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French travel tips: Q&A with Anthony Peregrine

Posted on 29th November 2018Travel & Tourism

French travel writer Anthony Peregrine shows you how to get the best from your next trip to France, ahead of his appearance at the France Show 2019.

Which region we shouldn’t miss visiting in 2019 and why?

Frankly, there’s nowhere you shouldn’t go (though I’d put Cannes pretty far down the list – and Monaco bottom, even if it’s not really France). I’d certainly appreciate it if more people were to discover Alsace-Lorraine and the Auvergne. But, if you’ve been putting it off for a while, then 2019 might absolutely be the time to visit the Loire and its châteaux. The 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo de Vinci is the excuse. The ageing Leonardo was invited across the Alps by King François I, essentially to bring learning and the Renaissance to France in general, instruction and conversation to the king in particular. The great artist and inventor was installed in the Clos Lucé manor house at Amboise, where he fulfilled his roles (and turned out to be an extremely groovy party organiser). Then, in 1519 he died, at 67. The quin-centenary is being used across the region as a means to focus on the Renaissance – and the glory which are the Loire châteaux. If visiting, read up about them first. Taken simply as buildings, the châteaux’s cumulative effect can be wearisome. If you’ve been to the region, you will have noticed the Loire Valley Slouch, the doom-laden gait of visitors shuffling from one castle to another, one salon to another, driven to the brink of despair by more Renaissance mouldings, more inlaid commodes and endless 16th-century portraits of fellows with ruffs and bloomers of whom they know little and care less.

But these places were vital. The thunder and lightning of French monarchs and governance roared through them for generations. The places need the life putting back into them (at which the French are not always gifted; they get terribly stuck on architectural detail). The elegant grandeur – the stateliest statement of French aspirations – needs to be seen as the setting for adultery, murder, intrigue, power-plays, torture, dubious hygiene and epic horticulture … all more or less necessary to keeping France governed, and French kings on top. Queens, too. Few men wielded as much power for as long as Catherine de Medicis. Seen from this angle, the châteaux are the tabloid press in dressed stone form. We go there, then, for magnificent architecture, but also, vitally, for the sex, violence and great gardens.

When in France, what should we be eating?

Almost anything put before you. Almost. I draw the line at manouls (tripe, sheep belly and calf ruffle simmered in white wine around the Cévennes), pieds-et-paquets (a stew of sheep’s innards and feet; Provence’s main weapon in keeping tourists at bay) and andouillette (a sausage stuffed with the really revolting bits of pig). These aside, don’t hold back. And, if you’re inviting me and it’s between October and May, Brittany scallops will hit the spot.

What’s the one French phrase we should absolutely know before visiting?

Veuillez bien m’enlever ces gésiers de ma salade = Please remove the gizzards from my salad.

You’ve lived in France for over 20 years. How did your love affair with the country begin?

The process began outside the main post office in Preston, Lancashire. I was posting a letter. A young French woman came up. She also wished to post a letter, but couldn‘t find the letter box. (Unsurprisingly, it was very stupidly placed.) I showed her. We started chatting. She was a student from Montpellier University on a language assistant placement in Preston, my home town. (She’d asked for Kent, so it was a near miss.) We found we had much in common – I was keen on pretty young French women and she was a pretty young French woman. Talk about coincidences.

Later, much later, we were married, had kids, worked in England for a bit and then moved to Montpellier because, when the choice is Preston or Montpellier, that’s what you do. That was 30 years ago, in truth, when the world was much younger and Céline Dion – a Canadian – was winning the Eurovision song contest. Halcyon days.

Finally, in three words, tell us what guests can expect from your appearance at The France Show 2019?

Hunger (there’ll be no food), sobriety (there’ll be no strong drink) and shelter (it’s inside).

A travel writer for British national newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times, Anthony Peregrine will be appearing on the Flavours of France Stage at The France Show – book your tickets now.

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