What is the best part of France?

The Béarn, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Michael Morpurgo,
former Children’s Laureate

France is my spiritual home, and a place that is particularly dear to me is Lescun (right), a tiny village on the Spanish border. I’ve always wanted to stand with a foot either side of a European border-I think it’s a dream you have if you live on an island-and, 13 years ago, my wife and I looked at a map and the closest village to the border was Lescun.

We got lost, and ended up in another village, where there was a cage containing a bear, which the inhabitants had adopted as a mascot. We thought it was looking rather sad, but at least they’d saved it. After asking for directions, we eventually found ourselves in Lescun. The transhumance, when shepherds move their livestock to the mountain pastures, was taking place. It was idyllic.

That evening, the innkeeper’s daughter said: ‘I recognise your name, because we’re studying a book at school called Cheval de Guerre [War Horse]’. She asked me to sign it, and told me her father would like me to go to a farmyard the following day to have some pâté and wine. I went, and the stories I heard made me write a book.

In the Second World War, German soldiers were stationed in Lescun to patrol the border, and everyone actually got on well with them. But one of the homes was a safe house where people, especially the Jewish, were hidden before escaping over the border. This inspired me to write Waiting for Anya, about a French boy and a Jewish man who live in Lescun and smuggle Jewish children across the border-and the bear got in it, too.

‘Little Manfred’ by Michael Morpurgo (HarperCollins, £12.99)

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Where to eat

The pâtisserie Artigarrède in Oloron Sainte-Marie is famous for its artisanal cakes (00 33 5 59 39 01 38; www.artigarrede.com)

Local delicacy

Try Ossau-Iraty AOC, an aromatic fromage that has a near-cult status among lovers of ewe’s-milk cheese.

What to drink

Legend has it that a drop of the local wine, Jurançon, was used to baptise Henry IV of France in 1553.

What to see

The Lescun area is well known for its natural cirque (basin), and ancient villages and border forts, such as the Fort du Portalet.

The Luberon
Jamie Ivey, writer

The thing about the Luberon is its geography. Concentrated in this small part of the Vaucluse, one of France’s smallest départements, is a plethora of archetypal villages, including five designated as among the most beautiful in France. Five or 10 minutes in a car, driving through majestic, pine-filled mountains, is all that’s needed to hop from one postcard idyll to another. Life is still rural, with pumpkins in the autumn, truffles in winter, cherries in spring and melons in summer. There’s
a pleasing rhythm to the seasons, and time passes deceptively fast.

Hop on the autoroute at Cavaillon and the sparkling port of Cassis is reached in under an hour; head north a similar distance, and you’re in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of the country. In winter, the nearest ski resort on Mont Ventoux is 40 minutes away, with more serious skiing just over an hour’s drive away in the Provence Alps.

My favourite time? Spring, sitting by the plane-tree-lined water basin in Cucuron; the light is dappled, and the arching branches createa cathedral of peace. ‘Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog’ by

Jamie Ivey will be out next year (Summersdale, £8.99)

Where to eat
The newly opened Restaurant du Lac, in Etang de La Bonde (00 33 4 90 09 14 10; www.restaurantdulac.eu). The chef, Philippe Sublet, used to work for Heston Blumenthal,
and the food is exceptional

Local delicacy
The production area of Banon AOC, a chestnut-leaf-wrapped goat’s cheese, straddles the Luberon

What to drink
Mr Ivey, who has written three books inspired by rosé wines, recommends ‘a glass of Saint Estève
de Néri, a delicate, pale coral wine from the village of Ansouis, or perhaps the slightly fuller pink from Château Constantin Chevalier, in Lourmarin’

What to see
The Luberon is studded with extra-ordinary châteaux, such as Château de Lourmarin (00 33 4 90 68 15 23; www.chateau-de-lourmarin.com)

Ariège département
Jason Goodwin, novelist

France doesn’t come more modishly Cathar than in the Ariège, driven up against the northern flanks of the Pyrenees, where the last heretics made their final stand at Montsegur. It was a dark, sordid end to a story that began among the sunny troubadours, full of poetry in the langue d’oc, sustained by the almighty and tolerant Counts of Toulouse. Then, the northerners swept in, carpetbagging greedily, and nothing much changed for the next seven centuries: land in the Ariège is still the cheapest in France.

The Occitan language is always dying out, but never quite seems dead, and the heretics’ vision of Good and Evil still matches the powerful interplay of sun and shadow in the Pyrenean foothills, down to the plain of Toulouse itself, whose magnificent Place du Capitole is a slab of brilliant sunshine fringed with arcaded shade. French is spoken with a leathery twang, and up in the villages, convocations of shapeless old women mutter mysteriously on tiny chairs. Castles, many in ruins, decorate the hills; churches are, for the most part, locked and empty.

The capital, Foix, winds about the shadow of the weird three-turreted castle, over the icy waters tumbling through the gorges. There is nothing so immense as an Ariège winter, with snows and rain, nor as breathtaking as spring in the mountain cirques-great bowls of wildflowers like a giant’s breakfast. Hike. See Mirepoix, Montsegur, the caves at Niaux and, most of all, the Eglise Rupestre de Vals, which you enter through a cleft in a rock.

‘An Evil Eye’ by Jason Goodwin is out in July (Faber and Faber, £14.99)

Where to eat

Mr Goodwin recommends the Hotel Le Commerce in Mirepoix: ‘rib-sticking cassoulet in the sort of French restaurant you feared had long since disappeared’

Local delicacy

The gastronomic stars here are charcuterie, duck in many guises, and a good selection of cheeses, including the nutty Bethmale, which was first produced in the 12th century

What to drink

The département has a strong
tradition of hypocras, a wine drink infused with herbs and spices

What to see

The late-10th-century Château de Foix (www.sesta.fr/chateau-de-foix.html) was, at one time, home to the Count of Tréville, captain of Louis XIII’s Musketeers, who were later immortalised in Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel The Three Musketeers

Côte d’Azur
Jenny Colgan, novelist

When I was 30, I sailed across the Atlantic with a man who was the marine engineer on a gigantic superyacht. It was an unforgettable trip, which ended in Antibes. I remember the morning we came into port, looking at the towers, old stone houses and masts of ships, and thinking: ‘Wow, who gets to live in a place like this?’ Two weddings and three children (with the marine engineer) later, we do. And, yes, I do feel lucky.

The Côte d’Azur can be flashy, trashy and insanely expensive, but it’s also beautiful and metropolitan.  Most of all, it’s great fun.

We live in Juan-les-Pins, which you can’t visit without having a cocktail on the terrace at the Belle Rives hotel, where F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed. It’s one of the most beautiful spots in the world: the tinkle of the piano in the Art Deco bar, the purple bougainvillea spilling down the grey stone walls, the sunset over the Cannes hills, and the little jetty.

The drinks cost a fortune, so eat all the snacks they bring you. Saint-Paul de Vence is the most famous hilltop village, patronised by Matisse and Picasso, but, for my money, equally beautiful but far less touristique is Gourdon, a breathtaking village on top of a mountain. It has a magnificent château and every vista is a knockout. On Friday nights, you’ll find us at Lagon Plage, a chilled beach bar in Golfe-Juan, where the kids run in and out of the turquoise water and we have a glass of rosé and watch the sun go down.

‘Meet Me at The Cupcake Café’ by Jenny Colgan (Sphere, £7.99)

Where to eat

There are dozens of Michelin-starred restaurants, including the two-star Restaurant des Rois at Beaulieu-sur-Mer (00 33 4 93 01 00 01; www.reservebeaulieu.com) and L’Oasis in Mandelieu-La Napoule (00 33 4 93 49 95 52; www.oasis-raimbault.com)

Local delicacy

Try the local vegetables, herbs, and AOC olive oil, and sample them together in les petits farcis (stuffed Provençal vegetables)

What to drink

Among the best local wines are the Vins de Bellet AOC-rich whites, intensely scented reds and delicate rosés with hints of wild rose

What to see

Don’t miss Château Grimaldi in Antibes (00 33 4 92 90 54 20), which is also a museum devoted to Picasso and other 20th-century artists, and the Belle Epoque Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Landes département
Emily Barr, novelist

It was mad. We moved when my second child was seven weeks old to a place we had chosen from a map of good surfing beaches-my husband is a passionate surfer. We arrived in January to a house that needed a lot of work. It was hailing and there were huge lumps of ice everywhere, but it got better.

Landes has incredible beaches-it’s one long, sandy stretch all the way to Biarritz. There are little beachside cafes and a fantastic surfing community: my oldest son joined a surf club when he was four. Inland, the land-scape is unspectacular, but what I like is that it’s real.

Saint-Sever has a market, and everywhere shuts for lunch for two hours and is closed on Sunday.
Nothing changes for generations: when my son started kindergarten, we were told to provide a linen napkin for lunch, and sew on a piece of elastic. I thought it was to hang it up, so I sewed a little hoop. When they saw it, everyone laughed, because it was meant to be sewn from corner to corner so he could wear it as a bib! I miss that pace of life.

Our first social event was slightly embarrassing, too. I was a vegetarian then and it was to the local hunter’s banquet. There was nothing but meat-the local cuisine is meaty, except for on the beaches, where you can get cod and mackerel-so I tried to push it around to make it look as if I was eating it. Eventually, I started eating chicken and things became a lot easier.

‘The First Wife’ by Emily Barr (Headline Review, £12.99)

Where to eat

Michel Guérard has a three-Michelin-starred restaurant at his hotel in Eugénie-les-Bains, Les Prés d’Eugénie, as well as the more affordable La Ferme aux Grives
(00 33 5 58 05 05 05; www.michelguerard.com)

Local delicacy

Try poultry (confit, magret de canard and foie gras) and asparagus

What to drink

Fruity Bas-Armagnac AOC is made in Landes. For serious wine, head north to Médoc, Graves, Pomerol and Saint-Émilion

What to see

The area has many interesting châteaux, including Ravignan, set amid Armagnac-producing vineyards (00 33 5 58 45 33 07; www.armagnac-ravignan.com), and Château d’Amou, built on plans drawn by the architect who designed Versailles (00 33 5 58 89 00 08; www.chateauamou.com)

Kate Mosse, novelist

More than 20 years ago, we bought a tiny stone house in the shadow of the medieval city walls of Carcassonne. We had a view of the restored 13th-century towers, turrets and castle; on the steep slopes, we saw market gardens filled with fig trees and tomato plants; at dusk, the sounds of cicadas filled the air.

I knew nothing about the Languedoc, but it was the beginning of a love affair with the south-west of France that’s never faded. Carcassonne is the capital of the Aude département, an hour east of Toulouse and west of the blue waters and white sands of Narbonne and the Mediterranean. Further south and west is the Vermillion coast of the Roussillon and the great grey wall of the Pyrenees. It’s an enduring and antique landscape.

At first, ours was a holiday home. But as I became more immersed in the history of the region-the Romans, the Visigoths, the Cathars in the 13th century, the wars of religion in the 17th century-I found myself wanting to set imagined characters against the real backdrop.

So I began to write: a 13th-century story in Labyrinth, a fin-de-siècle tale in Sepulchre and now, the final book of the trilogy, the story of women résistantes during the Second World War. And this is why the Languedoc is home. In England, however much I dreamt of being an author, there were always other claims on my time. In Carcassonne, liberated by being a stranger in an adopted land, I was able to be, simply, a writer.

‘Citadel’ by Kate Mosse is published in September (Orion, £18.99)

Where to eat

Just outside Carcassonne stands the Michelin-starred Les Puits du Trésor, where chef Jean Marc Boyer serves inventive cuisine (00 33 4 68 77 50 24; www.lepuitsdutresor.fr)

Local delicacy

The mountains north of Carcassonne are the home of creamy, rich Pélardon (right), which, according to local lore, is one of the oldest goat’s cheeses made in Europe

What to drink

Once infamous for its cheap bulk reds, the area has seen a marked improvement. Try the fine, bold, fruity Minervois AOC reds

What to see

Formerly Cathar strongholds, the Aude’s castles were later rebuilt or reworked into fortresses to protect the border with Spain. The mightiest château is in Carcassonne itself (00 33 4 68 11 70 70; www.carcassonne.monuments-nationaux.fr)