How do geography and history shape the foods we eat?
France is known worldwide for its cuisine. But while most of the world knows the classic French dishes, French food really isn't any one thing. From the top restaurants in Lyon to the dairy farms in the Alps, above all else, French food is regional. Though small, France is geographically and culturally one of the most diverse nations in Europe. As the different regions have their own histories, climates, and stories--so do the foods. On this exploration of France, we will dig into the human geography of food as we work to understand how our environments shape what we eat, and how food shapes our identity.
Starting in the French Alps, we'll taste some of the famous mountain cheeses and head down to the shores of lake Annecy to enjoy a picnic from the local street market, thinking about how the environment and history of the mountains shape the Savoyard cuisine of the region. We'll then head down to the gastronomic capital of France - Lyon - to see how centuries of diverse foods birthed a number of French classics. After exploring the gourmet markets and dining at a hearty Bouchon, we’ll continue to our last city, Avignon, in Provence. In this walled city we’ll see how the Mediterranean climate leads to a totally different way of eating.
During the trip we’ll enjoy delicious restaurants, have breakfast in small cafes, practice our French with the locals, and try to find the best baguette the country has to offer. At the end of our trip, we’ll work together to map how history, culture, and especially geography shape what we put on our plates.
Annecy is stunning lakeside city nestled between mountains. No matter the season, Annecy is an incredible and approachable city with a strong food culture. We’ll use Annecy as a base to explore the Alpine cuisine of the region. On market day, tiny market stalls fill the town, along the canals and across the tiny bridges of the old city. We’ll seek out the local specialties and try different sausages, roast chicken, and fresh macaroons.
We’ll get out of town to explore tiny villages with incredible restaurants along the shores of Lake Annecy and head into the mountains to visit a dairy farm for homemade fondue and rich ice creams. Here, we will learn about protected-origin foods and the cheese co-ops that produce some of the most famous cheeses in France, like Tomme.
We will travel by train out of the mountains and into this central city of France. Lyon is at the heart of the country and captures many of the best traits from around the region. In Lyon we’ll trace the ancient side of the city as we visit the old Roman ruins before exploring the narrow streets of the old quarter. We’ll go for lunch in a traditional Bouchon, known for hearty no-fuss cooking of all sorts, and think about how this city shaped French cuisine.
We’ll cross into the city center to find the cool cafes and shops that make modern Lyon such an ideal place to visit. For dinner we’ll try a fusion restaurant to see how modern French cuisine is pulling from influences in the U.S. and Asia.
We’ll also take some time for a cooking class so we can learn to make some French dishes at home, and even prepare a simple dinner for our group after shopping in the famous Paul Bocuse market hall.
We’ll conclude our trip in Avignon, where we’ll meet different food producers and taste their specialties, like locally flavored chocolates and fresh tapenades. Depending on the season and time, we’ll head out of the city to visit nearby farms and lavender fields, and make a stop at the ancient Pont du Gard bridge.
Back in the city, we’ll explore the incredible Palais de Papes, to see how cooking and food shaped the city’s development during the papal times, too. After an incredible final lunch, maybe even at a Michelin starred restaurant, we’ll walk the tiny streets and dance on the famous Pont-d’Avignon.
This itinerary is designed to pack a huge amount of diversity into a short trip without much travel time. These three cities are some of the most amazing places in France and under two hours apart from each other by train. However, it would be easy to add additional stops to this trip, perhaps beginning or ending in Paris, Marseilles, or even Nice. A more ambitious trip could also travel further into France, Spain, or even Italy.
This trip is great for a middle or high school French trip looking to dive into one of the greatest parts of French culture (the food) while strengthening language skills through meetings with producers and chefs, field research, and cooking classes. Alternatively, our approach works great for mixed language-groups too, and we can help provide the support needed to have meaningful interactions with locals regardless of language ability.
We could also adapt this trip to serve a longer course on food culture, human geography, or even as an educational but fun short getaway for a small group of travelers looking to taste some of the diverse flavors of France.