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A non-touristy, small town food mecca...?

I am considering a four or five day food-centric trip to a central-european city, perhaps in France. I would be driving from the Netherlands in mid-July, and my dream would be to find a pension in a smallish city to hunker down and explore the food in the surrounding areas. No budget for fine-dining....and any other sightseeing would be secondary to finding wonderful breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks...wine too. I don't speak a word of French, but am not rattled by trying to communicate. I will be a solo gal this time around, looking for low-key deliciousness. Someplace that offers a very specific regional specialty (Steingarten's choucroute search comes to mind) or a lot of different places and tastes... I'm totally open at this point, just needs to be moderately priced, away from the mid-summer throngs of tourists, and delicious. Any and all advice welcome!

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  1. You may want to consider Toulouse. It is a lovely city that has a number of really good restaurants in various price ranges, so you would have a lot of choices for dinner that you could walk to. For day trips, you can go to Carcassonne, Albi, Corde sur Ciel, etc. Carcassonne is not only an interesting town to tour, but it has a great restaurant, Le Comte Roger, where we enjoyed a delicious and very reasonably priced lunch. The regional specialty is cassoulet. I am not a fan of beans, so I did not try it, but if you like it this is the area to sample it in all its variations. Your mention of choucroute makes me think of Strasbourg. Also a very pretty city (and not as hot in the summer as Toulouse) with lots of good restaurants serving choucroute and other Alsatian specialties. You can take day trips to charming medieval towns and scenic tours in the Vosges mountains. There is an elegant but not terribly expensive restaurant, les Bas-Rupts, just outside of Gerardmer in the foothills of the Vosges, where a specialty is tripe cooked in Riesling until very tender and served in a mustard cream sauce. Heavenly. Avignon is another beautiful small city with many fascinating towns and villages nearby, though it may not be the best choice in mid-summer, when the French all head for the south. All of the places I have mentioned are in interesting wine regions, where you can find lesser-known but wonderful wines that are much less expensive than the burgundies and bordeaux.

    1. The Dordogne region (of geese and truffles) is probably a very good bet. If you want to be in a large town with services, then Sarlat offers a lot of conveniences. If you want to be in a small, beautiful village with a couple of excellent choices, then check out nearby St Jean de Cole.

      The Auvergene features wolrd-famous lentils, aligot (a potato/cheese mixture), and roast beef. Excellent cheese. Riom is the cultural capital of the region, and is very easy to navigate. Hard to go wrong eating in the Auvergne.

      Whatever you do, I recommend going south of the Loire Valley for the food - except to avoid the Alps.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Steve

        why would you avoid the French Alps? There's some delicious food from there!

        1. re: ChefJune

          Yeah, but there's also about fifteen traditional alpine dishes that feature potato, cheese, and bacon in various combinations. Tasty stuff, but you really have to be careful not to get stuck in a rut.

        2. re: Steve

          I really love all regions in France, but I must say that indeed the one place where you eat very well almost everywhere is indeed the Dordogne/Périgord. There are some great small towns like Beaune, but no region beats the SW. Not that the best food is necessarily from there, or that it would have the best restaurants of the country -- but this is the last region in France (and maybe the World) where standards are truly high.

        3. I agree with Steve's suggestions. The Auvergne is one of our favorite regions of France. The scenery is spectacular, food is wonderful, and it is totally off the tourist path. The Dordogne is also right in line with what you are looking for. We stayed at the hotel Lion d'Or in Gramat which is a comfortable, beautifully kept place in a very central location, with a really nice restaurant, with prices in the budget category. A real gem. In the Auvergne we stayed at Auberge Pre Bossu in Moudeyre, which is a gorgeous country inn with a spectacular restaurant, not cheap but not prohibitively expensive either, a tremendous bargain for the food and atmosphere, and we were the only non-French guests.

          1. I'd probably head southeast, not west, since you're going in July. I love cassoulet, but mostly when it's cold out... provencal food, for my tastes, goes best with the summertime. don't spend too much time on the coast of the mediterranean if you want to keep costs down.

            1. This is just the kind of place we're looking for in France but haven't found. A place quiet enough for us usually doesn't have much in the way of amenities, and both good food and quiet lodgings are important to us. So we stay in the country and drive somewhere different every day.

              I would suggest that you look at the maps in the back of the Michelin rouge to see where there are a few Bib Gourmand restaurants in a region that appeals to you and find yourself a chambre d'hotes centered among them. You're probably aware that Saturday night lodgings get booked up way in advance, even in the country. Markets are important, so if you can, get an idea of where the good markets are and on what mornings. If you want to save money, the noon meal is cheaper and can be easier to book, but you usually need to book, and here is where speaking French comes in handy. (Calling for reservations once, my husband couldn't remember how to pronounce the letter "e" so he couldn't even spell our name in full.) Your B&B host may help with the phone call, or at least the vocabulary, and they can suggest good restaurants under Michelin's radar. They'll also know the best boulangeries-patisseries and markets.

              Sorry I can't be more specific. I'll be following this thread with interest.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Crumbs

                When you combine the landscape, weather, local influence, food and wine, I'd go back to either the area close to Geneva or Burgundy. In the area above Lake Leman (Geneva) in France, the cheese is incredable and people are very kind.

                In Burgundy, I like the area from Beaune south to Beaujeu, along route D981. Its good biking, roller blading and walking. And great picnics.

                I hope I didn't spoil it.

                1. re: BlueOx

                  If by "above" Geneva, you mean altitude, then you are talking about the Savoie. If you mean North on a map, then it is the Franche-Comte (pronounced Com-Tay).

                  1. re: Steve

                    Both Savoie and Comte (Monte Jura) areas above Geneva, the cheese and wine is unique and there are lot's of outdoor things to do. The one place I don't like is Chamonix, I can't believe the town has allowed the kind of mid-rise building to be done in the last 10 years.

              2. If you can, I'd suggest moving your trip just slightly earlier. You mention mid-July for 5 days. This could put you right in the middle of the July 14th holiday. If you can complete your trip by July 10th, I think you will find you have much more selection and encounter less of a touristy atmosphere. On the other hand, experiencing a city or town's July 14th celebrations can be really fun too.

                I like using Beaune as a home base to visit parts of Burgundy, as an earlier poster mentioned. The main issue would be that some of the specialties really feel like colder weather food to me.

                Moving on to Provence, I also stayed solo one year outside of Vaison-la-Romaine near Seguret, and love exploring this area. I stayed at the winery/hotel Domaine de Cabasse, but it is half board only in July and August. I enjoyed the food, but it would limit your ability to try out different places. La Table du Comtat is in the little village of Seguret. I loved the food and I have alway wanted to stay there. There I think you could do half-board one or two nights, but I don't think you have to commit to it the entire stay. Aix-en-Provence is another possibility as a base, in the earlier part of July.

                1. I have really enjoyed the time I've spent in Avignon (Old Town). There are lots of great places to dine, food shops for picnic fare, and lots of easy side trips from the town. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a short bus ride away, Isle sur la Sorgue is close by, and St. Remy de Provence is an easy drive or bus ride.

                  1. I want to thank everyone for thoughtful and day-dream-inducing replies...I'm utterly despondent to say that the summer's itinerary has changed and it won't be happening this year. BUT - I'm so wound up by all the ideas, instead of making this an adjunct to another trip, I'm thinking of making it the star destination, hopefully off-season. Thanks again!