Vines and Voyages 5 Fav Restaurants in France

Le Vivier is nothing short of amazing and considering it is a Michelin restaurant, very affordable. The food is updated Provencal. I had a green tomato gazpacho that was out of this world

Often when travelling, deciding where to eat can be a challenge. Maybe you have done your research, read the reviews, and made your plan. There is a lot of value to this approach. You are less likely to be disappointing and it can save time but… you can miss out on lesser known amazing restaurants, you can be disappointed and maybe once you are actually travelling you feel like trying something different. Or maybe you take the other approach and decide to ask locals once you are there or simply scout around looking for a restaurant that looks good. Whatever the approach, they all have benefits and drawbacks.

Eating in restaurants and trying different foods is one of my favorite reasons to travel. In France especially, the food is usually fresh, seasonal and regional. Asking for recommendations is key and staying away from restaurants in tourist areas (i.e. Eiffel tour) is key. I have put together a list of my top 5 favorites.

5. Cafe L’absinthe Paris France. Located in the northern part of the Marais, Cafe L’absinthe is a very local bistrot. The service is especially friendly, the atmosphere cozy and the wine delicious and inexpensive. The food is solid. I had the charcuterie and @benton8tor the lamb. Also try the absinthe!

4. Brassiere le Carnot in Beaune, France has the classic French feel. dark wood, french lighting and wine served in beautiful porcelain jugs. thumbnail_IMG_0704Beaune in the heart of Burgundy is the center of Burgundy’s famous wine and the epicenter for Burgundy’s legendary gastronomy. Burgundy is famous for bœuf bourguignon, Coq au Vin, and more. Le Carnot features local ingredients. In the summer the gazpacho is amazing along with the jambon. Beef tartare is a don’t miss.

3. Still in Beaune La Grilladine offers amazing set menus featuring Burgundy classics. Both the restaurant and the patio offer a lovely atmosphere.Europe June 2010 393 The bœuf bourguignon is delicious as is the parsilined ham.. @Benton8tor swears by the perfectly cooked Charolais beef and scallops. My dad loved the escargot and my mom had the underrated chicken in mustard dish ( You are close to Dijon so…). The wine is incredible ( you are in Burgundy after all) but ask the servers for recommendations to pair to get the best wine experience. My dad and I had wines from the famed cote de nuit which we loved. Desert for me was pears poached in the the burgundy wine. Definitely check it out.

2. Olivier Leflaive. Well we are still in Burgundy. It is a culinary hot spot so it makes sense. If you are violivier-2siting Burgundy make sure to check out Olivier Leflaive. located in the famed Puligny-Montrachet village and appellation, Olivier Leflaive is vineyard, hotel and restaurant and is not to be missed. The 5 courses were paired perfectly with some of the best wines.2014 We started with the lightest gougeres and moved on to a ham terrine with mustard sauce.We also enjoyed a amazing carrot souffle, chicken and desert. We upgraded to the 7 tasting with our meal which included a a few grand and premier crus. Looking for a wonderful French experience, try Olivier Leflaive.

  1. Leaving Burgundy fr Provence, My favourite French restaurant to date is Restaurant le Vivier in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is amazing. @benton8tor had researched Michelin starred restaurants and we decided to give it a try. Away from the main drag in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue le Vivier is nothing short of amazing and considering it is a Michelin restaurant, very affordable. The food is updated Provencal. I had a green tomato gazpacho that was out of this world, followed by a bacon, mozza and tomato soup. My pork course was amazing and my peach and chocolate desert with raspberry sauce was incredible. @benton8tor nicknamed it the space odyssey dessert as when you poured the raspberry sauce on the chocolate sphere, it opened to reveal a peach based dessert inside. The wine was Provencal, light and easy drinking. @benton8tor opted for a rose and pigeon pie. His dessert featured violets from the neighboring Langedoc. the patio overlooks the river and the service is perfect. You won’t be disappointed.

There are many other amazing restaurants in France, I didn’t get to mention but asking locals, restaurants featuring regional specialties, or just going to the market yourself, you are sure to enjoy France and its its world famous food.

Les Beaux Villages last one finalement!!!!

But for a true stunner of a village, you can’t beat Gordes. Gordes, also in the Luberon is literally set into a hillside.

By now, it is clear, I love visiting villages in Provence. Of all that I have visited, I chose my top 4 to highlight. So far I have covered Chataeuneuf-du-Pape (the must for wine lovers, Lourmarin ( A must of lovers of tranquility), and Cadenet ( A must for an authentic French village experience). They all are unique yet quintessentially Provencal. There are most likely no wrong villages to visit, It is Provence after all. I would recommend as well Sault, Orange, L’Ilse Sur La Sourge, St Remy de Provence, Lancon de Provence, Bandol, and Cadiere d’Azur. Though I haven’t been there yet, I hear amazing things about Lacoste, Roussillon, Apt, and Casiss. But for a true stunner of a village, you can’t beat Gordes.

Gordes, also in the Luberon is literally set into a hillside. If you didn’t have defined calf muscles before, a visit to Gordes will ensure you leave with them. To say it is hilly is an understatement. Parking is frightening at best and yes it is probably best to spare your ankles and wear flat shoes. But it is so worth it. Back in 2012, we arrived in Avignon and picked up our rented car. We piled in, ready to set off to Gordes. @benton8tor and I excited to see where some of the scenes from a Good Year were filmed ( the movies starring Russell Crowe is OK but scenery is stunning). My parents on this trip with us in 2012, were in the back. As we drove down the beautiful Provencal roads, more often than not surrounded by plane trees, I was super relaxed. “There is something wrong with the car”@benton8tor surmises. ” No there isn’t” I reply rather huffily. After all, I has markets to visit and wine to drink. “Do you hear that?” from Ben now certain a breakdown is imminent.I roll my eyes, my dad rolls his eyes and my mother pipes up “Yes Yes I hear it too! ” We stop they roll down to the window to discover the sound? La cigale or cicada one of the loudest insects in Provence. We still haven’t let them live it down.

We pulled into our B and B, La Burliere. Normally, I prefer hotels but this place was spectacular. Othumbnail_IMG_6415ur hosts were gracious, warm, and helpful. The property beautiful. Our room had a private balcony and my parent a private terrace. Each room was uniquely Provencal decorated with colours and artists of Provence. Breakfast every morning was delicious with homemade pastries, jams and juices. Seriously stay with them.

But onto Gordes for lunch. The approach to Gordes is nothing short of spectacular. There’s a perfect spot to pull over for pictures but if you are afraid of heights, well it is probably best to keep going

Gordes can be difficult to maneuver but it is full of shops and restaurants well worth the visit.Lavender is very easy to come by as is anything lavender scented.Gordes is a tourist attraction and caters to clientele with money so it can be expensive and busy. But worth it. Out lunch spot looked at first like a typical tourist store. Which it was selling local products. My mom wanted to go in to buy soap (which she did, several times) and we realized they had a patio out back.A patio that overlooked the Luberon valley with spectacular view. So we of course took a seat.I had a beautiful tomato salad. My mother had a ham and melon salad. Which became the bane of my existence as she swore it was so good that that is all she wanted to eat for the rest of the trip.Possibly forever. It has been 5 years, she still talks about it.

Gordes however does have many other restaurants and all that we tried were good. It can get busy and if looking for a quick snack it may be easier to try nearby L’Isle Sur La Sorgue. (also the McDonalds drive through gives beer, we didn’t eat there, just got beer) but for poking around and pure beauty, you can’t beat Gordes, so why not join, ’em?

lavender fields from Gordes


Les Beaux Village Encore of Course

Cadenet is one of those villages often overshadowed by its more famous and well known neighbours. For that very reason, Cadenet shouldn’t be ignored.

Still on the beautiful Village theme from Provence, we have Cadenet. 10 minutes south of Lourmarin, Cadenet is one of those villages often overshadowed by its more famous and well known neighbours. For that very reason, Cadenet shouldn’t be ignored.

A village of roughly 4,000, Cadenet is known for its lake, chateau and basket weaving. Of all the villages I have visited in Provence is is by far the least touristy. In fact on the day we visited (en route to Lourmarin) we only stopped in because we heard it was market day. Unlike many of the other markets, we actually had room to movethumbnail_IMG_6383. It was a fairly big market with all the usual draws, fresh olives, lavender, local cheese, amazing bread and pastry and in season produce. It also had the usual household goods and clothing and mostly importantly  for @benton8tor, Laguiole products. We had heard about Laguiole products courtesy of Peter Mayle books of course and now here were were. We must have walked up and down the market 7 or 8 times, stopping at the stall each time before Ben finally made his choice. When I asked him back in Canada about his favourite thing he bought, it was his Laguoile bottle opener and knife.

That isnt the only reason to visit Cadenet of course,20160905_114558 It is hilly but easily walkable, mainly locals and beautiful patios to enjoy a refreshment. We chose the bar du cours and the service was lovely and perfect for people watching. Cadenet is small but beautiful with excellent local products and a distinctly tourist free vibe.. Cadenet is well worth the time and effort so take time to check it out.


Les Beaux Villages Encore

So I figured if Peter Mayle lived there, then Lourmarin must be the THE place for the best, most fresh, most authentic food, the best wine, the most interesting people, the most authentic village, and the most beautiful.

In my last blog, I highlighted my favourite and the most beautiful villages of Provence, France, in particular Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Keeping with the theme, today I am going to highlight the beauty of Lourmarin. Lourmarin is also located in the Vaucluse department of Provence about 40 minutes north of Aix en

Chateau de Lourmarin

Provence. If I am completely honest, my desire to visit Lourmain was not based off some great local knowledge or heavy research into beautiful French villages. It was simply that the author Peter Mayle lives nearby. For anyone who has ever read a Peter Mayle book, it is almost a guarantee that you too will fall in love with Provence from the words on the page. So I figured if Peter Mayle lived there, then Lourmarin must be the THE place for the best, most fresh, most authentic food, the best wine, the most interesting people, the most authentic village, and the most beautiful. I also somehow hoped I would meet Peter Mayle an we would quickly become best of friends, united in our adoration of France. Shockingly that didn’t happen. I know, i was surprised too.

But we did visit Lourmarin and it absolutely was worth it. Lourmarin is a quintessential French village. After parking the c20160905_124219ar (with fairly ample parking for a village) we strolled towards the village centre. @Benton8tor who finds my Peter Mayle fascination the tiniest bit obsessive was gobsmacked. ‘This place is beautiful’. Lourmarin is beautiful, postcard beautiful and it has the unique ability to be busy but somehow feel both languid and chill at the same time. The perfect place both introverts and extroverts. We spent a bit of time poking around the various shops. Lourmarin has beautiful shops with unique items but runs to the more expensive side. Though small, it has plenty of options for shopping. We walked up to the Chateau de Lourmarin. It was well worth it. The Chateau is often home to concert series and Lourmarin hosts it own summer music  festival. There is a local products souvenir shop on site an of course a wine store with degustation! IMG_4904We walked back to the centre for lunch. Our first choice looked great and was full but weren’t super eager to give us a table. Our second choice turned out to be delicious. It was just a croque monsieur (a more decadent grilled cheese) and fries but it was good. The bread was amazing. Ben seemed to be especially interested in the mayonnaise they provided that was made with Dijon mustard. However when it comes to fries, I am am old school North American all the way. Ketchup for me! and to their credit, they had it and served it to me.

One of the more strange things about Lourmarin seemed to be that they had 3 or 4 random (not stray ) dogs that would just roam the streets. I loved it! Nary a pigeon in site that way. Lourmarin is known as one of the most beautiful French villages for a reason. It is in the foothills of the Luberon, so the countryside is gorgeous, local wine delicious and very friendly.Even if you don’t meet Peter Mayle, it is well worth it.

La Belle Provence

Our first foray in Salon de Provence happened to be during the Renaissance festival in late June. Local vendors sell soaps, treats, and amazing food ( the lavender cookies are out of this world),

Provence, Provence Provence. My love affair with France can be traced to one region…Provence. If you haven’t visited the region yet, you won’t be disappointed. Known for its spectacular colours, lavender, food, wine, and beautiful weather, Provence is a sensory dream. Back in 2010, we knew we wanted to visit Provence but weren’t sure where. We batted around the idea of the more well known cities (Avignon, Marseilles) discussed St Remy de Provence and Aix En Provence, the favourites of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin respectively, but after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, we settled on Salon De Provence

Salon De Provence located in the Bouches Du Rhone department of Provence is a perfect introduction to. Salon a city of roughly 43,000 people  is often overlooked compared to the more well known villages of Provence ( all stunning and worth visiting n their own right) but Salon is a perfect jumping off point to discover Provence. Salon is famous for being a favorite of Catherine De Medici, Burial place of Nostradamus, and its beautiful Fountaine Mousse a limestone concretions that has had vegetation develop giving it the look of a mushroom shaped tree that is continually producing moisture.

Fountainne Mousse

We lucked out, staying at the family run Hotel Du Midi just a few short steps from City Centre , was perfect, A beautiful courtyard, very Provencal rooms and fresh made croissants with fresh juice every morning. And the warmest welcome and coldest coke I have ever had in Europe! It as heavenly to go back to this lovely hotel at the end of the day and enjoy some wine we had bought that day and relax in the beautiful courtyard before going to bed.

Our first foray in Salon de Provence happened to be during the Renaissance festival in late June. Local vendors sell soaps, treats, and amazing food ( the lavender cookies are out of this world),

Lavender bread

Also blacksmith demonstrations and other Renaissance activities..A must do. This time we happened to be travelling with my parents. Ben, my dad, and I were relaxing at one of the many patios overlooking the festival while my mom went to buy literally everything she could fit into her suitcase (she did eventually have to buy a second one). She came back arms laden with all the new and lovely Provencal products she just bought. She then proceeded to show us each one and who she she may have planned on giving it to. She was especially proud of this beautiful smelling soap. We noted that were were surprised that she bought so much so soap made from donkeys. (Note: donkey products especially soap are quite a luxury item but my mom didn’t know that yet) ‘Donkey soap!! How do you know that?” she yelled all affronted. We pointed over to the booth with the giant picture of a donkey and the signage indicating it was indeed donkey soap. ‘Well’ she scoffs ” i guess that will be for (insert random relative name here).’ Joke was on her though as she probably gave them the more exclusive and luxurious of the products. And no we haven’t let her live it down.

Salon De Provence was also my first foray into Provencal wine. We visited local wineries in the Bouches du Rhone region an tasted some amazeurope-june-2010-257ing red, light as air Roses, an simply Delicious olive oils. We also bought some wonderful Provencal pottery. Provencal wines, especially reds from anywhere other than Bandol are often underappreciated. The wines are really delicious, easy to drink and because they are often undervalued, very very inexpensive. Visiting local wineries, you will often find free degustation (tasting) self guided tours and often olive oils for sale as well.

Salon also offers the Château de l’Empéri a beautiful castle where Catherine de Medici consulted Noseurope-2010-michelle-salontradamus and you can view the herb gardens he started. The views from the castle are stunning and gives an incredible glimpse into the history of Salon de Provence. It should be noted that Adam De Craponne, A french engineer responsible for bring water and canals to Salon is in directly responsible for the herb gardens. And the herbs in Provence are especially fragrant and delicious.

Finally the food in Salon De Provence is amazing. Strong Mediterranean influences with stellar local ingredients. We both had a tomato based pasta with smoked runny goats cheese, hake cooked en papillote, olives, tomatoes and prawns cooked in a giant wok like contraption. Also lavender bread, local cookies and sausage. As well the best gelato to date. It is a gastronomic dream.europe-june-2010-227


Salon is a beautiful city, with lots to offer. Don’t miss out.


All Roads lead to wine…or they should

I have had some of my best experiences this way armed mostly with a GPS, wine map, and sometimes just on a road following signs that hopefully lead to an amazing winery.

One of greatest benefits to travel is wine. At least for me it is and if you are lucky enough to be traveling to a wine producing region, well then the sky may literally be the limit. I have already written about wine tours but what do you do if an organized tour just isn’t your thing but you love wine? Luckily there are options!

My experience with wine tasting directly at the vineyards/wineries so far has been either in France and Canada. Both these countries has multiple wine producing regions with very very different wine characteristics. So pick an area you may be interested in or even better, just pick and area and try something new. In this post I will focus on France but Canada has some really interesting wine regions that I will save for later.

France is a wine tasters idea of heaven, so many regions, so many wineries, where should you possibly start? I don’t have an answer other than just dive in. The very first time we tried wine at wineries was a complete and utter accident but has set me on a path for my very favourite travel activity to date. Now when ever I travel I make sure I have sometime just to explore local wineries.

Back in 2010, I had no idea. @benton8tor an I were in Provence exploring local villages and we stopped at a wine store in Lancon de Provence,. It was the Cave Des Coteaux De Lancon. I couldn’t believe my luck, all this wine and at prices that are actually cheaper than water. Could a bottle of wine actually be 3 euros?europe-june-2010-196 turns out yes and it was an very enjoyable wine at that. However the real bonus was a map of different wineries in the region that the proprietor gave to us. She encouraged us to visit the different vineyards in Provence. Many produced olive oil as well as wine. That afternoon, we visited 3. All were very welcoming and let us taste wine as well as olive oil. Tasting or dégustation is most often free and the added advantage is that you can pick which wines you want to try rather than having then chosen for you. That day we went home with new wines, chats with the staff about the wines and even some pottery. The olive oil was good too.

Sine then I have had some pretty amazing experiences tasting wine. Most tourist offices will provide you with a map or if you are driving you may see a sign that says dégustation and if you are like me you will then scream at your travel companion ‘STOP STOP STOP! PULL IN NOW.’ This means you are cool and collected wine connoisseur and not at all an obsessive wine stalker who may have lost touch with reality in the search for the perfect wine. It may also be pertinent to explain to your driver that an accident isn’t imminent. They will appreciate that.

I have had some of my best experiences this way armed mostly with a GPS, wine map, and sometimes just on a road following signs that hopefully lead to an amazing vineyard.

In Minervois I have tasted delicious wines in the owner’s kitchen. I have had lovely conversationsimg_4969 with small producers in Bandol and Provence. I tasted Rose, something I never thought I would like. I was wrong. I have had some lovely, easy to drink reds from Provence, Some complex wines from the Rhone and crisp whites in Alsace. The point is just to try, to chat and to enjoy.  Ben learned how to get a cork out with out a corkscrew (make sure you have a shoe).  I have even followed what no longer seemed to be a road in Armagnac to taste Armagnac, flocs, and lovely lovely reds from Gascony. I have also chatted with winemakers who love their product and just want you to love it too. Wine tasting directly at the wineries gives the opportunity to have some of the best service and really you get to chat about their wine. They will be more than happy to show it off and have you love it too.

Some tips for wine tasting include:

  1. Depending on the region or the winery check whether or not you need to book a tour. In some of the bigger or better known wineries they may require a booking, not just showing up. However if they have a sign out front saying degustaton, you are probably safe just to roll in.
  2.  Ask their opinion for what order to taste the wines. They know the wines best and will help you get the most out of the experience.
  3. Make sure you have someone to drive.
  4. Take a chance! Some wineries will be very small and rustic, others big operations but don’t assume one is better than the other Just try!

Some wineries I recommend include:

  1. Chateau la Nerthe in Chateauneuf de pape. Beautiful grounds, very friendly staff and amazing bold wines.
  2. Chateau de Vauclaire in Provence Friendly, unassuming and amazing wines. Don’t miss.
  3. Le Galantin in Bandol. Small winery with ridiculously inexpensive and remarkably tasty wines. Service is amazing and you will find many locals as customers.
  4. Domaine Grand Comte in Armagnac. Producer of wine wines, Flocs and Armagnac and you can taste them all. Hard to find but truly modern, beautiful vineyard. Close to Auch.
  5. Domaine de L’Olivette a lovely winery in Bandol with one of my all time favourite redsimg_4968