English people are renowned for their booze cruises to France. A cheap ferry ticket and the prospect of cheap beer and wine is all it takes to get them to cross the Channel, but when they get there, they seem to just drive around supermarkets on industrial estates, loading the boot with booze, eat lunch at the ‘English Pub’ at Cite Europe in Calais and then head home again. All that effort across the water onto the mainland seems such a waste.
So in a vain attempt to encourage Britain’s booze cruisers to open their eyes to the wonders that France (and the rest of the continent) has to offer, I introduce – The Bakery Binge.
Okay, it’s a far cry from a Swiss wellness break from a health point of view and isn’t exactly ideal if you’re on a diet, but with France being home to the best patisseries and boulangeries in the world, it might just be enough to inspire a few people to travel beyond Calais.
If you feel like picking up a couple of yummy French tarts, read on to discover five great bakeries in France:
5 Excellent French Boulangerie-Patisseries
1. Boulangerie-Patisserie Joly, Calais
Okay, I’m starting you off easy with this one as you don’t even have to leave Calais, but you do have to get off the industrial estate and into the real town. With a huge range of breads, pastries and cakes made fresh every day, there’s something here to make everyone feel Joly (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). www.boulangerie-patisserie-joly.com
2. Poilane, Paris
Established almost 80 years ago, this Parisien bakery is surely one of the best places in the world to buy freshly baked bread, particularly its speciality sourdough. It is convenient to get to in the centre of Paris, and the store is just like you imagine a perfect French bakery to be. Even the website is a work of art: www.poilane.fr
(I probably shouldn’t mention it, but they also have a store in London if you just can’t be bothered to go all the way to Paris).
3. La Boulangerie, Rouen
In the ancient town of Rouen, a short drive from the ferry ports of Le Havre and Caen is an immaculate bright red shop with the sign Boulangerie on the front. Inside is as colourful as the outside with a fairytale selection of cakes, sweets, pastries and of course bread. And for the complete bakery binge experience, you can actually stay at the bakery in the rooms above the shop at the Boulangerie Chambres d’hôtes B&B.
If you want fresh bread and croissants for breakfast, this is the place to stay: www.laboulangerie.fr
4. Boulangepicier, Paris
A modern twist on the traditional French boulangeries created by a team of award-winning Master Bakers. As well as amazing speciality breads such as Pain au Figues (fig bread), they also have a cafe area with delicious soups, light lunches and deserts. Perfect to tingle your taste buds before you hop back on the Eurostar: www.boulangepicier.com
5. Meert Patisserie & Cafe, Lille
If you’ve got a sweet tooth then Meert in Lille is the place for you. This is the home of the vanilla waffle or “Gaufre”, created in 1849 and still made the same way today. You can buy packs of them in shops, but for the real experience you need to see them being made by hand in the waffle iron, and eat them fresh. They also have an extensive range of other sweet delights on offer: www.meert.fr
What to try on your French Bakery Binge
You don’t have to go to the bakeries mentioned above to enjoy the delights of a French Bakery Binge. Almost every town and village in France has an excellent boulangerie-patisserie where you can stop off on your journey to sample what’s on offer. If you are unsure about what to buy, our top French bakery foods are:
- Pain au Chocolat – the authentic chocolate croissant somehow is so much better in France than anywhere else.
- Tarte au Poire – they have all sorts of gorgeous fruit starts in France, but tarte au poire (pear tart) is always a good choice.
- Florentine – colourful sweets that taste as good as they look.
- Sandwiches – I know sandwiches are technically English, but ask any boulangerie to make you a ham and butter sandwich in a fresh baguette, and you’ll know why we’ve recommended it.
- Artisan Breads – forget all that sliced white stuff you eat at home, ask the baker what bread is their speciality. Typical speciality breads include Pain au Cereales and Pain au Olives. If you can find it, try the unique olive infused Fougasse bread, which as its name suggests will certainly give you a Foogasm.
We’d love to hear about your favourite French bakeries and your recommendations of your favourite French bakery binge treats. Feel free to leave a comment below.
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Camille Beaufort, the author of the article “Forget the Booze Cruise – Go on a French Bakery Binge” is a well known French pastry chef in Paris.