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Beyond Paris. What part of France is:


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If you wanted to do gastronomic touring in France for at least ten days and wanted to limit the amount of traveling you had to do, which region or area other than Paris would you choose? In terms of top-of-the-line eating, many of the most interesting chefs are no longer clustered in a contiguous area as was the case 15-20 years ago in Burgundy, the Lyonnais and Rhone Valley. Now one has to go to the Savoie, Alsace, Auvergne, and Brittany to experience the likes of Veyrat, Klein, Bras, and Roellinger. One can make a case for Burgundy because of the wines and tradition of classic cuisine, mixed in with solidly good, perhaps not earth-shattering restaurants. Lyon has the advantage of being small and packing a lot of gastronomy without venturing too far. Also a trip to Annecy is within easy reach, as is the Rhone Valley. Brittany apparently has greatly improved and is paradise for the seafood maven. As a few people know, I am partial to the Cote d’Azur as it incorporates in its culinary possibilities Provencal, seafood, and Italian accents in enough interesting and highly-rated restaurants to keep one busy. Even if you haven’t been to all of these areas, don’t be reluctant to state your reasons why you like a certain region which, of course can also be Alsace, Normandie, the Dordogne, Bordeaux region, Pyrenees, and even others.

For the sake of rigor, let’s say that your choice should be limited to an area that requires no more than two hours drive in any direction from where you might stay or a major town or city.

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Lyon has the advantage of proximity to Troisgros.  It's difficult for me to speak of regions, because, subjectively, a single restaurant that is exceptional can "make" a region. Likewise, the absence of such an exceptional restaurant can "break" a region. :wink:

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Cabrales, I was thinking more a food-immersion holiday limited to a region. I know how you like to bop around in highly peripatetic fashion. One can include in their considerations before replying phenomena such as markets, self-catering resources,gastronomic sights (cheese and wine producers, specialty shops,etc.) Of course restaurants are what usually set the standards or the chief reasons for choosing a destination.

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If you wanted to do gastronomic touring in France for at least ten days and wanted to limit the amount of traveling you had to do, which region or area other than Paris would you choose?

If I had to set up in one French town for the whole time and not be free to move around that would probably restrict me to lunches as two hours of drving arfter dinner is too much. Okay, this francophile might well choose St. Jean de Luz or Collioure for their proximity to the border and the cluster of stars in Spanish Catalonia and the Basque region. St. Jean de Luz would also give me a shot at Auberge de la Galupe in Urt. If I could move from night to night, I'd be spending a lot of tie in Spain. Is this an unfair answer? I'm finding the area south of the Pyrenees a natural extension of the gastronomic touring grounds of France.

Burgundy still holds an attraction, although the clusters may not be what they were.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux, a surprising choice, yet interesting. If someone wants to sneak over the border as part of a food holiday, why not? I recommend to people to do the same while on the Cote d'Azur.(See JD's thread close by). In fact, this plays into another idea for a topic that I have been batting around with Cabrales and which I will try to post in the next few days.

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Robert,

For us, the best way to do France in the provinces is to pick a different region each year and spend 3 weeks near that region. This way the driving is limited to 2 hours every 2 to 3 days. This doesn't quite fit your one place only idea, but it does allow us to eliminate the all you do is drive feeling. This year the "loop" is Burgundy, Roanne, Lyon, Annecy, Illhaeusern, Strasbourg, Reims. Last year it was Burgundy,Vienne, St Bonnet, Laguiole, Najac, Puymirol, Carcasonne, Rosas, Barcelona. Another year it was Eugenie-les-Bains, Biarritz, St.Sebastin, Bordeaux, Dordogne, Nieul, Romorantin and Les Bezards. We always begin and end in Paris.

It is hard for me to pick a favorite region as we pick our itinerary by the restaurant we want to visit. One advantage of eating in the provinces is that you can stay at where you eat. It is a wonderful feeling to know that after having a 3 to 4 hour dinner, your bed is minutes away by foot.

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One advantage of eating in the provinces is that you can stay at where you eat. It is a wonderful feeling to know that after having a 3 to 4 hour dinner, your bed is minutes away by foot.

As often as not I am able to walk from the restaurant to my hotel in large cities, even in Paris, and I often appreciate the chance to take a walk after dinner. On more than one night, my wife and I have tried to take a walk after dinner in the provinces only to find the streets rolled up and the street lights turned out or no place to walk to in a dark rural spot, but I do appreciate the ability to not have to drive after a grand meal. What do you do about great, and near great provincial restaurants that are not part of an inn or hotel. El Bulli is a short drive from Roses, but Martin Berasategui is further from San Sebastian and Can Fabes is about an hour from Barcelona. In France the Augerge de la Galupe was another restaurant without rooms from the same trip. In each of these we had lunch, but I did not enjoy the drive afterwards and in one instance we actually pulled over and took a nap.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux,

Our major walking is done first thing in the morning and then after lunch so we can really enjoy dinner.

You are right, the small villages are dark, deserted and closed up except for the restaurant you are eating in for most often the only major "attraction" is the restaurant - St Bonnet, Puymirol etc.

At Auberge de la Galupe, which is also an all time favorite of ours, we just wandered around the road near the river. I can't begin to tell you how many country roads we have walked just to clear our heads and walk off lunch.

At Bras, we hiked his route after lunch. At Puymirol, we walked that tiny village so many times that I ended up counting how many steps it took me from the Church to the Tabac.

The key for us is staying in a place at least 2 to 3 days. Our exercusions are done during the day for lunch and our 3 star experience is at night.

But you are right the challenge is those lunch stops. For example, at Le Mimosa (Graham's suggestion) we walked a long way into the village. However, we try not to ever drive more than 20 minutes after lunch before we stay at our 3* place for the night.The challenge is to find "that place" on the road.

Our other way to handle the problem is to have someone drive us to the designated dinner place. For example, this year we will be in Geneva. I haven't eaten at Crissier in 4 years - a must try again. We will have a "cab" driver take us - much cheaper than you would think - my husband sleeps and I talk food.

I still think that making a trip based on where you really want to experience the food is the best way to go.

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I am entirely comfortable basing my itinerary on where I want to eat. I'm not all that much more keen on getting in a cab after dinner than I am driving, but I will admit to using taxis at least twice many years apart to leave Lyon for dinner. The first time was years ago to eat in Paul Bocuse. I had not realized how far out of town it was and in retrospect I thought it very extravagant. About a year and a half ago, we also took a cab to dine at la Rotonde in La Tour de Salvagny. It's a long story, but we were meeting British friends for two meals just after New Year's. We chose Pierre Orsi and Leon de Lyon would have been our other pick, but they were closed on the days that fit our friend's schedule so we thought we'd try la Rotonde. We enjoyed dinner immensely and had an introduction to the chef who invited us into the kitchen. He was a fan of NYC where he ran the marathon a few years back. It was worth the trip, although I didn't enjoy the cab ride. I would have enjoyed driving even less.

There's a lot to be said for staying in an inn with great food for several days. We've rarely done that. We'll usually stay in a city for a few days and eat in different restaurants.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Interesting. Looking back on the '80s our holidays in France were usually based around stringing together fine places to dine and took in several regions. These days we prefer to plonk down in one place (a gite) and make a few big day trips to worthy restaurants. The frustration of all those local markets - see but not eat produce - goes away by being able to cook a simple evening meal.

Answering the original question, one of the reasons we are attracted to the Languedoc restaurant wise is that there is more diversity in cuisine styles. There's the meat and dairy dominated Auvergne just to the north, the Mediterranean coast, Provence to the east and Catalonia to the west. I suspect this is why Bux is so attracted to French Catalonia - the proximity of variety. 10 days is too long for many people to take in 2 and 3 star shrines. You need to fill in the mortar and in many areas, especially inland and away from big car unfriendly towns, that's tough because all you may be able to get is more of the same done (in theory) less well.

That said, then being based in or around Lyon puts a great deal within 2 hours. The best relatively rural micro-area must be Alsace.

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My attraction is actually for Spanish Catalonia. Admittedly some of this is due to the fact that Spain is exciting simply because I don't know it as well. On the other hand, I didn't enjoy Spain and Spanish food when I first encountered it in the mid sixties. Spanish food, at least in the north has changed and the sophisticated high end owes a considerable debt to French haute cuisine. I've changed too, my tastes are more sophisticated and it's taken a certain sophistication to appreciate the rustic cooking that is uninfluenced by France or haute cuisine. Many of the French olive oils are quite mild and I always favored the butter and cream of Normandy and Burgundy. More recently I've come to appreciate the more robust taste of goose fat and of olive oil that tastes of olives. I'm embarrassed to say that once I thought the flavorful oils were the cheap ones and that olive oil as a condiment added for flavor was a bizarre and greasy habit. Now I enjoy and sop up the oil as a sauce.

France has become more homogeneous and Spain offers some regional fare that makes travel a bit more interesting and it has the three star cuisine as well just south of the Pyrenees. What Spain lacks is the cheese. In the week we spent in a relatively small area southwest of Lyon, we found that almost every restaurant in the coutryside (Lyon was an exception) served local cheeses almost exclusively. The slight differences from locale to locale were interesting. It's also an area that makes cow, sheep and goat cheeses. In a way, the cheese alone provided us with the sense of terroir, so I am not writing off France by any means.

I understand your interest in a gite. For one thing it's a change as Spain is a change for me, but the kitchen is a big factor. I'd hate to be deprived of the restaurants of France and that includes many of the little ones that are not so special on the surface, but we've also been frustrated by the produce in the market. I often wonder if I wouldn't be more frustrated with the kitchen set up and tools in most rental places after I got home from the market. Of course there are so many prepared foods available that one needn't do much cooking to produce great meals by filling in and around the salad, cheese and pastries. The Languedoc provides that for us in the way of our friends' house near Pezenas. We usually cook a meal for them and get involved in shopping and stuff while we're there.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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The kitchens in some French gites and even some fancy rental villas are truly awful.  For some reason the Italian places we have rented have had better equipped kitchens.

I remember one gite in Britanny where I had to scrub the kitchen for several hours before it was safe to cook anything in it, and the pots that didn't leak were rusty.  For a long time I packed a good cooking knife on every trip we took.  

It is nice to see that many rental listings now have a more detailed description of the kitchen.  

I agree with Robert: the Côte d'Azur is a good place as the centre of a gastronomic holiday, not only because there are good local places (as mentioned in my post, Mougins alone has something like 50, many of them interesting) but because you are in easy striking distance to Italy, Monaco, "real" Provence...

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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