The translation for non, je ne regrette rien, which is a French song title, is essentially, “I regret nothing.”
Made famous by Edith Piaf, the song came to mind when I was discussing the matter of recently “eating” my way through France.
Food is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Of course, my highest priorities are my lovely family and fabulous friends, but beyond those, my life revolves around food.
My husband and I took a two-week trip that began near Bordeaux, continued easterly through Provence, and ended on the Riviera. Our itinerary was custom-designed by Stéphane, from the blog My French Heaven. Because our French vacation was essentially a road trip, we ate at restaurants. I know – heaven! So I thought I’d put together some of my photos showing what we ate.
Even with a basic knowledge of French, menus in France can be challenging. But with Stéphane’s skill in menu interpretation, my husband and I always got exactly what we wanted, and also tried some locally traditional as well as new foods. Below is a shot of my husband seriously contemplating a menu, with Stéphane’s help.
So when I was thinking about all of the food I enjoyed in France, about that second croissant I enjoyed one morning, with butter, of course, about the abundance of octopus I ate until they were practically crawling out my ears, that eclair that I was really too satiated to eat, but I did anyway… I realized that I enjoyed every bite of food and had no regrets.
Like the few bites I took from this nutella calzone. Be still my heart. But not too still.
Stéphane worked hard to find restaurants we would enjoy the most, whether in a village plaza, on the ocean, or in an alleyway en plein air. As much as upscale restaurants are fun, I much prefer what we call in the US the hole-in-the-wall types, with crooked floors, leaning stairs, and the bathrooms about 1/2 mile walk.
On our first day’s drive, we stopped in Castelnaudary to have traditional cassoulet. It was at a small restaurant off of a side street filled with locals. Always a good sign. All they served was cassoulet, but you could request your choice of meat. I chose pork and sausage. It came out bubbling hot, of course, so we had a chance to enjoy a local red wine and people-watch the regulars.
Here is the town as you enter it:
If you want to read a humurous post on cassoulet, which includes a recipe, check out this blog post here, by Serious Eats.
Then we headed in to Provence. The region is known for its olives, and so it was common when ordering an aperitif to be greeted with olives, toasts, and tapenade. At one bistrot, we enjoyed the bright green Picholine olive, which even Stéphane had never experienced. Crunchy and buttery. I’m still trying to get my hands on some!
The countryside was full of the beautiful grey-green olive trees and we even visited a working olive orchard – Bastide du Laval.
In France, it’s common to order from three groups – typically entrée, plat, and dessert, whether it’s a lunch or dinner menu.
At a tiny restaurant in old Aix en Provence, I ordered octopus salad for my starter, followed by curried cod. Both were magnificent. Especially paired with a Bandol.
I felt somewhat obligated to accept a dessert, because it was part of the price. I shared it.
I actually lived in Aix as a child. I remember nothing! But it’s beautiful.
Our next destination for 5 nights was Le Bastide de Boulbon, in Boulbon. I offer a photo of the hotel, because we ended up eating in their beautiful dining room 3 nights in a row. Their chef was inspired and the menus changed daily. Plus it ended up being our favorite hotel.
One night we drove to a recommended restaurant called Bistrot du Paradou. It was a large, bustling bistrot, with red and white checkered napkins on old wooden tables. Every night they served only one main, and on this night it was rotisserie chicken.
Stéphane and I started with ravioli, and my husband had pistou, which he said could have been his whole meal. The chicken doesn’t look like much, but it was excellent.
The first photo, above left, shows the chef’s table in the kitchen, with the rotisserie chickens along the back wall. The other photos shows the mafia members who filled the table near us. They don’t know where I live.
On another day, we traveled up over 3,000 feet to visit the Gorges du Verdon, which is like the French Grand Canyon, except really small. We climbed to the top-most village called Rougon for an enjoyable few hours in the sun. At possibly the only restaurant in “town” – a crêperie, with one of the best views in France, my husband and I ordered pizza-styled crêpes, which were delicious.
In Cassis, on the coast, we stopped in a seaside restaurant which has the highest rated boullabaisse, according to Stéphane’s research. The whole experience was really fascinating.
They first cook up all of the fish and potatoes for the bouillabaise, and present it to you on a platter. Then a waiter ladles a thick rich broth that is more like a bisque into your bowl. You place the different kinds of fish and other goodies into the bowl. To finish, a spicy aioli is spread on toasts, which are placed into the bouillabaise. According to our very engaging waiters, no one has ever finished a meal of bouillabaisse!
One day we drove to old Avignon and visited the Palais des Papes. I’ve never seen cobblestones quite like here.
It was one of the two times it rained on us in France, so we enjoyed a long lunch, in order to stay dry, of course. I ordered l’escargots cause, well I could. They’re such a great excuse to eat bread!
Stéphane and I ordered veal toes, called pieds paquets. They were fabulous. Just don’t think about it.
On another day in St. Tropez, I sardines for lunch. It was in a beautiful seaside restaurant.
And then there was a very special meal in Menton, which was my favorite of the cities along the Riviera.
It’s actually closer to Italy than Nice, and the colors of the buildings are striking, similar to those in Vieux Nice. But what came as a surprise to us was the wonderful Italian lunch we had off the beaten path, sitting outside, of course. Not having had my fill of seafood yet, I chose squid in a red sauce. The boys had pizza, and we all enjoyed everything.
Along with Tiramisu and my nutella calzone, the cutest glasses of limoncello I’ve ever seen, plus the tall, dark glass of water that was our waiter, this was a lunch that I will always remember, and never regret!
On our last day before flying out of Nice, we spent the morning exploring vieux Nice, and shopping at its market.
There were many more restaurants, many more villages, miles walked, and a million laughs – especially listening to my husband attempt speaking French! Then it was over. We had to say au revoir to Stéphane, who is the best friend and guide a person could have. We already have two more trips in the works!!!