Mum and dad are ‘holiday swap’ regulars and had some points to use up. When they invited me to stay with them in a gîte near Hesdin in Northern France, I jumped at the chance. Freshly baked bread on a daily basis, delicious pastries and slightly pink boeuf all beckoned.
Here are the foodie highlights of my trip…
This is a beautiful Art Deco seaside town was just one hours’ drive from where we were staying in Fressin. I have to admit that the water didn’t look very inviting (it’s the Channel after all), so rather than spend time sitting at the beach, we decided to explore the town, which is bustling, upmarket and full of quirky independent shops, cafés and bakeries. We stopped for lunch, a deliciously simple Croque Monsieur and a cheeky Leffe, at this Cuban-style café slightly off the beaten track…
On the way back to the car we returned to a little bakery we’d popped in briefly earlier on to buy a French strawberry tart each. That morning, we’d walked in for a quick look – I wanted to tell the lady that we’d be back later and said “lentement” to her, only to realise as I left the store that I’d just shouted “slowly” at her! Needless to say, my dad laughed about this all the way home, and indeed for the rest of the holiday…
No trip to France would be complete without regular morning visits to the local bakery. Three or four times during the week, Dad and I ventured out down the road to a little hole in the wall bakery that sold pain au chocolat, croissants and bread – nothing more, nothing less. I loved these little outings as it made me feel just a teeny weeny bit like a local and allowed me to practise my limited French (though I ensured “lentement” didn’t appear in the conversation!)
Thursday is market day in the pretty town of Hesdin and five days into the trip we still hadn’t made it to one. So after gobbling down our pain au chocolat, bread and cheese breakfast, we headed out to see what other foodie delights we could find.
I was stunned at the array of fresh vegetables at this delightful market. It also made me wonder why more French dishes aren’t accompanied by greens when the country clearly boasts a glut of gorgeous produce?
My purchases were two giant artichokes and three different types of saucisson (duck, smoked and blue cheese), all of which were not long for this world!
We stopped for lunch at an Art Nouveau-style café called Le Globe and got talking to the owner – a rather funky South African woman who told us she’d moved to France 15 years before. The food at this little eatery was stunning – Mum and Dad had the rather English pollock and chips, whilst I munched on tuna steak and rice. The tuna was juicy and slightly pink in the middle and was accompanied by a buttery shallot sauce which I’m still dreaming about today.
Coffee and assemble-your-own-lunch in Arras
Arras was a bit of a last-minute trip on the last day of the holiday – but I’m so glad we made the journey. It is such a pretty city with its huge squares and delightful Flemish architecture. We brought French bread, cheese, ham and tomatoes with us and sat on a bench at the main square whilst we assembled our own sandwiches. We saw a French couple on the bench next to us doing exactly the same thing as us, which made us like proper locals (despite our large camera, map and slight sunburn).
As we walked around the city, my mum spotted a lovely little café with comfortable outdoor seating out of the hot afternoon sun – a great place for a spot of people watching, a strong coffee and a chat.
On the last night, we ate a stunning four-course typically French dinner at La Garenne just outside Hesdin. I’d read about this place on TripAdvisor and loved the look of the rustic, eccentric interior so it was top of the list of places I wanted to eat at. La Garenne deserves a blog post all to itself so watch this space!