Ira and his wife have extensively traveled in the US, but when they visited Europe they fell in love with Languedoc. They bought a holiday house and visited once or twice a year, whilst renting it out when they could. They wanted to enjoy their retirement in France, so sold their rental property, and in the spring of 2013 found a house to purchase in the Hérault village of Quarante.
Ira delights in blogging and shares his insights on cooking, France, motor scooter mechanics, politics and religion, and whatever else comes to mind on his blog France, Food, Scooters and More (www.southfranceamerican.com).
In this article, Ira gives his top 3 tips for enjoying the best that the region of Occitanie has to offer.
Top 3 favorite restaurants?
- Le Pourquoi Pas, Capestang. Tucked away along a quiet corner of the Canal du Midi, accessible only over dirt paths amid hectares of vines, the setting is unique. Yves, the Belgian proprietor, is more cook than chef but he picks the best ingredients and he loves hosting folks who appreciate good food. Never more than a few diners. Get comfortable. Take all night. Yves won’t mind.
- La Cave, La Caunette. The next village over from the spectacular cliff-side town of Minerve, La Caunette is also quite picturesque. La Cave is the project of three sisters. The space is inviting, the lunch specials are always interesting, and the price is right.
- L’Ambassade, Beziers. A true delight for the serious gourmand. A limited menu but everything is spot on wonderful in the true French tradition of fine dining. The space is nothing special but the food is as interesting as anything you’ll find in the region. The 30 euro lunch is worth every penny if you are a true foodie.
Top 3 favorite foods in France?
- Lamb – In all of its incarnations, French lamb tastes like lamb should taste.
- Chocolate – The French REALLY understand chocolate.
- Tapas – So that I can list anchovies and saucisson and pate and…
Top 3 tips for new expats in France?
- Be extra polite to everyone, from shopkeepers to bureaucrats. Good day. Pardon me. Please. Thank you. If you find them impolite, it may be because you have failed to properly observe the amenities.
- If you are fluent in French, that helps. If not, try. Even if fluent, look up the vocabulary first. Do you know the name for the electric window in a car if it stops working? Mine did. Leve-vitre. If you need a battery, before you go to the store learn both ‘batterie’ and ‘pile’. (And know that the letter i is pronounced ee.)
- Being self-sufficient is a good thing, but French bureaucracy can be baffling. They’ve been refining it to a high art for centuries. Consider hiring a pro, at least at the start, an accountant or a notaire or a resettlement advisor, someone known locally to the bureaucrats with whom you have business. It may grease the skids.
Top 3 tips for travelers in France?
- Have all of your electronics in order. French electronics are expensive, not always compatible with the electronics by the same manufacturer made for sale in other countries, and adapters are not easily found. And unless you are absolutely certain that your phone provider knows about European travel, consider buying a temporary SIM locally once you arrive.
- Don’t arrive at a popular restaurant for lunch after 1:00 pm. Lunch is often one seating and restaurants often close for the afternoon at 2:00 pm. And always call ahead for a reservation, particularly for dinner but it’s a good idea to reserve for lunch as well.
- French highway signs, especially in the countryside, don’t always show the route number, indicating instead the next village along the way. This is particularly true on small town roundabouts. So don’t just know where you are going. Know the towns that you’ll be going through to get there.
Top 3 tips for what to pack for France?
- Pack good walking shoes. Whether you are visiting the city or the country, if you’re not walking, you aren’t getting the full experience.
- A cloth tote bag or mesh shopping bag will probably come in handy. Stores don’t always provide bags, groceries in particular. So if you are renting an apartment or staying in a gite and doing some grocery shopping, you’ll need to bring your own bag.
- My wife is lactose intolerant. When we asked at the pharmacy for Lactaid or similar, the pharmacist just scratched her head. When we asked how people dealt with lactose intolerance in France, she said, “They don’t eat cheese.” And aspirin is a prescription drug in France. So don’t expect to walk into a grocery store or even a pharmacy and grab what you need off the shelf. That goes for any OTC medication or supplement that you need.
Top 3 favorite places in France?
- My terrace…
- Albi: The gardens by the river, the Lautrec Museum, and the cathedral are side by side by side and worth a visit.
- Nîmes: The old town behind the Arena is great to explore all the way back to the Jardins de la Fontaine.
Top 3 areas in southern France?
We’re not city people. But here’s where we hang out when we go to town.
- The Friday flower market in Allee Paul Riquet in Beziers
- Les Halles along the Canal de la Robine in Narbonne
- Any cemetery on All Soul’s Day
This article also features on Insiders Abroad and is reproduced with kind permission from Ira Faro.