France v. Italy: Round Three

Steenie Harvey has responded to Valerie Fortney Schneider’s article which argued that indeed Italy is superior to France.

Mon ami, you painted a pretty picture of life in southern Italy. But something is lacking—the sophisticated delights of duck confit, sweet onion preserves, foie gras and garriguette strawberries. You Italians are obviously clueless about food.

In fact, you should admit that you’ve fooled the world into thinking pizza is something special. In truth, it’s only a tomato-smeared flat bread—Mediterranean peasant fodder with a fancy name. To discover what delicious bread is really like, try honey-sweetened pain de miel.

Visit our historic market towns in the Dordogne region of Aquitaine, and not only will you feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairytale—you’ll find yourself in a gastronomic Garden of Eden. Here haute cuisine is an everyday pleasure, not a special treat.

Si, France. The entire world knows about your ridicolo love affair with the table. It’s only jealousy about la dolce vita that makes you sneer at the simple pleasure of a wood-oven pizza. But while your lips are dripping with vitriol and duck fat, you’re deviously avoiding the subject of affordable homes.

Now that depends what you mean by affordable, Italy. And also the location you have in mind. The Dordogne can easily match central Tuscany for both history and dreamy vineyard-and-sunflower landscapes. Almost every loop and bend of its web of rivers reveals a perched village, a medieval bastide town, or the “witch’s hat” turrets of a chateau.

But of course, it’s impossible to find a restored three-bedroomed stone farmhouse in central Tuscany for 170,000 euro ($226,000) isn’t it? Yet you can in the Dordogne. On almost 18,000 square feet of land near Nontron, there’s one farmhouse with two barns and a swimming pool for that price. And plenty of unrenovated ones for far less.

No, of course we can’t compete with your bargain basement Sicilian and Calabrian prices. But this is the heart of Europe, not the edge of the map. And surely you’d expect to pay a premium for French allure and classiness? In the Dordogne—next door to the renowned Bordeaux wine region—you’ll find an array of properties for well under 85,000 euro ($113,000). Many are in exceptionally attractive settings too.

For example, the village of St Jean de Cole. Officially one of France’s most beautiful villages, it’s a venue for flower festivals and classical concerts on summer evenings. It’s truly a picturebook place—it blooms all the way from its hump-backed stone bridge to its 15th-century chateau. A 784-square-foot house with beamed ceilings here is available for 65,000 euro ($86,500).

You’d adore Brantôme too. An architectural medley of the renaissance and the medieval, it’s one of the Dordogne’s most photogenic riverbank towns, and packed with bars, restaurants and specialist shops. There’s a Friday market with fabulous cheese and charcuterie stalls, riverside walks under weeping willows, and an abbey dating back to the time of Charlemagne. In a hamlet just outside the town, a two-bedroom maison de maitre (once the property of a bourgeois “master”) with a courtyard, garden and outbuildings could be yours for 81,000 euro ($108,000).

Beauty, history, affordability—and the world’s best food and wine. Admit it, Italy. For a true taste of la dolce vita, you should move to France.

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