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Debating Nice vs Avignon vs La Rochelle

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My wife and I plan to stay in Paris for a week and then spend 5 days in a different French locale just for variety's sake. We don't plan to rent a car which is how we've decided on Nice, Avignon, and La Rochelle as potential destinations.

We plan to hit places like Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire and some of the bistros commonly mentioned on this board while in Paris so we'd like to try different options elsewhere. Does anyone have some feedback regarding the characteristics of the food in these three towns and the overall dining scene? We're looking to hit maybe one Michelin type place and then mom and pop or less fancy dining for the rest of the trip. Any ideas are greatly appreciated!

I've heard that La Rochelle has great seafood restos based on a comment on Fodor's. I assume Nice and Avignon have Provencal cuisine but I just want to get a better feel from folks that have been there what they found memorable from a food perspective (restaurants, unique foods, etc).

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  1. I wouldn't think Avignon will be too small for a week without a car. The city has some good restaurants but getting out into the surrounding countryside is very worthwhile both for tourist visits as well as good food.

    13 Replies
    1. re: PhilD

      Thanks Phil - What's the difference in the food between Avignon and Nice?

      1. re: miltronix

        I've been to both Avignon and Nice several times (not that that makes me an expert by any means!), but I have to say that if I were to choose between the two, I might choose Nice, especially if I didn't have a car. There are, as Phil said, some really great restaurants in Avignon. but unless I had a car (which would allow you to visit some of the other towns of Provence, including the famous wine villages), I think that 5 days might start to feel long in Avignon. Whereas in Nice, there are several fabulous restaurants (some of our favorites were Flaveur, Aphrodite, L'Olivier and Boni), and there's a great bus system that takes you to the perched villages. There's good seafood as well as some Italian-inspired cuisine and some dishes that are very special to Nice (I'm thinking socca). Too bad you have to choose! One year we drove from Lyon to Avignon to Nice...that was a culinary dream trip. enjoy!!

        1. re: sistereurope

          I have been to all 3, and Avignon and Nice quite regularly. Agree that if one does not have a car, Nice is the best base of the 3. It is an excellent transport hub from which one can reach all the other beautiful towns ont he coats. The 1-euro bus itself must be the cheapest tourist bus on earth, going by the intoxicatingly beautiful coast line.
          Plus Nice itself (1) is beautiful, (2) has so much to do, (3) has great, great eats, ranging from proletarian street food to the most sophisticated stellar cuisine that even Marie-Antoinette might have found fussy. I just came back from 9 perfect days from Nice over xmas-new year and highly recommend
          - Le Barale for the ur-Niçois specialty: ravioli farçis. My faves are those stuffed with truffes, St Jacques, Cèpes, plus its panisse which a fellow hound and great travel companion turned me on to.
          - The old standby chez René socca. Don't get any socca from the zillion socca stands. You must get a good one. And chez René is worth the wait and the slapdash eating environment
          - Casual Italian eats frequented by passionately friendly locals: Da Acchiardo
          - Wine cellars: La Belle Cave on rue Bavastro, Cave Caprioglio
          - La Poulette for poultry..
          - Quirino on rue Bavastro for prepared traiteur dishes. Everything is good there but its ravioli are not as good as the Barale ones. Barale is just in a class by itself.
          - our best meal: Flaveur. If last year's excellent meal there was worthy of one star, this year's has to be bound for the 2nd star. Fellow hound and DG and I ooh-ed and ah-ed through it.

          1. re: Parigi

            Ah, thanks Parigi, I forgot the farçis, although I don't know why as I enjoyed them more than the socca! And happy to hear that Flaveur is still rocking...it was by far our favorite in Nice last year.
            I love Nice - I agree, there's lots to do and some yummy food to be had. I hope to get back there one of these days but Paris is next up for us (next week) so I will also report back. No trying!
            (So far Chez L'ami Jean, Verre Vole, Le Philou, Le Galopin, Vivant, Au Passage and Chez Casimir are on the list)...staying in the 10th. Yipeeee

            1. re: sistereurope

              "(So far Chez L'ami Jean, Verre Vole, Le Philou, Le Galopin, Vivant, Au Passage and Chez Casimir are on the list)...staying in the 10th. Yipeeee"

              Not a single false note. Including the 10th, which is the new black.

            2. re: Parigi

              Parigi - is the Le Barale you mention the same as Chez Barale in this article? http://www.saveur.com/article/Travels...

              I can't seem to find much information on Le Barale on the web (phone number, address).

              1. re: miltronix

                No, "my" Barale is a fabrique de ravioli in Vieux Nice, not a restaurant.

                http://www.guidegantie.com/en/produit...

                http://www.yelp.com/biz/maison-barale...

                Besides the raviolis aux truffes and à la daube, don't miss the panisse. DCM taught us how to cook it. Cut it up into big coarse chip size. Sautée. Moan.

                1. re: Parigi

                  I see. So this is more of a take home and prepare deal...I guess we'll see how our apartment is set up when we arrive in Nice. It sure does sound delicious...

                  1. re: miltronix

                    Nearby are two very nice casual eateries: Le Palmyre and Acchiardo. They are very small. Must reserve.

                    1. re: Parigi

                      How far in advance did you reserve these two restaurants? Are thy more of the show up the day of or a day in advance and reserve or reserve today?

                      1. re: miltronix

                        I would reserve 2, 3 days in advance

              2. re: Parigi

                If you go to Nice, be sure to take the bus up to St. Paul de Vence. Food is not as good as the art, but La Colombe d'Or has fabulous one-of-a-kind art there that was exchanged for meals by the likes of Chagall, Picasso, and etc. Not to mention the Fondation Maeght. And on the way back down, you can stop off at Cagnes sur Mer to visit Renoir's house. ;)

          2. re: PhilD

            Avignon is a bit small for a week without a car, BUT there are numerous day trips you easily can take by bus from there. I've gone to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cavaillon, Carpentras, and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue like that. And for a small town, there is a remarkably large number of things to do and see in Avignon.

          3. Thank you everyone for the suggestions. I think unless something dramatic changes, we'll be heading to Nice as part of our tour of France. I'll do my best to report back on all the delicious meals!

            If anyone else has ideas or suggestions please feel free to pile on!

            5 Replies
            1. re: miltronix

              "I'll do my best to report back on all the delicious meals!"

              O dude, just promise us you will. None of this "do my best" business! :-)

              1. re: Parigi

                I hear ya, I hear ya. I've just been late with my reporting back on other meals due to the backlog of finishing up work for my customers. I should be putting up some reviews of places in Barcelona and Japan soon!

                1. re: miltronix

                  :-)
                  Didn't mean to traumatize you.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Haha no worries. Did you happen to try any Chowhound recommendations in Nice that fell short?

                    1. re: miltronix

                      Oops I actually did not try many hound recs for Nice.
                      Even Flaveur was originally recommended by another source.

            2. I am from La Rochelle and I have been in Nice... I prefer La Rochelle.

              Creperie du theatre, Rigoletto, Coutanceau, Andre, casino Barriere are just a few of the many good eats you could have in La Rochelle.

              As far as not having a car, you can really use the bus system and anyway the city center is totally walkable. You could enjoy breakfast on the Vieux Port, have lunch there and go a little deeper into the city for diner.

              I commend you on choosing to see something else than Paris to visit France, and even more when I see that you are picking cities such as these 3. The usual tourist will stay in Paris without even thinking twice about it, and the few "adventurous" tourist are usually travelling to big cities in Province such as Lyon or Bordeaux.

              I don't know if you are still considering other cities but you have other ones that are really great to visit as well, and the food will not disappoint you: Rennes (Britain), Tours (West center) & Dijon (Burgundy). The architecture is there as well if you are willing to see beautiful building and history.

              And Toulouse of course!!

              10 Replies
              1. re: drougerie

                Thanks for the suggestions! I'll definitely look into these towns.

                1. re: miltronix

                  If we are veering away from the original request, I have to recommend Dijon. The train arrives in the center of town, which is small and very walkable. We rented an apartment for 4 days that was the best we'd ever scored. It is 50 yards from the Place de la Liberation with its restaurants and fountains, across the plaza from the major museums, less than 10 minutes from Les Halles market or from a very serviceable Monoprix. Delightful owners live upstairs. They, in fact, took their eventual retirement into consideration when they created this apartment: fabulous walk in shower, full kitchen, outre and not inexpensive details throughout, plus a private interior open-air patio with a living wall. We will definitely return here. http://www.luxuryflatindijon.fr/benig...

                  Forgot to mention the Apple desktop computer and free high speed connection, plus free international phone calls (at least when we were there).

                  1. re: mangeur

                    Thanks mangeur. We ended up booking tickets to visit Nice but this is something to keep in mind for future visits!

                    1. re: miltronix

                      I guess I'm too late to suggest La Rochelle, it's lovely maybe go on your next visit. I should warn you that in Nice the taxis are really expensive. Also, it's worth taking a day trip to Monaco the scenery on the journey is incredible.

                      1. re: AnnaMiche

                        If you've got a car, stop by Eze if you're headed towards Monaco. Very cool.

                        1. re: Pedr0

                          La Rochelle to Eze ? Can the OP be beamed from place to place?

                          1. re: Parigi

                            As above, the original poster, Milltronix, is headed to Nice. Èze is 12km away.

                2. re: drougerie

                  I wonder if any of you La Rochelle fans have made the trip to nearby Rochefort recently. I stayed at the Hotel de la Corderie Royale there five years ago. Lovely room with a view over a river or canal. A spectacular meal at a reasonable price back then. A nice town to walk around.
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/619626

                  1. re: RandyB

                    I lived in Rochefort for more than 10 years and I dont remember any restaurant that great to try. However I do agree that it is a pretty town. It is also pretty quiet, most visitors come for the mud baths at rejuvenating center... There are some good seafood restaurants in the area: Fouras (L'Ocean), Chatelaillon, Marennes (Oysters are the specialty of this village)...

                    1. re: drougerie

                      Of course, "great" is relative. It was not a Michelin multi-starred place. So not "great" in that sense. It was a 36 Euro menu (5 years ago) that probably could not have been duplicated in Paris at twice the price. Plus the setting and presentation was beautiful. That's what I meant by great.

                3. Congratulations on your trip to France. I am sure you will enjoy both Paris and Nice. I think you will really enjoy the beaches on the Mediterranean. I do recommend a day trip to Italy if you are that close, as well as taking day trips around Provence by bus or train-- both of which are much nicer and more convenient than in the U.S.

                  For people still planning a trip to France I would like to recommend trying out less touristed areas. I lived for a year in Aix en Provence, which is a very beautiful city, and explored a lot of parts of Provence. I loved Provence at the time many years ago, and still think it is extremely beautiful. I would hesitate to spend a whole vacation there now because it is so intensely touristed.

                  I have not been to Bretagne, due to the fact that I have lived mostly in the south, but have heard great things. I also spent a very short time in Normandie recently and found that to be quite beautiful and the area I was in was not too touristed-- although I did go in October which is not high tourist season. If I were going to France on a vacation of some length I might consider staying in a nice smaller town that was within a 1 hour train ride from Paris to get more reasonable hotel prices, (Paris can be quite expensive!) and be in an area that was less touristed and do several day trips to Paris. IF I found a reasonable hotel in Paris-- and it is a wonderful place to visit-- the only area I would avoid is Montmartre, which is full of "artists" lining the streets selling really tacky tourist-oriented paintings. We are about 80-100 years too late for Montmartre IMO
                  I would also like to recommend looking into the Pays Basque-- especially for a foodie. You would have access to both the beaches and the mountains, and there is some quite beautiful scenery. I have found people more friendly and approachable in the Southwest than in Paris (although I do recommend giving Parisians a chance because I have had surprisingly good experiences there.) The best thing, perhaps is that you have access to both Southwest France, and Northwest Spain, due to good bus connections, and can eat in excellent restaurants in both areas. I also lived in northern Spain for a while and spent weekends in both countries which was a huge amount of fun. St. Jean de Luz is fun, for example, and has really nice beaches in summer.

                  My final recommendation would be on timing. I know that winter can be a bit cold, damp and dark in France-- especially in the north, but if you have any flexibility in timing your vacation avoid the entire month of August. Practically the entire country of France goes on vacation in August meaning hotel prices are up, beaches and tourist places are packed, and there is very little "normal life" in almost any city you visit. If you can go in July or September you are better off.

                  Ok. You can see my prejudices. I tend to avoid major tourist destinations (and time periods) and look for smaller or lesser known towns that are picturesque but less crowded with other tourists. However, when I travel I like to eat at small cafés and shop at stores that people who live there go to (I would prefer a grocery store or a bookstore to a gift or souvenir shop) just to see what everyday life is like. If you are not like me, (and I am kind of an anti-tourist snob, despite being a tourist myself) ignore my advice and go to the tourist destinations. They are popular for a reason, and I understand that.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: dorylight

                    Well, I definitely recommend Provence, but I have only been in the "off-season." And I DO recommend traveling at those times. Prices are lower, places are less crowded, the locals are less shrecked, and service is measurably better.

                    I was amazed on my first trip to Provence, to find rosemary blooming wild in Avignon and area in February.

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      I am a die-har fan of the Basque country, and I heart La Rochelle too, plus I go to Provence every year, but 5 days without a car - which is the OP's MO, - does limit one. That is why, for a 5-days-without-car destination, I would pick Nice, for its great food traditions that range from wowey street food to stratospheric gastronomy, and for its excellent public transport, including good train connections with Paris, and the 1-euro bus that covers the entire Riviera coast all the way to the Italian border.

                  2. It's been quite a while but I finally have put together a quick trip report. We ended up going to Nice and loved our experience thanks to everyone's help! We visited Villefranche and Monaco in addition to just hanging out in Nice. Parigi is right, the 1 Euro bus is the best sightseeing bargain around!

                    -Da Acchiardo - It's a nice neighborhood place and some of the food is quite good but I'm not sure we would go back if we had a limited number of days to visit. We did really enjoy the ravioli di farcis though.

                    -Bistrot d'Antoine - One of our favorite restaurants. The food was executed at a much higher level (with a price to match) than Da Acchiardo. The salt cod and lamb were standouts. I get the impression the menu changes seasonally so these dishes may not be there the next time we visit. We enjoyed our first meal so much we booked a lunch for a couple days later. When we returned the owner gave us a mini whisk keychain which I still have on my keyring. We plan to visit France soon and will be visiting this bistro for sure.

                    -Le Safari - Great people watching and the food was surprisingly pretty good. A fun experience that we'll do again. The daube provencal had a really rich sauce that helped overcome some of the meat which was not quite as tender as expected for a stew.

                    -Louis XV (Monaco) - We now know what 3 Michelin stars mean in Europe. The service was at a different level and we've been to some of the nicer places in the States such as Per Se and Eleven Madison Park. We went for the lunch menu which was a great deal for the quality of food, service and setting. One of the craziest things we noticed service wise was many of the tables they used to serve the food had no wheels. They carried the table to the diners and did their business and then moved the table to the side or to another set of diners. They had a lot of staff for such a small number of diners. The food while not a totally new experience was executed at a high level and delicious. I can't ask for more.

                    -Flaveur - This was the biggest disappointment of the trip. I just felt like the dishes were too busy and didn't bring as much "flavor" as the name would suggest. I have more notes in my notebook but I remember leaving the restaurant not very satisfied with the meal. I was very surprised in our disappointment given the rave reviews here. We might've visited on an off-night. If anyone's interested in more details I can reply with some of my notes.

                    -Oliviera - I'm wondering if I accidentally picked this restaurant in stead of l'Olivier. This was an underwhelming experience. All of the food had been prepared ahead of time and was being warmed up in a microwave for serving. One of our dishes was a whole sausage with stewed puy lentils. The casing after being microwaved was not the texture one would hope for. The olive oils the owner used were nice and we did bring a bottle home. I noticed this place was #7 on Tripadvisor which is another affirmation to never trust Tripadvisor for food suggestions.