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Provence on a budget

We are going to be spending 14 days in the Vaucluse region of Provence and 3 days in Nice in December. Our home base is a little village called Vaugines (near Lourmarin) and we will have access to a car. We plan to make a series of day/market trips to as many villages as we can and would appreciate any recommendations on reasonably priced places for lunch. We'd like to visit as many of the restaurants and cafe's that the locals frequent and not necessarily the tourists. Also any "must see" recommendations would also be appreciated as well as "must avoid" places/activities. This is our first trip to France so any advice would be great. Thanks!

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  1. You won't be too far from Auberge de la Loupe which is near Apt. It's in a small hamlet called Buoux. The Sunday lunch is fantastic, especially if it's a lovely day and one can sit outside. The market at Isle sur Sorgues is famous - you can Google that.

    2 Replies
    1. re: zuriga1

      The place in Buoux is Auberge de la LOUBE, not Loupe. Better call there first before going, as M. de la Loube is not open every day of the week.

      If you are looking for good straightforward inexpensive lunches, I suggest you check out the restaurants in the M.I.N. (Marché d'Interet National) in both Cavaillon and Chateaurenard. They offer lunch for about 13 Euros per person (includes wine) and their meals include a self-service buffet of vegetables, fish, salads, etc., followed by selection of daily special entree and dessert.
      Cavaillon MIN resto is located just south of the big MELON at the entrance to Cavaillon after you cross the Durance River bridge - name is Bistrot des Cigales. Chateaurenard MIN resto can be found easily if you take the "Chateaurenard Centre Ville" exit on the road from Noves to Chateaurenard - as you enter the outskirts of town, the MIN is on your right and you will see a sign for the resto LE GALLIA CLUB. You will find almost all locals, as these places serve the growers and distributors of fruits and vegetables in the area. Lunch can be had from about 12 noon to 2 PM

      You can also do a search on the Interenet in that area for other Restaurants Routiers that offer inexpensive sit-down lunch meals for working people, mostly truck drivers (who , according to legend, always know the best places to eat). The Restos Routiers website will list all in the area you want but department number (eg 84).

      1. re: CJT

        Thanks for the correction. I always get that wrong despite having been there twice in my life. It is indeed a better idea to go there for lunch because of the roads.

        We rented a flat once in Saignon, and there is a lovely, small hotel there that does good dinners. I don't think it's in the budget category, but what a charming town to use as a nightly retreat. I think the hotel is called Le Presbytère.

    2. I love the fermes-auberges in France. They are farms that have a side business operating a restaurant usually only on weekends. They use only ingredients from their farm or from neighboring associate farms. Service is more informal than a real restaurant. They usually offer a very short menu of dishes of great freshness.
      One that I had tried not far from Lourmarin is the ferme-auberge "Lou-Méou" in Lauris, in a pretty farm. If I remember, a 3-course meal is 26 euro (last year's price).
      It is open only on weekends - from Fri dinner to Sunday lunch - and you must book.
      The ferme-auberge Le Castelas in Sivergues is breathtakingly beautiful. It serves the farm's own goat cheese and honey and bread. I remember the prix-fix being 25 euro. Is it a little expensive for that price (salad, whole lot of excellent farm goat cheese, dessert)? Not if you look at the land's end beauty around you.
      A fun place near you is the winery-garden Val Joanis. The garden is beautiful.
      With only 3 days, stick close to where you are and enjoy the graceful village life of Provence and don't spend all day driving.
      Besides the village of Lourmarin, the villages of Ansouis and Saignon are also beautiful and are great places for picnic, which is always a wonderful low-cost option for the French countryside...
      Bon voyage.

      1. The only way I have ever gone to Provence is "on a budget." [And without a car.]

        So it would help to know what you consider "budget" meals.

        I'm not exactly sure where Lourmarin is, so I don't know whether the info/advice I have on the Avignon area is apt for you.

        4 Replies
        1. re: ChefJune

          Apt is closer to Lourmarin than to Avignon (so your choice of words was à propos). It is south of Bonnieux and not far from Buoux. If you should go to Auberge de la Loube in Buoux, go for lunch as the hilly roads are easier to navigate in daylight than at night. As mentioned above, call the place first to ensure that it is open on the day you want to go (last September he told us he was cutting back on weekday openings). If you then get there, order before your meal a "rinquinquin" cocktail: white wine base infused with flavor of macerated peaches (and heavenly!). His lunch menu last year was 33 Euros per person. He starts the meal with a large straw basket of 12-15 different Provencal specialties and you will find it all excellent.

          Also, the M.I.N. (pronounced MEEN) restaurants I mention above are not open for dinner, as they open at 4 AM to server the buyers and sellers, then close at about 2 PM after lunch.

          1. re: CJT

            Thank you very much. This is all very helpful.

            1. re: CdnFoodie

              While you are in that area, do visit the many lovely towns: Roussillon (picturesque Provencal town and do visit the ochre mines), Gordes (onhigh on a hill with great views of the countryside), Fontaine de Vaucluse (amazing natural spring but you may have to pay to park to enter/visit the town), Isle sur la Sorgue (pretty town with weekly antiques market), Coustellet (lavender museum and store), St. Remy de Provence (go on Wednesday market day and also visit the Roman ruins - les Antiquités - just on the edge of town), Les Baux de Provence (old fortress on an imposing rock hill worth a visit), and Arles (also visit the Abbaye de Montmajour on road from Arles to Fontvielle to see how huge ancient monasteries could be). Lots to see and do - lovely area to do so!

              1. re: CJT

                Thank you so much. There are sooooooooooo many attractions listed in the travel books. It's nice to be able to pinpoint a few highlights and create a "not-to-be-missed" list.

        2. I posted this in another Provence thread over the summer (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/634589):

          The Auberge de la Fontaine in Venasque (very close to the Abbey de Senaque & Gordes) is my favorite restaurant in the area (I have had a house in the area for 25 years) (full disclosure, the chef, Christian, has become a good friend over the years). Christian's cooking is excellent, tied to the area, and is very reasonable (40 euros for 5 courses, including the most amazing cheese platter) it's not the largest (maybe 20 at any given time, but they are always the best). He even knows the goats which provide his chevre! The restaurant is very small, only about 30 seats, and he does all of the cooking himself. He is also extremely knowledgeable about food, and is happy to discuss techniques, concepts and anything else having to do with food (how it is grown, how animals are raised, etc.; he is a real student of the culinary arts). He also teaches cooking classes which are supposed to be amazing and extremely well priced (I have not attended any of his formal lessons myself, but just the other day he showed me a new way of breaking down a lobster when I stopped by - it was quite informative). Finally, he is a classical music aficionado and keeps a piano in the restaurant and on some nights invites pianists to give a concert before the meal. In such cases, you arrive around 8 and there is a one hour concert before dinner. On such nights, unlike most nights, the entire dinner is pre-set. You can find the restaurant's website here:

          http://www.auberge-lafontaine.com/

          Mas Capoun, an extremely good value http://www.masducapoun.fr/
          For a blow-the-budget meal, Oustau de Baumaniere http://www.relaischateaux.com/en/sear...
          The pizza at Chez Cherge in Carpentras (don't bother with the rest of the menu, it's only so-so
          )Gouin is a great value - La Maison Gouin
          44 Route d'Apt
          Coustellet
          Phone: 04 90 76 90 18

          And, for, in my opinion, the best chocolatier in Fance, Joel Durand http://www.chocolat-durand.com/fr/

          5 Replies
          1. re: demo5

            As two couples we are planning to be in the area in late September 2010. We will be driving by car and plan on spending a few days in the Apt, Avignon area. Do you have any suggestions as to accommodations in the area under 100euros a night? We prefer B&B agrotourism, but a small hotel is OK. Our goal is to experience the local culture of Provence in the food and people. Your restaurant info has already been most informative.

            1. re: scbeachnuts

              I will try and think of some places. In late September you are just missing the season, so there may be some deals. FYI, the Auberge recently closed. Christian will only be cooking meals on concert nights from now on, though he will continue to provide cooking classes, should that interest you. Another great restaurant which I forgot to mention previously is Mas Torteron (http://www.mastourteron.com/). Elisabeth Bourgeois is the chef and is one of the first women chefs in France to have really made a name for herself. I have gotten to know her recently, after eating there fore the first time in years, and I think it will probably be my new favorite place. I highly recommend it (it also has one of the prettiest gardens in the area, which is a serious accomplishment). Are you looking for a culinary experience or more of a sight seeing experience?

              1. re: demo5

                I would say that sightseeing is probably the primary reason for the trip, but we all appreciate good food and wine and want to experience the local quisine. Your suggestion was much appreciated.

              2. re: scbeachnuts

                One of the best ways to experience the local culture is at a Chambre d'Hote with a Table d'Hote. This is a B & B type place where you feel like you are a guest at the family's home, and where dinner is served at a community table. This is a rarefied air of meeting the other guests and also eating with the hosts and sharing conversation. The food is usually wonderful, as well as the entire experience.

                One that I can recommend for you near Avignon is this one:

                http://www.posterlon-provence.com/

                The rooms are under E100 and a full-course dinner with wine is under E30. A great bargain!

                1. re: scbeachnuts

                  We have stayed several times in Cadenet, a few km south of Loumarin, at Clotilde Borgarino's comfortable and welcoming La Tuiliere. http://tuiliere.free.fr/ Le Grenier, the room we prefer, is located up a short flight of steps to a private entrance, has its own outdoor sitting area and a small separate sitting room. Lovely hosts, excellent breakfast. Convenient for exploring the area from Aix to St. Remy and beyond either and inexpensive enough to leave enough funds to book a few dinners at some of the local stars.

              3. What is now the best restaurant in Eastern Provence is just outside Lourmarin, La Fenière. You can read of our recent terrific meal there at: http://epicures.wordpress.com/2009/09... There are lower cost options than the big tasting menu, but it would be worth skipping a couple of other meals to afford it.