CLAIM TO FAME

France is fa­mous for more than wine and cheese. Ca­tri­ona Burns dis­cov­ers some of the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar lo­ca­tions where prod­ucts take pride of place

Living France - - CONTENTS -

From books in Brit­tany to per­fume in Grasse, dis­cover three places with a fa­mous prod­uct

France is fa­mous for many things; world-class wine, cheese and iconic mon­u­ments, to name a few. But be­sides the ob­vi­ous claims to fame, there is plenty more that has put France firmly on the map; delve a lit­tle deeper into in­di­vid­ual de­part­ments and you’ll find that some of the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar lo­ca­tions are cel­e­brated for lo­cal prod­ucts that you might not have re­alised be­fore. And whether it’s books or flow­ers, food or art, these prod­ucts that take pride of place just add to France’s cel­e­brated joie de vivre. So whether your move to France is mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to read more, en­joy the sim­plic­ity of coun­try life, or soak up French cul­ture, ev­ery­one can find some­thing to en­joy in these three lo­ca­tions.

IN THE GOOD BOOKS

If you want the next chap­ter of your story to play out in a sto­ry­book-pretty French town, look no fur­ther than Bécherel in Ille-et-Vi­laine where books abound. Of­ten dubbed the ‘Hay-on-Wye of Brit­tany’, France’s best-loved book town is like some­thing out of a fairy tale in it­self. Quiet, quaint streets lined with gran­ite stone build­ings come with a burst of cheer by way of colour­ful doors painted in pil­lar box red, sky blue and baby pink. But Bécherel’s build­ings are more than just post­card-pretty – the town boasts 15 book­shops spe­cial­is­ing in ev­ery topic un­der the sun where you can eas­ily spend hours scour­ing char­ac­ter­ful shops for first edi­tion copies, long-for­got­ten po­ets and clas­sics and rare edi­tions of your favourite

FUN FACT Bécherel de­rives its name from the word bec­querelle, which is an old Gaul­ish word for wind­mill

books. Many of these li­brairies also have cafés ac­com­mo­dat­ing cosy cor­ners that seem made for af­ter­noons of snug­gling up with a good book and an end­less sup­ply of tea.

Bécherel of­fi­cially be­came a book town in 1989 when it hosted its first Fête du Livre. Now an an­nual event that takes place ev­ery spring, the three-day fes­ti­val in­cludes ex­hi­bi­tions, au­thor read­ings, work­shops, con­certs and stalls with book­binders, sell­ers and sec­ond­hand deal­ers. Though this is the high­light in the town’s cal­en­dar, it is com­ple­mented by a se­ries of lit­er­ary events through­out the year, in­clud­ing a read­ing fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber, that al­ways caters for lovers of let­ters.

Like many towns in France, Bécherel has a reg­u­lar mar­ket. But here, lo­cals’ wicker bas­kets are not filled with fruit and veg­eta­bles or lo­cally sourced seafood. Rather, res­i­dents and vis­i­tors to the town de­light in stock­ing up with pa­per­backs at the open-air book mar­ket, held on the first Sun­day of ev­ery month at Place des An­ci­ennes Halles, where you can also find an or­ganic bread maker sell­ing freshly baked baguettes.

Also lo­cated on the square are 16th­cen­tury mer­chant houses; a re­minder of the town’s tex­tile past, when Bécherel was bet­ter known for linen and hemp used for mak­ing sails, than it was for books, with street names in­clud­ing Rue de la Fi­lan­derie and Rue de la Chan­verie also hint­ing at this tex­tile his­tory.

But there is more to Bécherel than books and his­tory. The sur­round­ing area has more than 106 miles of paths that can be ex­plored on foot, bike or on horse­back with rid­ing schools on the out­skirts of town of­fer­ing treks around the idyl­lic coun­try­side. A pe­tite cité de car­ac­tère since 1978, Bécherel is one book town that can cer­tainly be judged by its charm­ing, char­ac­ter-filled cover.

PICK OF THE CROP

Tucked away in the hill­tops of the French Riviera, the Provençal town of Grasse is co­cooned by fra­grant fields of laven­der, mi­mosa, jas­mine and roses; its swoony scent se­duc­ing many to the dreamy way of life in Provence.

Filled with such fra­grant flow­ers, Grasse is the per­fume cap­i­tal of the world – the town has been syn­ony­mous with the per­fume in­dus­try since the 16th cen­tury when Cather­ine de’ Medici set the fash­ion for scented leather gloves – and as such, makes an ideal lo­ca­tion for ex­pats con­sid­er­ing a tourism-based ven­ture, with the town’s fa­mous trade pro­vid­ing a ready sup­ply of vis­i­tors.

In ad­di­tion to visit­ing the nearby pic­turesque pur­ple laven­der farms and golden sun­flower fields, your guests can also dis­cover the his­tory of the per­fume in­dus­try by visit­ing the trio of per­fumeries open to the public in­clud­ing Par­fumerie Frag­o­nard. There are also mu­se­ums such as the Musée In­ter­na­tional de la Par­fumerie (MIP) where a col­lec­tion of arte­facts, bot­tles, videos and vin­tage bot­tles re­lay the de­vel­op­ment of Grasse’s per­fume pro­duc­tion. A gar­den in full bloom, mul­ti­me­dia sta­tions, and a real-life replica of a 19th-cen­tury per­fume shop prove a treat for all the senses.

Even if you’re not lucky enough to have your own French gar­den in Grasse, flow­ers are never far away. The nearby Jardins du MIP are filled with scent-mak­ing blos­soms, while flower farms, such as Le Do­maine de Manon, pro­vide true flo­ral spec­ta­cles. Hav­ing cul­ti­vated cen­tifo­lia rose and jas­mine for three gen­er­a­tions, the farm, lo­cated 7km from the cen­tre of Grasse, now sup­plies ex­clu­sively to the fash­ion house Dior, and of­fers tours dur­ing flow­er­ing pe­ri­ods.

While Grasse qui­etly buzzes all year round, in­ter­est in the town blos­soms

around the sum­mer­time flower fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing that of the rose in May and Au­gust’s Fête du Jas­mine, when lo­cals and tourists come to­gether to cel­e­brate lo­cally grown buds with flower-filled pa­rades, fire­works, and dancing in the petal-strewn cob­bled streets of the Old Town.

It’s here, too, in the Old Town that you can buy fresh bou­quets at the daily mar­ket (which also sells food pro­duce) lo­cated among the clus­ter of an­cient ar­cades, mu­se­ums and shops on Place aux Aires. Buy­ing a bunch of your favourites be­fore get­ting lost among the wind­ing nar­row streets that are lined with pretty Provençal houses and en­joy­ing a café crème out­side on an an­cient square fringed with restau­rants and cafés has to be one of the most per­fect starts to any­one’s day.

And, if you ever need to take time out to ap­pre­ci­ate your new life in France, as­cend the cathe­dral’s 18th-cen­tury clock tower and en­joy panoramic views of Grasse’s red and or­ange tiled roofs bor­dered by a glint­ing Mediter­ranean coast­line; and stop and smell the roses.

DOWN TO A FINE ART

Dur­ing the late me­dieval and Re­nais­sance pe­ri­ods, the cap­i­tal of Tarn, Albi, en­joyed a golden age thanks to its pro­duc­tion of pas­tel dyes. Along its crooked streets, shops sell­ing car­tons of the colour­ful chalk and pas­tel-dyed gar­ments can still be found, as can plenty more at­trac­tions for art afi­ciona­dos who want to soak up some of France’s world-renowned cul­ture.

Birth­place of the Post-Im­pres­sion­ist painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi’s star at­trac­tion is the Musée ToulouseLautrec that houses more than 1,000 works by the city’s most fa­mous son, in­clud­ing paint­ings from when he was a young boy liv­ing in Albi to por­traits of his fam­ily and friends and his world-fa­mous posters. De­spite be­ing a top tourist des­ti­na­tion, the mod­ern mu­seum set within the cen­turiesold Palais de la Ber­bie of­fers a peace­ful place for lo­cals to dip out of the hus­tle and bus­tle of Albi life, while a sep­a­rate gallery host­ing tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions means you can visit time and time again, with the hope of see­ing some­thing new.

But it’s not just in mu­se­ums where you can ap­pre­ci­ate art in Albi. The iconic 13th-cen­tury Cathé­drale Ste-Cé­cile, built by the Catholic Church to demon­strate its supremacy af­ter the Cathar Wars, houses a plethora of 15th-cen­tury fres­coes and in­tri­cately painted chapels that would ri­val any mu­seum col­lec­tion. Go see them at Sun­day Mass, where mu­sic from the largest pipe or­gan in France will take the cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence to a new level.

All that art, you’ll find, will make you hun­gry, pro­vid­ing a per­fect ex­cuse to make the most of Tarn’s tempt­ing lo­cal food on of­fer. On Place Fer­nand Pell­outier, the open-air farm­ers’ mar­ket takes place ev­ery Tues­day and Satur­day morn­ing with stalls sell­ing or­ganic fruit and veg­eta­bles, cheese, home­made jams and other farm­fresh food, while the ad­ja­cent cov­ered mar­ket buzzes with stall­hold­ers sell­ing ev­ery­thing from fish and meat to pas­tries and wine. Once you’ve fin­ished stock­ing up on sup­plies for the week­end, be sure to join the lo­cals for a glass of Gail­lac wine at a mar­ket eatery; the best place in town for a catch-up.

For those who want to get in­volved with Albi’s artistic life, the city’s cul­tural cal­en­dar of­fers plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties, such as the sum­mer­time mu­sic fes­ti­val, Pause Guitare and Arte Tango in Oc­to­ber; just some of the dates pro­vid­ing a rous­ing pro­gramme of en­ter­tain­ment through­out the year.

But for a qui­eter cul­ture quar­ter, slip back onto the res­i­den­tial area in the city cen­tre; a lit­tle labyrinth of lanes where Ro­manesque and Gothic build­ings and half-tim­bered houses sit en­chant­ingly along lantern-lit peb­bled streets. Most mag­i­cal of all are the 10th-cen­tury homes, con­structed with bricks made with clay from the River Tarn, where you can make out me­dieval thumbprints that have been pre­served in the baked clay.

Clock­wise from top: Bécherel in Ille-et-Vi­laine; wind­ing streets in Grasse’s Old Town; Bécherel boasts many tra­di­tion­ally Bre­ton shops; one of Bécherel’s 15 book­shops; the ru­ral sur­round­ings of Bécherel can be ex­plored on foot, bike or horse­back on more than 106 miles of paths

Clock­wise from top: The hill­top town of Grasse sits north of Nice; Albi’s Cathé­drale Ste-Cé­cile looms large over the city; botan­i­cal bliss in Albi’s city cen­tre; the River Tarn flows through the cap­i­tal of the Tarn de­part­ment

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