No matter which region of France you visit, it’s none too difficult to eat well, from garlicky, rouille-topped bouillabaisse in Provence to nutty buckwheat galettes in Brittany to excellent wines all across the country. And while dining out in brasseries and bistros will give any visitor a good sense of France’s most beloved dishes, it’s the process of actually cooking these dishes that ups that passing familiarity to an intimate understanding.
We love taking local cooking classes when we travel—but we’ve got standards. Instead of the same old, same old—often-stuffy classes taught by men in starched toques—we look for fun, participatory cooking courses that take a new or unexpected approach, even when they’re schooling students on classic dishes. From a five-day charcuterie camp in Gascony to a gluten-free pastry kitchen in Provence, these are our favorite cooking schools in France. As a bonus, they’re American visitor–friendly, offering lessons in English.
If sweet strikes your fancy more than savory, head to Noemie Pernollet’s jewel-toned Batignolles kitchen, where the Lenôtre-trained Pernollet shares the secrets to turning out iconic French pastries. Her macaron-specific course, held several times a week, produces bright, airy cookies in flavors including chocolate, lemon, and salted caramel, while pâtisserie obsessives will want to tackle the classic French pastry course and learn to make an almond-studded Paris Brest or moist, citrusy madeleines. Day classes start at $91; lessecretsgourmandsdenoemie.com.
Located in the picturesque, cobblestone-streeted town of Louviers, On Rue Tatin is the much-in-demand cooking school of internationally renowned chef, food writer and British expat Susan Herrmann Loomis, author of the much-lauded French Farmhouse Cookbook and other titles. Inside her labyrinthine, three-story historic house—a restored convent—Loomis hosts three- and five-day deep dives into seasonal, ingredient-focused French cooking. This fall, look for master courses incorporating market-sourced mushrooms and apples—the latter a star of the region’s cuisine, and the source of its venerated Calvados. €2500 for three days, €3500 for five days; onruetatin.com.
Run by Reine Sammut, one of France's leading female chefs, this sprawling former candy factory in the hillside village of Cadenet is home to a restaurant, pastry shop, prepared foods store and cooking school. Both Reine and her daughter Nadia teach the auberge’s acclaimed cooking classes; the gluten-averse and -intolerant will be particularly interested in courses taught by Nadia, whose celiac disease has led her to incorporate rice, chickpeas and chestnuts into gluten-free pastas, pizzas and traditional French breads. Gluten-free courses start at €145; aubergelafeniere.com.
We love to see women taking on badass kitchen tasks like butchery, a skill mastered by food writer and U.S. expat Kate Hill and shared with students during her five-day charcuterie immersive. At her historic 1724 farmhouse near Agen, Hill celebrates southwest France’s love of all things pork, leading students in the creation of fatty, flavorful products such as noix de jambon, paté de campagne and saucisse de Toulouse. Get your handsaw ready: the course begins with the breakdown of a whole pig. $3,288 for five days; kitchen-at-camont.com.
Syracuse-raised, French-certified pâtissier Lucy Vanel helms this charming cooking school in Lyon, where she offers a variety of technique-focused classes that make ample use of the fresh ingredients found at La Croix Rousse, the area’s largest outdoor market. Daylong courses begin with a trip to the hillside marché to shop for local produce, meats, and cheeses, then return to the kitchen, where a maximum of six students collaborate on an expansive four-course lunch. Vanel, a longtime Lyon resident, can be counted on to share plenty of her adoptive hometown’s history as students sip, sauté and stir. Classes start at $200; plumlyon.com.
Operated by mother-daughter duo Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini, this elegant custom kitchen located above the family’s Beaune wine shop holds both day-long and five-day cooking classes that emphasize the bounty of the Burgundy region. Those can who shell out the dough should spring for the five-day session, whose highlights include a candlelit welcome dinner, daily visits to the town’s farmers market, hyper-local wine tastings and lessons in food styling bolstered by flea market finds. $328 for one day, $5,016 for five days; thecooksatelier.com.
Entries in Manger, the much-lauded blog written by the peripatetic Mimi Thorisson, sparkle with their author’s unique background. Born to a Chinese father and a French mother, Thorisson became a world traveler at a young age, eventually settling in a nineteenth century home in this southwest France region with her Icelandic photographer husband. Here, the former television producer and host holds a select number of immersive food workshops that focus on themes such as wine pairing, foraging, and photography. We’re particularly excited by Thorisson’s November antiques workshop, a three-day tour of local antiques shops plus one day spent in nearby Bordeaux scouring the city’s huge, biannual broncante, or antiques fair. Back in the Médoc, participants will create meals inspired by their finds. $2,229 for three days; mimithorisson.com.
For more on French food (sans white tablecloth), head here.