How do geography & history shape the foods we eat?
France is known worldwide for its cuisine. But while most of the world knows some of the classic French dishes, French food 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 regions shape food, and how food continues to shape us today.
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, and try to find the best baguette the country has to offer. At the end of our trip, we’ll work to map how history, culture, and especially geography shape our eating and understanding how French food has it’s similarities, but isn’t any one thing.
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 specialities 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 get into the mountains to visit a dairy farm for homemade fondue and rich ice creams. Here, we will learn about the protected origin foods and the cheese coops that produce some of the most famous cheeses in France, like Tomme.
We will travel by train out of the mountains and into the 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 cross into the city center to find the cool cafes and shops that make modern Lyon such a stunning place to visit.
Here we’ll go for lunch in a traditional Bouchon, one of the cities famed restaurants known for hearty no-fuss cooking of all sorts. We’ll think about how this city shaped how France eats, and importantly what the world knows about French cuisine. For dinner we’ll try a fusion restaurant to see how modern French cuisine is pulling from influences in the US and Asia.
We’ll also take some time for a cooking class so we can learn to cook 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. We’ll enter into the city walls and go on a walk to meet different food producers and taste their specialities, like local flavored chocolates and fresh tapenades. Depending on the season and time, we’ll head out of the city to visit local 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 understand the city’s significance and see how cooking and food shaped the cities development during the papal times too. After an incredible final lunch, maybe even lunch 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 the country and under 2 hours apart from each other by train. That being said, it would be easy to add additional stops onto this trip, perhaps beginning or ending in Paris, Marseilles, or even Nice. A more ambitious trip could also travel further into France or Spain.
This trip is great for a school French trip looking to dive into one of the greatest parts of French culture: the food while strengthening language skills through meetings with food makers, field research, and cooking classes. Alternatively, the program can work for non-French speakers (who are open to learning a few words as well) -- our approach works great for mixed language-groups too.
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.