How to tour Provence if you are a foodie
Produce, healthy pride, the way to savor, the way to mix and match, the art of eating and drinking – everything flows together making food much more than just a time to eat. It cultural, artistic, pleasurable, and indulgent. The word « indulgent » in France takes a new meaning (at least it has for me). It means you partake in a harmony of senses that please more than just your palate.
For the foodie out there or even just the curious at heart, Provence is the ideal location for exploring flavors and culinary delights. It is the promise land, the Garden of Eden, that has supplied the locals for centuries, with unique treasures such as mushrooms, truffles, thyme, rosemary and wild fennel, asparagus and lavender.
To fully grasp all that Provence can offer the palate, I suggest giving yourself at least nine days. During the nine days you will have the time to go as far south as the Mediterranean, as far west as the Camargue, as far east as the Luberon and as far north as the Ventoux/Cotes-du-Rhone region. The experience of these four areas of Provence not only complete the true gourmet Provence experience but also allow the traveler to immerse into the different cultural and historical elements.
Region – Camargue
My tours start with what is known as the cowboy culture in Provence. White Camargue horses, bulls, flamingoes, rice fields, salt marshes are all situated where the Rhone River splits before flowing into the Mediterranean – the region known as Camargue.
Getting up close with the locals to know more about the land and agricultural practices, unique in the world, is important in a foodie tour. Learning appreciation from the growers brings connection to the product itself. From a sea shell found only in the marshes (la telline) to the raising of bull and the salt marshes lining the Mediterranean, Camargue becomes one of the world’s most intriguing agricultural centers.
Region – Mediterranean
A foodie trip to Provence would never fully be mastered unless one enjoyed Bouillabaisse – a sort of fish stew with a unique broth flavored with saffron . Many chefs and restaurants have the authentic recipe (« authentic » being sometimes variable to the story of the chef). I enjoy taking my guests to a small family run restaurant in in Cassis for this experience.
Region – The Luberon
Welcome to my hometown, Cavaillon, the melon capital of Provence (the world). The first melons were brought to Provence from Italy and then the culture flourished with the arrival of the PLM train line (Paris, Lyon, Mediterranean) in Cavaillon in the late 1800’s. To give you an idea of how luxurious this fruit was, Alexandre Dumas gave Cavaillon 300 of his works in exchange for 12 melons a year!
Cavaillon also got lucky in the 70’s when a young man, Jean-Jacques Prevot, decided to make Cavaillon his home and established a restaurant dedicated to the melon. Today he has a Michelin star and offers creative, fun and cultural cooking lessons (I say cultural as it’s not everyday that you get to experience cooking in a Michelin star restaurant).
The Luberon is also a prime area for truffle growing. No culinary trip to Provence would be complete without this educational and mouth-watering truffle hunting and tasting experience.
Perhaps you have heard of the Ventoux because you follow the Tour de France cycling race. The cyclers are lucky in that they have a cherry tree, apricot tree, olive tree and grape vine along every route. Need I say more? We will munch on fruit picked from the trees and explore the different olive oil mills to educate our taste buds on the different types of olive oil.
Wine too should be explored in this region – home of renowned names such as Cotes du Ventoux, Cotes du Rhone, Seguret, Vacqueras. The best way to explore the wines from Provence is by connecting with the growers and embracing their love story with the land – the flavors are enhanced and wine tasting takes on a new dimension.
You don’t have to be a « wine drinker » to appreciate wine tasting. It’s an exploratory experience with your senses that allows you to connect to yourself (what are you capable of tasting) and the world (connecting to the methods of human intelligence to produce and create).
Region Avignon– Well not really a region but a culinary delight on its own
The gourmet, high-end produce, indoor market in Avignon is the cherry on the cake (cerise sur le gateau). At the end of a foodie tour in Provence you will be able to synthesize all your culinary adventures at this market. I imagine that as we stroll the vendors and the produce you will be the one giving the culinary lesson to your neighboring tourist on your left who didn’t get in on our week of gourmet exploring in Provence.
Here’s a list of some of the culinary adventures that can be experienced in Provence:
- Chocolate making workshop
- Herb farm tour
- Artisan made crystallized fruit factory visit and tasting
- Camargue salt marshes and organic rice cultures
- Artisan goat cheese farms
- An array of cooking lesson opportunities from Michelin star restaurants to country farm homes
- Endless Provencal markets with all the local and artisan made specialities (nougat, honey, saucisson, macaroons, etc.)
- Truffle hunting and gourmet tastings
- Gourmet picnics in the countryside
- Fruit brandy distillery
- And obviously, wine tasting in every corner of Provence
When to do a gourmet foodie tour in Provence?
June for the still lush countryside and cherries, peaches, apricots, strawberries and melons at the markets (also fewer tourists and less hot than July and August)
September to have all you have in June but also add a grape stomp and grape harvest adventure.
Summer truffles from May until September
Winter truffles from November to March
Mushroom hunting in October and November