.fr). 
Francis Salamolard will do much the same, with added eating, from the Auberge de l’Atre outside Quarré-les-Tombes in the Morvan bit of Burgundy. Book for Fridays through October into December, and stay there a night or two, too (doubles from £78 per night; auberge-de-latre.com).
Naturally, forest walking can be rewarding even if you have mycophobia (a fear of mushrooms). And, happily for those whose early lives were spent squelching through rural Lancashire, it can also be mud-free, notably in the south, where you may even bump into people on the autumn search for truffles. 
All this is part of the rich tapestry that constitutes the French autumn – and which bursts through the gloom to celebrate food and drink in boldly convivial festivals across the land. Up on the northern coast, herrings are a focal point. Down south, especially in the Ardèche, it’s chestnuts. When life was tougher, chestnuts were staples. Woods were full of les arbres à pain, or “bread trees”, as the chestnuts were known. Now everyone can afford takeaway pizza, so chestnuts become heritage items to be honoured in song, dance, preserves, and recipes copied by the newly rustic. 
General food-based shenanigans break out all over. At the Château du Lude, north of Tours, the Saveurs d’Automne event on October 30 builds fun, games and medieval cooking around autumn produce (lelude.com). Down in Mandelieu-La-Napoule, on the Riviera near Cannes, the Saveurs et Terroir salon brings around 80 food and drink producers together for autumn-borne merriment, November 18-20 (salon-gastronomie.com). 
This is not even the top of the tip of the iceberg. Unlike normal people in autumn, the French don’t stay in, curl up and watch TV. (Given the standard of much French TV, this is wise.) They put on jumpers and jackets and stride out across vineyards, forests and mountains. Then they meet up to eat and drink – because eating and drinking is the way they greet every season.
In recent autumns, I’ve been to veal, turkey and ham festivals. I’ve missed others devoted to marrows, beans, oysters, andouillette sausage, oysters, cod and much else besides. I’ve also missed lots of wine and drink festivals. Given the number I have managed to attend, this is just as well. The greatest of these October and November wine fests is the Sarmentelles at Beaujeu, to welcome the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau, from November 16-20. And if, incidentally, you think you’re too sophisticated for vins nouveaux, you’ve entirely missed their point.
Other wine events involve vineyard walks, al fresco tastings and good outside eating. If you’re in a wine area, there’s bound to be one near you, so check with local tourist offices. And if you’re in the Cévennes on October 30, make for the Domaine Quartier Lander at Bagard, near Ales. The Vignes Réboussières festival furnishes the best local wines, food and music with a 3km stroll through the vines, tasting as you go. It’s a cracking Sunday, which I never miss. (Book on tourismegard.com; £12. Full disclosure: the event is organised by my son. There can be no higher recommendation.)
That said, autumn is not only about wine. It is also distillation time for spirits like calvados, cognac and, most appealingly, armagnac in Gascony. Gascons are hard-wired for hard times, berets and festivities. Thus the distillation season from October 13 to the end of January is punctuated by parties around the region under the heading La Flamme de l’Armagnac.
To get the hang of it, head for the Château de Millet near Eauze in the Gers county. In a landscape of sunlit certainties, Laurence Dèche and her family not only make terrific wines and armagnac but also lay on gîte accommodation (two nights for six people, £242) and, on certain days between November 20 and November 28, belting meals in the distillery for £26, wine and Armagnac included. Check chateaudemillet.com, then book on 00 33 05 62 09 87 91 (but be sharp, places sell fast). You’ll be among around 80 others. Autumn, I promise you, rarely gets better.
Follows are the five best places gourmands should visit in France this autumn.
Autumn in Provence is radiant, softer light and warmth casting a glow over old stones, older landscapes and food festivals in abundance. Around the sentinel Mont Ventoux – it both punishes cyclists and oversees western Provence like an irascible elder – Ventoux Saveurs festival brings gastronomy-based celebrations to towns and villages in turn, from September 10 through to November 5. Expect open days and entertainment across farms and vineyards, markets, music, dancing and eating (parcduventoux.fr). 
Provence is also French truffle HQ, producing way more than the more famous truffières of the Dordogne. Get among it all in Monteux, near Carpentras. From mid-November, the Jaumard family will take you out truffle-seeking with dogs Mirette and Polka. They’ll also organise discovery weekends – B&B in their gîte, apéritif and truffling for £292 per couple (00 33 04 90 66 82 21; truffes-jaumard.com).
In tougher times, herring kept France’s Channel fishing ports afloat. Northern French people don’t forget. Nor do they refuse a party. Whence herring-inspired festivals up and down the coast, starting in Dieppe from November 19-20. Herring break out big-time – smoked, pickled or grilled on vast port-side barbecues and served in paper cones. Dieppe simultaneously honours the scallop, than which no seafood better deserves acclaim. There be music, frolics and the chance of a glass at the Café-des-Tribunaux on Place-du-Puits-Salé where earlier visitors (Turner, Proust, Monet, Oscar Wilde) used to gather. 
A chance also to visit the market voted France’s favourite on a popular TV show in 2020. Nor should the Memorial of August 19 1942 – commemorating the catastrophic Dieppe raid – be missed, especially in this 80th anniversary year of the debacle. It’s open afternoons, Friday through Sunday. To stay; try the seafront Hotel de la Plage (doubles from £79; 00 33 2 35 84 18 28; laplage-dieppe.com).
Further up the coast, similar herring high jinks enliven Etaples on November 12-13 – during which revellers will eat three tons of herring – and Boulogne the following weekend, when they match the fish with recently-released Beaujolais Nouveau, to everyone’s benefit. In Boulogne, try the Hotel La Matelote, with Tony Lestienne’s Michelin-starred restaurant (room-only doubles from £91; 00 33 03 21 30 17 97; la-matelote.com). 
While there, you might flit to the Louvre-Lens museum  for a big show commemorating the 200th anniversary of the cracking of Egyptian hieroglyphics by local Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion, September 28-January 16 2023 (permanent show: free; hieroglyphic temporary show, £10; louvrelens.fr).
As herring were up north, so chestnuts were tough-time staples across much of the south of France, and notably in the Ardèche mountains, between the Rhône and the Cévennes. Chestnut trees are rooted in both forest and folk memory. That’s why, come autumn, 11 different villages put on 11 chestnut festivals on consecutive weekends, Jaujac on October 8 and ending at Joannas on November 12. (Certain villages hold their festivals on the same weekends.) 
Together, they constitute the Castagnades festival. These are small hill villages having a big time with meals, chestnuts in a dazzling variety of preparations, markets, cooking competitions, fairs, shows, guided chestnut walks and much else besides.
 If you’ve never visited the Monts-d’Ardèche, this is the moment. As poet, singer and Ardèche adoptee Jean Ferrat sang: “que la montagne est belle”. Spot on. The wildness of the terrain fosters a certain toughness of character – but they know how to celebrate. And no one’s going to force you to eat the chestnut biscuits.
To stay, the local tourist office has Castagnades deals with many hotels: double room, lunch for two and museum entry, for £86 (00 33 04 75 89 02 03; castagnades.fr or aubenas-vals.com). Or try the Platanes hotel in Thueyts. Recently renovated, it has both rooms and apartments, from £60 for two (00 33 04 75 93 78 66; hotel-les-platanes.fr).
Any excuse to go to French Basque country is a good one, so please waste no time in travelling to the village of Espelette, a spot synonymous with peppers. You’ll have seen the pictures. In normal times, the white village façades are festooned with strings of the rusty-red peppers hung out to dry, reminding visitors that they’re in Europe’s bite-sized pepper HQ. On October 29-30, they kick out the jambs with processions, concerts, meals, tastings of peppers in everything from mustard through chocolate to gin – and, on Sunday, a mass during which peppers are blessed. It’s wonderful.
The Loire valley is routinely – probably rightly – referred to as “the garden of France”. Certainly, it contains some of the country’s loveliest gardens. My favourites, maybe the most enchanting of all, are those surrounding the Château de Rivau at Lémeré, near Chinon. They aren’t the biggest or the most famous, but they’re playful (look out for wellington boots the size of a small shed), innovative, creative and as beguilingly various as gardens can be.
Products of the imagination of château owner Patricia Laigneau, they may be appreciated any time, but especially on the weekend of October 22-23. Then the château hosts the Festival of Autumn Flowers – with music, magic, local producer stands, floral workshops and the garden at their autumn loveliest. There’s a good restaurant on site – the château has its own fruit, veg and wine – plus plush château guest rooms, from £145 B&B (chateaudurivau.com).
Should you be in the Loire Valley and a gardening enthusiast, there are other options. The annual garden festival at the Château de Chaumont runs to November 6. Look out for 30 different temporary gardens from 30 different creators, all on the theme, this year, of the Ideal Garden (domaine-chaumont.fr).
Meanwhile, what may be the most famous of all Loire Valley gardens – the ultra-formal spread at the Château de Villandry – holds its vegetable garden days on September 24-25. On-site gardeners will answer all your veg questions. There will be stands and exhibitions and you may, as always at Villandry, study how horticulture is performed in that strict French manner which insists that nature be bent to man’s wishes (chateauvillandry.fr).
There are many gastronomic reasons for going to the Dordogne in autumn – wild mushrooms, nuts, wine, truffles, foie gras – but you’d probably not have thought of saffron. Perhaps you should. The world’s priciest spice was once a traditional crop here. Now the necessary crocus flourishes again at, among other places, Le Monde du Safran at St Geniès, near Sarlat. The crocus flowers when the earth cools in October, so that’s when it’s harvested. And that’s when you might visit, to experience the harvest and transformation of the expensive little item into jellies, jams, mustards and much else besides. The de Backer family will put you up in on-site gîtes (rooms from £60 a night, based on two sharing; 00 33 06 75 41 45 64; ­lemondedusafran.com). 
If that doesn’t suit, or is full, head for the Dix restaurant in Ste Alvère, where young French chef Raphaël was last year named one of France’s most promising by the Gault & Millau guide (mains from £19; B&B from £107; 00 33 05 53 61 78 83; dixdordogne.com).
You want to play conkers against the very best? Go to Abjat, in the northern-most part of the Dordogne. The tiny village (population 620) is French conker HQ by dint of the fact that it is the only place where the game is played in a country otherwise, and distressingly, ignorant of the pursuit. You can play a game at pretty much any point in the season – just nip to the Entente Cordiale café and ask – but the big day this year is October 1. Show up around 1pm, register for £1.70, and take your place among some 250 other competitors for the title of Conker Champion of France. 
Naturally, folk travel from a large area of France but also from Britain and Ireland. Simultaneously, the village hosts an antiques and car boot sale with some 90 stands. Later shenanigans continue, to a rock concert accompaniment, around the Entente Cordiale.
The following day, the neighbouring village of St-Saud-Lacoussière welcomes those still in need of conviviality with the sort of festival that only the French could devise: the Festival of Cep Mushrooms and Milk-Fed Veal. The day affords ample opportunities to consume veal – and what are claimed to be the best ceps in France prepared in a monster omelette, plus the necessary wines – to the accompaniment of music, dancing and other outbreaks of folklore. Conkers, ceps and veal make for a most agreeable weekend.
But you’ll need to sleep at some point. L’Auberge has double rooms from £60 B&B (aubergeabjat.com), while at St Saud – just five miles from Abjat – you might try Le Sully, a friendly two-star with decent restaurant (le-sully-en-­perigord.fr; doubles from £60, dinner from £13.50). If pushing out le bateau, consider the Hostellerie Saint Jacques across the village, a good-looking spot with first-rate restaurant (hostellerie-saint-jacques.com; doubles from £85, three course dinner £34).
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
We rely on advertising to help fund our award-winning journalism.
We urge you to turn off your ad blocker for The Telegraph website so that you can continue to access our quality content in the future.
Thank you for your support.
Need help?
Visit our adblocking instructions page.

source

About gracia

Check Also

Frank Gore returns to Levi’s Stadium for 49ers-Dolphins – Chico Enterprise-Record

E-EditionSign up for email newsletters Sign up for email newslettersE-Edition Trending: SANTA CLARA – Of …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *