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Provence, France


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A few observations to start. I might get around to more later. We stayed in St-Remy, which seems to attract mostly French tourists at this time of year. We day-tripped to Nimes, Aix, Arles, Avignon, and a few smaller towns.

We went to several markets around the area. The market produce is impressive, but with the exception of apricots and strawberries, much of what we sampled was of similar quality to what I can get at Dupont or Courthouse, or any of the better markets around here. (I had a conversation with Waitman about never having had a fresh apricot worth eating about 2 weeks before trying them in France. Now I get what the fuss is about.) That was wholly unexpected, and it's a good thing for us. The variety of goods on offer there of course was much much greater - cheeses, charcuterie, etc. and at more egalitarian prices.

The wine prices in the stores made me weep tears of joy - better quality for the money spent. The restaurant prices...not so much.

Whoever wrote French Women Don't Get Fat is peddling a giant honking load of BS. Perhaps French Women (of my social class and income level) Don't Get Fat might have been more accurate.

The cheese...I don't even want to talk about it. Let's just say that what is shipped here is a pale shadow. And again, the prices made me weep.

Portions were much too large at nearly every restaurant we visited. Very surprising.

We had one bad meal in eight days, and it was at a place recommended by one of our guides. :) We had better luck strolling through town perusing the posted menus, then choosing whichever appealed to us most.

Like I said above, just a few off-the-cuff observations, based on a much too short visit. I'm interested in hearing from other DR.com folks who have spent time there. We of course will be going back, probably next summer with the kids.

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We spent some time in Arles a few years ago. Well, actually, it was more than a few years ago now. In fact, we were in the Roman amphitheater in the middle of town when someone heard us speaking English, asked if we were Americans and told us that there was “disaster” at home. He went on to say that the Pentagon “is burning” and planes had struck the World Trade Center in NYC. He then pretty much ordered us to get to a television at once. It still makes me shudder when I think of it.

Anywho, my favorite food stuffs that I remember off the top: the lavender and olive oil ice cream, cranberry beans, charcuterie, lavender honey, olives and of course, cheese.

And, as for the pleasantly plump—I agree. I saw plenty of that in the small towns and countryside. Not so much in Paris, though.

It was a good trip but it was heavily colored by 9/11. I will never forget how well we were treated by people in France in the days following the “disaster.”

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Heather, your trip sounds delightful. We spent some time in Abt, Aix, and environs a few years ago, mostly in tiny "villages perchés". Riding through fields of Lavender in the Luberon with Mt. Ventoux on the horizon was a highlight. We did not have a single mediocre meal there, at any price level. There is little that can compare.

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I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned the bread! I lived in Avignon one summer and could not get enough of the boulangeries. On the produce front, I will never forget the cherries I ate while there. They were the largest and sweetest I have ever had. I swear they were almost the size of apricots.

Despite all of the bread, cheese, wine and crepes I consumed while there, I understood the French Paradox. Somehow, I lost a fair amount of weight without trying.

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We had some excellent bread, some very good bread, and a surprising amount of bad bread. The overall quality seemed high.

Another factor was the heat. It was just too damn hot to eat much in the middle of the day. In my case any fewer calories consumed as food were made up by wine.

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Heather, your trip sounds delightful. We spent some time in Abt, Aix, and environs a few years ago, mostly in tiny "villages perchés". Riding through fields of Lavender in the Luberon with Mt. Ventoux on the horizon was a highlight.
We drove north from Carpentras to Bedoin then on to Vaison-la-Romaine one morning. Breathtaking views.

We are mulling over next year - never to early to make plans, right? I have spent time in Alsace and have no desire to hurry back unless we go back to Switzerland too. Friends keep suggesting Paris, but for some reason it's pretty far down the list. If we don't head to Provence again it will be either Pays Catalunya (Barcelona to Perpignan) or Toulouse-Carcassone-Narbonne, leaning toward the latter. Scott and I are interested in the Albigensian heresy and want to visit some of the Cathar Strongholds. And I hear the food in Toulouse is OK. :)

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For the Nice to Lourdes leg of our 2 week European trip, we relied on TripAdvisor and the fork to guide us through Provence (I am using the term broadly). My dine list from favorite to least favorite, though really all the meals were pretty good.

Brasserie Bodegon in Lourdes - huge portions, generous use of good ingredients, everything we got (which was a waiter and chef impressing amount) was delicious. They have a big menu and we wish we could have tried more of it. The plush luxe decor was nice(if not what vacationing Americans are likely seeking in a provincial French restaurant) and service were also very good. 

La Roulotte in Carcassonne - the chef likes to play with some north African flavors and he does very well by them. Probably our favorite foie gras of the trip. The atmosphere is perfect, it's a tiny little place with mementos of the town and the chef's collection of cookbooks and gourmet magazines, a couple local families chatting up the chef and his wife, who ran the front of the house.  Although Bodegon is my personal favorite, I think La Roulotte would be my top recommendation off this list, it's would take a stony heart to not fall for this place.

Cafe Llorca near Cannes - its right off of the town square and Google directions were a bit hazy. Once we are there, everything was great. The food here is deeply flavorful, seemed like time tested recipes even though it bills itself as a modern restaurant. The service was pleasant and efficient.

Le QG in Arles - nice enough food and good service, though definitely not at the level of the restaurants above. All the food was a little too sweet and tasted just competently prepared, a big step down from the 3 above. The atmosphere is kitschy but fun. Service was good. 

Tea Room at Villa Epirussi de Rothschild - well worth sticking around for lunch here, especially as the prices are fairly low and the food is quite good considering the setting.  The view out is wonderful, just like they are at every corner of this beautiful and romantic garden.

El primo/ La Chimere in Aix - they have the same owner and we are at both as part of our progressive dinner. The portions are generous and service good enough, the food is a bit hit and miss, though even the misses were tasty enough (chewy duck, charcouterie plate dominated by giant slices ham, greasy clams). It was Monday night and there weren't a lot of other choices. You can probably do much better on a different night or with more planning. 

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