Hi France Travel Planners! Apéritifs in France are an important part of French culture. What is apéro? Apéritifs (or apero as they are usually referred to) are the pre dinner drinks and snacks generally taken after work and before dinner. When you visit France you will see locals everywhere in the later afternoon/early evening (often when we Anglophones are heading off for dinner) sitting in cafés enjoying their French apéritif. On our recent trip to France Mr FranceTravelPlanning and I were fortunate to enjoy French apéro on a Paris Latin Quarter walking tour with Take Walks. Combining an iconic part of French food culture and an iconic part of Paris, this apéro time walk offered by Take Walks’ specialist food tour company Devour Tours is an absolute winner.
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Setting off for apéro time
We assembled for our Latin Quarter French apéritif, food and wine walking tour just near the Arènes de Lutece. Our tour group was very small – just ourselves and another couple. Our guide, Céline was very easy to locate thanks to the excellent instructions we had been provided with our booking. After introductions (Céline, we discovered, was a sommelier in a former life which seemed a good omen for the tour) we headed into the Arènes to learn about its history. There were kids playing football, and grown ups just sitting around enjoying the late afternoon sunshine – it really was a local community space. Quite rare in this part of Paris.
Our first tasting of the tour was some French apéritif food. In this case cheese. So we headed into a very typical French cheese shop. The display of cheeses was quite bewildering, but Céline had done all the hard work for us, and chosen a range of different cheeses for us to try: three different types of tomme (ewes milk from the Pyrenees, goat milk and a cows milk version from Savoie), a comté (the most popular hard cheese in France) and finally a brie. Céline had brought us a big bag of sliced baguette – the traditional accompaniment for cheese in France rather than crackers.
It was very interesting to compare the different tommes. They were “the same” cheese but actually very different. I had tasted ewes milk cheese and always enjoy it, but as always in France I was surprised by the goats milk version. I’ve tried many different types of goats cheese at home, and I never enjoy them. Even when they come from France. But as I tend to find in France, the goats cheese we were offered was much smoother and milder in flavour. My advice is always to try the goats cheese in France, even if you don’t like it at home – you may be pleasantly surprised.
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Our comté was 18 months old and as we enjoyed it, Céline explained about the ages of comté cheese and pointed out a much older one in the display cabinet which looked completely different to what we were trying. We also talked about how and when the French eat cheese. Did you know that French children even have a cheese course as part of their school lunches? (If you want to see for yourself, all schools post their current school lunch menus outside the school gate).
With late afternoon stomachs suitably prepared, it was off to a private room in a very modern wine bar to taste our first drinks. We were served two different white wines here – a petillante naturelle followed by a sauvignon blanc, both from different parts of the Loire Valley. Petillante naturelle is a style of sparkling wine that predates the methode champenoise used in Champagne. Our sparkling wine was light and pleasant, as was the sauvignon blanc. Both paired well with a generous charcuterie board, cornichons (little French pickled cucumbers) and again, plenty of sliced baguette. Céline explained the appellation system for French wines and how the terroir (a word that has no equivalent in English, but reflects the land and microclimate of local growing conditions) affects the final product and then we had plenty of time to chat and enjoy the delicious sliced meats of the charcuterie board.
Our first French apéritif drinks were white and served in a modern setting, so after a short walk I was thrilled to discover our second stop was a tiny hole in the wall, traditional French bar. Complete with zinc topped bar, television on the wall in the corner and well aged posters on the wall, it was the sort of place that as tourists we tend to never venture into. To complete the change of scene we were to taste red wines.
The first wine was a Loire Valley gamay. Gamay is the red wine grape used in Beaujolais, but because ours came from the Loire Valley, it was not Beaujolais (the appellation system in action). It was light with a real plum taste coming through. The second wine we tasted was a Côtes du Rhone which is a real favorite of ours, and our go to red wine when we are having a glass with dinner in France. This one was a good one.
To accompany our red wine (it is apéro in France after all!) we were offered snails and spicy fish beignets. While I don’t dislike snails, I do find them fiddly to eat, and think there are better ways to enjoy garlic and butter. These ones were well cooked, not rubbery and quite tasty, and it was good to try them as something I don’t normally order. The beignets were a real taste treat. Light as a feather, not at all oily, and with just enough chili, I was surprised how well they went with the red wines. The rugby world cup was on the big screen in the corner, so we chatted about sport – just like the locals would in a place like this.
Next up we had a bit of a walk to our final destination. But that was OK because we paused at the Sorbonne and Pantheon to understand the historical significance of these two iconic French institutions. Then it was onto a more modern French “icon” – the little square made famous by the Netflix series Emily in Paris. And we were not disappointed to find some “Emilies” posing in front of the famous apartment building where Emily lives in the show.
Last stop was an historic bar (and now jazz venue) to partake in the sometimes-notorious absinthe. For the uninitiated, absinthe is a liqueur made from wormwood. Beloved of nineteenth century artists and poets, it was banned for many years due to its hallucinatory effects. There is a ritual around absinthe that involves fancy equipment and some work on our part. Taking our glass of absinthe, and a specially crafted silver absinthe spoon, we dissolved a sugar lump into our glass using water. I’d never tried absinthe before and the resultant drink was really quite pleasant. The sugar certainly took the bitterness out of the wormwood, and the water diluted what was otherwise a very high alcohol content drink. There are other liqueurs I like better, so I don’t think I’d choose it again, but it was great to try it in a friendly environment.
As we sipped our absinthe Céline gave us a fun quiz on the things we had learned on the tour as well as some general French food and wine questions. It was a great way to finish the walk.
What I thought of our Paris Latin Quarter Walking Tour with Take Walks
We both enjoyed this walking tour enormously. I’ll be the first one to admit the Latin Quarter is not one of my favorite parts of Paris, but this tour certainly showed me there was a Latin Quarter beyond the usual tourist trail. Yes, we did explore the Sorbonne and Pantheon neighbourhood and yes, we did visit Emily in Paris, but we also visited a number of authentic Parisian shops and bars. With not a tourist in site.
This tour is marketed as including four stops and being enough for a snack. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security about either of these things. Yes, there are only four stops, but each is relaxed and not at all hurried and there is actually a lot of food and drink. While none of the glasses were full as such, pours on the drinks were quite generous, and we felt we had had plenty to eat by the end of the tour. If you are not a big drinker there is no obligation to drain every glass. Heading back to our hotel in the nearby seventh arrondissement we just had a salad for dinner.
The food and drink we tried was interesting and tasty and the places we visited showed both traditional and modern to good advantage. Even as people who have visited France many times and who enjoy French food and wine, we tasted new things. Being in such a small group we really did feel like we were having French apéritifs with a group of new friends rather than being on a tour. If you are frightened to try snails, absinthe or an unfamiliar wine or cheese, this is an easy and safe environment to give them a try.
Céline was a charming and extremely knowledgeable guide whose sommelier background really brought our tastings to life. Her passion for French food and wine, and respect for terroir was evident.
What you need to know about this tour
This tour is very much about the apero rather than a history tour of the Latin Quarter. There is a generous amount of alcohol served on this tour, but ample food as well to keep it “responsible”. Because we did linger to genuinely enjoy our experience at each stop children might find this tour a bit slow, and indeed, it’s not really a tour for children. I do think it is a suitable tour for less fit adults as walking distances are not great and the longer stops provide plenty of opportunity to rest.
Devour Tours is the specialist food tour arm of Take Walks.
Mr FranceTravelPlanning and I were hosted by Take Walks. We genuinely enjoyed our tour and our opinions are our own.