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Summer time in France is a wonderful experience whichever region you choose to visit. It is of course much warmer in the south and south west than the north but wherever you go it is so beautiful and will want you coming back for more.

June is an excellent time to visit France as the weather is warmer yet not too hot and many visitors and French alike will be heading for the beaches along the French coastline. It is not yet as busy as you will find in the coming months so if you bear this in mind, it may be a better choice to holiday in June than later on. Everywhere it seems people are so relaxed and enjoying the French way of life.

Of course there are many other activities if France apart from making sand castles and soaking up the sun on the beach. Walking is a favourite pastime for many people and who can blame them when there is such a wonderful country to explore. One of the best ways of seeing France is on foot where you get the ‘feel’ for a place much better than you do from your vehicle as you pass through.

It seems that these days more and more of us are taking less exercise than we need, so if you want a relaxing holiday with a little exercise this is just one way of getting that much needed exercise whilst enjoying yourselves too.

Picnics are a great way of enjoying the scenery in France and having a fabulous time too. You will have the best choice in the world when it comes to food for your picnic. French salads with the season’s choice of greens are fabulous along with the best cheeses, ham, olives, fruit and wines. Now I can’t think of an excuse not to have a picnic once you have packed all these food items into your basket, it’s what summer days are all about.

One of my favourite places for a picnic in Nice in the South of France is at Le Château where there is a public park high up on the hillside overlooking the old town of Nice or Vieux Nice as it is known. It’s a great place to take a stroll and the views are truly stunning, taking in the old town, the port and the sea.

Le Château was able to withstand a Franco-Turkish siege in 1543; subsequent French assaults in 1691 (Nice was part of Italy in that period) and again in 1705 were more successful. Then in 1706 Louis X1V ordered it to be demolished. It was later used as a burial ground and in 1821 the city council had the idea of making it into a public park which in was laid out as it is now from 1861.

It really is a beautiful place and if you want to explore this area there are steps leading from the bottom at the end of Rue Rossetti but if you cannot manage them, there is no need to worry, you will find a lift, the ascenseur, near the sea front end.

Once at the top you will have several kilometres of easy walking pathways which lead to the medieval cathedral, an orientation table, a cooling cascade which is simply beautiful as well as a café and a children’s play area.

I never tire of visiting Le Chateaux and of course when we do visit, I always take a picnic – having bought our French food from the small shops and markets in Vieux Nice, the old town.

One form of exercise which is pleasant to watch is the French game of boules. I love watching the locals playing this game; it is for all ages and is a good way of exercise as well as fun. It’s a very social activity and you may want to try it for yourself. It is called pértanque in this region and is most enjoyable to watch or take part in.

It is said that the game of pértanque originated in Lyon around 1894, called Boule Lyonnais but the game at that time involved some difficult manoeuvres as you had to step out of a drawn circle as far as possible with one foot. This of course was difficult if you had a physical disability which was the case with a man called, Jules Lenoir in the French town of La Ciotat in the South of France. He devised new rules to allow for this problem and laid out the rules for Pétanque in 1910.

It can be played on any flat piece of land, gravel, dirt, grass or sand and the goal is to throw metal balls about the size of an orange so that they roll as close to another smaller wooden ball called a cochonnet, which translates to ‘piglet’, or jack at the same time you are standing in a starting circle with both feet on the ground.

You will see people playing this game in most places in the south and southwest and they will usually have some form of fast food with them whilst they play – yes, I did say fast food, but in this case it is usually a tasty healthy snack in the form of a ‘Pan Bagna’.

This is really the equivalent of taking a Salade Niçoise and making it into a quick and easy French fast food. It consist of a crusty French roll packed with the ingredients you would find in a traditional Salade Niçoise and believe me it is truly wonderful.

It is one of the most popular fast foods you can buy in this area of France and although I dislike the term fast food as this conjures up ideas of today’s unhealthy fast foods, in this instance it is fast and fantastic in terms of healthy and tasty.

So for this month’s recipe I thought you may like to have a quick and easy French food that you can make for yourself and family whether on holiday in France or at home wherever you are – it really is a good choice and will make for a great picnic, snack or a light meal at any time you fancy.

Originally it would have been made with bread that was stale and was just another way of the French housewife being excellent in managing the food she had in her larder. Nothing was ever thrown away but I’m sure you will agree she has a winner with this recipe.

Usually the ingredients for this recipe will largely consist of whatever is in season at the time but this is a guide for you to follow and you can vary it according to what you have available and what you like or dislike, just as the French housewife would do. An example here is that if you don’t like anchovies, you can simply use tuna, or for a vegetarian choice, simply omit the fish.

The recipe here is for a guide only, simply vary the salad to what is available but it should contain olives and of course the olive oil.

Pan Bagnat
( For Four People)

  • 4 Bread rolls
  • 2 Firm tomatoes
  • 4 Radishes
  • 1 Green/yellow bell pepper
  • 2 Hard boiled eggs
  • 12 Anchovy filets
  • 16 Black olives
  • 1 Garlic clove
  • 1 Small onion
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Method

  • Slice the tomatoes, radish and onions into thin rounds.
  • Shell the hard boiled eggs and cut into rounds.
  • Thinly slice the bell peppers into lengths.
  • Pit the olives and slice into rounds.
  • Dip the anchovies in fresh water to desalt them.
  • Cut the bread rolls in half and remove the soft white middle from the centre of each half.
  • Rub the inside with the garlic clove.
  • Drench the inside with olive oil.
  • Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Finally, layer the inside of the bread roll with the sliced tomatoes, the pepper, radish, onions, egg, olives and finish with the anchovies.

Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil.

You can wrap them in cling film or foil and put in the refrigerator overnight and they will be ready for your picnic. They seem to improve if left this way as the bread becomes soaked with the olive oil which is what is how they should be.

So whether you are on holiday or at home, I hope you enjoy this tasty treat.

Bon appétit