It should come as no surprise to my readers that I would plan a vacation around food, and while this journal is dedicated to covering the farm to table movement in the New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania region (as of now), sometimes you have to leave your beloved home to discover and reconnect with your passions.
Since I spent countless days pouring over TripAdvisor, Google maps, and the Michelin guide, researching restaurants for our time abroad in France, I couldn’t let this itinerary just sit in my Dropbox for no one to see. So I interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important message: France is amazing.
Okay, that’s not really a newsflash, is it? I think many people fantasize about traveling through the French countryside when they should be working. But you may be surprised to know that Paris was not on our itinerary. This girl is all about the French Alps, the Cote D’Azur, and everything in-between. And to be quite honest, there was not a moment abroad when I desired to get on a train and head to the City of Lights.
A NOTE ON FARM TO TABLE
In this region of France, the restaurants often notated AOC/AOP designations for superior quality. In Annecy, I flipped through the local magazine, which had a whole section on the chefs and their cooking practices. The story mentioned how many of the top chefs went to the local market daily for their produce. I was not surprised, as I just assumed this was standard tradition in France.
But as this article points out, even France is not immune to taking the easy way out to make a quick buck. Using frozen ingredients, non-sustainable produce… it’s a practice that plagues the world.
But everywhere we dined, I made sure that the chefs were preparing authentic, seasonal food, just as I do at home. So the restaurants you find on this list should satisfy all your gastronomical desires!
HAUTE-SAVOIE TRAVEL GUIDE
We began our trip in Talloires, France, which is a small town on Lake Annecy. I was drawn in by this lake thanks to, no joke, Pinterest. Annecy, known as the Venice of France, is a charming town located at the base of the French Alps, overlooking the green-blue glacial lake. It is something out of a fairytale.
There is so much to do in this region, including all the fabulous water sports, hiking, paragliding, castle visits, canyoning, cycling, and more. It’s the ideal destination for nature and water lovers. But here’s the best part: it’s located in Haute-Savoie, a region known for it’s incredible cheeses. Our favorite was reblochon, which they serve traditionally in tartiflette (pictured) over potatoes with lardons and onions. The cheese is always produced above an altitude of 500m, in Haute-Savoie and in the Val d’Arly in Savoy. It has a nutty taste and gets its name from the word ‘reblocher’ which when literally translated, means ‘to pinch a cow’s udder again’. So basically, farmers would not fully milk their cows when monitored to reduce their tax liability on output and afterwards, would resume milking and obtain a much richer and creamier milk.
I can’t decide what makes me love Annecy more: the cheese or the crystal clear glacial lake.
We had big plans to sitesee, but every time we thought about leaving the dock of Hotel Beau Site and the water, it made us want to cry. So, we just stayed. Until it was time to go get some cheese.
Annecy Day 1
Day activities: Relax on Lake Annecy, lunch at Le Petit Paradis (Noted Dish: Mouthwatering pork terrine, which is the owner’s mothers recipe, pictured above)
Noted Dish: Low temperature rack of veal, truffle polenta, beans and red onions
Annecy Day 2
Day activities: Kayaking & boating, walk around city of Annecy, lunch at Chalet la Pricaz (Noted Dish: Tartiflette of potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions), pre-dinner cocktails at La Queue Du Coq
Dinner: La Ciboulette
Noted Dish: Turbot of the Côtes d’Armor on the grill, gnocchi and juice sliced with marrow AND crispy-veal sweetbreads with large ravioli filled with chanterelles
Annecy Day 3
Day activities: Relax on Lake Annecy
Dinner: Cottage Bise
Noted Dish: Fried shrimp appetizer with tomato gazpacho AND cod with black rice “risotto”
PROVENCE TRAVEL GUIDE
It wouldn’t be a trip to France without some time spent amongst the vines, right? And Châteauneuf-Du-Pape is conveniently on the way to the French Riviera, so we spent three lovely days visiting vineyards and tasting the wines of the Southern Rhône Valley.
If you’ve ever taken note of the price of a Châteauneuf-Du-Pape at your local liquor store, you may notice it comes with a hefty price tag. With decent bottles starting around $60, don’t expect to cheap out on this wine consisting of a varietal blend of grapes (13 to be exact). But when you’re IN Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, you can taste the wines all day for free.
Enter the center of the old city on a hill, and simply work your way up to the top, where the 14th century Pope John XXII had his castle retreat from Avignon. There are many tasting rooms throughout, pouring wines all day long that you can visit, typically without an appointment. But you’ll want to visit some of the vineyards as well, considering there are 320 of them in the surrounding area.
We were fortunate enough to have a friend recommend a few vineyards outside of the city that we could have more intimate tastings at. Visiting the vineyards and seeing the grapes grow is so cool, because the wines in this region are grown in limestone, pebbles, sandstone-clay, and sand. Say what? To learn all about this, we visited the Wine Museum where we learned all about Châteauneuf-Du-Pape’s history. A free self-guided tour covered every question I could possibly have about this wine, and ended with a tasting of Brotte’s offerings. Yes, you can send wine home (and we did, oh did we ever…) Lucky us, 2015 was a good year, and we tried many varieties during our time there.
And what goes well with wine? Cheese! Yes, more cheese. And chocolate. The cheeses of Provence did not seem to make their way onto our cheese plate (that I know of) but when you’re presented with 20 or so cheeses on a cart at the end of dinner after a few glasses of wine, it’s not so easy to figure out which cheese is from where. But I’m not complaining.
I highly recommend staying at the Hotel Auberge de Cassagne due to its close proximity to CDP, as well as other attractions such as Luberon and Roussilon. Unfortunately, we just missed lavender season by a few weeks. But we did get to kayak under the Pont Du Gard, a UNESCO world heritage site. I would highly recommend that as well.
Provence Day 4
Noted Dish: Artichoke stuffed rigatoni with truffle foie gras with artichoke velouté
Provence Day 5
Day Activities: Kayaking trip through the Gardon River to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pont Du Gard, visit Chocolaterie Castelain on the way to Close Des Papes & Chateau La Nerthe vineyards (no appointments necessary), learn all about the Chateauneuf-Du-Pape region’s wine growing processes & history at the Brotte Wine Museum
Dinner: Le Verger Des Papes
Noted Dish: Tian of vegetables, with “ice cream” cheese and fresh goat cheese
Provence Day 6
Noted Dish: Tomato with beef carpaccio and pesto crumble
FRENCH-RIVIERA TRAVEL GUIDE
Known as the Cote D’Azur in France, I have always had a pretty picture of the French Riviera in my head. In fact, it looked a lot like this. So when we drove down the coast and stopped in the colorful village of Saint Tropez, it was as if I was finally the person in those vibrant vintage posters.
Cote D’Azur is accurately named, azur translating to a deep blue. But no photo can capture the extreme turquoise that shimmers right along the beach line. Trust me, I kept trying. When the sun hits the water at a certain angle, it’s the most vibrant shade of turquoise known to man.
The yachts in the harbor of Saint Tropez were lined up in size order, getting bigger with each step. We spent our lunch discussing ways to get rich over the most incredible steak tartare I’ve ever had.
We made our way to Nice in the afternoon, and went off to explore this city. I was not aware that Nice was such a large city, and once we reached the Old Town, that’s where it felt more like an old European beachside destination. Stretching from the Place Garibaldi and Place Massena to the Cours Saleya and the Promenade des Anglais, this bustling quartier was built by the Italians. They had a penchant for picturesque window shutters, petite piazzas and streets so narrow that you can’t drive a car down them (the Old Town is mostly a pedestrian-only zone). From early morning to late evening these colourful streets are alive with cafe culture, restaurant terraces and open-air bars, as befits the city’s principal tourist hotspot. It really is in the centre of everything.
We spent our days lounging on the pebble beaches, taking in the view from the historic village of Eze, and visiting the market stalls at the Cours Saleya market.
I recommend driving up to Eze and having lunch overlooking the Mediterranean. Chateau Eza prepared a beautiful lunch for us on a private balcony, and we enjoyed watching the yachts circle the harbors. I had no idea that Eze is more than just a pretty town with great views; its history was interesting to learn about.
One of the highlights from our trip was exploring the Cours Saleya market, which had such a stunning assortment of produce. Since fresh artichokes were in almost every dish we had in our time in France, I had to snap a photo of them. And the cured meats, cheeses, condiments, spices and artisan goods were calling out my name. If only I had brought a bigger suitcase! But seriously, I would cook some incredible food if I had access to that market every day.
French Riviera Day 7
Day Activities: Window shopping around Saint Tropez, lunch at Bistro Pastis (go for the steak tartar), Explore Nice
Dinner: Bistro Gourmand
Notable Dish: Roasted John dory with Iberian chorizo, artichoke, basil and summer truffle
French Riviera Day 8
Day Activities: Relax on Blue Beach and enjoy a plate of “linguini aux gambas”
Dinner: Le Romarin
Notable Dish: Nice Sampler
French Riviera Day 9
Day Activities: Cours Saleya Market, Lunch in Eze at Chateau Eza (Notable dish: Raw prawns with mango chutney, roasted watermelon, lime, peanuts, shellfish sauce), walk along the pebble beaches of the Mediterranean sea
Dinner: Le Sejourn
Notable Dish: Lobster Risotto
Putting this guide together for you just a week after returning home has me feeling nostalgic for these flavors and sights already. If you’ve been putting off a trip to France for a while now, I hope this gives you the push to get planning! It’s a beautiful country with a wonderful culture worth exploring.