France Today magazine is proud to have an expert team of contributors, whose knowledge of France is vast and inspiring. In a series of interviews highlighting “France Favourites,” we shine the spotlight on our team. Here we share travel tips from Gillian Thornton.
Gillian made her first visit to France as a teenager, training as a bilingual PA at the Institut Français in London before become a freelance writer for women’s magazines and travel publications. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, she’s been writing about France for 20 years and has travelled to every region. “Countryside or coast, city break or activity holiday, I never mind where I go,” she says. “I just get excited at the thought of crossing the English Channel again!”
What’s your perfect day in France?
Anything that gives me a real sense of the town or area I am in. I love soaking up the atmosphere of a city on foot, enjoying a light lunch and then popping into a museum or two before relaxing over dinner at an address that’s popular with locals. In the country, I love a guided walk so I can find out about local flora, fauna and – of course – food. No day in France is complete without food exploration!
Your most memorable meal?
Wild boar casserole at U Castille in Bonifacio on the southern tip of Corsica. The dish was authentically Corsican but the big attraction was the location. We sat at one of four cosy tables for two on a balcony jutting out from the cliff whilst waves broke underneath, seagulls soared past the table, and the lights began to twinkle across the water in Sardinia. How much more magical can a meal get?
Best travel memory in France?
So many to choose from it but I love a great view so it has to be something airborne. Either the 45 minutes I spent on a tandem paragliding flight in the Alps one summer, or the hot air balloon flight from the perched village of Lectoure in Gers when we drifted silently over a landscape tinged with autumn colours. I would never have tried either of them at home.
Favourite French region to travel?
Please don’t make me choose! Normandy for lush countryside. Nord-Pas de Calais for culture. Drôme for the scents of aromatic plants. Basque Country for beaches and colour. I could go on, and on, and…
Top museum in France?
I was bowled over last year by the new International Centre for Cave Art at Lascaux in the Dordogne. The replica cave is simply outstanding, as are the interactive elements that bring the prehistoric paintings to life. I also loved Cité du Vin in Bordeaux.
Favourite French film?
Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis. Makes me laugh every time! I’ve visited Bergues where it was filmed so have the added dimension of having seen the locations.
Souvenir for friends back home?
Savon de Marseille and other handcrafted soaps. Donkey milk soap went down very well from a trip to Poitou-Charentes!
Boutiques where you shop during the semi-annual soldes?
I’m not much of a shopper but I do enjoy browsing outlet shops in textile towns such as Troyes and Roubaix. It’s always good to get a new injection of French fashion at a knock-down price!
A destination in France that you’re dying to visit?
The Gorges de Verdon. I love dramatic scenery but although I’ve travelled all over the Hexagon, I’ve still not managed to get there yet.
Tip for first-time visitors to France?
However poor you think your French is, have a go. You gain a lot of goodwill points just for trying. And if they answer in English, don’t automatically think they are putting you down. More often than not, they are just trying to be friendly. Honestly! Oh and one more thing, a smile crosses every cultural barrier.