Easy for guests to travel to, fantastic local food and beautiful romantic surroundings, what’s not to love about having a party in France, says Rosie Paddon
I adore living in the south-west of France, and believe that everything that makes a celebration is here, and all so simple and affordable. Just add you, and the people you want to be with…
When in France, do as the French do! Although absolutely ideal for a grand occasion like a wedding or anniversary (perhaps a magazine’s silver anniversary…) or an important meeting or training seminar, the most important French lifestyle attribute that we have absorbed is the simple enjoyment of stopping, sharing and enjoying food and drink with family and friends.
Just pick the slimmest of excuses to get together, grab a bunch of friends, split the costs and take some time out to delight in yourselves and your surroundings.
There are a wealth of gîtes that can be booked online, and the best value are the large houses that can sleep several families or a group of cottages together so costs can be shared.
Atmospheric architecture and the celebration space – that long table on a sun-soaked terrace – come as standard. Whether for a formal occasion or not, a hilltop castle that is run as holiday accommodation can be unbeatable value when shared – especially compared to specific ‘family’ accommodation in the UK.
The best prices of all come with the French holiday home websites such as Gîtes de France. Ok, so some of the less mdoern offerings have occasionally been nicknamed the ‘brown’ gîtes, after the fact that the walls and beams and furniture are sometimes all the same colour brown, but they can also be a fraction of the price. Incidentally, this also applies to using French camping-style chalet holiday companies, rather than the international ones.
A hot tip, however, for anyone planning an important occasion like a wedding – don’t hesitate to chat to a planner who lives in the area you want to go to, as he or she will have a wealth of knowledge of local places that could be your dream destination, and they may often be better value than something you have sourced yourself online. They might even suggest something you’d have never thought of yourself (fancy a party on a steam train, or a boat on the river Lot?).
You are in France. Taste it, try it, drink it. Please, please don’t just stick to the cheapest thing in the supermarket. Wine shops are there to help, so ask questions about the local wine from where you are staying. You are often between two appellations to choose from (the Cahors and Bergerac AOCs are both near where I live in Lot, for example).
Ask for local recommendations, and then make a trip to the vineyards to try them. Don’t be put off by the idea that you need to buy large quantities, because you don’t, especially at the smaller, less commercial estates. Sample the vin de pays too, and wines ‘en vrac’ (by filling up a container direct from large tanks).
Do as the French do and try rosés and whites for apéritifs, saving the red for the main meal (and for with cheese, of course). There is so much to explore and discover out there, and you can have a lot of fun doing so.
Yes, I am biased – and a glutton – when it comes to all things food, but sharing a lovely meal with others is one of the basics of life itself. Whether on a candlelit terrace, a picnic by a river or a medieval feast in the courtyard of a castle.
Take advantage of local fare and keep it simple; try the foie gras nearest you, or buy some marinated olives, cheese and bread from the market. Nothing beats a big fresh green salad and some marinated meat or vegetables, or a strawberry tart from the boulangerie.
Take advantage too, of the local fêtes on offer. Trust me, it is fun to be crammed into a marquee on long lines of tables, with pichets of wine and steaming platters of a local delicacy, and everyone dancing on the seats waving handkerchiefs to a certain French song being played on accordions…
Not sure what restaurant to pick out from the abundance on offer? Avoid mediocre fare for high prices – go for the cheapest of auberges for platters of well-cooked local food and wine on tap, or the nearest Michelin-starred on offer for a superb meal (and once again, can I just say, for a fraction of cost that you might expect to pay in the UK).
And finally, speaking from experience, for weddings and large-scale celebrations, spit roasts or barbeques provided by a caterer can not only be a comparatively cheaper way to feed a crowd, it can also give a focus and a festive air to a reception. A caterer should be able to provide as much or as little as you wish, so if you want to source your favourite cheese/coffee/Aunt-Sally’s-banoffee-pie as part of the meal, you can do so. It is well worth it, however, to pay for staff to serve so that you can relax and enjoy your event.
So what is stopping you? Start thinking about your next fabulous get-together in this lovely part of the world, which provides the perfect setting whatever you wish to celebrate. It need not be stressful nor cost a fortune to go all out and enjoy a memorable gathering, from an intimate dinner party to a wedding or fête on a large scale.
Rosie Paddon has lived in France for 13 years, and now puts over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry around the world to use in organising exceptional French events
Tel: 0033 (0)5 65 53 03 32