Your Cheat Sheet for Creating a Romantic Picnic
The French have a knack for making things sound more romantic than they are. Consider, for instance, the word dustpan. In English, it sounds exactly like what it is: a chore. In French, it’s pelle à poussiére (pel-ah-poose-yere). You can picture the chic black uniform with the lacy white apron, can’t you? Suddenly, a dustpan sounds less like a domestic cleaning implement and a lot more like a fashion accessory with a naughty streak. In matters regarding actual romantic entanglements, the French turn the volume all the way up, with the picnic – that leisurely al fresco feast that’s even been depicted in Édouard Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe (lunch on the grass), one of the Impressionist era’s most famous paintings – regarded as right up there with the most romantic things to do with your paramour. While “lunch on the grass” is often used interchangeably with pique-nique (subtler K sounds), the French also refer to picnic as fête champêtre, or garden party. And as with everything French, one must abide by certain rules for something to work. On all matters pique-nique, it comes down to three things:
ON THE MENU
Outside of France, you might find any array of convenient snack foods in the average picnic basket, including packets of potato chips, foil-sealed dips and even “sliders” (mini hamburgers). To no one’s surprise, the French picnic is entirely innocent of such nibbles. To Frenchify your picnic – that is, to make it more romantic – consider a few substitutions. Instead of ready-made sandwiches, pick up a fresh baguette, a couple of ripe cheeses and confitures (preserves). Instead of apples, opt for something sexy, like cherries or other berries. By all means, don’t go without water, but instead of soft drinks, opt for bubbly or a crisp lager, like Stella Artois (even if it is Belgian). And make sure that you’re well stocked on staples like herbaceous olives, crudités, charcuterie, terrines and pâtés, and an ethically made foie gras.
Popular cheeses at a French picnic include Comté (minimum of 24 months matured), Morbier, Reblochon, Époisses, Mimolette and Tomme de Savoye. Unless you have access to specialist cheese shops like The French Market in Cape Town, these cheeses will be hard to come by, but you can’t go wrong with our list of local faves
- Dalewood Fromage Languedoc
- Belnori Kilimanjaro
- Belnori Kalabash
- Dalewood Fromage Boland
- Langbaken Karoo Blue
- Forest Hill Manchego
- Klein River Stanford
THE RIGHT PLACE
When it comes to finding your ideal picnic spot, you’ve got so many options it can be hard to choose. But when the goal is finding a romantic little hideaway, the French consider what will be idèale and what qualifies as “a little gauche”.
The local park is usually a good call, unless it’s occupied by vagrants and the lawns are decorated with doggy-doo, so choose wisely. The beach or a sublime lakeshore is seldom a bad idea, but as with parks, pick a beach where you’re not going to be dodging Frisbees or straining to get your voice to carry over the excited cheers of beach volleyball spectators. Drive-ins are an old-school choice, although not particularly French, while kayaking down the Breede River can be a fun option if you and the object of your affection are both adventurous and outdoorsy.
The one option that never goes wrong is a home picnic. Whether lunching on the grass or spreading a blanket or tablecloth out on the living room floor, picnicking at home is private, quiet and intimate – everything you want from a romantic interlude.
You want a degree of spontaneity with a picnic. Itineraries are seldom a turn-on. But with a little planning, you’ll have all the time in the world for, shall we say, colouring outside the lines. Start with this list and personalise it as much as you wish:
- A charming picnic basket
- An insulated cooler bag or box (with ice bricks)
- Flatware (real knives and forks, not plastic)
- Cloth serviettes (it’s worth it, don’t opt for the paper variety)
- Glasses (not the dainty kind, but still easy on the eye)
- A large blanket (ditch the fleece in favour of a smooth white tablecloth)
- A damp cloth (for wiping your hands)
- A playlist (you don’t have to go wall-to-wall Charles Aznavour but put the Rammstein and Black Sabbath on ice all the same).
In the end, the secret to creating a romantic picnic is to set the scene and let the rest take care of itself. After all, the more you panic about every detail, the less you’ll be your charming, beautiful self.