With a shared passion for travel and cooking, Ernest (Anselm to our forums users) and Margriet find themselves returning to their favorite destination, France, again and again. Last spring they cooked up a storm in the kitchen of their rented house in Auvergne, and this past winter Ernest ventured solo to Paris to learn from a gourmet master. The two plan their culinary adventures from the comforts of their Nova Scotia home.
Q: For both trips to France, you stayed in rented accommodations—a house in Montaigut-le-Blanc, Auvergne, and an apartment in Paris. How easy is this to do? What factors did you keep in mind when deciding on where to rent?
A: Despite having rented about a dozen places in France over the last several years, we still find lining up accommodations one of the challenges of planning a trip. There is a wealth of listings (we have had our greatest success with VRBO and French Connections), so we first itemize what is available in the area we are interested in. We then look for the features that are important to us, such as a comfortable living room with at least one couch, a kitchen that we can work in, and at least a double bed. Finally, we contact the owner through e-mail (and sometimes by telephone), and chat back and forth about availability, parking, proximity of shops, how we will pick up the key, and whether they have a caretaker nearby we can contact if something goes wrong. When all is settled, we take a deep breath and send off our deposit. We haven’t had a problem yet.
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Q: You and your wife settled in the tiny village of Montaigut-le-Blanc in Auvergne, a region often overlooked by visitors, for two weeks. What constitutes your idea of a perfect day in this part of the country?
A: The best days were filled with slow exploration. One of us would start the day by walking down to the bakery and then crawling back up the very steep hill to the house. After a leisurely breakfast, we would pick up our maps and camera and drive to see a market, a church, a village, or a mountain. We always chose the “green routes” on the Michelin driving maps (the roads they have identified as being particularly scenic), and as you can see in the trip report, we were continually awed by the wonderful landscape. Lunch would be in a café or small restaurant, always trying local dishes. We usually returned by mid-afternoon, stopping along the way for ingredients for supper. Late in the afternoon, we?d pour a glass of wine and start to cook. Writing this makes me want to go back.
Q: It seems that France’s market tradition seduced you on both visits, fueling some very creative meals. What were your favorite items?
A: French markets! There is no better place to watch the care and effort that the people of France put into selecting their food. In the Auvergne, we looked for fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, or poultry, and those delicious local cheeses such as Cantal, St-Nectaire, Bleu d’Auvergne, and Forme d’Ambert. But it’s more than just good food. There is something special about strolling through a market, joining a queue, greeting the stall-owner, and asking for what you want. Not sure about something? Ask the owner and with quiet pride he will tell you what it is and why his offering is the best in France. What a pleasure.
Q: You spent a morning coring pears, rolling out pastry, and mastering the proper baking of guinea fowl in a cooking class in Paris. Would you recommend the experience to others?
A: The course was wonderful. I learned a lot, enjoyed working with new acquaintances, and thought the food was delicious. I would recommend it to anyone interested in improving their cooking techniques. My only reservation would be for those who speak no French whatsoever. Madame Meunier happily translates key words and phrases, but the class I attended was conducted in French, so one would probably miss some detail. Some day Margriet and I hope to spend a month in Paris. If we do, we plan to find a more intensive cooking program.
Q: As a French foodie, you must have a shortlist of your favorite dining spots in Paris. Is there one cafe in particular that you return to (or plan to) over and over again?
A: Surprisingly, we don’t, at least not yet. But we like places like the Baz Art Café and L’Ecume that I mentioned in the Paris trip report. A warm welcome, a lively but informal atmosphere, and a sense that someone is making a special effort in the kitchen make for a perfect ending to a day of sightseeing.
Interested in learning more about Ernest and Margriet’s french adventures?
Cooking with strangers – Anselm alone in the City of Light
Cooking from a Suitcase – Notes and photos from Auvergne and Paris
Would you rather settle into your “own” place than a hotel on your next trip?