Surviving Patisserie School–Life in a French village Part 1

‘Surviving Patisserie School–Life in a French village Part 1’ was first published on, September 1, 2015

I’m going to write some posts I actually meant to write while I was still at school or just after I’d finished, but I never got around to doing it. Now it suddenly dawned on me that in a few short weeks it will be one whole year since I left for Yssingeaux to start at Ecole National Supérieur de la Patisserie (ENSP).

I want to tell you about what there is in Yssingeaux. When I was researching I had a lot of decisions to make. Should I go to an international school or should I try my luck at the local school and do a CAP in French? Should I go to Paris, Rouen or Yssingeaux? I tried researching ENSP and only found a few blog posts and a little information in English. Most of the information I found was about the day-to-day course activities and what people made during class, but I wanted to know what it would be like to live in a small village in the middle of France for five months. What was there, what would I have to do while I was there, would I be bored, would it be ok without a car, could I get in and out easily? I like to be prepared! So here, for people researching, let me tell you a little about it: what the village is like, what is available, how to get in and out and more from my perspective.

Yssingeaux, Auvergne, France
Pronunciation is something like: Ey-sen-jzew

Yssingeaux is a pretty village of about 6000-7000 people in the Auvergne region of France. It has all the things you’ll need for day-to-day living: shops, pharmacies, post office, hairdressers, doctors, gym etc. If you have a car it’ll be great because the surrounding countryside is lovely and is good to explore! The people are generally friendly and you shouldn’t be worried about being a foreigner in the centre of France because in such a small town it’s obvious that you’re from the international program and the locals will welcome you.

If you are a French Pastry Arts student you will be living in the village which is convenient for life outside school (unless the school has organised accommodation closer to their facilities or on site!). It’s roughly a 15-minute walk from the village to the school, depending on where you live. Once you leave the centre-ville to walk toward the school along Rue Alsace Lorraine there are no shops, so you have to take your lunch etc with you. There’s no public transport in the village, either, so pack your comfy shoes and remember that you’ll be walking off all the goodness you make and eat in class!

To and from the village
Yssingeaux is kind of in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t have a car, it may seem isolating, but it’s not really. There are a few options for transport to and from the village.

The closest train station is at Retournac which is about 13kms and 20-30mins by car from Yssingeaux. You can take a taxi from the village to the train station for anywhere up to €30, depending on the time of day. Best thing to do is to split the fare with others going to the station.

If you’re like me and you prefer to be more independent, you can catch the bus straight from the Yssingeaux to other villages, to Le Puy-en-Velay (highly recommend a visit) or to Saint-Étienne. Once in Saint-Étienne, you can pick up trains to Lyon and many other places. It’s also more direct, scenic, hassle-free and I think it’s cheaper than taking the train. You can buy tickets on the bus and don’t worry about missing the stop on the way back because it stops in Yssingeaux for some time before continuing. Oh and the bus stop is right near the Lidl supermarket!

On this link to the Haute-Loire Department website, you can see the No.30 Le Puy en Velay–Le Pertuis–Yssingeaux–Saint Etienne line which is the bus that goes to Saint-Étienne Chateaucreux, the main station in Saint-Étienne. The only problem is that it only goes there once a day at 15:35 in the afternoon; however, many others go to Saint-Étienne-Bellevue, where you can also pick up trains to Lyon etc.

Practical things
There are two main supermarkets, two discount supermarkets and a mini-supermarket in the centre, which conveniently closes for lunch until about 15:30…I don’t think any of them are open on Sunday, except for the mini-supermarket, that could be open. The larger ones are on the other side of the village to the school, so it can be a fair hike to get to them, depending on where you stay in the village, but it’s not too bad.

Tip: if you’re in the winter group, have a few supplies in case it snows and after class it’s too much effort to go shopping!

Intermarché—Medium sized, normal supermarket
Route de Retournac, 43200 Yssingeaux
Open Monday–Saturday 08:30–19:30

Super U—Big supermarket/department store
Villeneuve, 43200 Yssingeaux
Open Monday–Saturday 08:30–19:30

Lidl —Discount supermarket—you won’t be able to do all your shopping here, but they have most things.
Chemin de la Galoche, 43200 YSSINGEAUX
Open Monday–Saturday 08:30–19:30

Aldi—Another discount supermarket like Lidl. The kind of place you walk into intending to buy milk and walk out with a bag of chips, a woolly jumper and a cactus.
Rue du 19 Mars 1962, 43200 Yssingeaux
Open Monday–Saturday 09:00–19:00

There’s a good fruit and veggie shop where the people are really friendly; I bought a lot of my fresh items there. They also have some dairy products and a cheese section. It’s behind the massive Catholic Church in the centre of the village.

Sami Fruits
18 Place du Prieuré, 43200 Yssingeaux

Each Thursday morning there is a street market which winds around the centre-ville. It has a good range of fruits, veggies, breads, meat, fish, cheese, some clothes and more, depending on the time of year. Plus it has an ‘animal section’ on Place de la Victoire, next to the Médiathèque La Grenette, where they have live chickens, geese and rabbits ready for dinner…?!

Opposite Intermarché is a wonderful little shop which sells local products and has some great things to try: meats, cheeses, yoghurts, fruit, drinks etc. I was especially fond of the ham…proper ham off the bone…oh my, so good.

There are also several patisserie/boulangeries, which you may not think you’ll need, but fresh bread is always good! There are several independents, but there are also two outlets of Ronde des Pains boulangeries in town: one opposite Intermarché and the other in the centre, on Avenue de la Marne. The latter was near where I stayed and it was so nice to have the fragrance of baking bread waft by my nostrils as I stepped out door to leave for school at five in the morning. Mmm-ahh…

There are three pharmacies in the centre-ville, they all close at lunch-time and I don’t think they’re open on Mondays…
Tip: always have some Band-aids (or equivalent) on hand because you know at some stage in the course you’re going to cut or burn yourself or have a blister from whisking something.

Aside from that there are the usual banks, a post office, gift shops, newsagents, clothes shops, hairdressers and dentists that you’d expect to find in small town. I had a decent haircut at Julie B, 2 Avenue de la Marne, 43200 Yssingeaux. Oh, but whatever you do, even if your tooth is stuck to a piece of nougat from confectionery week, DO NOT go to the dentist near the florist on Boulevard Saint-Pierre unless you want root canal work performed on you without your knowledge while the dentist swears into your mouth and you wonder how much damage he will do with the drill if you escape from the chair as he yells ‘p****n!’ into your open mouth one more time…