10 Tips For Your Next French Escapade From A Certified “The Crawl France” Food Crawler
The Crawl France promo winner Cathy Jacinto shares her epic experiences during the trip—and some handy foodie and tourist tips for your next visit to France
The Crawl France—the most epic nine days of food, wine, and French culture. And true to our Crawl series, we again brought with us two very special lucky viewers to crawl the food and wine spots of France with our hosts, Stephanie Kienle-Gonzalez and Jhonel Faelnar.
“It was late in the evening, a weeknight, I think? Metro Channel was on and ads for the promo popped up several times. My interest was instantly piqued because of those two words: France + Food. I thought, 'This is a far shot, but wouldn’t it be wonderfully insane if it happened?’ So I pared down my mini nobela, submitted the forms, smiled, shrugged…and promptly forgot about it. I mean, really, what were the odds, right?” says Cathy Jacinto, winner of this year’s The Crawl France promotion. Little did she know that her dream destination will soon be knocking on her front door.
It may be the first time for Cathy and her husband Mark to go to France, but after an immersive nine days of restaurant hopping, cellar visits, four different hotels, and train galore with 20 people strong, it felt like they were invincible.
Here are some of her tips for people who would go like to make the most out of their trip to France.
Say "Bonjour!" when you can!
“Learn to say bonjour, merci, s’il vous plait. Yes, nearly everyone speaks English in France. But if you make an honest effort to speak even just a little bit of French, you can create instant rapport with the locals,” says Cathy.
Creating rapport with the locals also opens up a lot of possibilities since they can point you to nice places you can try, and easier way to do things. The Crawl Host Jhonel Faelnar loved chatting with the locals too, which helped get him to the nice jazz bars around the city.
Skip the hotel breakfast
Since the team is going around France, they would hop from one hotel to another. In the five hotels that they stayed in, Cathy recommends that you’d rather skip the breakfast and take that opportunity to explore the nearby cafés. “Walk the streets, find a café, sit on a bench with a croissant and espresso. Watch Paris wake up.”
Follow the French dress code
“The typical French is always smartly dressed. Casual effortless chic—and scarves—is the way to go,” says Cathy. Leave the shorts and the sweatpants at home because when in France, you have to dress like the French do!
Like in any other bustling city, France also has a number of pickpockets here and there. And when you dress like the French, you’re not letting yourself be vulnerable in their eyes. “Watch your belongings like a hawk. Just bring your phone, cash, or credit card when touring. Leave your passport in the hotel safe,” Cathy adds.
But wear comfortable shoes
It may not be okay to wear slippers or shorts, but smart casual doesn’t have to be high heels or boots. Expect to walk on a lot of cobblestone steps around Paris, catching trains, and commuting to get from one place to another, so it’s important to wear comfortable shoes like sneakers, ankle boots, or loafers.
Stay at Le Marais
“In Paris, Le Marais is a lovely, lovely area to stay,” says Cathy. And indeed, it is. It gives you a feel of medieval Paris as it is home to a number of buildings with historic and architectural importance. It’s also lined with boutiques, galleries, and restaurants that you’d surely want to check out.
Drop by The Place des Vosges, which is considered as one of the most beautiful squares in the whole of Paris. It was built way back by Henry VI as one of the most exclusive areas to live in that time. It also has a lot of history since Victor Hugo stayed in one of the buildings here when he wrote Les Miserables.
Avoid tourist hot spots when you can
“Avoid the touristy spots; they’re mostly madness unless you go at the crack of dawn. If you know someone who lives there, ask them to take you to their favorite place, and experience Paris like a local,” recommends Cathy. For The Crawl France group, they were lucky to have Steph Kienle-Gonzalez to show them around her favorite spots during the time she stayed there.
One of her favorites that makes an appearance on The Crawl France is Café du Marche, the perfect place for Cathy's husband Mark to eat his very first escargot.
Go to the French countryside
It can be tempting to stay in Paris the whole time, but the French countryside is just as picturesque and breathtaking!
One of Cathy’s suggestion is to go on a wine and cheese tour in Dijon. “This experience is a love letter to the French countryside. This experience is extra special for me and Mark because it brought back memories of our first rendezvous in the [United] States, still as platonic friends, in the vineyards of Napa Valley. I will always remember Dijon for its small charming town, scenic vineyards, amazing wine and cheese pairings, plus one fabulous tour guide who expertly contextualized everything that we saw, smelled, and tasted. I can’t remember how many different wines we tasted, but they were all exceptional.”
Take your time
“Paris is a wonderful place to just sit around with a coffee or a kir royale (a French cocktail that’s made of crème de cassis topped with champagne) and watch people for hours,” says Cathy. It's true! And while you’re in France, make sure to drop by La Café Alain Ducasse, which has a number of branches in Paris, for a haute cuisine version of your usual cup of coffee.
“This is not the time to be squeamish! Try the frogs' legs—it is perfect with a medium bodied red wine,” advises Cathy. If you think frogs legs is crazy, you’d be surprised that Jhonel also loved the calf brain that they tried at Le Servan.
The French are known for being very experimental when it comes to their food—and these experiments yield gorgeous and out-of-the-box dishes. Le Servan is one of the restaurants in Paris serving up interesting fare, owned by The Lehva sisters, Tatiana and Katia, who are half French and half Filipina.
Enjoy the wine
It might not need saying, but enjoy the great wines of France. Nowhere else in the world can you find an exquisite array of wines that will pair each dish perfectly. Cathy and the group made sure they maximized the wine life of France (traveling with sommelier Jhonel, who made sure they did) and enjoyed the bars at night.
“After the farewell dinner, a smaller group of us decided to have a nightcap in a wine bar. It was a cozy, chill time, more good wine, and many, many stories. It felt intimate and special. I thought it was serendipitous that Jhonel picked a champagne called La Closerie to kick us off. It was also the name of the restaurant we submitted in our promo entry, La Closerie des Lilas, one of Hemingway’s old stomping grounds. We actually wanted to trace the American writer’s footsteps around Paris. Well, we did nothing of that. But we walked our own footsteps in Paris and around France, guided by nothing but an openness to randomness, and it was delightful.”
Join Jhonel Faelnar and Stephanie Kienle-Gonzalez as they explore the food and wine culture of France on The Crawl France, premiering on December 8, 7 p.m., on iWant, Metro.style Youtube, and Metro Channel, channel 52 on Sky Cable and channel 174 on HD.
Images from Cathy Jacinto.