My Trip to France with the CIA

Our trip started in St. Malo, the walled city. The architecture was mind blowing; the huge granite walls and ramparts closing in on the quaint city were breathtaking. The cobblestone streets lined with boulangeries, creperies, and other shops came to life at night when the locals would go to the area’s bars for a drink or a nice meal. The glow of the lights through the small streets gave St. Malo the warm and welcoming feel that I would expect from France. The city was so conducive for an evening walk—quiet and calm with the sunset over the ocean. St. Malo is just the perfect little city for those who prefer the quaint vibes of a petite town.

One of the most interesting things we did while in St. Malo was the cider tasting. In northern France, the climate is perfect for growing apples, so hard ciders are the tradition of the area. We visited the small ciderie called Ciderie de Haute Britagne, where the owners gave us a tour of their facilities and a tasting of their products. Seeing the traditional, handmade products opened a new perspective on how local and personal these specialties are. This family poured their entire heart into their ciders, and you could taste it. The ciders were not too sweet but held the aromatic and earthy characteristics of their local, organic apples. You could taste the terroir in each sip, and knowing it was all done by hand right there added to the experience. 

After leaving St. Malo, we headed inland towards the Loire river. We stayed in Tours, a cute tourist city on the river. Tours is quite lively at all times of the day, with people commuting in and out using the tram system that runs through the middle of the city. There are many shops and restaurants in the area. Tours was larger than St. Malo, but still holds that charm that you get from western France. Of course, you cannot miss the Ferris wheel that offers spectacular views of the city! 

One of the most special things about this trip is our opportunity to dine at a Michelin-star restaurant. We went to Chateau de Pray, a restaurant and hotel right outside Amboise. The restaurant is located in a beautiful wooded area, with spectacular gardens behind the building. Of course, the most important part was the meal! The seven-course meal started with a dish of marinated sardines with green beans. Our two entrée courses were a seared John Dory fish with cherries, and roasted guinea fowl with fresh peas. Then, there was a cheese course followed by two desserts: a chocolate dessert and an iced nougat dessert. The meal had a total of five wine pairings as well, starting with a light champagne and leading into some nice red wines. The entire meal was over 4-hours-long and while the food was great, the experience is what really made it a memorable night. 

Our final stop after the Loire Valley was Paris. The differences are stark; Paris is massive and infinitely busy compared to St. Malo and Tours but has its own charms. The city lights up at night, when all the street-side restaurants open for dinner service. There is no shortage of great food in Paris, and the cuisine is much more diverse than in the other places- there was even a pho restaurant right across from our hotel!

On one of our days in Paris, we had the opportunity to attend a chocolate class. The class was administered at a chocolate shop owned by the son of a certified master chocolatier. We enjoyed a brief lecture about the origins of chocolate and its production before starting various chocolate making workshops. We made chocolate truffles, pralines, chocolate ladybugs, and even had a chocolate tasting! The day was full of learning, creating, and of course, eating.

Overall, this France trip was one of the best experiences of my life. I personally have never left the United States before this trip and having the opportunity to experience another culture was amazing. This trip was more than just a vacation, every day was filled with wonderful educational experiences about the cuisines and cultures of each area. The meals were also great; we dined at some of the best restaurants in each area. Being able to experience a new culture in such a close-up way was a spectacular experience that nobody should ever pass up.

by Kyle Brown

Kyle is a sophomore student pursuing his bachelor’s degree in food business management at the CIA’s New York campus in Hyde Park, NY.