There is something magical about eating in the open air. Senses are heightened and everything just tastes better, even a simple green salad becomes dressed to impress in a tangy French vinaigrette.
With skin still warm from the sun and views that soothe the soul, it’s easy to be in the moment, relaxing with friends and family on your villa terrace and slowing down enough to appreciate the flavours: each mouthful, each conversation, each other – and remembering what mealtimes used to be about before we all got busy and forgot.
It’s a chance to get back to basics, throwing a slab of fresh steak onto the barbecue, a glass of something cold on standby, or enjoying the pleasure of summer kitchens for culinary delights with the feel of cold stone under bare feet. A long, slow exhalation of relief at the simplicity of it all – and an appreciation of experiencing it together.
Finding your reason to celebrate
Of course, just being on holiday can be all it takes to send the spirits skywards, but combine that with a birthday, anniversary or just the uniqueness of getting everyone together in one beautiful place and every glass raised is a potential toast. Take a leaf out of the locals’ book and create a celebratory spread as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds, because when it comes to eating, nobody does joie de vivre like the French.
The pleasure of preparation
Preparing a special meal, French-style, means everyone can get involved. Take a group trip to a colourful and bustling local market, where you can join the locals sorting through the abundance of top quality, good value local and regional produce.
Sample the superb seafood of the Côte d’Azur that finds its way into the region’s signature bouillabaisse or the vegetables of Provence that are so tender and flavourful that they are often just eaten raw, dipped into anchoïde, a punchy anchovy and garlic sauce. Mark the occasion by indulging in luxury ingredients like black truffles and foie gras from the Dordogne or Atlantic oysters from the Vendée.
You’ll often find stalls selling flowers, antiques and trinkets at the market too, so they’re also the perfect place to pick up a few items like decorative pitchers and tea lights to dress your dinner table in true elegant or rustic French style.
Back at the villa, divide the up the tasks and get the kids podding peas or helping to set the table with plenty of crusty baguettes piled onto a wooden bread board, bowls of enticingly fresh fruit and platters of charcuterie for the easiest starter ever. As the aromas of a coq au vin or daube of beef fill the air, wine corks are popped and the first few nibbles of food are taken, the meal becomes a feast for all the senses.
Plot a course through the courses
If you’re following French tradition – and making this a truly indulgent celebration – there’s a particular order to the dishes you serve. Begin with an aperitif and hors d’oeuvres; a glass of Rosé d’Anjou or sparkling Crémant de Loire with some pork rillettes if you’re in the Loire Valley, or pastis and tapenade croutons when in Provence and the Côte d’Azur. Make sure there’s plenty of fine wine on the table (try pairing a different bottle for each course) then serve fish and meat as separate courses, garnished with vegetables from the market. A crisp green salad comes next to cleanse the palate before the cheese, which in France always comes before dessert. Try a creamy Ossau Iraty made from ewes’ milk in the Dordogne before finishing with a gâteaux or tart from the local patisserie. Digestifs, a fine brandy perhaps, and coffee bring you gently – and with full stomachs – to the occasion’s satisfying conclusion.