Somewhere between 12:00 and 12:30, the world in France stops as everyone enjoys lunch. Whether in a big city, in the countryside, driving in a car, walking or bicycling, the work-day world temporarily stops as people rush home, to a local restaurant or to the closest picnic table to enjoy lunch with their friends or family.
For two weeks now, the picnic lunch has been one of my favorite daily events. There is something so comforting about the ritual of the French picnic lunch. At the same time every day, it is expected that everyone will stop, and catch up on life with their family and friends. It is a tradition that goes totally against our American fast-paced lunch-to-go, or lunch at the desk, or worse yet, no lunch at all. Taking time at lunch to stop, relax for a few moments and have face to face conversations with friends and family makes life much more meaningful than sending or receiving a text message. The lunch ritual slows down the otherwise hectic pace of life, and for a short period of time, the world seems to pause while everyone is at rest.
The only thing better than enjoying the picnic lunch is preparing for it. Every day I would find the best charcuterie and frommagerie for the best coldcuts and cheeses, the the best boulangerie for bread. I bought wine from a local vineyard or at the local supermarket.
The special treat of each picnic lunch was a local fruit of the day. My favorites by far are French mirabelles, a cross between a grape and plum with the sweetness of sugar, and flat white peaches, the most succulent peaches I have ever tasted.
The French countryside is dotted with picnic areas, and the bike routes throughout the Loire and Burgundy are no exception. Picnic areas are found along lakes, rivers, canals, in beautiful forests, along highways, pretty much anywhere people are, you will find picnic areas. In most areas, picnic areas are even listed on road signs so that travelers can take advantage of the best locations!
I will greatly miss my picnic lunches in France when I return home. But I have promised myself that I will take time everyday at lunch time to relax, catch up with at least one friend, and try to capture at least a small sense of the lunchtime enjoyment that I was lucky to have during my adventures in France. Here are pictures of my favorite French picnic lunches and some of the best locations:
One final tip: I learned that placing your lunch on top of a small, colorful piece of French oil cloth can make even the most ordinary American lunch seem authentically French! You should try it!