Dining out is one of the great pleasures of holidaying in France and eating out in rural France is no exception. Even if you are staying off the beaten track you will find lots of restaurants and authentic little eateries, in the local villages and towns.
Wherever you dine, you’ll be able to enjoy not only a good meal but an important aspect of the French culture; take your time and savour the experience!
If this is one of your first visits to France outside of Paris or the more tourist focused spots, then these tips may help you navigate French rural life; as far as eating out is concerned at least!
Breakfast and Brunch
Brunch culture in the UK and US has really taken off but such is the institution of lunch in France that eating out for breakfast or brunch, particularly out of the cities and in less touristy areas, is just not a thing.
You will find bars/tabacs open for morning coffee but not food. However, it is perfectly acceptable to take a pastry that you’ve purchased from the village boulangerie and enjoy it alongside your morning beverage.
There are a couple of places locally that do breakfast on specific days. Riva, in La Châtre is a concept store and salon de thé anglais who do a bacon butty on Saturday mornings (Market day in La Chatre). And Cafe Bar d’Annie (Aigurande). Annie’s Bar do a full English breakfast on a Sunday morning (with English style bacon); should you be craving a fry up.
For the sake of completeness and given that morning eating out options are limited, McDonalds has come to La Chatre (known as McDos in France).
It is, however, very different to that in the UK or US. Firstly, they don’t open until 10:30. And you may be disappointed with the breakfast menu; it consists of Le McMuffin with a choice of egg and cheese or egg and bacon and that’s it.
It’s only mentioned incase you spot the arches and think of heading there – avoid! Fast Food misses the point really; it doesn’t really sit well in this slow food nation, particularly when eating out in rural France.
Probably The Best Breakfast!
So, if you are staying at La Prairie Étoilée and you want a long leisurely breakfast or brunch, then a breakfast basket, filled with delicious local produce, delivered to your tent, ready for when you wake is a mighty fine option! More details here.
About lunch; there are some things to note! We’ve already mentioned that in France, lunch is an institution.
By this we mean that at midday, virtually everyone downs tools and goes for lunch; generally, it’s the main meal of the day.
And it’s also very much defined in terms of when lunch is. Restaurants will be open between 12hrs and 14hrs and it’s rare to find anywhere serving food outside this time, until dinner service starts.
Certainly, this is the case when eating out in rural France, unless it’s an aforementioned fast food chain or the like. Other alternatives may be a salon de thé or a crêperie while you are out and about.
Should you find yourselves wanting to eat out “out of hours” on the go, then a picnic is a good option. Grab something from a boulangerie or pop into a local supermarket and then find yourself the perfect picnic spot!
Oh, and there’s another thing you need to know about lunchtime in France. Everything, with the exception of some supermarkets, closes for up to two hours between 12 and 2pm; because everyone is at lunch.
On Sundays most things are closed with only some supermarkets open for a few hours on a Sunday morning. We are still getting used to this phenomenon. It takes time so don’t be too hard on yourselves if it catches you out!
The Best Time For Eating Out In Rural France
The best thing to do, is to embrace French lunch culture! Lunchtime is a great time to eat out because restaurants are required to offer an affordable menu, un formule.
Certainly on week days, most restaurants will have a two or three course offering for under 20 euros per person. If you want a single course look out for the plat de jour or dish of the day.
Reserving A Table
Anything more than a casual eatery and we’d recommend that you book to guarantee a table. In some smaller establishments, even if they appear to have empty tables, if you haven’t booked, they won’t have catered for you (literally!).
Calling to reserve a table is also good for checking whether the restaurant is open. It’s common for restaurants to be closed one or two days a week.
It’s not unheard of for restaurants to close for two weeks in August, right in the middle of the peak holiday season, because it’s the time of the main French holidays. And of course, at other times, for reasons exceptionnelles/just because!
Allergies And Intollerances
Similarly, if you have any allergies or intolerances it’s good to check that they can be accommodated. Generally you will need to call.
The ability to book or contact online is rare. A lot of restaurants don’t have websites or even social media, so this is a prime opportunity to practice your French.
Plan Your Day To Include A Destination Lunch
Picking a restaurant for lunch at your destination for that day is a good option. This way you get to experience eating out in France, while visiting one of the many places of interest.
Of course, this also means that you can spend a relaxing evening back at base, perhaps with some cheese and wine for supper and a cosy evening around the campfire stargazing!
For a romantic evening or a celebration, dinner at a good restaurant is a great option; and there are lots of options.
You might not expect it, in the heart of the countryside but there are 8 Michelin Guide recommended restaurants between 20 minutes and an hour away from La Prairie Étoilée.
In addition there are 2 Michelin star restaurants, just over the hour away and very much worth the trip out! Eating out in rural France does not mean you have to miss out on fine dining!
A Broad Choice Of Restaurants And Eateries
Of course there are many more restaurants, cafes and bars and authentic little eateries in the surrounding villages and even at lakeside, so whether you want fine dining, a pizza, or anything in between, you are sure to find somewhere to suit!
Again, make sure you reserve a table. Most restaurants serve dinner between 19:00 and 21:00. If it’s a Michelin starred restaurant, you can book online and will need to do so, weeks, if not months in advance. But wouldn’t that be great to look forward to!
At most eating places, you’ll be asked if you want an apéritif, your before dinner drink. French people normally don’t order wine before dinner.
Instead, typically they might enjoy a glass of champagne, pastis, or a kir royale. Local to this region is a kir Berrichon. This is creme de mures (a blackberry liquor, although often substituted by cassis) topped up with red wine and rather too delicious!
Wine and Beer
Wine is an important part of the meal in France and is seen as an accompaniment to the food. If you are looking for a local wine on the menu (and there are some excellent ones), look for wines from Reuilly, Valencay, Sancerre or Chateaumeilliant.
Beer is available in most restaurants and is also drunk as an accompaniment to a meal, a staple is of course Kronenbourg 1664, almost every bar has it but you will find others, perhaps even local artisan ones, like those from La Brasserie Du Luma or Beer Berry.
If you order water in a French restaurant without specifying what kind (e.g you ask for de l’eau minerale) you will generally get sparkling water (de l’eau gazuse).
If you want still water, ask for de l’eau plat s’il vous plait. You can drink the tap water in France so if you just want a jug for the table ask for a carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait (it’s free).
Typically drinks won’t be served with ice so you have to ask if you want it. Add avec des glacons to your request. But do be prepared that there might not be any!
Soft drinks are not usually drunk with lunch or dinner in France but most restaurants will have them if that’s what you want. Popular in France are sirops (syrups), the most popular being menthe (mint) and grenadine (a mix of pomegranate and red berries).
The syrups are mixed with water or lemonade. A lemonade and mint syrup is called a diabolo menthe, or with grenadine, simply un grenadine. Either makes a refreshing, non alcoholic aperitif for the driver!
Courses On A French Menu
Even at dinner you may find a formule or menu. This is a menu with a set price for a number of courses, with a more limited choice for each or you can select from the a la carte menu where courses are individually priced.
Starters And Mains
The entrée is the first course (or starter as it is in the UK), whereas entrée in the US is the main. The plat principal is probably self explanatory as the main course.
If you are in a high end fine dining restaurant you may get an amuse bouche in between courses; a small taster plate to share.
Next, in a full, four course French meal, comes the Fromage. A cheese course is served prior to desert. There is a cheese cutting etiquette, particularly if you are bought a selection to choose from and cut yourself (less so in these times).
If it’s a round cheese cut a wedge from the centre. If it’s a wedge of cheese, cut along the edge to the point, never across the end.
However, this helps you not with many of the speciality goat’s cheeses here in the Berry region; a number of which are pyramid shaped!
Desert is always a treat and it will no doubt, be difficult to choose. If it’s on the menu, a “cafe gourmand” is a mixed desert plate. It consists of an expresso coffee and a selection of mini deserts or petits fours; a way of having all the cakes and eating them!
Anyone For Coffee?
Coffee is offered after the meal. If you partake, it won’t ordinarily be served with milk, although, of course you can ask for it!
Usually, coffee here is of the expresso kind, small, black and very strong. If you want it less strong, ask for café Americain or café grand and café crème for white coffee.
Occasionally, you may find a capucino but it won’t be anything like the size you get in Starbucks! Milky drinks are usually reserved for breakfast time.
The Bread Basket
The bread basket should also get a mention. In a lot of restaurants, a basket of sliced baguette is placed on the table prior to any of your courses.
You’ll find it’s never served with butter or oil. In France, the bread is to mop up a sauce or juices from the meal or to eat with cheese.
It’s not intended to consume before the meal, while you are waiting.
In France, typically meat is eaten quite rare. If you prefer it less rare, ask for medium (medium or à point).
Or if you like your meat well done, ask for bien cuit – although beware, this is thought of as a travesty!
Vegetarian or Vegan Options
Vegetarian options are more readily found on french menus, in more recent times. You will have more success with the à la carte menu rather than the set formule.
Vegan options, however, are very difficult to find when eating out in rural France unless you head for the city.
If in doubt you can simply ask c’est (It’s) vegetarien (vegetarian) /vegetalian (vegan)? Try to be careful with your pronunciation to make sure you are understood, both words are very similar!
Before setting off to a restaurant, it’s probably also a good idea to check ahead; you may also occasionally find that menus will be posted on social media pages or on the restaurant’s website, if they have one.
If you are close by there will almost always be a menu outside. But if you have the language skills, it’s probably easier to just call.
And rest assured vegetarian or vegan, food allergies or intolerances, all can be catered for at The Dining Barn, your on site table d’hotes at La Prairie Étoilée; and just a stroll across the meadow from your tent!
Typically, you won’t be bought the bill automatically, eating out in rural France at a restaurant is a unhurried affair. You’ll have to signal that you’re ready to pay, so to ask for your bill, say “l’addition, s’il vous plaît”.
French people tend to be very polite, so, whatever your level of French, always remember to say s’il vous plaît (please) and merci beaucoup (thank you very much) to your waiter/waitress.
And never call a waiter Garçon! Proper etiquette is to call a waiter Monsieur, (sir), a very young waitress Mademoiselle, and any waitress above their early 20’s Madame.
A 15% service charge is automatically added to your bill but this doesn’t go directly to the waiting staff.
So, if you want to show your appreciation of great service, you can leave anything from a few coins in a cafe of small eatery to 5% or more in a formal setting.
Generally tips are left on the table in cash/coins, not added to your credit card; so remember to carry some cash!
And So To Eat
Now all you have to do is choose where you want to eat! Head over to our 10 Michelin Guide Restaurants in Indre and Nearby blog here. And check back for a blog on our favourite casual eateries, coming soon!
If you would like more information about eating at La Prairie Étoilée and the food options we have to help you make the most of your stay, either head over to our website www.laprairieetoilee.com or get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org