How to eat cheaply in France

If the strength of the euro is making you consider holidaying at home this year, it might be time to think again – especially if pleasing your tastebuds is high on your holiday agenda.

If the strength of the euro is making you consider holidaying at home this year, it might be time to think again – especially if pleasing your tastebuds is high on your holiday agenda. Even with the exchange rate as it is, by making the relatively cheap hop over to France you’ll be rewarded by fantastic food, great service and a memorable holiday experience. Stay here, on the other hand, and you’re faced with identikit national chain restaurants or gastropubs offering meals for �25 a head – not exactly a cheap option if you’re away for a week or have a family.

Our Gallic neighbours are also feeling the economy bite and so le crunch’ is causing restaurateurs to offer some bargains. Expats on our forum (http://www.completefrance.com/cs/forums/1550847/ShowPost.aspx) are recommending their local restaurants, which are offering anti-crise’ menus for just €3.50. But even without special offers, it’s easy to find a three-course meal with a bottle of wine for around €15 per person. And even if €15 equates to �15, there’s no denying that’s still great value when compared to what’s on offer for the same price at home.

The French have always been very democratic when it comes to food, and even truckers are treated to gastronomic treats you’d never find in a roadside greasy spoon over here. The Relais Routiers’ (http://www.relais-routiers.com/) brand was originally created for truck drivers with the aim of providing good food at a reasonable price. Benedicte Lapeyrere of Tourism Horizons (www.tourism-horizons.com) says: “They are actually open to everyone and provide simple traditional French food. Most of the time it’s excellent and very affordable.” Don’t be put off by the other clientele though. “They can sometimes be a bit intimidating, as you have all the big trucks parked outside – can you imagine what it was like before the smoking ban? - but they are always run by very welcoming people. At the end of the day, truckers in France do put a big emphasis on their lunch so they are a guarantee of good food.”

Such restaurants are also a good lesson in not judging books by covers, or rather restaurants by their d�cor. In Britain, if an eaterie doesn’t care much about their aesthetics, it’s fair to assume they don’t care much about their food either. In France the opposite is true – most local restaurant owners care so much about the food that making the place look nice is merely an afterthought. So do as one of our forum-users, Quillan says (http://www.completefrance.com/cs/forums/1550847/ShowPost.aspx) and look for somewhere that looks a bit rough’ on the outside to get the best food. Writer Kevin Raymond recently enjoyed a meal in Le Poujol-sur-Orb in Languedoc-Roussillon that started with a huge baguette, ham and salad and was followed by a massive pot of delicious cassoulet with wine and then coffee. The bill? €11 each. “It was the sort of place that, until you get in the door you can't easily tell whether it's open, closed or even shut down years ago!” he says.

Following the locals’ example is also a sure-fire way of getting great grub. Our food columnist Rosa Jackson (www.rosajackson.com) is a huge fan of Pipo Socca in Nice. “It serves the best socca - a chickpea pancake cooked in a wood fire oven - in town. It's so popular that there is often an hour-long wait on weekends, so it's best to arrive early (it opens at 5.30pm).”

Of course, eating out every night on holiday does add up, so a self-catering holiday makes a great alternative especially if you’re visiting a town or village with a great market (see the books on www.frenchstreetmarkets.co.uk for recommendations). The French really know how to do le pique-nique’, so

tuck into baguettes, cheese, charcuterie and pat�s fresh from the producers and fill paper bags with ripe cherries, sun-blushed apricots and rosy nectarines.

If you want your fruit even fresher, the growing trend in France is to pick your own. Writer Regine Godfrey recommends the Chapeau de Paille (http://www.chapeaudepaille.fr/) farms across France. Meanwhile my colleague Vincent Bertin, who lives in the Dordogne, sees it as a great way to show children where their food comes from (other than le supermarch�).

So whatever you do this summer, you can be sure that if you head over to France, your tastebuds will certainly thank you for it, and your wallet won’t be too hard done by either.