The sight of exotic French girls dancing at a school disco in 1985 (during a school twinning trip to Normandy) first piqued Justin Postlethwaite’s fascination for all things French. Later, after graduating in French Language and Literature, he went on to eat and drink his way around in the name of travel journalism – he thinks he might have consumed double his own body weight in confit de canard by now. Postlethwaite is now the Editor of French Entrée, among the world’s leading print and online resources for Francophiles. He reviews films and books for France Today. Voici, his travel tips for France.
What’s your perfect day in Paris?
I’m so in awe of Paris that I still keep it strictly touristic, and I don’t even pretend to blend in with the locals. After waking up in a cloud of pillows, I’d have breakfast in bed at Le Bristol, before spending the morning down at the Musée d’Orsay, checking in on my all-time favourite painting – Millet’s L’Angélus. It’s like a sad friend that cheers me up, weirdly.
I would perhaps treat myself to lunch at Le Georges atop the Pompidou, before aimlessly ambling the Marais in search of bargainous second-hand clothes shops. Later, I might head to the Tour Montparnasse and enjoy the naff 70s splendour and view. There are a couple of bric-à-brac shops down a sidestreet nearby, where I might find some old printing blocks, a Ricard jug for a song or a 1980s Bibendum keyring. I always need more pointless French tat.
In the evening I will have a couple of beers and steak-frites somewhere in the Latin Quarter.
Your favourite restaurant in Paris?
I’ve always eaten really well at La Cuisine de l’E7 at Edouard 7 near the Opéra.
The most sublime meal you’ve ever had in France?
For life-affirming delight, it’s hard to beat a platter of fresh fruits de mer at a portside restaurant in Brittany. For jaw-dropping brilliance: a chocolate and gold leaf dessert by Christophe Michalak at the Plaza Athenée over a decade ago, when he was on his way to becoming World Patisserie Champion. I refused to share it and needless to say, we soon broke up. I still have the menu though, so I win.
Best travel memory in France?
A press trip to Albi about 10 years ago, where I fell in love with the behemoth, tanker-like cathedral and feasted on duck in all its glorious guises. I was then taken out to the sticks to visit Toulouse-Lautrec’s childhood home and had tea with the magnificent, age-defying Comtesse Nicole-Bérengère Tapié de Celeyran, great-great niece of the painter. After that, I knew I was in the right job!
Favourite French region to travel?
Jetting in to sunny Nice with a view to exploring the villages of Provence’s hinterland or a seaside resort – both are guaranteed to get my tapenade tingling.
Top museum in France?
The big guns need no plugs here, so here’s one for you – the strawberry and heritage museum in Plougastel, Brittany. It’s so bad, it’s great.
Favourite French film?
Jour de Fête by Jacques Tati (1949). I first saw it early one morning on a UK television channel and was mesmerised by Tati’s clowning persona and his sweet ‘anti-progress’ message. It resonates still, especially for anyone in love with la vie à l’ancienne, and I can watch it time and again.
Souvenir for friends back home?
A local cake of some description. Or airport sweets and an apology.
Boutiques where you shop during the semi-annual soldes?
I’m a journalist – they don’t pay me enough to go shopping in boutiques!
A destination in France that you’re dying to visit?
The beautiful beaches of Southern Corsica.
Tip for first-time visitors to France?
Learn some French and be prepared to use it – it’s France, after all.
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