The French LOVE to picnic and will dine outdoors at any opportunity. A leisurely meal, shared with friends and family, is aimed at combining the enjoyment and appreciation of good food, beautiful weather and glorious natural surroundings – all which play a part in defining their country and culture.
Le pique-nique is not the same as a snack or packed lunch (le casse-croûte), which is just eating to fuel the body. It is a proper meal with several courses and wine, preferably served in a glass!
Attention is also given to presentation with rustic style –la table champêtre– checked tablecloths and simple floral decorations.
Preparation is key : ‘La Belle Adresse’ recommends the following (very long!) check-list of items to bring:
QUOI MANGER? PICNIC FOOD IDEAS
You should include an appetiser and a main course, followed by cheese and seasonal fruit, and sometimes a gateau or other sweet. For example, in summer, think of a tomato and Roquefort tart, to start with, followed by a main course of roast chicken carved and served with a green salad dressed with a vinaigrette and walnuts, followed by a selection of cheeses and strawberries, raspberries (n.b. peaches are too messy- my own observation!) or some melons from the South.
If the appetiser is simple, such as a chilled soup brought in a thermos, or crudités divers, you could add a fruit tart from the boulangerie as dessert.
For more elaborate ideas:
- Chic & Simple Recipes (in French) https://lacartedespiqueniques.fr/recettes-gourmandes
- Recipes (in English) http://www.thekitchn.com/23-french-inspired-recipes-that-you-can-pack-for-a-picnic-231645
QUOI FAIRE? LES ASPECTS SOCIO-CULTURAL 😉
While the French might consider their hour and a half of pleasure confined to the activities of engaging in conversation, followed by a nap in the shade of a tree, Anglo- Saxons might want something a little more active to do?
- The whole Family:
OÙ MANGER? – THE PERFECT PICNIC SPOT
In good weather, from late spring through to autumn, between 12 midday and 2pm, the French- on holiday or not- will set up their portable tables or make use of public benches in municipal funded ‘Aires’ or official picnic spots to dine ‘en plein air ‘. Even if it is near a noisy motorway, unperturbed by passing cars, everyone settles down to enjoy an ample and civilised meal.
Naturellement, one would prefer a scenic spot and France has those in droves: shores of lakes and rivers, or in rocky coves and sandy beaches along the coastline.
Normandy has very many ideal locations. You can find many of them listed at
Three such perfect spots are by the River Orne, within a short drive from the Haras du Gazon:
- La Villette, Ménil- Jean (10km 15 minute drive)
A well maintained picnic area is set out by the Orne. From the picnic tables, walk a few steps to the the 12th century chapel Chapelle Notre-Dame de Pitié à Ménil-Jean and La Longue Roche à Giel-Courteilles- a 3 metre high ‘menhir’ made of local stone.
- La Courbe (11kms 15minute drive)
The meanders of the River Orne almost cause a closed loop at La Courbe enclosing ‘íslands’or ‘peninsulas’ of land . The winding river provided a natural defensive opportunity and artifacts have been found showing signs of human occupation since prehistoric times ( 3500 years BC).
- Mésnil-Glaise (12km 20 minute drive)
The fin de siècle 19th century chateau, still privately owned , dominates this dramatic site with its setting on a rocky cliff and the ruins of an older château, destroyed at the time of the Revolution and of which only one wing remains. The park of the chateau is listed as an Historic Monument.