France / Wine

Great Eating in France outside Paris

Great Eating in France

France is a very large country. It is not a good idea to randomly choose to drive around this diverse country. Rather it is better to choose some places where you definitely want to visit for the food and wine experiences and then decide whether you want to drive the entire time or hire cars locally and use the excellent train network to do the “heavy lifting” of getting you from one side of the country to the other.

We haven’t included any restaurants or bars in Paris because you can find them in our summary of dining and drinking in Paris.

A word of warning here. If you do decide to drive the entire time, you could end up covering a lot of kilometres and spending a lot of money on tolls and fuel. We often, on our many trips in France to visit our wine producers, cover between 5000 and 10000 kilometres on both the extensive freeway network and on narrow, twisting back roads!

And another word of warning and a vital tip if you want to travel around France whether it be by train or car or both. Work out what your “must-visit” venues are – the restaurants that you just have to try or the bars and wine shops that you think are high priority for you to drop into.

Many of the most popular restaurants you will need to book rather than just turning up. And there is another reason why booking is a very good idea. Many of the restaurants are not open every night or every lunch hour so booking ensures that you have planned to be in the area when they are open.

Sunday and Monday are days when many restaurants in France are closed so you need to find places that are open on these days and arrange your trip accordingly. However there are some restaurants that might close on Wednesday or Thursday for local reasons (some schools in regional areas close on Wednesday, for example), so you need to check every place you want to visit and plan accordingly.

We will first mention four cities that are essential for a visit when you are in France – with each having a unique offering that makes the visit worthwhile. We have not included any information about opening hours/days as these are best checked on the venue’s Web site closer to the time of visiting as they can change without warning.

Marseille

We love Marseille! It is a gritty, rambunctious city with unpredictable traffic and unpredictable experiences, but if you stick close to the “edges” of the city near the port and the sea you will find plenty to enthrall you.

We love the work that has been done by an enterprising trio in setting up a range of eating experiences in the centre of the city. The trio involved are chef Harry Cummins, sommelier Laura Vidal and manager Julia Mitton (who is responsible for their Arles restaurant).

Every time we visit Marseille, lunch at La Mercerie is a compulsory first stop for us. The food here is always first class and the wine selection satisfying. On our most recent visit we also loved our meal at the gritty Livingston where Valentin Raffali, who was previously Harry’s assistant at La Mercerie, is turning out stunning dishes to accompany the selection of macerated “orange” wines that they have assembled.

Another food experience not to be missed in this southern city is L’Idéal which falls into the category of an epicerie where you can select from a large range of high quality food items to make up a meal to have in your accommodation if you want to stay in. They also serve light meals and coffee at this site and they have a full scale restaurant directly over the narrow street outside.

Another group that is well worth a try is Les Trois Coups. They have both a restaurant and a wine store in different locations. We enjoyed the food at their restaurant which, at the time, comprised their wine store as well. We came across it as we were trying to track down the wines of a producer from the Roussillon which we had heard good things about, but hadn’t had a chance to try them. The first time we entered this restaurant we saw a bottle on the shelf, which they were reluctant to sell, but we persisted. And this is how we first tried Mataburro wines which we now import to Australia.

And speaking of coffee in France. In a country where coffee experiences are only just starting to improve, you can get an excellent coffee at the conveniently located Deep just near the Vieux Port.

Nice

And while you are in Provence, a visit to Nice is compulsory because there are many dining and drinking treasures here. For many, many years we have been dropping into Nice to dine at one of the smallest restaurants in France, namely La Merenda. The food here is authentic local cuisine prepared by a former Michelin-starred chef from the Negresco Hotel, Dominique Le Stanc.

Until recently you could only book by turning up, as there is no phone, but we notice that they now accept bookings via Instagram! See our longer story here for more about this treasure and how the food conforms to the stringent requirements laid down by the former disgraced mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin, in his famous book entitled Cuisine Niçoise. Although the wine list is not exciting, on our last visit they did have a natural local wine from a small appellation that is right in the suburbs of Nice, called AOC Bellet where red wines are mainly made from Braquet and Folle Noire and white wines are primarily made using Rolle grapes (also called Vermentino).

There is also a higher end, Michelin starred restaurant that we really love in Nice. Pure & V is under the watchful eye of owner Vanessa Massé. Both of the meals we have had here have been exceptional and the wine matches were perfect. We are looking forward to returning this year (2024).

Another compulsory stop for us in Nice is the lovely Le Canon run by Sébastien Perinetti along with his very talented chef Elmahdi Mobarik. Together they source amazingly good produce from local suppliers whether it be vegetables or incredibly fresh fish, and match their dishes to the selection of France’s best natural wines.

There is also a long-running bar and wine shop here called La Part des Anges where there is an incredibly deep selection of wines and spirits. It is one of the few places in France where you might be able to score a bottle of Selosse Champagne, for example.

There is also a very good place to gorge on ice creams and sorbets called Néron Glacier which we have been enjoying on our visits to Nice. The glacier products are of the highest quality and the pastries are very good as well.

For bread and pastries then you can do no better than Mama Baker, which is also a very good place to enjoy a pastry and a cup of their delicious coffee.

Lyon

Lyon is a large, sprawling city with many dining treasures. One place that we haven’t visited yet in its new incarnation is Micro Sillon.

Micro Sillon Outside View

We thoroughly enjoyed our visits to the owners former restaurant Café Sillon. They then moved to the west coast in a town below Bordeaux before returning to the more central location in Lyon. The new venture is both a restaurant and an Epicerie.

A good place to buy wine to take away or to order by the glass is in Place Bertone and called Ô Vins d’Anges. We have been enjoying this place for many years due to the interesting selection of wines and the engaging owner who is very knowledgable.

Beaune

We have been enjoying seeing the transformation of this previously staid town on our many visits over the past twenty years. For the first ten or fifteen years the restaurants and bars were serving very “safe” food to match the clientele who came to Burgundy for “safe” wine experiences. More recently, however, we have seen the emergence of more modern dining experiences, bars where you can enjoy natural wines, an organic epicerie where they sell very good vegetables and even a very exciting coffee roaster who sources the best beans directly from Ethiopia.

A visit to Beaune should start with dining at Caves Madeleine. The food here is very, very good and the wine selection is amazing. It is one of those rare restaurants where every dish we have ordered over the years has been perfect.

There is also a great wine experience to be had at La Dilettante where you will also find an amazing selection of natural wines, including some rare examples from the Jura. Look for the wooden barrel outside which holds a carving of the owner by talented Japanese artist Ryota Yamashita (see below).

Out of town, but well-worth the short drive, is the organic farm restaurant called La Ferme de La Ruchotte. There is both serious produce and serious cooking here. The owner used to be a chef at a three star restaurant in Paris. The often have guinea fowl for lunch.

There is another out-of-town experience that is a compulsory visit for us. It is a great place to dine and it is also emblematic of much that can be said about the natural wine movement. The town to visit is Savigny-les-Beaune which is very close to Beaune – just a few kilometres away. The venue is a restaurant called Le Soleil.

The restaurant and accommodation here is owned by Lola Taboury-Bize who also acts as sommelier for the restaurant. The chefs have cooked in a number of our favourite restaurants in France. Our recent meal was a triumph of vegetable-centric dishes of perfect precision in the execution of each component and the depth of flavour that they were able to coax out of each vegetable.

And while you are in the area all coffee lovers should take the short drive to the tiny village of Saint Romain where you will find one of the most interesting coffee venues in France (called Saint Romain Coffee). It is both a serious coffee roaster and a place where you can go for a perfectly made filter coffee (check their Web site for opening times – they only open on a couple of days each week). The coffee is made from organic Ethiopian beans selected by the proprietor Matt McClune.

Another “must-visit” venue is La Cantine which is just outside the city centre in rue Colbert. It is a great place for a delicious breakfast, a light lunch or for a very good coffee (the beans are supplied by Café Clandestin in Poligny).

And if you find you want to cook for yourself there is a good venue in Central Beaune called Epicerie Paysanne where you can buy good organic produce.

A random selection of favourite places

Outside the cities mentioned above we have some favourite places in France that we are constantly drawn back to on every visit.

Perhaps the place we visit most regularly when we are in France, sometimes two or three times in one trip, is the Auberge de Chassignolles, hidden away in the hills south of Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne. The food and wine experience here is wonderful and just so relaxing. We have a routine on arrival here. Before we take our bags to our rooms we order a bottle of local winemaker Patrick Bouju’s delicious pale pink Festejar Pet Nat and sit on the balcony in front of the dining room and relax while the bottle slowly disappears!

Another must-visit eating experience at lunch time is a small bar cum restaurant in the Jura town of Arbois. The food here is simple yet delicious. You serve yourself for the first course where you select some vegetables and a slice of terrine as an entree. You are then served a main course and a dessert of the day with no choice. It never matters that there are no choices as everything is simple and very tasty.

This venue, called Bistrot des Claquets, also has the advantage of having a great selection of local Jura wines and that most of the people having lunch here will be local winemakers who pack the place out by a few minutes after 12 noon, so make sure you book a table if you want to eat here.

Another favourite is eating under the trees in Tavel at La Courtille. The food here has good provenance as the chef has previously worked at one of the longest running natural wine restaurants in Paris, namely Le Baratin in the 10th. Every time we go here we walk away with a feeling of satisfaction.

Tucked away in the hillside town of Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt is the delightful hotel called Le Saint Hubert. Here they serve great lunches on the open balcony overlooking the hills of the Luberon. The food is expertly prepared and the wine selection is interesting with a good range for those of us who prefer natural wines. We make a point of returning here on every visit to France.

Another perennial favourite is the on-point cooking at Le Saint Eutrope in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand and the associated bar next door called La Quillosque. This restaurant has been run by widely admired chef, Harry Lester for a long time and we never tire of his perfectly-cooked food which is accompanied by one of the best selections of Auvergne wines you are likely to find. Recently, Harry sold the business to Michael Hazlewood and Manon Descombats who we have no doubt will continue the high standards established here.

We often visit Normandy on our visits to France as we have a cider producer who makes delicious natural apple and pear ciders using the same techniques as his family has been using for hundreds of years. This now means that on the way we get a chance to visit the restaurant called Oiseau Oiseau which has been established in the small village of Préaux-du-Perche which is part of the commune of Perche-en-Nocé in the Orne départment.

We go here because it is run by the famous former owner of Saturne in Paris, Sven Chartier who has moved to this remote location. He only opens three days a week (Thursday to Saturday) but it is well worth a visit to enjoy what he does with the very best local produce and, of course, a clever selection of natural wines.

The city of Tours sits right in the centre of one of the most exciting wine regions in France – the Vouvray appellation sits right in the middle of the suburbs of this town. There are a number of excellent restaurants and bars here including Chez Gaster which serves delicious food and a very considered selection of natural wines.

Also near Tours but further east and in the countryside at Valaire, is a small venue called L’Herbe Rouge which offers both meals and accommodation. On our most recent visit, the venue had changed hands however it was still serving good food and an interesting selection of natural wine.

If we keep heading towards the west we arrive at Saint Malo where there are some excellent dining and drinking opportunities thanks to Bertrand Larcher who opened a Breizh Café in Japan and then others in France including Paris and Saint Malo. Here you can choose from a list of excellent ciders and the galettes that are made using buckwheat flour which gives them a beautiful “nutty” flavour.

Bertrand has also brought some of his Japanese aesthetic to Brittany with the restaurant Otonali also near Breizh Café (a short 7 minute walk) offering delightful Japanese-inspired food and natural wines.

The Loire Valley offers some great dining and drinking experiences with Angers being a particularly fertile area for interesting experiences. One place you simply must visit for the “vibe” is Le Cercle Rouge in the very centre of the city. It is a great place to drop into for a snack and a glass of wine from their excellent selection of “naturals”. No doubt we will call in here even more often now that Joseph Mosse is one of the new owners!

Hidden away in the forest near Rémalard is a restaurant with associated accommodation, called d’Une Ile which is run by the Septime crew. This is a relaxed venue which takes pride in the local produce it sources for meals here. We enjoyed our time here it was quite relaxing and the dinner and breakfast were both moost enjoyable.

Another place that we always visit for traditional local food and an amazing selection of wines is Au Pont du Corbeau in Strasbourg, Alsace. There is nothing more pleasant than perusing the deep wine list here and then ordering a natural, local wine, sitting at one of the outside tables and enjoying the wine with a dish of the local specialty which they do very well here, namely choucroute.

Other places we enjoy include Vigne en Foule which is in the very centre of the old wine town of Gaillac. The chef here is very talented and the wine selection includes many natural wines from local suppliers including Causse Marines.

Another place which is slightly off the beaten track, but is well-worth a visit is Kamarouska in the lakeside town of Annecy in the Savoie. We have only eaten here once but thoroughly enjoyed it. They have a good selection of natural wines available.

We often drive to or from the Champagne region via Nancy especially if we are coming from or to Alsace. This gives us the opportunity to try the down-home food at l’Echanson in Nancy which is well-worth a visit. You can also visit their bottle shop which is immediately opposite to peruse their very interesting selection from the nearby area and further afield.

The city of Carpentras has a long and illustrious history and the centre is well-worth exploring. While you do so Chez Serge is a very good place to visit, especially for lunch. The wine selection is also extensive. The terrines we have tried have always been very good.

Le Coquillage is Jane and Olivier Roellinger’s restaurant at Maison de Bricourt overlooking the Bay of Biscay in the pleasant seaside town of Cancale. The food here is excellent and there is no better place to try the oysters which have been freshly plucked from the nearby ocean.

L’Herbe Rouge is a restaurant and wine bar in the Touraine region of France in the small, remote village of Valaire, serving good, honest country food and lovely natural wines from the surrounding regions of the Loire. We often stay here when we are visiting our wine producers in that area and always enjoy the fresh, interesting food here.

Another place we have a soft spot for is Les Becs à Vin in the Loire town of Orleans. This is a bar cum restaurant that serves interesting food and great wines. We once “crashed” a celebration there and thoroughly enjoyed a parmentier that had been made by the chefs especially for the occasion. However, on each visit we have thoughly enjoyed both the food and the wines. 8 Pl. du Châtelet, Orléans, 45000.

In Tours in the Loire Valley we end up at Nobuki, because we just love the Japanese-inspired food here. We once were served a chawanmushi which was one of the best we have ever tried! They also have a good selection of natural wines including a red Domaine de la Chevalerie from the nearby Bourgueil appellation and a Vouvray from Domaine Huet.

In the Loire Valley there are many good places to eat and now we can add another after our most recent trip, namely Jour de Fête in the small village of Valennes. It grows organic vegetables and fruits for use in the restaurant and sells natural wines as an added bonus.

Another regular stop near Tours is Bar a Vins de Lise and Bertrand Jousset which is run by the eponymous winemakers. They make excellent natural wines and also run this lively bar which also provides interesting snacks. It is a place that attracts local winemakers.

And we also should add one of our favourite dishes that we seek out on every trip. We love tielles which are a pastry filled with an octopus “stew”. It is totally delicious and our favourite place to buy them is Paradiso which faces the main canal. You can then sit on the canal’s edge and enjoy your tielle.

We have often called into the city of Troyes after a visit to our Champagne producers Champagne Piollot and Marie Courtin. Here there is an excellent bar and associated bottle shop called Aux Crieurs de Vin which has an excellent selection of wine and very tasty food.

Driving south from the Savoie we pass the stunning mountains which seems to leap vertically skywards to create a visually exciting backdrop as we head towards Grenoble. There are two natural wine places that we like here. There is a restaurant/bar called Le Zinc which serves classic food and provides a good selection of natural wines. They also maintain a small bottleshop next door called La Balade des Terroirs.

Coffee

There is a lot of bad coffee once you get out of Paris especially in country France, although the situation has improved over the past ten years. Some of the places outside Paris where you can get a good filter or espresso made with beans that are derived from the Arabica variety are:

  • Cafe Leo, Perpignan
  • Café Cardinal, Angers
  • La Boîte à Café, Lyon
  • Saint Romain Coffee, Saint Romain
  • Deep, Marseille
  • La Cantine, Beaune
  • Café Clandestin, Poligny

Places to buy natural wine

There are many places where you can buy natural wine in France that are listed on this Web site. This section mentions some other places that are just bottle shops but not bars where you can drink the wine as well.

One that we were impressed with on our recent trip to France was a small natural wine retailer in the city of Tours called La Cave du Théâtre. As an example of wine that they stock, we were able to buy a bottle of pet nat from Vivien Pelletier who also makes a very nice red wine from local favourite Pineau d’Aunis. 71 Rue de la Scellerie, Tours.

We have already mentioned Bistrot des Claquets as a great place for lunch in Arbois. It is also a good place to seek out local Jura wines to take away. You can select from the wall display at the end of the bar.

And there is another place in Arbois which is well worth a visit, although you will need to check the opening times as they vary somewhat. It is Les Jardins de St Vincent run by Stéphane Planche who previously has been a sommelier at La Tour d’Argent in Paris and Maison Jeunet in Arbois. There is always an interesting collection of wines here both from the local Jura region and rare wines from elsewhere. 49 Grande Rue, Arbois.

Another excellent place to visit in this region is Essencia in Poligny. They have an outstanding collection of cheese and a wonderful cellar packed with wines from the local region. It is one of our favourite shops in France. 24 Place Notre Dame, Poligny.

As we mention above, in Grenoble there is a small, but interesting, natural wine store and bar called Le Vin des Alpes which has an interesting selection of natural wines.

Cave Saint Aubin shows that you have to be ever vigilant when tracking down natural wines. We have visited Angers many times and have enjoyed the city because it is surrounded by producers of natural wine such as the Carrogets from Domaine de la Paonnerie, Rene and Agnes Mosse, Nicolas Joly and many more.

However it took us many visits to find Cave Saint Aubin, a tiny cave on rue Saint Aubin.
We were amazed when we walked in and were presented with an array of natural wine luminaries such as Fanny Sabre, Casot des Mailloles, La Ferme des Caudalies, Alexander Bain, Bruno Rochard and Domaine Marechal among many others.
The owner is very helpful and eager to explain as much as you want to know about each producer. 25 rue Saint Aubin, Angers.

Aux Crieurs du Vin in the city of Troyes is one of France’s most loved natural wine bars. Bookings are essential here. At night there’s a substantial menu with a choice of four or so entrées, mains and desserts and, of course, excellent cheeses.

This is also one of the best places to order andouillette. They’re made by the renowned local butcher Daniel Thierry whose andouillettes appear in many of the places we like to eat in France.  Wines that we have tried here include the wonderful Cuvee Juliette from Jean-Pierre Robinot and a bottle of the Domaine le Briseau Patapon Coteaux du Loir – a wonderful slightly sweet white wine of considerable funkiness and deliciousness. 4 Pl. Jean Jaurès, Troyes, 10000.

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