Visiting France without experiencing its world-renowned culinary culture is not something we recommend. From the tempting bakeries and Michelin-crowned restaurants of Paris to the sunny Mediterranean flavors of Provence and the impossibly fresh seafood of Brittany, every region has something to offer. All year long, you can sate your curious palate at events designed to promote local cuisine, chefs and products. To help you plan your trip around one or more of these, we've put together a month-by-month guide to the best food festivals in France.
Kick off the gourmet year with a trip to the southwest and the Dordogne region. Famous for its local culinary delights, the area is a major center for black truffles, also known as "black gold" in France. The Sarlat Truffle Festival, held in mid-January, offers a delightful array of dishes and products featuring the intensely aromatic mushroom.
Not to be confused with the Belgian-style chocolate confection that vaguely imitates its appearance, the black truffle is treasured for its rarity and intense flavor. At the festival in the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, visitors can browse stalls and stands at the acclaimed truffle market to taste numerous products, from delicate slices of truffe on toasted bread to infused oils and fresh pasta laced with it. You can also take part in cooking workshops, demonstrations, and other events.
Nestled in the heart of the Loire Valley, Angers is a regional hub for excellent cuisine. Now in its fourth year, the Food'Angers festival celebrates both the variety and excellence of Loire Valley wines (principally whites and sparkling whites) and the innovations of local chefs and restaurants.
Enjoy wine, beer and food tastings, culinary workshops, and demonstrations, and even watch chefs battle it out in a live cooking competition.
This enormous celebration of French cuisine takes place in numerous locations around France every year. It gives tourists ample opportunity to sample both traditional dishes and innovative new takes on these.
The program varies widely, but you can expect everything from food stands, trucks and markets, culinary demonstrations and workshops, meet-and-greets with renowned French chefs, and a focus on the particular specialties of each region.
If you can't make it to France for the festivities, not to worry, French-style dinners are also staged in some 150 countries at embassies and local restaurants— possibly near you.
Seafood and shellfish lovers will appreciate this one: two days dedicated entirely to scallops and their culinary applications. Held every year in one of three towns in France's Brittany region, the event sees ultra-fresh scallops fished nearby transformed into delicious dishes, both hot and cold.
Whether you enjoy your scallops grilled, sautéed, delicately complementing a plate of pasta, or in thin filets, you'll be sure to get them in their freshest state. Local fishermen and seafood sellers flock to the Bay of Saint-Brieuc and its surrounding port towns to sell the most exquisite scallops fished directly from the bay and nearby waters. Stroll through the stands and taste the subtle shellfish in its many guises.
This festival in the heart of French Basque country sees local artisan ham producers descend on the historic town of Bayonne to sell a panoply of traditional products. Vendors proffer cured and smoked whole hams as well as numerous delicacies featuring the delicious stuff (sandwiches, quiches, etc.). Meanwhile, one proud artisan comes away every year with the prize for the best Jambon de Bayonne.
This centuries-old festival has been celebrated since around 1462 and offers an intriguing and colorful look at local Basque traditions.
What could be better than sampling dozens of treats from some of Paris' best restaurants, patisseries, bakeries, and food shops in a single spot? Taste of Paris offers visitors precisely that opportunity. Every year sometime in the spring, chefs and restaurateurs gather under the stunning glass rooftop of the Grand Palais for four days of tastings, cooking demonstrations, "meet and greets" with chefs both famous and up-and-coming, and culinary workshops.
Take an afternoon to tour the festival's pop-up restaurants and stands, sampling taster-sized portions of signature dishes from some of the city's most-coveted chefs, artisans and food producers. Some 100 of these take part in the event, which launched in 2015 and is already a staple in the culinary calendar.
For most people, Bordeaux is synonymous with wine. This festival confirms that mystique, but it's not just for wine lovers: the banks of the Garonne river are transformed into a vibrant boardwalk and fair that sees local restaurants and food sellers set up stands alongside the wineries'. So even if you're not in it for the wine, this is still an exciting culinary event in one of France's largest cities.
Of course, if you are interested in wine, this event is a must. For a reasonable fee, you can taste dozens of wines from the Bordeaux region's leading appellations (winemaking areas), from St-Emilion to Sauternes. You even get a commemorative glass and case for said tastings.
More serious wine lovers can sample "Grands crus" (more expensive, prized specimens) from major wineries at a dedicated event. Live music and special events aboard handsome old ships moored on the riverbanks complete this relaxed festival.
Care for a summery getaway to the French Alps? Adding some delicious local cheese to the equation can make warm days roaming the wildflower-decked mountains even more idyllic.
This annual festival travels between various traditional cheesemaking cities and towns in the region, from Reblochon to Bauges. Browse stands heaping with tempting local cheeses and meet some of the region's best producers.
Some favorites to try include Tomme de Savoie, a pressed cheese made with sheep's or cow's milk; Emmental (famous for its holes), Raclette, a cheese made for melting and enjoying with warm potatoes, and the heady, aromatic Reblochon.
August: The Arcachon Bay Oyster Festival
Oyster lovers, unite! The southwest Atlantic coast of France is a major center for freshly-caught, delicious oysters—specifically, the calm, clement waters of the Arcachon Bay.
Every year around mid-August, the Fete de l'Huitre (Oyster Festival) takes over several towns around the bay, including in the town of Arès. Sample the huitre (pronounced whee-truh) in its freshest, most straightforward form: served raw on the shell with lemon and buttered bread, accompanied by a glass of chilled white wine from the surrounding region. Or taste them in various cooked dishes, from stews to pasta.
October: Veggie World in Paris
Vegan travelers and those aiming to reduce their consumption of animal products should beeline to this annual event held every October at Paris' 104 (Centquatre) arts and culture center.
While this year's show primarily targets vegan food professionals, it's open to the general public on certain days. This is an interesting opportunity to taste vegan culinary creations and products from around the world and participate in cooking workshops and other events. From sophisticated vegan cheeses to burger patties and desserts, there's truly a world of culinary creation here.
Lyon is a culinary heavyweight that many tourists often overlook. Home to the celebrated late chef Paul Bocuse, the city in southeast France houses one of the country's best food markets, as well as an unusual number of Michelin-starred restaurants.
Luckily, there's also an annual street food festival for those of us with tighter budgets and curious palates. Calling itself a "culinary road trip," the event sees some 100 chefs and food artisans from around France and the globe descend on the capital of the Rhone-Alpes region. Workshops and cooking classes, meetings with noteworthy chefs, and tastings, and even live music are all on the menu. From Hong-Kong style food trucks to delicate French pastries and samples of innovative regional dishes, there's a world of flavor to tuck into here.
Ever wondered whether the French capital itself produces any wine? The answer: Very little, these days. But for the curious among you, this traditional harvest festival offers the unusual opportunity to taste some.
Established in 1934, the Vendanges de Montmartre takes place in the hilly heights of Paris' Montmartre district, with festivities clustered around the city's sole remaining vineyard at 14-18 Rue des Saules. It still produces around 1,500 bottles a year, yielding wines made from gamay and pinot noir grapes.
If Montmartre was once covered in vineyards and thrived as an agricultural area outside the city limits, this event is a rather touching reminder of that all-but-lost heritage. The Vendanges festival lets you sample local foods in addition to a variety of wines. There's also live music, workshops, and odd ceremonies and processions that involve local officials dressing up in colorful regalia. In short? If you happen to visit Paris in October, consider eking out some time to celebrate the harvest.
November: Salon du Chocolat, Paris
Not interested in celebrating Halloween, but do like that it's associated with chocolate? Here's a way to enjoy late October to early November in the capital when you have a sweet tooth: hit the annual Salon du Chocolat.
Wander the stalls to taste superb cocoa-based treats, from dark, high-grade bars to chocolate truffles, pralines, cakes and patisseries, and even savory sauces infused with the stuff. What better way to get back the spring in your step during the dark November days?
There's even an annual fashion show that sees models parade down a runway with chocolate-festooned looks.
This giant trade show in the Burgundian town of Dijon—famous for the piquant mustard named after it—includes a sprawling section dedicated to food and gastronomy.
Visitors can enjoy over 10 days of cooking demonstrations, gourmet tastings, culinary workshops led by local chefs, and numerous other events.
Since Dijon lies in close reach of Paris, a side trip to Burgundy and to the charming medieval town of Dijon can be an excellent way to enjoy a November trip to the capital.
The year-end sees festive Christmas markets spring up across France, from Alsace to Paris, Provence to the Loire Valley. Cheerful, Alsatian-style wooden stands proffer all manner of seasonal treats. Think warm, made-to-order crepes drizzled with sugar and lemon or smothered in Nutella. Hot spiced wine ladled into paper cups makes staying warm an easier task. Pretzels, warm nuts, cakes and cookies, dried fruits, and numerous other holiday treats are on offer at most markets.
Meanwhile, if you're visiting Provence, you should aim to try at least a few of the so-called "13 desserts of Christmas." These Provencal treats include almonds, delicately iced, fruit-based candies called calissons, marzipan, white nougat, and candied fruits or confits.