Greetings dear readers and friends! Well, as an expat, I think we all go through highs and lows when we live abroad. I can go for months desperately craving all the American things I miss back home (mainly tacos, shopping at Target, and anything with pumpkin-spice) and I’d just die to go to a French dinner party and give everyone a big, messy American hug. Silly stuff in the end, stuff you thought you’d never miss but instead becomes such a part of your “American-ness” (or British-ness, etc).
And then, at other times, you’re simply buzzing with happiness with the place you now call home. Call it the late-summer sunshine, all of the great festivals taking place in September, or finally “getting” a lot of what I previously missed about the French language, but I’m really enjoying my time in France at the moment. Plus, I did spend one whole day in Paris in August, ate really amazing tacos , spent 2 hours at a huge, all-English bookstore (WH Smith), and then an hour or so posted-up in a Starbucks… with a steaming chai latte. So I certainly got a bit of Americana to last me a while.
But back to France and all of the absolutely fabulous things that keep us expats going year after year – here are a few of my favorites:
1. Cheese, cheese, and more cheese.
How can you have a Best of France list without mentioning cheese? Seven years in, and I’m still amazed at the size of the cheese aisle – make that aisles! They seem to go on forever…
2. Hilltop villages.
I’ve had friends visit from the States and we’ve taken them to the hilltop village of Le Castellet. They almost couldn’t believe how pretty it was – as if we were on a Hollywood set and a perfect, story-tale village had been created just for us. We don’t have anything even close to this in the US, and every time I visit a hilltop village, I’m reminded of what a special place it is.
3. 5-weeks (paid) vacation.
I still haven’t gotten used to this either. I feel a bit like I’m doing something illegal taking so much time off. Thankfully, it’s getting easier and easier each year, that’s the French lifestyle!
4. The smell of fresh-baked bread on a Sunday morning.
Walk through a village on a Sunday morning and catch the smell of fresh bread wafting from the local bakeries – no better form of advertisement, and it’s no wonder those bakeries have lines out the door.
5. Really good, cheap wine.
Whether you buy it at your local winery or your local supermarket, you can get absolutely wonderful wine for a song. We like an organic rosé (recommended by my mother-in-law) that is already inexpensive but was on sale this summer for €4.50 a bottle. €4.50!
6. Festivals of all shapes and sizes.
We love going to food festivals, wine festivals, arts festivals, you name it… And in France, festivals and food go hand-in-hand, so you can expect to find delicious eats wherever. As I mentioned in the last post (about the fig festival), you can get a 4-course meal with wine included for around €30-€35 at many of these events.
7. Everywhere is beautiful.
Our travels around France have taken us to the Dijon region (and the small villages around Burgundy), to Annecy in the Haute-Savoie, Colmar in Alsace, Paris, the Lorraine where my husband is from, Corsica (an absolute dream!), Beaujolais, and of course, the South of France. I’ve yet to find an “ugly” corner of France. Quite the contrary, the country seems to be loaded with beautiful spots. Of course, some parts of major cities are less than desirable, but on the whole, France is one gorgeous country.
There are some bumps and hiccups in the system, and yes, we do pay for it with our taxes, but the healthcare system in France is great.
9. Long, weekend lunches.
Spending half the day eating (& drinking a bit) in good company is one of the absolute joys of living in France.
10. Fresh and inexpensive fruits and vegetables.
This could go right at the top of the list for me. The quality of the fruits and vegetables in France, the ones you find at the outdoor markets, is exceptional. You might have to visit a few stands to find exactly what you’re looking for, but once you hit on the right one, it’s golden. I went to the same stand over and over (to buy nectarines) this past summer at the Toulon market. It’s no wonder the French are in such good shape – with fruit so fresh and sweet, who needs dessert?
11. Having the time to cook every day.
This goes hand-in-hand with the fresh veggies, but also with the slow(er) pace of life – especially in the South of France. Even though I work full-time, I still have plenty of time to shop and cook every day and I find real pleasure in it… as I think most French people do.
12. French pastries.
Thank goodness that some French pastries are a bit pricey, otherwise I think I could eat one every day. There are so many great pâtisseries to try in our area (like Béchard in Aix-en-Provence), but we especially love Matyasy – who makes a chocolate pastry called a Caraque with chocolate mousse, almond “cookie”, and a crunchy praline center. One bite and you’ll never want to leave!
13. French cafés.
What a lovely lifestyle, to sit in an elegant French café and watch the world go by – over your favorite café, pastis, or glass of rosé.
14. Doing the “bise”.
At first I thought all of these kissing stuff was totally nonsense, and really time-consuming… You mean I gotta kiss all these folks at this party that I barely know? Well, as much as I was worried, and perhaps a bit intimidated, by doing the classic kiss on both cheeks when greeting someone (as much as 4 kisses in some regions of France!), I now see it as a very polite and quite endearing form of showing someone respect – or how much you care about them.
15. Feeling good at any age.
Go to a beach in France on your vacation and you’ll find women of all shapes, sizes, and ages, wearing two-piece bathing suits and who wouldn’t give 2 winks about what anyone thought of them. And actually, no one would think anything about them at all. About, for example, a 60, 70, or 80-year-old woman enjoying herself on the beach in a bikini. In my humble opinion, this is simply wonderful. Of course men are out there in their Speedos as well, but personally, as a woman, it’s so nice to feel that you don’t have one foot in the grave the minute you turn 40. People of all ages are celebrated here.
16. The Tour de France
Even if you’re not a cycling fan, the Tour de France is one of the highlights of the year. Since the route always changes, you have the chance to see, from the comfort of your sofa, some of the most beautiful scenery from across the country.
17. Family care and bébé stuff.
I had an absolute dream pregnancy and birth in France. Plus I got to stay in the hospital for 5 days. I’ve never had such good care in my whole life. Then I had 4 months of maternity leave, and went back to work part-time for a year. Daycare here is excellent and so inexpensive that I’m almost embarrassed to say how much we pay. There might be other social problems here, but family care in France is, in my opinion, fantastic.
18. Visiting Paris.
Of course this site is all about living in Provence, but goodness, if it isn’t wonderful to take a trip to Paris for a few days. The museums, the cafes, the restaurants, shops, world-class monuments, even the really “touristy” things to do, Paris is the place to be. And now that I discovered you can get excellent tacos all around town, Paris really does have it all.
These are just a few things I’ve been thinking of lately, please feel free to add what you love about France in the comments below.
Wishing you a very bon week-end!