My France Sandi Toksvig


Seasoned traveller and radio personality SANDI TOKSVIG recently published a children’s guide to France. She tells Rachel Scott why she likes nothing better than a leisurely lunch in Rouen

Seasoned traveller and radio personality SANDI TOKSVIG recently published a children’s guide to France. She tells Rachel Scott why she likes nothing better than a leisurely lunch in Rouen

What’s your earliest memory of France?

Probably sitting in the back of my father’s incredibly cramped Fiat 500 with my brother and all the luggage, and my parent’s driving, not seeing very much out the windows at all and my father insisting on trying to get us all to speak French. I probably can’t have been more than five or six years old but already my father was enthusing about the food and saying how wonderful it was.

So did you go on many family holidays to France?

My father was a journalist and we just didn’t do holidaying. Everything was regarded as an opportunity to go and explore. Probably the first holiday I had in France, was when I was 17 and went with a friend from America, just the two of us. We stayed in one of the cheapest places I’ve ever been in my life, in Pigalle. I was a terrible geek. My friend wanted to go shopping and I’m afraid I went off to Victor Hugo’s house and did all the literary things.

How’s your French?

In my earliest childhood I went to a school that only spoke French and so spoke it quite well when I was young. Now I can understand it better than I speak it. While I’m not British [Sandi is Danish], I have a British reticence about actually trying to speak it. But give me couple of glasses of wine and I’m fluent.

Do you go to France much now?

I do go quite often actually because I’m not all that far from the Channel Tunnel and so I have popped over quite a lot lately just for a Saturday night and begun to get to know the northern part, which I didn’t know at all. I think the northern coast is really rather fine. You can go over quite cheaply, have a lovely meal on a Saturday night and pootle back on a Sunday.

What do you like most about France?

I remember once turning up in a restaurant in Rouen and I hadn’t taken on board the time difference, it was probably about three o’clock in the afternoon and I wanted lunch. There were just the two of us sitting in this restaurant and the staff weren’t the slightest bit bothered. They understand that meals are important and they’re not to be done in a hurry. I love that; that sense that food and a good glass of wine are the important things.

What is your favourite French food?

I love escargots done properly, I absolutely adore them and, after that, some kind of duck is always delicious but I’m happy to have steak-frites, with a glass of red wine. You can’t go wrong really.

Where is your favourite place?

Probably Rouen. It’s stunningly beautiful and quieter than Paris. I absolutely love it and what a wonderful place to sit outside and have a coffee and watch the world go by. Of course Paris is endlessly interesting and I took the kids when they were quite small and had a fantastic time. It doesn’t have to be a city for grown-ups, there’s lots to do. How could you go wrong with the art and culture there?

Why did you write a children’s guide to France?

I’m very keen that when children travel that they actually pay attention to where they are going – I used to write for my own children guidebooks to the places we were visiting. They loved them and I discovered a couple of years ago that they’d kept them. I just thought I bet there are other kids who could do with a little bit of knowledge, a little bit of fun, a little bit of writing about yourself, and filling in your journal and putting in a photograph of yourself’. The Eiffel Tower is great but you have to queue for a long time. Well, talk to the children about the parrots who lived at the top of the Eiffel Tower in World War II. The birds were there because they could hear the sound of oncoming aircraft. It’s important to make children look around and have a think about what’s going on.

Where in France would you like to visit next?

My friend Kate Mosse writes about Carcassonne and I’ve never been so there’s no excuse really. It’s on my list. I’m very fond of being off the beaten track. If I could find somewhere peaceful and isolated, that would be lovely.

Sandi Toksvig’s Guide to France is out now, price �3.99, published by Random House. The News Quiz, hosted by Sandi, is back on Radio 4 on 8 January.

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