Tired Of French Tourist Traps? Try A Cooking Vacation In Southwestern France

In the “Foodie’s Field Trip to France” Aurélie Brown guides you through a less-well-trod area of France, the Midi-Pyrenees. French-born and bred, she is a culinary travel expert, descendant of four generations of chefs and bakers, currently living in Chicago, and charmingly bilingual.

After the first night at the Hotel des Beaux Arts in the historic heart of the dynamic city of Toulouse on the Garonne River, your small group (8 maximum) will move deeper into the country to a luxurious 13th-century stone house in a hilltop village in the department of Ariège.

On the border of Spain, with the great spiky Pyrenees mountain range as backdrop, the Midi-Pyrenees is an area characterized by magnificent architecture, medieval villages, river valleys, rolling farmlands, and food that is fabulous as only the French can deliver. Ultimate perk of this trip: Aurélie will introduce you to the beloved local chef with 30 years experience tucked under his apron, Jean-François Martin who will open up his restaurant’s kitchen to teach you a trick or two about his exquisitely healthy “market” cuisine during hands-on classes.

A visit to the Marché Victor Hugo, one of the largest indoor food markets in France with over 100 shops, offers mounds of farm-fresh produce. Aurélie will also lead you through an unmarked door, upstairs, where five small and very lively restaurants serve the freshest food in Toulouse.  Set side by side, lunch-goers must walk through each one, checking the large chalkboard menus of specialties to get to the right one – and she knows which one that is!  The menu stars here are home-cooked cassoulet (a slow-cooked stew of white beans, sausages and duck or goose confit) and Mediterranean-style grilled fish.

More perks: A gourmet picnic in a picturesque vineyard. Visits to local artisanal bakers andles fromagers.  Endless photo opps in the little old villages with their half-timbered arcades, the Canal du Midi, and visit the 6th c. Roman-built medieval fortress city of Carcassonne (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites).