Happy “apéro” hour

On their way through the south of France, friends Pete and Cameron stopped in Carcassonne, fresh from the Spanish Basque Country that shares a lot of history and culture with its French counterpart right across the border. One of those traditions that they enjoyed was an afternoon aperitivo that included a glass of vermouth made in a town not far from where they were staying. Knowing how much we like taking a picnic on the train, they created a takeout version of the aperitif to share with us and in the photo to the left you can see the result. The gift bag included a bottle of Ugabe vermouth from Artea, an orange to slice for the glass, green olives, and potato chips just as it had been served at a Spanish café. That prompted me to read up on this “before dinner” pause that we knew as an apéro.

When the ancient Romans lived throughout much of France 2000 years ago, they often started their meals with a sweet wine that was said to “open the appetite”. That continued, even into the Middle Ages, although by then the recommendation was to add something bitter like anise, sage, or wormwood—used in making vermouth—to aid in digestion. Secret family recipes developed over the centuries and it’s said that the oldest pastis brand in France, Pernod, came from one of those formulas.

Dessert by Sarah

The folks on our street like to entertain and we’ve been fortunate to have been invited for a number of apéros, all of which were very similar despite being at different homes with families originating in different parts of France. Drinks offered might be white or rosé wine, beer, whiskey, port, or pastis. Champagne is always available if we’re with our 103-year-old friend since it’s her favorite drink while it’s cider with our buddies from Brittany. Potato or corn chips, peanuts or mixed nuts, and green olives show up on everyone’s table. If it progresses into an apéro dînatoire (featured photo across the top, thank you Sarah) then we’ll probably see mini-pizzas or quiche, plus plates of charcuterie, cheese, and slices of savory cakes added to the mix. We’re also likely to see midnight since the hosts never seem in a hurry to end the evening.

The timing for these events can be tricky when you’re mixing Americans and French. One neighbor was astonished that we would have a glass of wine at 5 PM calculating the quantity of blanc, rosé, et rouge that we must go through before her typical 8 PM dinner time. We assured her that we could make that glass stretch and that we eat much earlier in the evening unless we’re with French friends. The compromise invitation start time we’ve established between our two houses is 6:30 PM.

Street sign by Tamalou Bobola

Mainland France is divided into 13 administrative regions, each with its own specialites be they food, drink, customs, accents, or even a local language. The apéro is something that is shared everywhere and remained a regular part of life even during the Covid lockdowns when online versions became popular. Our street is narrow enough that we could stand on our doorstep and safely toast to the health of our friends at their doors and windows. Gratefully, we can now raise a glass in-person and say, “Santé”!

10 thoughts on “Happy “apéro” hour

  1. We have loved our introduction to apéro here in Montpellier. Our favorite bar, SMASH, serves artisanal cocktails with lovely bites, and we have friends who regularly extend their apéros, which often are spontaneous, well past my bedtime. Yet another reason to love living in France!

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  2. Hello Bob,
    Thank you so much for this blog, it became my guide to retirement planning. Comments on the Budget page are closed so I hope you wouldn’t mind that I’m asking this here: does your monthly budget reflect travel expences or you have a separate budget for that?
    Thank you again!

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    1. Hi Olga,
      This is Bill answering. We didn’t add that to our public budget because everyone would have a different idea of what they would like to do on their vacations. Some needing to return to their home countries to see family and others just wanting to splurge on a luxury train trip across the top of Spain. In our actual preliminary budget we added 350 euros per month to make sure we planned for something if the exchange rates went off or worse. Thank you for asking. Discretionary items are not included as everyone might not drink wine and some might just be happy to be able to live in this wonderful country without having to travel too far.

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