seen~it - thanks for the compliment !
As for France, I lived and studied in the Loire valley for a short time - so love that area. The university restaurant at Tours did wonderful meals (I don't know what it's like nowadays) - students didn't starve ! You had to buy books of tickets - and the foreign students paid more than the French ones, so I could only afford one meal there a day. The two restaurants took it in turn to open over the holidays. But I shall never forget the Easter Sunday when we went from one to the other at lunch time and found the restaurants shut on both sites at the university campus- and all I had to eat was a tin of sardines and the previous day's stale bread. I didn't even have a tin-opener. My landlady graciously lent me one with a smile, saying 'is that what you're having for lunch ?' and I sat in my little attic room (aaah ...) above her kitchen, with the tantalising smell of the family's roast lamb wafting past the window. No - they didn't invite me to eat with them, even though they knew I had no food and that the university restaurants were both shut. I wasn't allowed to use the bath or toilet in their bathroom next door to my room. I had to use the 'second toilet' at the bottom of the stairs in the entrance lobby and when I queried about shower/bath, they said I didn't need a bath. I had to wash standing up at the washbasin in my room until I made friends with a girl at the university restaurant who used to smuggle me into her hall of residence showers - we would both have been expelled if anyone found out. I'm still in touch with her now. At my 'digs' I was once allowed to watch tv sitting on a hard chair, just one evening, after I'd been there three weeks - but that was the closest I got to a French family ! My experiences of the French in the UK have been much friendlier ! They are very private people, and the Parisiens are a race apart.
France is the same as Italy for buying fresh food at markets only - and in 'motorway service area' restaurants - the food is usually good. The 'Les Routiers' signs are also a good bet as this system, I believe, started out as a way to spot restaurants off main roads (you won't find them on motorways, of course) that lorry drivers knew were good. I know that 'Routiers' have started to replace 'Egon Ronay' approval in the UK, so some people may disagree about the origins of it, because 'routier' places over here are considered 'fashionable' ! In most places in France, the big supermarkets seem to have really good, cheap restaurants ! There was a lovely 'fun' restaurant in Paris where the waiters would come out of the kitchen with about eight full plates at a time on their arm -and were dressed in high collars and striped aprons - with Edwardian style moustaches... I've got the name somewhere, but can't remember it at present.
I just follow the same system in every country - eat with the locals and avoid the 'tourist menu' place. And - if there's a 'specials of the day' board, choose that rather than the regular menu because that'll be the 'freshly bought and prepared that morning' food rather than fished out of the freezer. The only proviso is you can't follow the locals in the UK as most working people seem to eat a snack lunch and keep the main meal for the evening - so you'd probably be following them to the best sandwich bar ! But that's fine if that's what you want !
I think breakfast in France has always been the croissants and coffee set-up, not the buffet - but that might be the hotels we chose to stay at. When self-catering there's nothing better than waiting for one's partner to return from town (for newspaper and trip to baker) with the hot bread and croissants...to be quaffed with jam, nutella and hot coffee !
Once again, the fresh food market is where you must go if you're self-catering. In France, bread just has to be bought when you need it - so twice a day ! It really won't keep at all, and the bakeries are open twice a day.
Pastries are expensive but wonderful ! If you're out there during feast days - then there are local specialities to look for - April fool's day - chocolate fishes (same in Italy) and then all the Easter goodies and Christmas - and the Epiphany 'Kngs' cake - with the 'beans' (tiny china figures) inside. Italy has special cakes/biscuits -different in each region - for all feasts and carnival time - including 'All Saints' when you give children 'dead men's bones' biscuits ! Yes - I have the recipes too !
Talking of pastries, I've only been to Menorca once, in February one year (can't bear summer crowds !) and discovered pastries with the most wonderfully delicate yellow-orangy strands kind of 'filling' - they told me it was 'cabellos de angel' (angel hair), so I was no wiser - then I looked it up in a Spanish dictionary and found it was a pumpkin confection - and later, on the internet, I discovered they made it in Italy too - but it's a homemade delicacy and not found in the shops. If you want more... you'll have to ask more specific questions !
Love the earth, its geography, weird inhabitants and its food ! Best wishes, Nolana