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Driving to Provence from Barcelona

We'll be driving from Barcelona to Provence in early July and are looking for a place to stop in between where we're likely to find some great food and charming ambiance. We prefer older, smaller towns of character. We are partial to seafood.

I've been studying Carcassonne, but fear it may be too touristy and best left for a day trip from wherever we stop.

We'll have a total of 3 nights to get from Barcelona to Provence, but prefer to stop in just one town and take day trips from there.

We want to avoid anything resembling a crowded seaside resort town crowded with high-rise condos and the like. Think "olde worlde" small to medium size town or rural location near such a place.

Great food is our primary objective.

We'd be grateful for all suggestions.

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  1. While Carcassonne is indeed touristy, the city deserves the attention, if only for a brief time. It, for me , is one of the three most astounding sites of France and when you turn the corner of the road and there it is, a definite WOW. More into the camargue is Aigues-Mortes, another city from a different age. Foix in the Arriege is lovely now and Ceret further south has wonderful restaurants and a rarely seen Picasso museum.

    1. It and Montpellier (a totally rebuilt city after WWII) both have good food.
      We drove from Barcelona to Geneva and back and we're delighted by the food and wine opportunities throughout.

      1. A good stop in between, not far from the freeway, a charming town with good food would be either Pezenas or Sete. Especially the specialty tielle and great oysters from l'Étang de Thau.

        1. The thing about driving to Provence from BArcelona is there are a couple of different ways to go. If you take the E11 north towards Clermnt Ferrand you will see totally different geography. More specifically the French Volcanic area, plus lots of very rural -but interesting villages - and great cheese! But, you will have to hang a right somewhere towards Provence. I would recommend taking the A9 towards Avignon and spending the night there. Its a beautful city with lots of interesting things to see. Plus, Its close to Orange. A few sentences cannot do justice to these places. As such, go to Wiki encyclopedia to learn more. fyi. I have stayed in over 100 French cities all over France and spend approx 4 1/2 months per year in France. Enjoy!

          1. A travel note: If you are picking up a car in Barcelona and leaving it in France you will be charged a hefty drop-off fee. We took this trip last year and taking the train to Perpignan saved about $200, even going first class.

            Staying in Carcassonne leaves a pretty long ride to Provence. Perhaps any of the towns from Narbonne to Nimes would be more convenient. You might take a look at Beziers, which is well-located and smaller.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Likelivingthere

              We'll be driving back to Barcelona after Provence. The drive from Carcassone to Provence shouldn't be that bad...338 km and 3.5 hrs....without stops.

              We've now decided to stop in Mirepoix for 3 nights and explore the sights and foodie possibilities around there in Foix, Limoux, Revel, Carcassonne. Bezier also loooks interesting. We plan to do Nimes and Uzes on day trips, or on our way back to Barcelona.

              Any suggestions where to eat in a 50 miles radius from Mirepoix?

              1. re: chilihead2006

                I organised a wine trip in that area 2 years ago, and here is the pick of the restaurants (but might be out of date).
                Carcassone: Auberge des Lices. Avoid the Brasserie of the hotel du Donjon like the plague.
                Limoux: Hotel Moderne et Pigeon. One of the best meals of the trip.
                Minerve: Don't miss this medieval town. Relais Chantovent, simple & good.
                Aragon: Bergerie d'Aragon +++
                Bezier: L'Octopus +++
                Gruissan: Le Lamparo (great Bouillabaisse)
                Collioures: Le Neptune, The best! Memorable meal & splendid view over the harbour.
                Narbonne: Table St. Crescent, good, but mixed reviews... May be we were saturated by then!
                Figueres:Restaurant of Hotel Ampurdan; Consistently good for the last 30 years!
                I could send you the full critic of the trip with wineries, menus and comments, but it's in French. Just let me know.

                1. re: monchique

                  Thank you very much monchique for the helpful recommendations. The above list will help us narrow down our options...we only have so much time for so many meals. We've never been in this part of France before. I've been researching it extensively, including on Google Earth, and it appears to be a spectacularly beautiful area.

                  Some questions;

                  I see a Le Lamparo restaurant in Port la Nouvelle, a ways south of Gruissan on the coast. Is this where you mean?

                  I can only find a Hotel Emporda in Figueres. The restaurant looks interesting so I think perhaps this is the one you have in mind.

                  What types of dishes should we be on the lookout for besides cassoulet?

                  1. re: chilihead2006

                    Glad to be of help. It is certainly one of the nicest and most interesting part of France (that is if you consider Languedoc is part of France :o). You cannot understand the country without looking into teh Cathare heresy. Try to get hold of a copy of "The perfect Heresy" by Stephen O'Shea to read beforehand.
                    Back to food: No, Le Lamparo is in Gruissan itself http://www.gruissanvillage.com/ For a bouillabaisse, I suggest you reserve and order in advance (at least the day before) so they can get the right fishes.

                    OK, my mistake. They used to be call Ampurdan when Figueres as still Figueras (before the province reverted to the Catalan language...) .Same place, great restaurant, rooms OK, great bathrooms with jacuzzi, but can be noisy because of the road if you keep the windows open. In the same area, look at Mas Pau (out of town, and more expensive). Don't miss the Dali museum!
                    Languedoc cuisine goes far beyond teh cassoulet! Send me an e-mail on chaine (at) monchique.com and I will send you back the list of what we ate on that trip

                2. re: chilihead2006

                  I second the recommendation for the Relais Chantovent in Minerve. I also agree that Sete or Pezenas are good stop off points. I like Apres Le Deluge in Pezenas, but haven't been for a few years, so not sure if it's still as good - but places like that tend to stay the same for decades!

                  If you fancy seafood, it may be safer to go to one of the smaller towns on the Etang de Thau to eat, like Bouzigues or Meze, as they are quieter and less touristy.

                  In Nimes, there is a lovely restaurant called Cosy Wine in the centre of town - unusual food for a French restaurant, great cooking, very good value limited-choice set menu (15 Euros) and decent house wine. It's in a lovely square and has a terrace.

                  1. re: Theresa

                    We gravitate towards the less pretentious places serving traditional and simple fare done very well. Less is more if done with the freshest ingredients and classic techniques. Seafood is our prime objective.

                    We look forward to having some pissaladere...we love anchovies, olives and garlic. Again, such dishes are usually a casual snack, but can be elevated to a masterpiece by a chef with a creative touch.

                    I've had some incredible seafood marina in Spain loaded with shellfish and langousitino. We had some langoustine in Paris in December, but it was very plain and unexciting. I'm fantasizing about grilled langoustino with lemon and garlic and a glass of Muscadet...yum!

                    1. re: chilihead2006

                      I don't know what days you are travelling through the area, but some markets have a stall selling fresh oysters to eat on the spot with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet. When we were last in the area, we had 12 oysters to share and a glass of wine each for 10 Euros - a bargain, and great for a light lunch or a pre-starter if you are going to a restaurant.

                      By the way, if you are eating seafood in the Languedoc, particularly in Herault and around the Etang de Thau, do have it with Picpoul de Pinet rather than Muscadet. It's made within a few kilometres of the lagoon, and is very much "of the terroir", so is perfect with local seafood.

                      1. re: Theresa

                        You certainly know how to torture a seafood lover! LOL!! We'll definitely have to try the Picpoul de Pinet.

                        We'll be driving near the Etang de Thau on a Saturday. Can you suggest any markets that might be serving oysters?

                        Fantasizing about oysters is probably more dangerous than driving while texting or talking on a cellphone.

                        1. re: chilihead2006

                          "Can you suggest any markets that might be serving oysters? "

                          Sete. You can orderr a plate of oysters with a glass of white right next tot he oyster stands at the market. They will open the oysters right there in front of you. There are even chairs and tables for a little sitdown meal. It was also transcendentally inexpensive.
                          Also try the best tielles on quai de la Résistance, on a improbably place called Paradiso that looks like a bas-étage pizza joint.
                          I also second Bouzigues as a lovely fishing village, but I don't remember any resto name there…

                          1. re: Parigi

                            Speaking of oysters, I just remembered that we will not be visiting during an "R" month which in some locales means the oysters may not be the best quality. Do you have any opinion on oyster quality in southern France during the summer months?

                          2. re: chilihead2006

                            Saturday is market day in Pezenas (it's pretty big, don't know if they have oysters to eat on the spot) and Marseillan plage (I've not been).

                            Montagnac also has a market on that day. Beziers does too, but it only has a couple of "eat there" food stalls, and no oysters to my knowledge - you might be better off trying Les Halles de Beziers, which is open Tuesdays -Sundays from 7am-1.30 - they may have some oysters for eating.

                            You can get more info on markets here: http://the-languedoc-page.com/tourism...

                            I haven't looked at it closely, but you can see what places have a market on your route - there are loads of them on Saturday.

                3. Lucky you to be in Cathare country soon, which is one of my favorite areas to travel for the haunting landscapes, feudal Cathare castles and of course food and wines!
                  Since you are driving from Barcelona, you may want to consider lunch at the Littoral in Banyuls sur Mer, where they specialize in seafood and have fantastic marinated anchovies.
                  In Mirepoix your best bets are Les Remparts and Le Ciel d'Or.
                  In Couiza, there is the Chateau des Ducs de Joyeuse, which is 5 kilometers from Rennes le Chateau, a mysterious and intriguing place for spiritual seekers such as myself.
                  Carcassonne is a wonderful immersion in medieval lore and achitecture, and stunning to see lit up at night. La Barbacane is wonderful and the former chef now has his own place Le Parc Franck Putelat.
                  If your focus will be on seafood, do try the rich ragout or civet d'anguilles(eels).
                  Stick to wines made in the region, as they can be really sumptuous. Although Corbieres,Minervois, Saint Chinians and Faugeres are best know for their reds, I love a flowery white Corbiere for seafoods with sauces. Languedoc Roussillon makes good roses, with Collioure being most famous. Agree with Therese about Picpoul de Pinet , with assertive citrony flavors is great with grilled seafood.
                  Don't forget to try a red Fitou , which really has the overtones of the garrigues, which are the herbs that are indigenent along the seacoast. I also like the Cremant de Limoux, for an aperitif. Then there is the dark and rich Banyuls, which are wonderful with chocolate desserts. Landguedoc Roussillon is making some really wonderful wines now, at very reasonable prices.
                  Apart from wine and food, do visit the Cathar castles of Peyreperteuse and Montsegur( if you do not mind a rigorous hike up that very tall promontory).
                  Have a great time in this region full of history!!!!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Cheriekiss

                    Thank you for the terrific recommendations!

                    I tend to approach eels with a certain amount of trepidation...I had a "difficult" experience with them many years ago by the Zuider Zee, when out of a sense of misguided politeness, I agreed to consume a full second order of stewed eels (bone in) at the behest of my new boss. I suspect he was secretly enjoying my discomfort. LOL!! That said, I do very much enjoy smoked eel and unagi.

                    I will research your restaurant recommendations today and come back with any questions!

                  2. Narbonne sounds like a place that would meet your requirements perfectly. It's a medium size town, It's not on the usual tourist lists, but it's definitely an older town with great character!

                    It's close to the sea, so seafood is readliy available.

                    One place not to miss is La Table St Crescent, in a restored medieval building.

                    Don't miss the old "Halles" right off Cours Mirabeau. Also lots of Visigoth history here...

                    I recommend Narbonne as a MUCH better choice for you over Carcassonne. And as you've said, it's an easy day trip if you wish to see Carcasssonne.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: menton1

                      I just spent three days staying at the Domaine Saint Domingue, which is 6 kilometers from Narbonne. It was simply paradise. A beautiful renovated mas with a gorgeous garden, stone pool, chickens and turkeys, and 5 tastefully renovated rooms. You can bicycle into Narbonne or along the Canal du Midi, and it was easy to take day trips to Carcassonne, Gruissan, the Languedoc beaches, Peyrepeteuse, etc. Highly recommended!

                      1. re: tzahra

                        That sounds like a great "base of operations". We'll look into stopping there on our way back to Barcelona. Thank you for the suggestion.

                    2. As mentioned above there are two main & nice ways to get across SW France.

                      The Souther route via Narbonne, Montpillier, Nimes etc. is less scenic, but faster. You might consider Uzes as a base to explore Nimes, Orange, the Comargue, Arles ......

                      Going more North gets you better scenery & also gets you Toulouse (night 1) then Le Vieux Pont at Belcastel (both a charming,one star, restaurant with hotel and superb village)(again one night) then over the Viaduct (not to be missed) at Millau & down to the coast at Montpillier or Nimes or even further East around Bandol where you can get superb seafood.
                      Mind you I'm biased as I live in the more Northernly area.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: yankinparisot

                        We need to go from Mirepoix to Provence in a single day, arriving circa 3-4pm to check into the house. How long a drive is it (in hours) following the northern route? The Viaduct would be great to see.

                        1. re: chilihead2006

                          Google map says 3 hours. I'd add at least 30 minutes, or an hour.
                          For details, see google map:
                          http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&amp...

                          Which viaduct? Do you mean pont du Gard? You really should take your time to visit it, and not just drive by. If you are staying in Provence (where in that large area?), you can take the time to spend half a day there?

                          1. re: Parigi

                            I'm thinking the viaduct at Millau.

                            In Provence, we're staying outside of Viens. We want to get there at a reasonably predictable time to check in to the house. Apart from what Google Maps says, I don't have a feel for what the motorways will be like along the coastal route. We'll be driving it on Saturday, so perhaps that helps, as suggested below by yankinparisot.

                            While we expect to see a lot on this trip, I very much want to avoid spending the majority my time driving and sightseeing. My idea of a holiday is to casually soak up the atmosphere in a particular area, cycle and hike a fair amount, play tennis, have some great food and wine and wake up whenever I want. Try to get a sense of what it would be like living there. I spent 13 years outside the US in Europe and SE Asia. We're not into the whole "bucket list" tourist thing. We will definitely be checking out the local markets and cooking in a lot. If we like an area, we'll just make it point to come back again...and again.

                            1. re: chilihead2006

                              "While we expect to see a lot on this trip, I very much want to avoid spending the majority my time driving and sightseeing."

                              In that case skip the viaduct.

                              1. re: Parigi

                                I agree - according to Google maps, it's a 4.25 hour drive between Mirepoix and Viens, and 6.25 hours if you include the Millau bridge - and that's without any stops or lunch. From what I know of driving in the area, it will be at least that.

                              2. re: chilihead2006

                                For a truly Provençal experience while staying in Viens, I highly recommend Le Castelas in Sivèrgues (near Saignon) for a memorable dinner. It's a working farm of mostly goats & pigs, and they (not the animals, but the staff) serve delicious roast pig every night -- Sardinian "sangria" to start, various appetizers including their own prosciutto-style ham, assortment of house-made goat cheeses, chocolate dessert, tolerable red wine, & coffee, usually followed by a taste of a (burning) grappa....all for €30/person (cash). Served family style at communal tables - in July outside where you can watch a magnificent sunset. It's well worth traveling along the winding mountainous road to Sivèrgues, followed by the (bumpy, seemingly interminable) dirt road to the farm. You will not be disappointed. I just noticed they finally (after many years) have joined the 21st century with a website....("raw ham" being a common poor translation of "jambon cru"). We have been there over 10 times and, in spite of what the website says, have been served lamb ONLY on Easter Sunday.

                                1. re: boredough

                                  Am also a big fan of the Castelas. I have only had its chèvre-jumbon cru lunch. We are too wimpy to tackle the idea of driving on that iffy road in the evening…
                                  Gianni was the one who taught me to eat chèvre with honey.
                                  The setting is out of this world. Sometimes a little goat jumps on one's table.

                                  1. re: Parigi

                                    and silly me, I didn't see the date of the OP --- my advice is useless, but I'm glad to hear that you appreciate le Castelas. It's truly worth the ride at night - ; first, if you go in the spring/summer, it's light enough to see where you're going & appreciate the beauty along the way; second, there are few - if any - cars going in the opposite direction to worry about. Leaving at night the only cars you'll see are your fellow diners going in the same direction...headlights enable you to see sufficiently so you won't fall off a cliff! Sadly, Gianni is hardly ever there anymore, as he seems to be more interested in his new wife than the pigs. Hope you get to go back to that area & find motivation to do it at night -- for the delicious roast pig & fantastic sunset.

                            2. re: chilihead2006

                              Assuming you mean Mirepoix sur Tarn then it very much depends up on where in Provence you're heading. I'm also assuming that you mean the viaduct at Millau as I did.

                              I'd allow at least 6 driving hours to get to say Aix en Provence. Traffic along the coastal route to Provence can be heavy. You're best off on a weekend when there aren't any heavy trucks to contend with.

                              1. re: yankinparisot

                                Actually, we'll be in the town of Mirepoix located about 12 km due east of Pamiers.

                                The most direct route to Provence would be to head straight for Carcassonne, Narbonne and then east on the E15 to Avignon, and then bushwhack east from there as best we can. I expect there will be many stops along the way so my wife can take pictures...she's a major shutterbug. :)

                                1. re: chilihead2006

                                  BTW, the Viaduc de Millau is a pretty awesome sight. There is a viewing point on the Southbound approach in a parking area below the structure. And then, traveling over it is pretty breathtaking. Quite an engineering marvel. Highly recommended.