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Aug 9, 2010 08:42 PM

Spurn Paris for La Rochelle + Provence?

i am about to embark on a post-graduation tour of Europe. As I am traveling alone for most of September and October, I have complete freedom of letting cuisine and food be a central focus of my travel decisions.
As such, I find myself in a bit of quandary regarding France.

From a monetary stand-point I can only afford one of the following options:

1. Go to Paris for 2-3 weeks and seek out the best food experiences coupled with sight-seeing

2. Visit La Rochelle & Provence (S. Remy + Avignon) with the same foodie focus of course.

Given the budgetary restriction I feel I would not be able to do Paris justice as well as La Rochelle.

FWIW, I adore all seafood in all preparations and the thought of being strung out in the land of shellfish and bouillabasse is appealing. The sights of Paris can always be covered in a 2 days pass through I think.

So, what are your thoughts? Is Paris worth a visit if budget is a concern? (keeping accomadation costs in mind)

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  1. Well, La Rochelle is a great place, but I might start a bit further North up in Normandy. You can eat your way down the coast to Bordeaux then head inland. There's great eating around Toulouse as well as in the city.
    Then South and along the coast heading East. Montpelier is a great city. I wouldn't spend a lot of time along the Provincial coast as its expensive. Bandol area is nice though.
    Then up the Rhone valley heading North. Great wines & great food.
    I'd finish with a few days in Paris. By that time you'll have discovered that you don't have to spend a fortune to get an excellent meal.
    Use the Logis de France as a guide for hotels. They're normally reasonably priced & if the guide makes note of the food at a hotel you can bet that it will be excellent.
    If you can afford it rent a car so you can wander the countryside.
    Have fun!

    8 Replies
    1. re: Yank

      Thanks for the reply. I am coming in from San Sebastian (via Barcelona) and headed to either Parma or Munich (Oktoberfest!) from Provence, so the south-eastern heading may work well as I make my way to Aix-en-Provence et al.

      As for Paris, I am keeping 12 days open at the end of my trip (post-bologna) for any place that catches my fancy or that I hear of.

      Any tips on selecting restaurants if one were just walking around. For example, in Buenos Aires, the best places I found were ones where they spoke little English and had badly translated menus if any

      1. re: meatnveg

        For Provence, Arles is a much better eating town and base than St Rémy or Avignon. Arles has a big concentration of good eateries, much more so than St Rémy or Aix or Avignon. And from there you can visit the other towns by train or bus.

        Btw, do you have a car, or are you relying on public transport? This point also determines where you can use as a base.

        1. re: Parigi

          Hey Parigi:

          Thanks for the suggestion re: Arles. It hadn't popped up on my research thus far.
          I will not have a car and am planning on using the bus & train systems.

          How about if I go from Barcelona to Arles to La Rochelle/I'le de Rea to Paris and then head down to Parma, Bologna and Rome?

          I don't plan on a 'base' per say.

          1. re: meatnveg

            "How about if I go from Barcelona to Arles to La Rochelle/I'le de Rea to Paris and then head down to Parma, Bologna and Rome?"

            Too big a zigzag, esp without a car. Very time-consuming.

            A hop that links up good eats spots and your destinations and makes more sense geographically would be: San Sé, Ciboure/St Jean de Luz (itself with great eats, from which you can go to the wonderful Bayonne market and Biarritz by train/bus), then La Rochelle.
            However, La Rochelle is on the western tip of France, very far from Italy however you look at it.
            Or you can eat your way to Brittany, then take an overnight train from Paris to an Italian destination…

            Or for an Italy-bound trip from Spain, Arles plus a Riviera town as bases would make much more sense. Nice and Antibes are nice towns, have good eats and are a train hub.

      2. re: Yank

        If you are going to France for the food, how in the world could you miss the culinary capital, Lyon?

        1. re: ChefJune

          It's not that I have chosen not to go there. Just that I travel without planning beyond ~1 week ahead and keep my plans thoroughly fluid, just so that questions like yours can be taken into consideration.

          culinary capital you say?
          Whats the qualifier?

          1. re: meatnveg

            It's long been considered that -- since early in the last century. the quality of the food, the number of 3-stars in the area. Currently 3 3-stars: Bocuse, Troisgros in Roanne and George Blanc in Vonnas. But even many of the unstarred places serve amazing food.

            1. re: ChefJune

              I've been to Lyon. NOT the "culinary capital". (Just in tourist guides). Great meals can be found all throughout France, Lyon is no different. They do have the unique bouchons, though. But be prepared to eat a lot of offal!

      3. I would say any of the larger cities in Provence, e.g., Arles, Avignon, Aix, will all have a large variety of restaurants and food.The winner hands down in this area, though, is Marseille. It can also be a lot cheaper than the touristed cities of Provence. It's more of a real place.

        Re/Paris: I would have to say that a first trip to France makes a stay in Paris imperative It is the star and no car is required, and, although it can be expensive, being a diverse place there are lots of budget oriented activities, lodging and restaurants available.

        1. thanks all.

          I have decided on the following:

          I think I will get the west coast on my way to Paris. Then get Provence on the way back from Rome to Barcelona (departure point)

          I am looking forward to the unlisted, untested places and going to let my nose guide me!

          Which towns have good markets? I prefer eating at markets and places around them. (saving the 'starred' for when I have money later in life)

          13 Replies
          1. re: meatnveg

            Sounds like a sound decision. Most of the bigger towns will have markets on the weekend and some during the week. B/W you will enjoy Barcelona at the end, great city! Be carefull for scammers in the center, as in any large city! Bon voyage!

            1. re: igorm

              Hey Igorm!
              My trip is starting and ending in Barcelona and I cannot wait for La Boqueria!

              Similarly for a 'seafood tower' (nod to Bourdain) somewhere in Brittany.

              I plan on keeping a travel blog once I start. I'll be sure to link it here. The trip officially starts in NYC with Yakitori in LES, so this is gonna be the trip to remember!

              Any recommendations for the Provencal towns that serve a good bouillabasse (a checklist item if you will)

              1. re: meatnveg

                The ONLY place to have real bouillabaisse is Marseille and environs. Start saving up, though. A less expensive alternative is a good soupe de poissons, usually available at most seafront towns.

                1. re: menton1

                  menton1 is right about the true bouillabaisse. To get a different environment from Marseille, go to Cassis.

                  1. re: igorm

                    Can't hardly wait!!
                    I really should be studying for my finals right now, but...well, its a bouillabasse tip for heaven's sake!

                    1. re: igorm

                      L'Ane Rouge in Nice serves a delicious one, but it must be ordered at least 24 hours ahead of your meal.

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Save the expense of your bouillabaisse experience for Marseille...

                  2. re: meatnveg

                    Since you'll be in Barcelona you should try Zanzuela.

                    Its the Catalan version of bouillabaisse Better than Paella.

                    Then do a comparison between the two dishes..

                    1. re: Yank


                      Thanks Yank.

                      I have to confess to not being a Paella lover though so i am biased to liking other stuff.

                      1. re: Yank

                        YOu'll be in the neighborhood, so stop by El Bulli as well. :)

                        1. re: menton1

                          Ha! I wish I could. But I doubt they have a seat available until the next century.

                          I am actually going to be closer than you think, since I will be coming in from San Sebastian

                  3. re: meatnveg

                    Arles has a very nice market nearly every morning.
                    From there you can make Marseille a day trip. I can't think of any other place for bouillabiasse except Marseille (chez Fonfon). However if you want to go to the unlisted, untested places…

                    Which reminds me: This is a point about Barcelona and not about France. Mercat Santat Caterina is a much better market than the Boqueria.
                    O and there is a nice ferry across the Med between Barcelona and Rome (the port of Civitavecchia).

                    1. re: Parigi

                      Parigi, you are a god-send!
                      I despise boring forms of travel, so thanks a million for the ferry info.
                      As for the Boqueria, it's more of a 'whats the big deal' trip. I fully intend on going to every market. I typically just walk around towns all day, when traveling.

                      I don't generally seek recommendations for their own sake. more often than not, it gives me an idea of where to 'put myself' such that good food is close by. However, seafood stews (b.basse, cioppino, crawfish boils et al) are an obsession with me and nothing depresses me more than bad versions of those dishes.