Want to taste the best of France all in one place? You don’t need to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants to get a taste of the Gallic food scene. A DIY picnic might be the greatest way to sample some of France’s best produce, without having to leave Paris.
Here’s how to build the ultimate picnic spread:
Pack like a pro
Amassing an arsenal of France’s best culinary triumphs is arguably just as fun as enjoying those said triumphs. If you’ve ever felt butterflies in your stomach while packing your bags for a trip, then you’re guaranteed to feel a surge of joy while stocking up for your Paris picnic. Sometimes the anticipation is just as delicious as the experience itself.
Here’s a hit list of worthy additions:
The ancient art of mixing flour, salt, water and yeast is something France is very, very good at, so bread is an obvious picnic priority. Head to a boulangerie to carb-load your picnic basket with fresh, crusty baguettes or pain de campagne (‘country bread’ in French) if you prefer sourdough.
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In France, cheese is life. A commendable reason to visit in itself (yes, cheese tourism is a real thing) adding a little (okay, more than a little) fromage to your picnic basket is standard practice. Instead of sticking to well-known favourites you can get at home (no offence to brie and camembert) use your picnic as an opportunity to taste a little from the different regions of France.
Head to a market or fromagerie to sample a few of the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of cheeses France produces. Try laguiole (an unpasteurised, hard cheese hailing from the south of France), cabecou (a soft, goat cheese from the Midi-Pyrénées region) and munster (a pungent, washed-rind cheese primarily made with milk from the Vosges region in the east of France). While you’re at it, add some quince paste to your basket to take your tastebuds on a trip to another dimension.
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While bread and cheese is great, you’d be wise to balance out your picnic basket with some lighter bites. When in season, you’ll be able to find flavoursome, locally-grown cherries, strawberries, raspberries, figs and grapes at reasonable prices in markets and grocers.
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Turbocharge your picnic spread by adding cured meats, pate, terrine, crunchy cornichons and marinated olives to the mix. While you’re at it, stop by a patisserie and pick up some eclairs, madeleines or petit fours for dessert. If you’re serious about sweets, then hit up a chocolatier for some truffles. You’re in France, it would be rude not to.
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Set the scene
Choosing your picnic location isn’t as easy as plonking a blanket or towel down on a soft section of lawn in a pretty park. While the French are known for enjoying the fine things in life, many parks and gardens in Paris don’t allow people to luxuriate on the grass with a cheese-stuffed baguette in hand. So before you set yourself up, read the signs, know the rules and you’ll avoid being one of those tourists.
Depending on what scene you feel like and how far you want to travel, these three picnic destinations are moods within themselves:
Feel like a picnic setting with historic charm? Try Luxembourg Gardens.
Sitting on the border of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg Gardens are so damn enchanting they could be a backdrop for a fairy tale. A popular spot with visitors and Parisians alike, take some time to see the garden’s grand statues, fountains and pretty flowerbeds. Afterwards, enjoy a picnic on one of the benches or tables – the well-manicured lawns are a no-go zone.
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Want some space to breathe? Head to Bois de Boulogne.
Looking for somewhere a little wilder? In the 16th arrondissement you’ll find Bois de Boulogne, a mammoth public green space that’s twice the size of New York’s Central Park. Here you can lie down on the lawn, take your shoes off and feel the grass between your toes as you slowly enjoy your French feast. Just be careful the geese, swans and waterfowl don’t make off with your precious baguettes!
Want to picnic in the thick of it? Canal Saint-Martin is the answer.
For a more urban experience, head to the tree-lined banks of Canal Saint-Martin to watch the young students and artists that gravitate to this up-and-coming area go about their day. Be strategic and set yourself up within earshot of a busker playing guitar to score a sweet soundtrack to your picnic (don’t forget to throw a euro or two in the hat for good travel karma). Once you’re done, head to one of the little bars that line the banks of the river for a glass of sauvignon blanc as the sun goes down – the perfect post-picnic Parisian pick-me-up.
Pack the perfect Paris picnic on one of our small group adventures through France. Check out our range of tours here.
Feature photo by Free Soul Searcher, Shutterstock.