French Riviera Cuisine

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French Riviera Cuisine
Delicious seems effortless when mixing the wild herbs, sun-ripened produce, fresh-pressed olive oil, and just-caught fish of the Riviera. Add a dash of flower essence, a hint of sweet honey, and a glass of sparkling rosé for a sumptuous feast.
By Sylvia Sabes, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of La Vague d’Or
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    Michelin-Star Cuisine
    La Vague d’Or in Saint-Tropez may be the only place in the world with three-star dining among the stars, under the stars. Chef Arnaud Donckele's dishes read like a personal diary, with exotic ingredients from his travels to Italy and Asia enriching the bounty of his native Riviera; think artichokes meet Thai basil. Blue Bay’s Marcel Ravin in Monaco was finally recognized with a star in 2015. Find additional Michelin stars at Auberge Le Robur in remote Roure, Hostellerie Jérôme in La Turbie, and Paloma in Mougins. Locals celebrate special occasions at the Zen-inspired Côté Rue in Draguignan, or surrounded by the luscious grounds of Le San Felice in in Le Castellet.
    Photo courtesy of La Vague d’Or
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    The Earth’s Bounty
    Orange blossoms are distilled into fleur d’oranger essence and citrus fruits are boiled into tangy, sweet marmalade at the Nerolium in Vallauris. Beekeeper Lucien Lamoine’s buzzing workers spin chestnut blossoms into a mysteriously complex, mahogany honey sold at farmers' markets along with his honey-laden dark nougat, gingerbreads, and chestnut spreads. Century-old olive groves canvas the southern Alps, their tiny fruits cold-pressed into virgin olive oils that are sold directly at the mills in the countryside or poured liberally on dishes at specialty restaurant Oliviera in Nice. Ancient vines produce AOC Bandol, Côtes de Provence, and Côteaux Varois at vineyards that are proud to share their wines with drop-in visitors.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Market Day
    Every port, town, and village on the Riviera hosts a farmers' market at least once a week. A list of each town's market days can be found at their Office de Tourisme. Remarkably fresh produce spills over the tables at Provençal markets in Le Luc, Antibes, and Tourrettes-sur-Loup. The flower markets in Nice and Grasse attract swarms of photographers and buyers alike, and Peymeinade satisfies environmentally friendly shoppers with its weekly green market. Nice boasts the most active fish market, but Saint-Tropez's is more photogenic: Beautiful Roman mosaics frame the fishermen as they sell the catch of the day before heading across the street to Picasso’s favorite haunt, Le Gorille café.
    Photo by Amanda Hall/age fotostock
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    Seductive Bouillabaisse
    Bouillabaisse is the tantalizing fish stew that Venus served Vulcan in Roman mythology. Legend has it that Greek sailors invented this succulent dish in Marseille, 600 years B.C.E. Modern fishermen added rockfish they were unable to sell at market, cooking up the stew known today. Saffron and orange zest are the not-so-secret ingredients that make this recipe unique to the Riviera. Tetou in Vallarius is a historic favorite with locals. The Maurin des Maures in Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer takes its recipe so seriously that it must be ordered 24 hours in advance. Le Bacon in Antibes elevates this traditionally humble dish with a decadent touch of lobster.
    Photo by Paul Poplis/age fotostock
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    Dining with a View
    Dramatic mountains and an azure sea make an ideal accompaniment to a meal. The windows at Château Eza are the perfect frame for the breathtaking scenery when it is too cold to enjoy the award-winning cuisine from the scenic deck. At Le Bougainvillier in Saint-Raphaël, the meals are as stunning as the sea view, with a menu created around seasonal produce. Le Grill has the ultimate urban view; the festive lights of Monte Carlo glitter as diners enjoy grilled fish or meat paired with extraordinary wines and butter-laced soufflés. Chef Bruno Le Bolch cooks up a delectable meal that ends with orange-blossom essence whipped into divine marshmallow clouds, served under the stars on the terrace of La Table du Royal in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
    Photo courtesy of Le Bougainvillier
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    Where the Locals Eat
    Dodging all the ritz and glitz, locals will go out of their way for a quiet dinner at the simple, unpretentious La Souco in Le Castellet. Aux Bons Enfants in Cannes works so hard at keeping it local that they refuse to put in a telephone or take reservations, discouraging anyone but the truly devout who are willing to wait. In Old Nice, locals sneak into Le Démodé. The Martin family has been tempting Niçois into the Alps for 20 years, plating inspired recipes and innovative cuisine at Restaurant Cassini in Plan-du-Var. No one refuses a side-trip to Bruno Oger’s Bistrot des Anges in Cannet. Vegetarians are rarely better served than at the unexpectedly chic La Ponche behind the port in Saint-Tropez, with a fantastic view and memorable cuisine.
    Photo by Camille Moirenc/age fotostock
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    Sweet Treats
    Tucked away in Old Antibes is the patisserie of master pastry chef Christian Cottard, who makes cakes and pastries as light and beautiful on the plate as they are on the palate. Since 1949, chefs at Florian have been preserving fruits and crystalizing flowers in sugar to make delicacies that are enjoyed alone or added as a garnish to other desserts. In Menton, fougasse bread is scented with orange-flower blossoms, while pine nuts add earthy richness to croissants in Cotignac and fried chickpea dough is sprinkled with powdered sugar before being handed out as chichi frégi in Toulon. The tarte Tropézienne is a Saint-Tropez icon, and the exquisite pine nut cookies at Aux Deux Frères inspire a devout following.
    Photo by Robert Fishman/age fotostock
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    Cooking Classes
    The rich bounty of local produce makes it hard to resist spending time in the kitchen. The extraordinarily creative chef Yves Terrillon teaches cooks about edible flowers at his cooking school, La Cuisine des Fleurs. Michelin-starred chef Alain Llorca offers hands-on cooking classes in the kitchen of his gourmet restaurant at La Colle-sur-Loup. The friendly, young, and bilingual Corinne and Benoît at The Frogs House orchestrate a two-day culinary experience that includes a market tour, winery visit, and cooking class. Still hungry? Guests can also add a goat-cheese tasting while exploring the Gorges du Loup. The sommelier at La Bastide Saint-Antoine in Grasse offers a wine-cellar tour and is happy to arrange private tastings.
    Photo courtesy of La Cuisine des Fleurs
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    Dining Beachside
    Private clubs line the beaches and provide chairs and parasols for a daily fee, with smart cocktails and chic tables for anyone willing to pay. Since Bridgette Bardot filmed And God Created Woman in Ramatuelle, Club 55 has become a legend, known as a favorite of the Beckhams and Jamie Foxx. Hi Beach is where trendy Niçois head for foam mattresses and a healthy lunch on the famed pebble beach. Gourmet cuisine can be a lovely treat, but for a simple snack on the beach, La Calanque on the Baie des Fourmis in Beaulieu-sur-Mer can seem like paradise.
    Photo courtesy of Lionel Bouffier/Hi Beach
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    To Your Health
    The largest private wine cellar in Europe rests discreetly below the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco. Legendary wines are kept here for posterity, or for a tasting at one of the restaurants upstairs. Vineyards in the surrounding hills produce spectacular red, white, and rosé wines. Monks at the Abbey de Lérins have a hard time keeping their rosés in stock; Parisians order from Île de Porquerolles by the case; and the wines of Bandol have an international reputation. Cocktails flow through the night at local clubs but the regional drink is pastis, an anise-flavored liqueur diluted with water and served from early morning until well past sunset. Mix it with almond-based orgeat syrup for a Mauresque, or with mint syrup for a vibrant green Perrouquet.
    Photo courtesy of Monte-Carlo S.B.M.