Remember the scene in The Simpsons where Homer is daydreaming about the land of chocolate? Well, that was me in the south of France only it was with foie gras. Um, wait a second. That sounds kind of gross on a lot of levels. Well, even though I only had it twice in the nine days we were in France, it was equally as glorious as it was horrendous. But, like they say, when in Rome do like…Hedonismbot.

Here are some gastronomical highlights from the trip:

cwbuecheler from Flickr

Photo credit: cwbuecheler from Flickr

Picnics—By far, our favourite thing to do when travelling in Europe is checking out the fresh local produce and putting together meals to go. In Nice, we frequented the Cours Saleya Market & Monoprix, while in Avignon we enjoyed the offerings at Les Halles & 8 à Huit. Things we looked for included sundried tomatoes, olives Niçoise or en herbes de Provence, fresh baked bread, and, of course, fabulous cheeses. Whatever you do in France, if there’s an open display of cheeses that aren’t pre-packaged, for goodness sake don’t touch anything. In Paris, Cokebaby got his hand slapped for reaching out. Just remember, cheese is like a religion here. Don’t sully the alter. There are also plenty of pâtisseries and chocolatiers to go around for dessert.

Wines of the region are rosé and Côtes du Rhône which you can purchase for incredibly reasonable prices. Even champagne is dirt cheap here. For special treats we tried Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (a sweet fortified wine) and pastis (an anise-flavoured liqueur usually served on ice with a pitcher of water that you can use to cut it to your liking). In Nice, we found a great wine shop called Côté Vin where the young shopkeep was keen to speak English and gave us some great recommendations for local (and organic) wines of the region without an ounce of pretension.

Le Atmosphere (Nice)—On opera night, we tried finding a recommended restaurant called Chez Palmyre. Finding no signs of life there on that night (or any other) we wound up on the very touristy Cours Saleya Strip where we were reeled in by an employee. Yes, yes, tourist trap antics. But we were running late and it was literally a two minute walk from the opera house. We went with the formule which got us a starter, main, and dessert for 13,50€. Each of us had a fish soup (served with croutons and rouille), grilled sword fish with roasted vegetables in rice. For dessert I had a creme caramel while Cokebaby opted for chocolate mousse. For the price, service, and quality of food we weren’t disappointed.

Maison Nani (Avignon)—We kind of hit the jackpot with this little gem of a restaurant. The atmosphere is warm and homey, the service impeccable, and the food was everything we wanted it to be (and then some).  On our first day, we arrived close to the end of lunch service so we missed out on the specials but after our meal we vowed to come back early to check them out. Both days the place was filled with locals and the owners were around greeting everyone personally. Our meals ranged around 8-12€ and you could purchase a 75cL Cotes du Rhone wine for about 4€. The wine came in unmarked bottles that brought the term house wine to new meaning but who can argue for the value? I indulged in a foie gras salad served with toast. Simple but delicious. For dessert I couldn’t resist the café gourmand: a cup of espresso with a sampling of Chantilly cream, a cake that tasted like homemade Ferrero Rocher, crème anglaise, and a raspberry crumble for under 4€. On the next visit, I was very happy to get the special tart of the day made with broccoli, onions and olives, with a side salad, and vegetables (potato salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, mustard fennel, lightly salted and boiled string beans).

jenny downing from Flickr

Photo credit: jenny downing from Flickr

O’Neill’s (Avignon)—At supper time many of the restaurants along the main strip were closed, we assumed, due to it being low season. Back alleys turned up international cuisine for very reasonable prices. It probably would have made some sense to have Chinese food for the lunar new year but, frankly, we didn’t come to France for the Chinese food. So, we stopped in at O’Neill’s Irish pub. Um, yeah, that didn’t make much sense, right? The thing is they had a bunch of French items on the menu. While Cokebaby enjoyed his pizza Alsace (ham, olives, mushrooms and Emmenthal) and pint of Kronenbourg blanc, I was happy to receive the yummiest (and biggest) salade Niçoise with a goblet full of vin chaud (aka Glögg or mulled wine).

Le Courtois Café/Pâtisseries (Nîmes)—A family-run business since 1892, this gorgeous spot is situated in the same courtyard as a palm-tree and crocodile fountain (the city’s emblem). The dining room had crammed seating but elegant Old World decor. Cokebaby and I felt like the veritable bulls in a china shop and if the weather had been a bit warmer we probably would have enjoyed the experience more on the patio. That said, the food was delicious and the service both pleasant and efficient. This was my second and last foie gras salad. Not quite as delicious as the first but it came with a tasty side of scalloped potatoes. Cokebaby’s poulet Basquaise (chicken served in a clay pot with peppers and smoky spices) was not the most memorable meal but he enjoyed it nonetheless. On the way out we passed the display case of pastries and, although incredibly tempting (and probably where they excelled in terms of food), we passed them up in order to move on to the sites of the city.

Restaurant du Gesù (Nice)—This was a quaint little Italian restaurant situated at a cobblestone square across from a church. We opted to dine outside in the enclosed patio next to a heat lamp. The food here was simplicity at its best. We shared plates of gnocchi (potato pasta) with Gorgonzola, and ravioli with pistou (basically, pesto without the pine nuts). On the blackboard they had featured a wine of the month which we tried out for 14€ (this time it came in a corked and labelled bottle). By the time we were served our meal the place was packed with locals and students.

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Our last day in Nice was spent trying to cram in as much food and drink into our faces before we had to fly back. We had croissants, café crème, wine, cheese, beer, pastries, and more. By the end of the night I was wholly and truly satisfied that I could indulge no more. Thankfully, vacations do have to come to an end sometimes. Otherwise, I’d be the size of an elephant. That or I’d have to take up smoking as an appetite suppressant which I’m convinced is the only way everyone stays so thin in France. Kidding..!

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