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Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images
Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

Savour autumn in France

For gourmet lovers there is no better time of year to visit France than autumn. The forests are full of chestnuts, young and old head out to search for mushrooms, and the grapes in the vineyards are ready to be harvested. Bon appétit!

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    Hunting for mushrooms

    The French love their mushrooms. Entire villages swarm out into the forest in autumn, armed with a traditional wicker basket, in their annual search for morels, chanterelles and porcini mushrooms. Unfortunately, most of the thousands of species of mushrooms are poisonous to humans. Pas de problème; most French pharmacies will check to make sure that your harvest doesn't contain any harmful species.

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    The most famous mushroom is the truffle, found mainly in the Provence, Burgundy and Dordogne. To find these valuable morsels, the average lay person requires some help. Many local truffle hunters (and their four-legged companions) are happy to let foreigners tag along when they go out on their annual search.

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      Versatile ingredient

      The French forests are home to another delicacy that brings out culinary fans in droves in autumn: chestnuts. Especially in the south of France, many of the trails will be covered in the prickly husks. The Ardèche is one of the best known chestnut-producing regions, but the area among the mountain tops of the Massif des Maures – within striking distance from the coast between Marseille and Nice – is also home to the equivalent of more than 4,000 football fields of chestnut trees.

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      Roasted, baked, hot or cold, as an appetiser or dessert; the red-brown fruit is a very versatile ingredient. Try chestnut crepes, candy, pizza, cream or even liqueur.

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      They melt the cheeses!

      Many Alpine villages in the east of France, but also in larger cities such as Annecy and Grenoble, draw such huge crowds in autumn that you would almost think the Rolling Stones were in town. However, the big attraction are the local cows. After spending the summer grazing on the alpine meadows, the herds are given a rock star welcome. This festive ‘retour des alpages’ is accompanied by numerous culinary traditions.

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        A beloved crowd pleaser is the Mont d’Or: a creamy cheese made with unpasteurised cow milk that traditionally was made with the leftover milk at the end of a long grazing season. After a lengthy aging process, the delicious cheese is thick as honey and best eaten with a spoon, warm or cold. Perfect on a cheese plate or as a base for a hearty cheese fondue. After all, Switzerland is just around the corner.

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        Carpe diem

        If the motley forests aren't colourful enough, the French vineyards also show off their autumn splendour in bright yellow and orange. This is the perfect setting for the many harvest celebrations that take place in wine regions such as the Provence, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Alsace and the Loire valley, marking the beginning or end of the grape harvest.

        In the sunny south the vines are pruned first. The village of Saint-Émilion, just outside of Bordeaux, decorates its streets with streamers by the third week of September and holds a parade and fireworks show in honour of the grape harvest. From 9 to 13 October the festivities culminate with the ‘Ball of the Pruning Shears’ held in Paris. Known as the largest grape harvest festival in France, the Fête des Vendanges takes place at the urban vineyard of Le Clos Montmartre.

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        Burgundy autumn classic

        Most French love a juicy cut of meat. And although autumn is known for a variety of game meat, the ultimate fall classic is still the boeuf bourguignon. Once known as a peasant dish, this beef stew has conquered all social classes and today even features in haute cuisine. There are many regional varieties of the dish, but standard ingredients include mushrooms, bacon, carrots, onions and a full-bodied Burgundy wine. The market in Dijon, the largest city in the region, is the ideal starting point to uncover the best boeuf bourguignon. Many local chefs come here to pick up their favourite ingredients. Go for an early morning walk around the market and you will smell the delicious aroma wafting from the bubbling pots.

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