French Cooking School Vacations

There are classes in France for every type of home cook to combine scenery, local products, and new techniques.

Cooking Classes: L'École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse, France
Photo: Photo © Pierre Monetta

In exquisitely restored farmhouses and châteaus throughout France, cooking teachers allow you to live the life you've dreamed about — if only for the length of a vacation. In classes of eight or so students, chefs offer lessons on how to cook like a French native, whether braising a guinea hen or roasting a leg of lamb in a wood-burning oven. The following French culinary schools all stress local specialties (truffles in Provence, seafood in Côte d'Azur), and of course, regional wines. A typical day begins with a visit to a market, then there's class and a sumptuous meal — in a garden, weather permitting. Accommodations, when they're not at the school, are in charming inns or homes nearby.

At Home with Patricia Wells

Patricia Wells, F&W contributing editor and author of The Provence Cookbook invites students to learn to cook Provençal specialties inside her 18th-century hilltop farmhouse in historic Vaison-la-Romaine. The bestselling Black Truffle Cooking Extravaganza entails hands-on truffle cooking classes, a truffle hunt, a visit to a local truffle supplier, wine tastings, and organized meals. Courses start at $6,000 for five days (not including lodging).

Gourmet on Tour

This London-based tour organizer offers a large choice of European packages — more than 20 in France — with cooking classes and accommodations with fabulous chef-teachers. One of the properties, the Manoir de Carabillon, is a stone manor house in Normandy; another, the Hostellerie Bérard, is a cluster of restored buildings in a Provençal village. Vacations can include visits to markets, vineyards, fromageries, or fishing ports if you're near the coast. They are available for as few as two travelers and last from half a day to a week. Prices vary with the package; a week-long culinary adventure in the Loire Valley, for instance, costs 2,650 euros (about $3,575) including lodging, excursions, and some meals.

La Cité du Chocolat Valrhona

In an annex next to the Valrhona factory in the Rhône Valley town of Tain l'Hermitage, France's famous chocolate maker has set up two state-of-the-art teaching laboratories overlooking the vine-covered slopes of the region's most famous winemakers, Jaboulet and Chapoutier. Frédéric Bau, Valrhona's head pastry chef, teaches intensive three- and four-day hands-on courses for eight participants. Entire sessions are spent learning just about ganache making or about chocolate pastries. Most classes are in French, but many of the instructors speak English. Prices vary but a two-day pâtisserie course costs 345 euros (about $340) not including lodging. Pavillon de l'Hermitage, a comfortable hotel with a pool, a restaurant, and a wine cellar stocked with Rhône greats is a five-minute walk from the school.

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