This spring I decided to WFF—work from France :-) A decision I came to after a short trip to Paris with Ashley for ITG in March. What can I say? I just needed a little more France in my life. Fortunately for me, I have a friend from my hometown who lives in the south of France and I’d been meaning to pay her a visit. Although, it wasn't exactly a good place to work... only a good place to relax and EAT. My agenda: lots of lounging, lots of French fats (cheese, butter, et al.), and some sun! I think I did them all.
I started in Toulouse. It's a teenie city but packed with incredible food. Every morning began with a trip to the farmer's market. Imagine: breads, pastries, fresh produce, incredible flowers... anything you'd find at a market in New York, but French and a bit more special. I suggest the Saint Aubin and Victor Hugo ones, especially. You should also go to La Compagnie du Chocolat for incredible chocolate. Get the fudge, it's a Toulouse specialty. They have a tonka one you can't eat in the states because it's illegal, and the candied flowers are so good too.
Can you tell that we cooked a lot? My friends have a small baby and couldn't really go out to eat easily. I never cook in New York, but here it was special because everyone’s more precious about going to the very best cheese shop to get cheese, the best butcher to get meat, the best baker for the perfect loaf. Things feel very thought out, and when you sit down to eat, you can taste it. We had lentils, duck confit, raclette, chocolate mousse cake, tarts, and charcuterie every night. And then we hiked. Old villages that looked like the backdrop from that Drew Barrymore movie, Ever After. We hiked around old castles, too. I went to a Cathar one closer to the city, but I hear the one in Carcassonne is the best one if you are up to the one hour trip.
Marseille was very different—even from the train station you could tell. It's only three hours from Toulouse, but it's on the Mediterranean and much more diverse. It’s also warmer and sunnier—it gets the most sunny days in France. Apparently French people love to hate Marseille (there's even a reality show that is comparable to Jersey Shore), but I think most Americans would love it. At least this American does.
In the center of town there is a big shop, Maison Empereur, that’s half museum and half superstore. It’s filled with historic items that look trapped in time—blue work jackets, stripe sweaters, toys, and of course, beauty products—but new and ready to buy. A thing I learned is that Marseille soap has been around for hundreds of years. It's something you've probably bought into in some way—think L'Occitane kind of branding and scents. Here they have drawers upon drawers of soaps in different colors, scents, and shapes. There's also a whole room of bath supplies—oils and perfumes and giant loofahs. You can buy empty antique-looking fragrance bottles to fill with anything you want.
While you’re there, you should also see Le Panier; a historic preserved part of town that is all cobblestone and filled with tiny shops selling pottery, knives—specialty handmade things. Nearby is the Noailles Market, which is a few blocks of North African food and goods—incredible baskets, Turkish towels, dried fruits, delicious couscous street food—Marseille has a huge Algerian and Tunisian population. It's important to experience this while here.
Then, the reason I really came to Marseille, the Calanques. Calanques are rocky cliffs and bays outside of the city where people go to hike and swim and tan. I went to Sugiton, a Calanque which is on a college campus and accessible by bus and an hour long hike. It was MAGIC. The forest on the way was filled with students and families—everyone was really friendly. Down at the cliffs and water there were people swimming, laying out, having picnics. This is the lifestyle I want to buy into. I had no worries!
Photographed by Tom Newton