By Ann | October 17, 2013
With its abundant sunshine, fields of lavender, pin-cushion goat cheeses, and floods of rosé wine, Provence is the stuff dreams are made of. For six summers in a row, we vacationed in the Luberon region, renting a stone house at the edge of the village of Bonnieux. I spent my mornings buying bright-skinned produce at local markets, my afternoons by the pool reading Tintin books, and my evenings sipping rosé wine and cooking. It was heaven.
Alas, the house — which belongs to a friend — is now on the market, and for the past few summers, we’ve vacationed elsewhere. But I still dream of Provence, especially the food — the sun-warmed fruits and vegetables, fragrant soupe au pistou laced with olive oil, and — along the coast — the region’s famous bouillabaisse. I miss it so much, even sorting through my photos for this post made me tremble.
In case you’re lucky enough to visit Provence, here are some of my favorite food places:
Where to eat in Provence?
Provence is a huge region and I’ve been lucky enough to explore many corners of it. I’ve arranged this list of my favorite restaurants by location.
Bonnieux and environs:
La Gare de Bonnieux (Bonnieux, tel: 04 90 75 82 00) is housed in the village’s former train station. Now converted to a restaurant, it’s one of those institutions that everyone seemed to know about, except me (for a long time) because it’s a little hard to find. The lunch formule offers entrée-plat-dessert — start at the cold buffet, move on to the plat du jour (osso bucco, for example, or petits farcis — those adorable Provençal stuffed vegetables), and finish up with a wedge of goat cheese drizzled with olive oil, or a scoop of ice cream. Casual and fresh. Also, kid friendly.
Pinna (Route de Buoux, Chemin de St-Massian 84400 Apt; tel: 04 90 74 39 60) is an Italian take-away shop and the best place to stock your vacation rental’s kitchen. Almost everything is homemade, from the canned sauces, fresh pastas, lasagnes, breadsticks, raw-cured ham and handmade ravioli — many of the ingredients are even raised on-site. I love their truffle lasagne and their homegrown melons are like sweet perfume.
Bonnieux’s annual soupe au pistou fête (for specific information, check the Comité des fêtes de Bonnieux Facebook page) takes place every year, around the August 15 assumption holiday. If, like me, you’ve always longed to taste this gorgeous, seasonal soup — traditionally prepared by granny’s loving, patient hands — this is the perfect opportunity. Everyone gathers at picnic tables in the village square for a lazy afternoon of food, rosé, and a game of boules.
Scaramouche (Cours Aristide Briand, Céreste, tel: 04 92 79 8 82) is an artisanal ice cream shop in the tiny village of Céreste. The flavors are inspired by and drawn from Provence itself, and the ice creams and sorbets use local products — fresh spring strawberries, late-summer apricots, sheep’s milk yogurt, etc. Full disclosure: Scaramouche is owned by a friend, the writer Elizabeth Bard, author of Lunch in Paris, and her husband.
V Comme Vin (Place du Septier/Place Carnot, Apt, tel: 04 90 04 77 38) is a terrific wine shop in Apt, specializing in local bottles. The sales staff is friendly and knowledgeable — and has wonderful recommendations for the area’s rosés and reds.
Marseille and the coast (bouillabaisse country):
Chez Gilbert in Cassis (Quai des Baux, Cassis; 04 42 01 71 36) serves up a bouillabaisse that will make you swoon — a deep, layered, thick soup adorned with chunks of sparkling fresh fish that melt in the mouth. Pricey but worth the splurge.
Chez Fonfon (140 rue du Vallon des Auffres, Marseille; 04 91 52 14 38) is a classic Marseille address with classic bouillabaisse — faultless, if a little formal.
Oliviera (8 bis rue du Collet, Nice, tel: 04 93 13 06 45) is both an olive oil boutique and a restaurant serving simple but wonderful food: plates of sliced sweet tomatoes, vegetable-stuffed courgette blossoms, lasagne layered with baby zucchini, tiny ravioli stuffed with slow-cooked beef daube. Like an accomplished sommelier, the owner selects regional olive oils to match and enhance different foods.
Hungry for more? Today’s post is a companion to my new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, a food memoir that Peter Mayle, the author of A Year in Provence, says is “very elegantly served. A really tasty book.”
And more from the series, Where to Eat in France.