Bonjour! Nick and I recently returned from two weeks of traveling through France. We both had fallen in love with Paris long before we fell in love with each other, so we decided it was time to go back together. After five days in the City of Light, we headed south to Provence and the Riviera. To prepare for our trip, I gathered recommendations from friends (many thanks to travel guru Steevy for her post on Paris!) and spent almost all non-working hours looking up restaurants, cafes, and more restaurants. Because even though I have The Joy of French Cooking, the real joy is being cooked for in France. Here are the highlights from each leg of our trip.
We thought it would be romantic to play house in Paris and rented a charming little loft in a ten-story apartment building in the second arrondissement (shout-out to Airbnb!). It was a dream. Just outside “our” apartment, the streets were lined with fruit and vegetable stands, storefront windows filled with meringues and macarons, and sidewalk cafes that came alive at night.
Clockwise from top left:
1. The view from the apartment—lovely, even on a rainy day.
2. Nick and one of the many Nicolas wine shops throughout Paris—perfect for stocking up.
3. Parisian children being très cute. (Is this what Bringing up Bébé is about?)
4. Fresh pickings at a nearby market. FYI: France is really into asparagus.
As mentioned, when creating our itinerary, choosing which restaurants—and pâtisseries—to visit was a big part of the planning process. Pictures and details from our favorites below...
Clockwise from top left:
2. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but you know what I enjoyed more than seeing all of the art in The Louvre? Sitting on the terrace at Le Café Marly looking at The Louvre! The museum itself is a work of art, making this chic café inside its courtyard the perfect spot to take in the view away from the crowds.
3. For a major splurge meal, we went to L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon (and by splurge, I’m not just talking about the calories). From stools surrounding the open kitchen’s counter, we enjoyed modern, artfully presented plates that were as much a feast for the eyes as they were for our taste buds.
4. Tucked away on a small side street in Saint-Germain-Des-Prés, Chez Fernand is where we had the quintessential French dining experience: tightly packed tables, an incredible beef bourguignon, and a friendly atmosphere—the French couple elbows away from us passed us their bread basket (technically our fourth) so we could continue lapping up every last bit of that beef bourguignon.
5. A true hidden gem, the only outward sign of L’Experimental Cocktail Club is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brass plate by the door. Inside, we found a small speakeasy where talented bartenders (ask for Max!) redefine cocktails. We quickly became regulars, stopping in every night before or after dinner. Tip: Don’t be afraid to go off-menu and simply tell the bartender what you’re in the mood for—they won’t disappoint.
6. Our favorite Parisian lunch happened at Cinq-Mars, a lovely little bistro that’s a three-minute walk from Musée d’Orsay. A sunny dining room, friendly staff, and delicious, affordable specials made it almost as memorable as those nearby water lilies.
Not to be missed: crêpes from one of the many street-side vendors. Get one near the Eiffel Tower, bring a bottle of wine, and stay until the sun goes down.
Midnight in Paris. If only that old Peugeot with Hemingway had showed up.
In Provence, we stayed at a beautiful farmhouse-style retreat in Les Baux. Every room smelled like lavender, and the beautiful grounds were covered with flowers and herbs—all labeled. It was the perfect place to relax after being so on-the-go in Paris. We read books by the gardens, enjoyed long, quiet dinners, and visited nearby villages, which all shared common Provençal charms like narrow streets, small shops, and a slowed-down pace.
Enjoying a local rosé at our home away from home in Provence, Mas de l’Oulivié.
Clockwise from top left:
1. We took a day trip to the small town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is home to dozens of wine caves pouring the region’s varietals.
2. Our favorite tasting cave was Verger des Papes, which also has a restaurant with vineyard views (perfect for an al fresco lunch) and an expert guide, Claude, who not only gave us a lively lesson on the local wines but also taught us how to make a “French TV dinner”: pick up some country bread, spread blue cheese on top, lightly drizzle with honey, bake in the oven, serve with a Muscat, and watch a French movie—bon appétit.
3. Nick always finds a castle to storm. In the village of Les Baux, we explored medieval ruins and even caught a catapult demonstration.
4. The view of the countryside from atop the ruins.
5. We stopped for lunch and sightseeing in Aix, where the public library has larger-than-life renditions of French literary classics, including Le Petit Prince, a favorite of my parents.
6. Chalkboard menus announcing the daily-changing dishes are the norm around here.
Another look at the beautiful library in Aix.
The Côte d’Azur
And finally, the Riviera! We spent a few days with Nick’s great friend and former Naval Academy roommate John, who is currently flying helicopters for the French Navy and lives in a dreamy hillside house overlooking the Mediterranean (for the record, when Nick was in the Marines, the coolest place he was ever stationed was Sacramento). John took us to Cassis, a charming fishing village, and locals-only spots, like the always-packed bakery with the best pain au chocolat (merci, John!). Before heading home, we spent a couple days in Nice, which allowed for easy trips to glamorous Monaco, where we drove (slowly) along the route for the Grand Prix, and the picture-perfect harbor of Villefranche-sur-Mer. The highlights…
Clockwise from top left:
1. We didn’t ride the ferris wheel in Marseille, but it sure made for a pretty picture.
2. We took in Mediterranean views from the pretty peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
3. In Monaco, we went to the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo, where Nick ordered a Vesper martini (a la James Bond) and I lost some euros on the slot machines. Not pictured: Yachts. So many yachts.
4. The view of Nice from our charming hotel.
5. Our favorite meal of the entire trip happened, fittingly, on our last night in Nice at Les Deux Canailles, which came recommended from Max, our bartender at L’Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris. According to Max, whose friend is one of the two young “canailles” (“scoundrels”) behind the restaurant, they were offered a Michelin star but didn’t want it. Star or not, we loved every bite of the tasting menu, which featured modern takes on French gastronomy, with each course carefully explained table-side by the aforementioned owner himself. Pictured: One of the dessert courses (yes, there were multiple), a rose sorbet over strawberries.
6. Only a short drive from Nice, charming Villefranche-sur-Mer was a lovely spot to grab lunch and dip our toes in the water.
We also stopped for a drink at the ultra-elegant Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, which is where I would like to spend a month if I ever win the lottery.
Et voilà! Merci beaucoup to all of the friends who shared their recommendations with us! Now that we’re home, we’re going to pick up some artisan bread, open that sweet bottle of Muscat we brought back, and enjoy what our friend Claude from Châteauneuf-du-Pape called a French TV dinner.