By Maggie LaCoste
French food is one of the best rewards of biking in France! As a matter of fact, in my October post “Ten Best Reasons to Bike in France”, food was the #1 reason. But one of the things that makes French food so attractive to me, and hopefully to you too, is that you don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune to enjoy it. Other than lodging, food choices can be one of the easiest ways to save money on your bike trip. And there are many ways to economize without eating fast food for every meal. If you are not that concerned about saving money, good food choices can enable you to have one or two splurge dinners on your trip. So let’s take a look at the best places to economize.
Breakfast is usually not included in the basic room rate in France. If you happen to be quoted a B and B rate, ask for the rate of the room without breakfast so that you will know what the breakfast charge is. Typically, breakfast will range from 6 Euro at a smaller hotel to 15 Euro at a high end hotel. If you are traveling with a partner, this prices breakfast at somewhere between 12-30 Euro for two. Whether or not this is a good deal, depends on several factors: what you get for breakfast, what your food budget is, and could you do better somewhere else.
The French are not big breakfast eaters, so oftentimes breakfast menus are pretty simple: croissants, juice, possibly some local yogurt and coffee, a breakfast that you can find at a cafe in most smaller towns for 4-5 Euro. If the breakfast includes a full breakfast buffet, as is the case at many of the lodging choices that cater to hikers and bicyclists, then it may be a very good deal, especially if you can take away some fruit, cheese and meat for a late morning snack. But if the breakfast is a basic continental, I would save your money and go elsewhere. For just over 1 Euro you can get the biggest and best breakfast pastry at the local boulangerie, and while you are there, you can pick up a baguette for lunch. Add a yogurt for 1 Euro from the local supermarket, and a piece of local goat cheese for 2 Euro, and you have a perfect breakfast for two for around 6 Euro.
So depending on your budget and your food preference, you can eat breakfast for as little as 3 Euro per person or as much as 15 Euro a person. If you are lucky enough to encounter a local market, you will have the opportunity to economize further by combining foods for breakfast and a picnic lunch.
Lunchtime in France is one of my favorite times of the day. I love watching the world stop sometime between 12 and 12:30 as everyone rushes to get home or to meet their friends for lunch. No matter where you are, in a large city, small village, on a bike trail or along a highway, everything stops in France for lunchtime.
My favorite lunchtime treat is the picnic lunch, and preparing for it gives me the perfect opportunity to experience the essence of French life: purchasing meat and pate from the charcuterie, cheese from the cheese store, bread from the boulangerie and other supplies from the local supermarket. Or if we are lucky enough to come upon a local market, all our picnic supplies are purchased in one easy stop, but with many memorable interactions with the market vendors.
Early in our French biking days, the picnic lunch was a way to save money. We never realized at the time that this daily ritual would become one of our favorite French experiences. Today,the thought of sitting in a restaurant when I could be enjoying a French pique-nique is unthinkable. So lunchtime continues to be a meal where we rarely spend more than 12 Euro for two people. And, we always have leftovers for a late afternoon or pre-dinner snack.
If you do decide to eat in a restaurant for lunch, the best deals are always the “formule” offerings, ususally an entree and sweet for around 5 to 10 Euro.
Dinner offers many options. Depending on the time of year and where you are biking, a picnic dinner may be not only an ecomomical choice, but also the most romantic. Last summer we biked to the Aloxe Corton vineyards north of Beaune, only to discover that there were four vineyards in the town but no restaurants! During the day, we collected ingredients for a picnic dinner and a spectacular bottle of local wine. We enjoyed our picnic dinner overlooking the Aloxe Corton vineyards as the sun set. It was truly a memorable experience. Price for that memory was less than 30 Euro, including an incredible bottle of wine that we could never afford to buy in the states. Picnic dinners are also perfect when you are traveling by train during the dinner time. A picnic dinner can provide the perfect opportunity to sample many of the local foods that you might not encounter in a restaurant, not simply just a way to save money.
In restaurants, the best bargain, and often the best meal is the plat du jour, the plate of the day. Normally the plat du jour, or chef’s choice will include an appetizer, entree and dessert or cheese for a set price of 8-15 Euro, depending on the type of restaurant. Rarely will you go wrong with this choice, and it will be a bargain, compared to ordering ala carte.
Extras at dinner can add up quickly, so beware! Here are several tips to saving money at dinner:
- Order a carafe of house wine with dinner rather than a bottle of wine
- Don’t order liquor-based drinks
- Don’t order soft drinks as they are as/more expensive than wine
- Don’t order coffee after dinner as this can add another 5-10 Euro to your bill
Last but not least, it’s important to remember that you don’t always get better food just because you spend more money. The travel forums are full of reviews of customers from highly regarded restaurants who had terrible meals. Dining at less expensive, locally owned and managed inns and restaurants often insures a more memorable…..and less expensive meal.
Please send a note if you have any money saving meal tips from your travels to France.