It would be a slight exaggeration to say I moved to France for the food; however, food indeed played a part in the decision my husband and I made to spend our retirement years in France.
Now that we’ve lived here almost six months, our choice has been well reinforced by la nourriture. The very moment we arrived at our new home, a welcome gift from Renestance consultant Lizzie caused our first French food addiction: Lucque olives. They are the best olives you will ever eat, period.
Another delightful discovery in our first few days was that the French drink wine with LUNCH! So of course, in keeping with our desire to fit in, my first home-cooked lunch featured croques monsieurs and wine. Later I learned that the original croque monsieur did not include bechamel, but I’ve managed to ignore that knowledge.
Another delightful discovery was the apéro (think American happy hour, but much cooler). We’ve been to a few of these, and they can range from a quick glass of wine with chips to an extravagant spread that lasts until midnight! One afternoon I arrived home from my French class to find my husband had prepared an apéro for the two of us.
Since our arrival in Montpellier, we’ve traveled quite a bit, sampling glorious food in Bordeaux, Nice, Avignon, Sète, Saint Paul-de-Vence, Biot, and Nîmes. Each location has its specialty, ranging from the tielle, aka octopus pie, of Sète to socca, the chickpea fritters of Nice.
It’s impossible to talk about French food without mentioning bread. I was one of those pandemic sourdough people, but I’ll never bake bread here—not when I can walk three minutes to a wonderful boulangerie! The most amazing bread we’ve had so far was in Bordeaux, at Au Petrin Moissagais, where the bread is made in a wood-fired oven installed in 1765. We had a memorable breakfast there and came home with a loaf of the hearty Gascon bread, which makes the best toast I’ve ever eaten.
I also can’t talk about French food without mentioning coffee. A highlight of our week in Montpellier is Thursday coffee with English speakers at a local café. Sponsored by Long Duck Lady Gatherings, a Facebook group founded by Renestance’s Denelle Taylor Nizoux, it’s a fun social time that often goes right into lunch.
Oh, did I mention the wine and cocktail bars? In February, we arrived at a restaurant for our 6:30pm reservation. “But we haven’t eaten yet,” explained the host, who invited us to return at 7:00. Fortunately, we discovered Smash Bar a few doors down. With wonderful cocktails served by friendly hosts in a beautiful atmosphere, Smash quickly became our Montpellier version of Cheers, where they may not know our name but they warmly welcome us.
Another thing I love about the French food culture is the farm-to-plate ethic. The food we find here, even in small grocery stores, is simply better—fresher, more beautiful, and tastier—than what we were used to in the U.S. We have a wonderful organic market twice a week, the Marché des Arceaux, offering fresh produce, prepared dishes, wonderful breads and pastries, and much more.
I’ve been inspired by my wonderful landlady, who has given us homemade cakes and fig jam, to try my hand at chutney made from the loquats growing in our garden. I had never heard of loquats (“nefles” in French), so I was delighted to discover this delicious fruit. The chutney turned out beautifully, and at a recent apéro it was a hit served with crackers over the French version of cream cheese.
Last but not least, I have to mention our train picnics. My husband and I adore train travel, and without a car this has been our principal mode of transportation. We like to pretend we’re Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man movies (watch them, you won’t regret it!), as my husband comments, “Well, Mommy, I think it’s time for a drink!” We usually buy our treats at the station before boarding, although many trains offer snacks, sandwiches, and drinks from the bar car.
I’ve shared only a fraction of the wonderful French food experiences we’ve enjoyed, and there is still so much to explore (although I won’t be trying veal kidneys again!). Bon appetit!
This article has been written by Sandy Shroyer for Renestance as a guest blogger. You can find follow her adventures in her blog at https://www.roaminretirement.com/
In early 2022, Sandy Shroyer retired from her professional career. Her jobs have included cooking for hired ranch hands, serving as a community mental health center staff psychologist, performing various leadership roles in healthcare firms, managing a lot of highly successful sales executives, and selling technology and services to health systems and health plans. The best part of her career was people—those who became lifelong friends, those who irritated her into learning important lessons, and those who taught her things through their kindness and genius. Her superpower is connecting people, whether it’s professional networking, introducing friends who become friends with each other, or just figuring out who might like to know someone she knows. She tried never to miss an opportunity to have fun at work. Sandy and her husband traveled full-time in the United States during the pandemic, and they are spending their retirement in Montpellier, France.
All articles by: Sandra Shroyer