Some vacations are made for relaxation, and some are made for exploration. I just returned from a week-long trip to Paris, Aix en Provence, and the towns of the Luberon, and this trip was about both. Paris continues to be one of my favorite cities in the world, and provides endless beauty, incredibly culinary experiences, and an opportunity to explore by foot. It's hard for me to sit still when I am in Paris, there is just so much I want to do and see. The south of France provided the perfect counter to Paris with time for relaxation and a slower pace. It was a wonderful trip, and one I will always remember.
My friend Tammy and I had both been to Paris before (see my trip from 2012 here), but we were thrilled to have two full days to explore and soak up the city of lights. We started with lunch at one of my favorite spots, L'Avenue on Avenue Montaigne. It's chic, delicious, and has an outdoor terrace with a view of the Eiffel Tower. We enjoyed delicious fresh salads of crab meat and burrata, multiple glasses of rosé wine, and a beautiful strawberry napoleon for dessert. The crowd at L'Avenue couldn't be more beautiful, and the interior space is lined with purple velour couches. It's a stone's throw from the Champs Élysées and the Eiffel Tower, so I always recommend it for a great leisurely Parisian lunch. L'Avenue is located in the 8th arrondissement at 41 Avenue Montaigne.
Our first dinner was at David Toutain, located in the 7th arrondissement. There was a lot of buzz about this restaurant which opened back in December from young star chef David Toutain who had previously cooked at Agapé Substance. We had high hopes for this gastronomic experience which includes no menu, and allows the kitchen to bring out small dishes to enjoy as the evening progresses.
The staff was lovely, and they were also playful which we appreciated. The courses were interesting and small, many of which were to be eaten just with your hands with no utensils to be found on the table. Our favorite was the soft egg with creme caramel served with warm cornbread. It was decadent and creamy, and was one of the few substantial bites we had all evening. While I enjoyed the inventive food and atmosphere, I failed to have an amazing food moment, and I left a bit hungry. Overall, I would call the meal a fun but expensive experience. David Toutain is located in the 7th arrondissement at 29 Rue Surcouf.
Since I picked our lunch spot on the first day, Tammy got to pick it on the second day. We were heading to the Marais for some shopping, and she knew just the place. On a bustling street corner at Au Petit Fer a Cheval, we took a tiny table outside facing out so we could people watch. The restaurant name means "at the little horseshoe", which is reminiscent of the little bar inside at this establishment. It's small, quaint, and authentic, and we had an amazing lunch with many glasses of wine.
I had the vegetarian salad which was big enough for two. It had tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, radishes, lettuce, and best of all... lots of cheese! The highlight was the warm crispy toasts with goat cheese on top. I have also read great things about their crispy duck confit. Au Petit fer a Cheval is located in the 4th arrondissement at 30 Rue Vieille du Temple.
For our last night in Paris we decided to go for a super classic French meal. We went over to one of my favorite streets, Rue Saint Dominique for dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. The tables are lined with red and white checkered cloths, and the menu is filled with comfort dishes such as steak, duck confit, dover sole, and coq au vin. We started the meal with Champagne and creamy fresh goat cheese with herbs and toast. For my entree I enjoyed one of my favorite dishes of the trip: roast chicken breast with morels and morel cream. It was donned in a perfect sauce with huge morel mushrooms over a bed of rice. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and I found myself savoring every bite. In addition, we splurged on a side of the gratin dauphinois which was oozing with cheese. It was so rich, but we couldn't get enough of it.
We finished the meal with a decadent chocolate mousse, and we both were stuffed silly. Fontaine de Mars is very close to the Eiffel Tower, making it a great spot for lunch or dinner. If you're looking for a classic meal with French favorites, I highly recommend it. La Fontaine de Mars is located in the 7th arrondissement at 129 Rue Saint Dominique.
AIX EN PROVENCE
This was my first time visiting the south of France, and boy was it everything I had hoped for. I spent the majority of my time staying in Aix en Provence, and it is hard not to fall in love with the cobblestone streets, the beautiful markets, the fountains, and the lively people. I spent most days wandering the streets, eating croissants, sipping on wine, and just enjoying the pristine blue skies and the sun soaked city.
I stayed at a stunning hotel called Villa Gallici which was about a 10 minute walk from the city center. Villa Gallici is a classic Provençal estate with a breathtaking view of the French countryside. I enjoyed drinking rosé on the outdoor patio, relaxing at the pool, and dining at the gourmet restaurant. For those that are looking for an upscale and authentic French experience, I highly recommend the hotel.
To start the mornings in Aix, I loved stopping by Patisserie Weibel and grabbing an almond or chocolate croissant. The store itself is beautiful with lavender colored packaging and pastries that looked like pieces of art.
In addition to the patisserie, I stumbled across a small coffee shop called Coffee To Go. I know that taking coffee to go is not exactly French in spirit, but this small Australian shop had wonderful coffee drinks and I enjoyed picking up an iced latte to enjoy while walking around town. It also doesn't hurt that the owner/barista was quite adorable. Patisserie Weibel is located at 2 Rue Chabrier and Coffee To Go is located at 20 Rue Jacques de la Roque.
Two meals in Aix en Provence stood out: dinner at Le Bistroquet and lunch at La Fromagerie du Passage. Le Bistroquet was located in a charming little plaza with a few other restaurants. There was a great outdoor patio, and I really enjoyed the baked Camembert appetizer that emerged from the kitchen oozing and bubbling. I ate an entire wheel, and continued to dip the bread into the warm cheese until there was nothing left. The steak with frites was a nice choice, and the chocolate spring rolls with pistachio were a great dessert.
Perhaps the best meal of the trip was found just by wandering the streets of Aix with Tammy. We ducked into a small passageway and there we found a wine and cheese shop which had a restaurant on the top level called La Fromagerie du Passage. We each had phenomenal salads-- mine included orecchiette pasta, prosciutto, shaved Grana Padano, sundried tomatoes, and pesto. It was the perfect blend of ingredients, and it paired nicely with a glass of rosé from the Bandol region. If you are ever in Aix, I say this place is a must. Le Bistroquet is located at 27 Place Ramus and La Fromagerie du Passage is at 55 Cours Mirabeau, Passage Agard.
The Cours Mirabeau is the main drag in Aix, but I tried to stay away for meals as I was afraid the restaurants would be tourist traps. Famous spots along the street include Les Deux Garçons and Bastide du Cours. I actually ended up lunching outside at La Rotonde which is just off of the fountain, and it was surprisingly good. I enjoyed tuna tartare, burrata with grilled vegetables, and a chocolate lava cake. I also had a nice dinner at Bistrot des Philosophes, which was located in a big open air square with a lively atmosphere. Other highly regarded restaurants in Aix include Mitch and Pierre Reboul, which are both high end establishments that require reservations. Overall, the food in Paris is better than the food in Aix en Provence, but it's hard to beat the lovely small town charm.
THE VILLAGES OF THE LUBERON
I had the good fortune of spending the day with a friend of mine's aunt and uncle who live in Provence for half of the year. They picked me up in their convertible and spent the entire day driving me through the breathtaking perched villages of the Luberon. They knew all of the best spots, and were generous to ensure that I got the best views that the south of France has to offer. In one day we visited Lourmarin, Saignon, Bonnieux, Roussillon, and Isle Sur Sorgue. All of them were gogeous, but Roussillon was a favorite. I was wowed by the strikingly colorful red cliffs and buildings.
I'm thrilled I was able to have this wonderful experience exploring France. I can't wait until my next opportunity to travel, but I know I will be back soon. I just can't stay away. La vie est belle.