Provence Foodie

A Culinary Excursion Through Provence “Cycle Touring for Good Eats”
by Maggie Rentmeester

Time for a confession: A good deal of my excitement when I prepared to travel to France was the prospect of sampling French fare.  I am a self-professed “foodie”, or perhaps, more accurately, an “Eatie”.  This unique title seems only fitting for one consuming food while not engaging in the act of its preparation.  A few years ago I read “A Year in Provence”, it whetted my appetite for sampling French cuisine. Touring the countryside by bicycle allowed me to eat to my heart’s content and still permitted me to fit in my airline seat without a seatbelt extender.  The goal of the trip was to come home “calorie neutral”.  My trip to Provence through Vermont Bicycle Tour (VBT) provided the means to explore:  bicycles, guides, maps, and insight regarding best places to eat.

tn_1200_4881845d67fe534e92832687229cf420.jpg
tn_1200_e9011f1780c022692a92a8d9afca8513.JPG
tn_1200_d43ec1257bc9692a4aa05ef3ebd0c93d.JPG
tn_1200_d386fb06e10909687661975217e0799d.JPG
tn_1200_b0cf47a4a62dd2920d9e4df9aecc6e5a.JPG
tn_1200_b3a5f58a77ca33f01772119c2e80d670.JPG
tn_1200_e44a66cd3bfd36db00f8ee61ab0e3778.JPG
tn_1200_d9e3ebfbe028dd48e68e0673b487af10.JPG
tn_1200_334980d01f638d6c0746d12a2e416cb0.JPG
tn_1200_0111850e04a25714eddbd4815050fff2.JPG
tn_1200_a0416894e39796b5ecbefa2e901d362d.JPG
tn_1200_7651cd27aac4243677c183a919717920.JPG
tn_1200_39460b6625ae9ddc8873cc61e7987d6a.JPG
tn_1200_24172e2d1bf472be582cbe1c532edcb1.JPG
tn_1200_df872f3e63154a0d82fd0e25172a3672.JPG
tn_1200_dace6dbfeab3ff5a4647b5c0ddd3d863.JPG
tn_1200_7428b50e135149514e26eb586a7e3c32.JPG
tn_1200_945a2cabe2c5740cb5f99e974e4c2970.JPG
tn_1200_bd84b1a6826f2e08e940711515695801.JPG
tn_1200_5393f14030e2ed307df2e5dc1206eae3.JPG
tn_1200_2922da2548b7a3416ee5a71ada37bd00.JPG
tn_1200_7113f370d5c736241ed3ac9a5de0aaa0.JPG
tn_1200_b879e2e8f2de03eef7235495a2b02f31.JPG
tn_1200_942cd1a7d959c800b37a5a4171c89797.JPG
tn_1200_195e6d4a1f9d8ceaceb1b991076904a3.JPG
tn_1200_91ec7eed05444defca5679decb7b02dc.JPG
tn_1200_2912e93fa5495d7651cf9d0940476a92.JPG
tn_1200_675f4db4f17d7fd53c45c864efe8dcd0.JPG
tn_1200_53a7fea5041512b12e4e841b3465511c.JPG
tn_1200_78c73bfa0303ceb3315e7044b2be40b2.JPG
tn_1200_9245a2f99394953378284fc6f4414d6f.JPG
tn_1200_de882dcfe826830dd2564e7b235217da.JPG
tn_1200_e4611aad92c9041c99d18e7a34879a1c.JPG
tn_1200_84698734f766171a8f258bf5c931d49a.JPG
tn_1200_d2ff05a1989a8f825eb4a170bcdb76a6.JPG
tn_1200_d0867feaf01ef3b36d637f8ee6b4da7d.JPG
tn_1200_d0e2e3cae552fbf24f0a26bb40de0a17.JPG
tn_1200_c4cc3cd5e79ef86fb8c289f76c552644.JPG
tn_1200_d03c98ffe388a2a1558bf0cbc1b13345.JPG
tn_1200_ca098b7bb66c7a6f59377ef126ac0cb1.JPG
tn_1200_b2d4322482d6a4811d4c495934494d6b.JPG
tn_1200_339193ce52166bb6ba06d13208b83007.JPG
tn_1200_d3f65b601c2cb7d5ce6d5b737753981a.JPG
tn_1200_9014f537d1a2b61755adc2583ecdb95f.JPG
tn_1200_36909d89073bc8e175cf7e7fa5eb9f62.JPG
tn_1200_aa1d680df92cc72115a7dc619a327324.JPG
tn_1200_e7620d5f54d47eb9ec7872257b10c3f7.JPG
tn_1200_e69949384ef76204d18b2c7b4e76f92a.JPG
tn_1200_c40d5427bf4d9d7c0fd658ee3054ac8d.JPG
Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image...

Everyone knows a good hearty breakfast provides a great start to your day.  It is an acknowledged fact that people who eat breakfast weigh less, in general, than people who don’t.  Armed with this knowledge gave us a great reason to indulge in the ample morning offerings at our hotels.  Breakfast buffets in France provided a spectacular start regardless of one’s inclinations.  We were greeted with tree ripened apricots and sun-blushed cherries, locally harvested clover and lavender honey drizzled on tangy yogurt pots.  Whisper thin slices of cured salami and ham, crunchy, crusty baguettes, fresh baked rolls, oodles of local cheeses and French pressed coffee all added to the symphony of sunup aromas.  One buffet included an entire leg of prosciutto which invited guests to carve off succulent slices to their hearts content.  We also developed a penchant for Le Sacristain pastries; buttery, flaky, crispy deliciousness twisted up with cinnamon and sugar allowed the inner dough’s almond filling to stay moist and chewy.  Licking fingers is not optional after one of these delectable treats, it is an autonomic reflex.   All provided ample fuel for a day of biking.

Aix en Provence, located approximately 30 minutes north of Marseille, was our first stop in France.  This university town known was founded in 123 BC, and is known as the “city of a thousand fountains”.  Rows of stately plane trees lined quaint streets and cast gently mottled hues on cafes and restaurants galore.  Our most memorable meal in Aix was at a lovely shaded plaza; the enchanting aroma of the “plat du jour” (plate of the day) drew us in.  We dined on fall-off-the bone tender lamb shanks slow-cooked and slathered in savory brown gravy. After we sopped up the sauce with the last of the tender tiny yellow skinned potatoes we conversed with a delightful elderly gentleman seated at the adjacent table.  He dutifully wiped his plate of every last drop of gravy and enjoyed a platter laden with generous wedges of creamy cheeses and explained that he and his wife had vacationed together in Aix for 40 years.  His wife had since passed away, but he had so many fond memories of their time in Aix together that he still came back every year.  I do not believe what some have said about the French being standoffish—we were embraced by the natives everywhere and were flattered to have the opportunity to converse with this lovely man.

tn_1200_30de8b3605440c486c8b5658697b191f.JPG
tn_1200_1cb5cc25b0ceaa4fc9e1fffa45d18ff2.JPG
tn_1200_8dbb822925d8ce099a000ba0968df29e.JPG
tn_1200_8a077c7a02b8250002a5aec56499f40c.JPG
tn_1200_35a6cccacf3aa43f04ca6c43a24c000e.JPG
tn_1200_29cc4632b6142ec8ff713bc44adde791.JPG
tn_1200_0ee808420061a74d4ff508be5574e1f9.JPG
tn_1200_7d833c07928579d91d90a8bf9778fc43.JPG
tn_1200_07b7384aeb6461bb8f2ce0a8c676f51e.JPG
tn_1200_7fe728ae3aec5336c8bacb0ff043f8c0.JPG
tn_1200_d386fb06e10909687661975217e0799d.JPG
tn_1200_d9e3ebfbe028dd48e68e0673b487af10.JPG
tn_1200_e9011f1780c022692a92a8d9afca8513.JPG
tn_1200_e69949384ef76204d18b2c7b4e76f92a.JPG
tn_1200_9ac9b0886ebe023246602a4364486cd4.JPG
tn_1200_de882dcfe826830dd2564e7b235217da.JPG
tn_1200_d43ec1257bc9692a4aa05ef3ebd0c93d.JPG
tn_1200_8bb2ae1e69df5ca20ccc41c07d7ddc42.JPG
tn_1200_e4611aad92c9041c99d18e7a34879a1c.JPG
tn_1200_3f4a4886d043b4ce7915b11180e31076.JPG
tn_1200_29dc6e3dcd77163c5d1a23b447f6f6cc.JPG
tn_1200_e44a66cd3bfd36db00f8ee61ab0e3778.JPG
tn_1200_f3cfe7e1b480be1fc1ffe3bb58677319.JPG
tn_1200_d0867feaf01ef3b36d637f8ee6b4da7d.JPG
tn_1200_2abdcec9fac86f841830d3a6db469677.JPG
tn_1200_eafefaaf367518304f197be094861552.JPG
tn_1200_9f3e11efd9a326c059c74ab0082f11ff.JPG
Maggie1a
tn_1200_e7620d5f54d47eb9ec7872257b10c3f7.JPG
tn_1200_f4e503ae66250e8e19c4b78b85dcc212.JPG
tn_1200_ecf81c6464c199bdb24e4e8f27b426a4.JPG
tn_1200_d3f65b601c2cb7d5ce6d5b737753981a.JPG
tn_1200_b3a5f58a77ca33f01772119c2e80d670.JPG
tn_1200_b879e2e8f2de03eef7235495a2b02f31.JPG
tn_1200_d0e2e3cae552fbf24f0a26bb40de0a17.JPG
tn_1200_bd84b1a6826f2e08e940711515695801.JPG
tn_1200_d2ff05a1989a8f825eb4a170bcdb76a6.JPG
tn_1200_d03c98ffe388a2a1558bf0cbc1b13345.JPG
tn_1200_df872f3e63154a0d82fd0e25172a3672.JPG
tn_1200_2f8304deb1d9116893ab5078cf25505d.JPG
tn_1200_dace6dbfeab3ff5a4647b5c0ddd3d863.JPG
tn_1200_c40d5427bf4d9d7c0fd658ee3054ac8d.JPG
tn_1200_c4cc3cd5e79ef86fb8c289f76c552644.JPG
tn_1200_b2d4322482d6a4811d4c495934494d6b.JPG
tn_1200_b0cf47a4a62dd2920d9e4df9aecc6e5a.JPG
tn_1200_a0416894e39796b5ecbefa2e901d362d.JPG
tn_1200_aa1d680df92cc72115a7dc619a327324.JPG
tn_1200_ca098b7bb66c7a6f59377ef126ac0cb1.JPG
tn_1200_84698734f766171a8f258bf5c931d49a.JPG
Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image...

Dinner in France is an event.  Most restaurants don’t serve the evening meal until around 8 pm.  Tables don’t typically turn over; when you are seated, the table is yours for the evening and your meal may last several glorious hours.  It is a time to savor, relax, and enjoy the company of others while enjoying a delicious meal.  The French spend more than double of their household expenditure on food compared with Americans; in France quality and presentation are valued far more than quantity.  Even a quick snack from a bistro was presented like a photo shoot for Gourmet magazine.

.

One of our VBT guides, Stephan, arranged a French vocabulary class specific to ordering in a restaurant prior to sending us out on our own in Saint Remy.  We had a chance to try out our new skills at restaurant Xa (pronounced “Za”) located on Boulevard Mirabeau.  Chez Xa, a chic bistro decorated with red checked table cloths, Victorian bric-a-brac, and a wall filled with liquors and glassware offered a menu du jour typical for restaurants in this locale of France.  Diners choose an appetizer (aperitif), main course (plat principal) and dessert (dessert) from a limited but creative and interesting selection.  My dinner took the prize for best dishes that evening.  Velvety smooth foie gras sprinkled with coarsely ground sea salt served and tangy pickled onion slivers for spreading on crunchy, toasted slices of fresh-baked baguette started the meal.  The creamy, buttery, silken smooth texture was delectable and I had to swat hands away to protect my choice!  The main course followed; Gratin de la Mer, a creamy cheesy browned to perfection casserole chock full of scallops, shrimp, and fish.  It was baked to an ideal consistency balancing the creamy sauce and fresh seafood.  Desserts choices were panna cotta, a selection of fresh goat cheeses, or a gooey chocolate concoction.  Fresh brewed coffee, brandied cherries (cerises brandied) and liqueur shots of local Frigolet provided the finishing touches. Stephan conveniently reminded me that I had the opportunity to pay for my “foie gras sins” when we climbed the hills to Le Baux the next day—had to keep that calorie count neutral.

While in Saint Remy, VBT arranged for our group to have dinner at a local pastry chef’s home.  Experiences like this just would not happen without the exemplary planning and experience from a  premier organization like VBT; I am a resourceful traveler, but could certainly not have arranged anything like this on my own.  Odile prepared a vegetarian meal for our group that caused my meat-loving husband to exclaim, “If this is what vegetarian tastes like, I don’t ever need to eat meat again”. Our meal began with crispy, fresh from the garden greens tossed with traditional Provencal dressing unpretentiously made from roasted garlic, fruity and fragrant olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.  Salad was paired with a savory baked tomato tart; a buttery, flaky crust topped with simmered-all-day fresh tomato paste and topped with sun ripened slices of tangy tomato and fresh ground herbs.  This course alone would have satisfied my appetite, but more deliciousness appeared.  We were presented with zucchini stuffed with mushrooms, eggplant topped with a creamy mixture of olives and bread crumbs, fresh tomatoes baked with savory lentils, scrumptious cheesy au gratin potatoes browned and  luscious all followed by a spectacular Napoleon.  Dessert was presented with a flourish!  A stunningly large Napoleon so beautiful it could have qualified as a visual work of art was rolled out of Odile’s kitchen to the delight of our group of VBT bikers.  The enormous mille-feuille (1000-leaves dessert) had alternating underpinning layers of Wafer-thin pastry and silky custard; the entirety was topped with a vanilla icing laced with a delicate chocolate pattern.  Fresh brewed espresso was the perfect companion.  I recognized a definite need to pedal after this meal!

tn_1200_334980d01f638d6c0746d12a2e416cb0.JPG
tn_1200_36909d89073bc8e175cf7e7fa5eb9f62.JPG
tn_1200_9ac9b0886ebe023246602a4364486cd4.JPG
tn_1200_339193ce52166bb6ba06d13208b83007.JPG
tn_1200_8dbb822925d8ce099a000ba0968df29e.JPG
tn_1200_942cd1a7d959c800b37a5a4171c89797.JPG
tn_1200_2912e93fa5495d7651cf9d0940476a92.JPG
tn_1200_2922da2548b7a3416ee5a71ada37bd00.JPG
tn_1200_53a7fea5041512b12e4e841b3465511c.JPG
tn_1200_29cc4632b6142ec8ff713bc44adde791.JPG
tn_1200_39460b6625ae9ddc8873cc61e7987d6a.JPG
tn_1200_6d76d7dfe7f74ff19c5f51d58630918b.JPG
tn_1200_07b7384aeb6461bb8f2ce0a8c676f51e.JPG
tn_1200_7fe728ae3aec5336c8bacb0ff043f8c0.JPG
tn_1200_0111850e04a25714eddbd4815050fff2.JPG
tn_1200_8bb2ae1e69df5ca20ccc41c07d7ddc42.JPG
tn_1200_7d833c07928579d91d90a8bf9778fc43.JPG
tn_1200_7428b50e135149514e26eb586a7e3c32.JPG
tn_1200_9245a2f99394953378284fc6f4414d6f.JPG
tn_1200_9f3e11efd9a326c059c74ab0082f11ff.JPG
tn_1200_30de8b3605440c486c8b5658697b191f.JPG
tn_1200_5cb5ff2e9e7272436f44c2a9c8d3dac0.JPG
tn_1200_945a2cabe2c5740cb5f99e974e4c2970.JPG
tn_1200_5b686784b72a704440a0f82241fa74ba.JPG
tn_1200_195e6d4a1f9d8ceaceb1b991076904a3.JPG
tn_1200_4881845d67fe534e92832687229cf420.jpg
tn_1200_78c73bfa0303ceb3315e7044b2be40b2.JPG
tn_1200_5393f14030e2ed307df2e5dc1206eae3.JPG
tn_1200_7651cd27aac4243677c183a919717920.JPG
tn_1200_8a077c7a02b8250002a5aec56499f40c.JPG
tn_1200_675f4db4f17d7fd53c45c864efe8dcd0.JPG
tn_1200_4ce20313df75e6f31b7d5fe5e2f0efe5.JPG
tn_1200_35a6cccacf3aa43f04ca6c43a24c000e.JPG
tn_1200_29dc6e3dcd77163c5d1a23b447f6f6cc.JPG
tn_1200_24172e2d1bf472be582cbe1c532edcb1.JPG
tn_1200_9014f537d1a2b61755adc2583ecdb95f.JPG
tn_1200_91ec7eed05444defca5679decb7b02dc.JPG
tn_1200_4a2792e479b158aaac36410b5cab68c2.JPG
tn_1200_7113f370d5c736241ed3ac9a5de0aaa0.JPG
Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image...

VBT arranged several spectacular meals at our host accommodations.  This provided a wonderful way to enjoy local specialties in fabulous garden settings and sip crisp rosé wines just a few yards from our luxurious accomodations.  The Hotel La Magnaneraie near Avignon presented us a traditional three course meal on a lovely patio surrounded by magnificent fountains and blooming flowers.  Fresh-picked zucchini blossoms stuffed with a fluffy mushroom mixture awash in creamy mushroom sauce started us off.  This was followed by the main course of local sea bream; a mild white fleshed fish extremely popular in the region, delicately steamed and flaky served with thick creamy yellow polenta and finished with (get this…) a “trio of Crème brûlée”.  Yes, three individual brûlée ramekins arrived on each of our plates: vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio.  Who knew my favorite dessert on earth came in flavors other than vanilla!  What a delightful conundrum… how could I choose the finest flavor?  The debate continued even after my brother-in-law Chuck consumed five servings in the quest.

Our meals in France ranged from highly sophisticated multi-course meals to simple baguettes, salads, and paninis purchased from street vendors.  All of the food was fresh, homemade and incredible.  Culinary expertise abounded and presentation was prized.  There was joy and pride involved in the preparation and serving of our meals.  I don’t know how many calories I ingested (probably a good thing) because I didn’t say “no” to anything, but the biking paid off; calorie neutral when I got home!

Take me to VBT !

Please see George’s companion article from this same trip: French Kiss – Biking in Provence

VBT.com

Published September 2013

Comments are closed.