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A foodie's dream: a taste of southern France

Our Taste of Southern France food tour takes in fish markets, esteemed wine estates and more hidden delights. Read on to discover how to taste your way around southern France, as fellow explorer Ali reveals her take on this Explore tour.
Written by Aimee White who interviewed Ali
Date Published: 17 May 2024
 

When it comes to French food tours, A Taste of Southern France hits the spot. You can go truffle hunting, sample fresh oysters, join an authentic cookery lesson and wash it all down with a glass of local wine. Hungry for more? We caught up with Ali to ask all about her Explore tour.

Describe southern France in one word?

Délicieuse! Everything we ate on this France food tour was delicious: rum-flavoured Cannelé pastries, world-class wine, regional cheese, walnut cake, chocolatines, slow-cooked cassoulet, fresh oysters... the list goes on.

What was your highlight of the trip?

We took the train to Sarlat for a truffle hunting experience. Truffle hunting only happens in a few places in the world, so it was a real highlight to take part in this rare experience for ourselves. Adrian showed us around his farm and explained the different types of truffles (which include summer and winter varieties), where and how they grow, and how the whole process works.

Adrian had trained his adorable little dog, Punti, to sniff out the truffles before being rewarded with cheese – a win-win for everyone!

What were your fellow Explorers like?

Oh, they were so much fun. The nature of this trip was very inclusive in terms of getting to know one another, as we could easily talk about and share the food we were tasting. There were different levels of knowledge and abilities: a couple of chefs who run their own restaurant, enthusiastic amateurs and then people like me, who just enjoy eating nice food.

Essentially, we were all on the same page: we wanted to get stuck in and learn about southern France's incredible food scene. 

How did you find your tour leader?

Our tour leader, Andrew, has lived in France for the last 30 plus years. He was very knowledgeable about the food and how it's connected to French regions. When you have a free evening, make sure you follow your tour leader's restaurant recommendations.

Andrew recommended simple restaurants that specialised in one or two dishes, and as well as the food being great, the atmosphere was electric and full of locals. 
View all France tours

Did you learn any new skills or try a new activity?

This food tour wasn't just about eating as we got hands-on at a cookery class. We had the option to join a cookery lesson at a chef's restaurant in Sarlat. This took place at a farmhouse in the middle of the countryside; you wouldn't have known about it if it wasn't for this group tour.

We shucked oysters and saw how the chef prepared duck dishes. The chef uses local produce to create seasonal menus, so it was a great insight into French cuisine. The free-flowing wine helped, too! 

What was your most memorable moment?

In Saint-Emilion, we visited the wine estate of Chateau Coutet, where we were showed around by Stefano. He told us that Chanel had recently bought part of the estate. Stefano explained that there had been a very warm spring, so the vines had already burst into life and the grapes were in flower.

However, there was an upcoming frost, so to ensure the harvest wasn't affected, they used paraffin lamps and big air cannons to circulate the air around the vines. What did Chanel use? Helicopters, of course! 

Can you give us a fun fact?

Did you know that in the south of France they have pastry wars? For example, what most people know as a pain au chocolat is called a chocolatine in southern France.

If you go into a bakery in southern France and ask for a pain au chocolat, they might charge you an extra euro, a bit like a tourist tax. They're both the same thing, though...

How did you get around southern France?

This tour starts in Bordeaux and veers west to seaside Arcachon, before heading east through Saint-Emilion, Sarlat-la-Canéda, Rocmadour, Toulouse and Carcassonne. We got around by train, except for the section between Sarlat-la-Canéda and Toulouse, where we took a chartered bus.

French trains are clean and efficient, so we maintained a low carbon footprint while taking in the scenic views of southern France. 

Any top tips you’d give others about this trip?

If you follow a restricted diet or are vegetarian, this may not be the trip for you. The nature of the trip involves trying and tasting lots of different food, so it's best to go with an open mind. I didn't like oysters until I went on this trip, but I discovered I liked cooked oysters much better than fresh ones. 
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What extras did you have to pay for?

There are two lunches and two dinners that are included in the trip, plus all the tastings. You pay for any other meals, but it depended on what we'd done that day. If we'd had an included lunch, for example, we didn't feel like we needed a big dinner that night, as we were typically full from how much we'd eaten earlier on.

We also went on market tours and sampled pastries, sweets, cheese, breads, and meats, so we generally didn't feel the need to eat anything after that. 

What was your favourite (and least favourite) thing you ate?

It's hard to choose, but the best thing I ate on this trip was the duck. The region around Sarlat is renowned for its traditional dishes like duck confit and duck sausages, and one evening we ate dinner at a local family-run restaurant, whose duck dishes are extremely tasty, and for good reason. 

It feels like sacrilege to think of something I didn't enjoy eating on this trip. Actually, it would have to be the plastic-packaged pastry on the Eurostar, but thankfully the food improved from thereon out!

What’s something you would advise others before going?

This depends on where you're departing from, but if you can, take the train. I took the Eurostar from London and changed trains at Paris, where I took the Metro across the city and departed from another station onto southern France.

I hadn't anticipated it to be so straight forward and it was a more relaxing experience compared to flying, as the carriages were spacious, each seat had charging points and the trains themselves were very punctual. 

Next up, I'm going on our Land of the Midnight Sun tour; I've wanted to visit Iceland for such a long time now.
Take me to Ali's trip

Ali's best things to eat and drink in southern France

1. Oysters
Tuck into fresh oysters in the fish market of Arcachon, a seaside town on the Atlantic coast. You can enjoy them fresh as well as cooked, with a variety of toppings to sample. 

2. Wine
Sip some of the finest French wines from Bordeaux to the Dordogne region. Take your pick from world-class vintages at esteemed estates to local tipples across wine bars and cellars.

3. Cannelé pastries
This classic French-set custard is known for its distinctive small, fluted shape and caramelized crust. These delicate sweet treats originate from the Bordeaux region.

4. Rocamadour cheese
Indulge in creamy Rocamadour cheese, a small, disc-shaped cheese with a mild, smooth flavour. The Dordogne region is renowned for its exceptional cheese production, and Rocamadour is its most famous.

5. Cassoulet
A hearty casserole-like dish, made with a variety of ingredients including beans, meat (usually pork or sausages, but sometimes duck) and served with sides. Cassoulet is a beloved comfort food in French cuisine.

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