Your first meal on a Jackdaw Journeys Tour to Provence will likely start with me saying ‘Let’s have a picnic in Provence! And, this will probably find us perched on a hill in a bird sanctuary, sitting on a blanket or tablecloth, overlooking a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea!
Of the many things I love to do in Provence, an afternoon picnic is one of my all-time favorite activities. Picnics or “pique-niques” in French are not new in France. Artists have romanticized outside dining since the 19th century. One of the first was Édouard Manet who became popular for his painting of, “Le Déjeuner sur L’herbe” or “Luncheon on the Grass”. Monet quickly followed Manet with the picnic idea but painted his picnics more grandiose with more of everything – more fruits and vegetables, more bottles of wine and water, more bread and cheeses, and add to that roast chicken and meat pies. Then, last but not least, James Tissot painted Paris society ladies fashionably dressed in scenes of everyday life. Most of the time the ladies were sitting on blankets by a lake sharing cups of tea and finger sandwiches. One of Tissot’s most popular picnic paintings is, “The Holyday”, also known as “The Picnic”.
Let’s take some clues from the wise French painters and create our own ideas of what makes the perfect French picnic:
Location, location, location!
In our opinion is the most significant ingredient. The perfect spot is shady and cool in the summer, flat and comfortable for sitting on the ground, or perhaps you may find a picnic table. The view must be of water if possible, like the lake or the ocean, mountains, grassy fields, and even vineyards.
Who should you Include?
You should always be with friends and family with whom you want to share food, conversation, and time.
What is the best time for a picnic?
Anytime, but early afternoons make a wonderful time for passing the day.
What items are necessary for a picnic?
A tablecloth or blanket is not a trivial item, it’s a must! Next, you need a basket full of all kinds of accoutrements: cutlery, napkins, plates, glasses, candles, and music if appropriate. Please no plastic items if possible.
What food should you have?
The easiest way, and most fun way, to prepare for a picnic is to simply stroll through your favorite marché or outside market. The following list will help you prepare the essentials for a perfect French picnic:
- We prefer a couple of baguettes instead of crackers and breadsticks.
- You must have sweet French butter (hopefully le beurre salé de Bretagne), honey and confiture (honey and jam to drizzle over cheeses).
- Cured meats like saucisson (sausages) and freshly sliced ham (some say the ham from Ibercio, Spain is the best).
- Cheeses. We prefer one of each – a goat, a sheep, and a cow.
- Seasonal produce such as figs, grapes, and melons. In addition, don’t forget the fresh crudités such as tomatoes and radishes. And finally, add cornichons (baby pickles) and olives of your choice.
- Salty Spanish Marcona almonds.
- Desserts. A Provençal nougat candy sold by the slice from the markets. We also like any pastry picked up at the pâtisserie (French bakery).
- Drinks. A supply of waters, wines, and of course champagne! Don’t forget the glasses and corkscrew!
Follow the above recommendations and we will assure you the perfect picnic, French style!
Our last trip to Provence brought about a delightful spontaneous picnic hosted by our private driver. Click here to see our picnic in action over on our Instagram.