How to find the best bread in France

Best French bread, Aix-en-Provence

Exceptional baguettes in an Arles bakery

I get off the plane in Nice, get on the bus which drops me on Promenade des Anglais, I dump my bags at the hotel and head straight for the supermarche and the boulangerie. Cheese. Tomatoes. Red wine. Toasty, crunch, yeasty, airy, slightly chewy baguette. But when I skip into the bakery with a hearty “Bonjour!” I see I’ve missed that bus. Merde! It’s mid-afternoon and of course all the baguettes have long gone. The early bird gets the best and freshest baguettes in France. Although a few bakers will bake bread all day. I will be smarter tomorrow.

Buying bread in Arles

Here’s my tips on how to find the best bread in France

  • Most boulangeries open at 7am, and a few open earlier. The baker has been up since the middle of the night to make the long, crusty loaves we all love so much. The French will shop early, and the sign of a good boulangerie is the line out the door and down the street.
  • To be called a boulangerie, the bread has to be baked on the premises.
  • Boulangeries should display a small yellow and blue sign, so you know the baker knows his/her stuff, reading: “Votre boulanger. Un artisan authentique“.
  • Baguettes cost between 1 euro and 1.30 euros, and more dense, specialty breads will cost more. But they’re worth it. And they last longer.
  • The life span of a good baguette is said to be six hours, although some don’t even make it home. That heel of bread you’re nibbling on, as you stroll down la rue is called it’s called le quignon, the heel.
  • French bread is required by law to avoid preservatives.
  • It’s the basis of a cheap meal. In France it’s too easy to pick up a baguette, pate and cheese for next to nix.

Picnic lunch in Arles

Multigrain French breads at a Provence produce market

  • Apart from the baguette, here are other splendid breads to taste: céréales (multi-grain), pain de seigle aux raisins et noix (rye bread with raisins and walnuts), pain complet (whole wheat),  pain de son (bran bread), pain de campagne(country white bread), pain au levain (a bit like sourdough), pain brie (heavy, crusty bread from Normandy), pain viennois (sweet and looks like a baguette), pain de mie (thin crust, soft, white sandwich-style bread)

Organic and traditionally made French bread

  • Choose bread marked with the words traditionoriginale, or l’ancienne. That means it’s been made from scratch, and not from prepared, dough which has been frozen and then thawed for baking.
  • The weekly produce markets have a plethora of artisan breads, as you can see by the pictures I took.
  • According to the Paris By Mouth blog, for the second year in a row, the winner of the Best Baguette in Paris competition comes from the 14th arrondissement. Antonio Teixeira from the Délices du Palais is first in the annual Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris.
  • A day-old baguette can be used to make French toast, or  pain perdu.
    Chocolate Brioche

Best French bread, Aix-en-Provence
And now, a small  confession. I adore baguettes, but I can’t go past a brioche with café au lait for breakfast. Or a chocolate one. Oooh la la!

Brioche et cafe au lait, Arles

PS: If you’re off to France for the first time, I recommend the good folk at Back Roads Touring which does excellent “immersion” tours to let you explore at leisure, and taste local life. Excellent value for France for beginners.

5 thoughts on “How to find the best bread in France

  1. Hi Heather,
    My mouth is watering!
    My dream is just like you describe — as soon as I hit the street, I’m heading straight to the nearest boulangerie. Ever since being there in 2010 I have wondered how the heck the Parisiennes can make such PERFECT bread!
    When we arrived back then, our gracious host left a bagguette on the counter of our apartment for us. We ripped off a piece, savored it, and then left the apartment to get on with the serious business of wandering Paris. When we returned many hours later, the unwrapped half bagguette was there on the counter, fresh and lovely as it was before. How can that be? It was truly the most luscious, yeasty, rich dough and I want more!
    Thank you for reminding me with your gorgeous photos!
    Wishing you safe and happy travels,
    Josie

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  2. Love, love, love your bread pictures. They are so inspiring. Now, I read on an English website about French bread being overrated and it was actually hard to find a decent loaf of bread in France. I am not kidding at all.

    This was a reputable website with a travel section. The BBC no less. What bullshit they talk.

    Thank you, merci for all the information – you and Josie have nailed it, and best wishes. Belinda.

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  3. Not all baguettes are created equal, as we discovered in Normandy last year. But you are right, find the bakery with a line and you’ll know it’s a good place. We also found that you need to have the correct change, or a small note, because they don’t like taking big notes. It’s faster and more convenient for them if you have the right money.

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    1. Hi Rosa, thanks for your tip on having the right change. I remember handing a 50 euro note over the counter at one boulangerie and being given a disgusted look!

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