1. The food! There is nothing like a ripe cheese, fresh produce from the markets, and pastries from the patisserie, not to mention ....
2. The bread; how can three ingredients, flour, yeast and water yield so much crusty goodness? As the saying goes, you gotta be there!
3. The wine: OK, French wines have gotten a bad rap for pretentious reputations, but European wines, unlike those in the US, Australia and South Africa are made to be drunk with food; they are not a beverage like Coke. Taste a French wine with a French cheese, then tell me it's as good at that Yellow Tail you've been drinking.
4. The scenery: spectacular from Paris, to Normandy, to the coast of Brittany, along the Dordogne, into the Languedoc, Provence, Alsace, the Loire, all looking like story book towns with ancient castles, ruins, and even prehistoric cave paintings.
5. History: You cannot escape it here; prehistory in the Dordogne in the caves at Lascaux and Cro Magnun man in Les Eyzies, Roman ruins, ancient castles, chateaus reminiscent of an era of wealth and opulence, Paris with its museums celebrating art, and history of France, Normandy with its wealth of World War II historic places. Around every corner, there is another reminder that this is country rich in history, and culture as well as the food.
6. Lunch: Every Frenchman sees it as his duty to have his lunch from 12 to 2, shutting his shop to enjoy the pleasures of a meal. The French don't eat, they dine. Long lunches with several courses, washed down with local wines to pair with the meal.
7. Aromas of the markets: Head to the local market and be assaulted with the smells of fresh produce: musky melons, bright strawberries, ripe tomatoes, garlic, onions, fresh lettuce (yes, it does have an aroma) olives, fish smelling only of salt water, and not the least bit fishy, and the aromas of ripened cheeses. Compare this to the antiseptic grocery stores, that we frequent in
the US and there is a reason you will be begin to shop at farmers' markets when you return.
8. The language: I admit it, I have NO ear for French, but I have to say that everything sounds better in French, even if you have no idea what is being said!
9. The transporation system: Not since I lived in Japan, have I been on such great trains, traveling at speeds over 150 mph through the countryside. They are clean, efficient, and comfortable. Ditto the metro and buses in Paris--the taxis in Paris sometimes go more than 150 mph, but that is another story!
10. Cooking and eating like the French: I had the opportunity this week to teach 6 amazing students at La Combe en Perigord. We used local ingredients, and they learned new skills to add to what they already knew. I even had a carrot master in my group, who'd never peeled a carrot. The fact that we could use the finest ingredients in the world, only enhanced their experience. Our last lunch was a 12 course tasting lunch at a 1 star Michelin restaurant--tres bon!
11. Shopping: Much has been said about the shops in Paris, but leave the cities and go into the towns and find lovely shops selling vintage clothes, beautiful linens, hats (why don't we wear more hats in the US?) copper pots, housewares, and local specialties.
12. Macaroons: Laduree, the legendary shop in Paris selling macaroons in every flavor imaginable, has been copied in every patisserie in every small town. These are not the cloyingly sweet macaroons you remember but rather a subtle taste that is divine.
13. Meeting the people: I had the opportunity this week to meet a truffle hunter and his dog, a woman who still does duck decoupage (no she doesn't use modge-podge--she butchers the duck) and vendors in the market places---all full of smiles, a wink of the eye, and maybe an extra macaroon if you play your cards right.