Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to writer Fiona Valpy about what France means to her.
Fiona is the author of The French for Love that I reviewed last year (see here) and next week she will be celebrating the publication of The French for Always (see here for my review). I thoroughly enjoyed both of these novels that are set in Bordeaux where Fiona lives, writes and teaches yoga.
Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?
Fiona: Well stubbornness is certainly an important French character trait! And that’s meant that they’ve doggedly preserved their heritage and their values so that there’s still a lovely quality of life here, which is possibly dying out elsewhere. It’s a country with a very strong and unique sense of identity, and I think part of its appeal to visitors is that, just a short hop across the English Channel, you can be immersed in such a different culture.
2) Before you moved to France, what is your fondest memory of time spent here?
Fiona: We came on lots of camping holidays when I was a child. And I spent a summer working on a French campsite as a rep for a British holiday company, which was hard work, but good fun too; every spare minute was spent on the beach topping up my tan. But my best memories of all are of my honeymoon in Burgundy, staying at a wonderful hotel in Puligny-Montrachet with my husband, enjoying incredible food and wines.
3) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?
Fiona: Every Saturday morning we go to our local market and the highlight is a coffee, sitting under the vaulted arches in the square. I always order a grand crème.
4) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?
Fiona: Very conveniently, there’s a boulangerie/patisserie right next to the café where we buy pastries to accompany our coffees. You can’t beat the classics: a pain au chocolat, still hot from the oven, is sheer bliss!
5) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?
Fiona: Oh that’s a GREAT question! I recently went to a wedding where they had a wedding “cake” made entirely out of cheeses which I thought was a fab idea. Each layer was a round of a different kind, and perched on the very top was a heart-shaped Saint Albray, which is a soft white cheese from Aquitaine, a bit like a Camembert. So I’d like to be a Saint Albray au lait cru: stronger than I look, but with a very soft heart too!
6) What is your favourite regional French dish?
Fiona: Hmm, it’s so hard to choose… In the winter, especially after a day’s skiing, the ultimate comfort food is a delicious, creamy tartiflette from the mountains; but in the summer I would say half a dozen oysters from the Atlantic coast, preferably eaten at a shack on the beach and accompanied by a bottle of chilled Bordeaux Blanc.
7) Best French tipple, and yes I know there are many to choose from?
Fiona: Well it has to be a wine, of course! I love a crisp, dry, well-chilled white, sipped outside as the sun goes down. A Sancerre or a Chablis or, from nearer home, a Graves.
8) How important do you think it is to match your French wine with your food? Any top matching tips you can share?
Fiona: Very important, because both the wine and the food are enhanced, but I don’t think it’s something to be precious about. Some of the very best pairings are the simplest – a bottle of local vin rouge with a steak-frites, for example. The fun is experimenting to find which wines bring out the best in the food. Try a very pale rosé from Provence with a platter of slices of charcuterie; a coarse farmhouse pâté with a glass of deep red, tannic Pomerol; and – one of my personal favourites – champagne with chips! They are all perfect partners.
9) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?
Fiona: A glass of champagne, (my favourite is from a small organic producer called Benoît Lahaye in Bouzy), served with light-as-air gruyere gougères, in the garden with my family. The family is the important bit though: I’d be happy with a glass of water and a packet of crisps, as long as the people who mean most to me were there.
10) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?
Fiona: Our local one, Bordeaux. It’s a lively mix of the old and the new, with its beautiful architecture and sleek, modern tram system. Visit the waterfront with its amazing “water pavement” for children (even grown-up ones!) to play on, as well as the beautiful shops and great restaurants.
Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?
Fiona: I’m hard at work on my next book, which should be published towards the end of the year. As long as I don’t get too distracted by food, wine and visitors!
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.
Fiona: It’s my pleasure Jacqui.