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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.