Provence is a land of vibrant lavender and sunflower fields, blessed with a beautiful landscape of vineyards, pretty villages and seaside towns lapped by an azure blue sea. It’s also a land of incredible food. Writer Keith van Sickle reveals his favourite foodie location in Provence – Saint Remy de Provence…
My wife and I live part of the year in St-Rémy-de-Provence, a charming village not far from Avignon. It’s best known as the place where Vincent van Gogh spent a year in a mental institution and painted masterpieces like The Starry Night.
Over the years we’ve discovered wonderful restaurants and cafés, some of which are off the beaten path. And, of course, we have our favorite boulangerie, cheese shop, and all the rest. Let me share them with you.
L’Aile ou la Cuisse is in the heart of old St-Rémy. The dining room is comfortable and the shady patio in back is an oasis of green in the center of town. The menu is traditional but not stuffy, and the best part is dessert, where your server leads you up to a big display case and lets you choose your favorite. I like to watch people go up to the case, point out their choice, then walk back to their table with a gleeful smile on their face. It makes them look like the kid who just got the greatest Christmas present ever!
Ô Caprices de Mathias is a short walk from the center of town and a local secret. When you arrive, it’s like you are suddenly out in the countryside. The restaurant’s terrace offers a beautiful view of the Alpilles Mountains and there are horses grazing in the field next door. Chef Mathias is a Master Restauranteur, and his modestly priced 3-course lunch menu, with wine and coffee included, is one of the best deals anywhere.
Le Château des Alpilles is the place to go for a special meal. It’s a 5-star hotel and restaurant that you enter via a majestic avenue lined with plane trees. The hotel is an elegant old Provençal estate and the food is excellent. But the best part of dining there is sitting outside on a warm evening, surrounded by the park-like grounds. The restaurant gives first choice to hotel guests, who can decide the night before whether they want a table, so it is hard to reserve ahead. The secret is to call early in the morning on the day you’d like to dine, at which point you can snag one of the few free tables.
À la Table de Nicolas is just down the street from the town’s main church. Diners can take comfort in knowing that Chef Nicolas understands food allergies. His daughter is gluten-intolerant and he’s happy to adapt dishes to make them safe for his customers to eat. All his fruits and vegetables are organic and he offers a nice selection of vegetarian dishes. And he does all this while earning the distinction of Master Restauranteur!
Le Marilyn is across the street from À la Table de Nicolas. It has a small menu that changes frequently, ensuring that everything is fresh and seasonal. It’s a comfortable place with a friendly staff and is one of the first places I check when planning a meal out. And yes, the owner is very blond and looks a bit like you know who.
Bistrot Découverte is a restaurant where everything is good. Located near the tourist office, you can eat indoors or out. Be sure to visit the wine cellar downstairs if you’d like to buy a special bottle. And check out the daily lunch special, written on the chalkboard outside, which is always good and reasonably priced.
Top tip: cafés and restaurants fill up quickly during tourist season, especially on the market day of Wednesday, so be sure to make a reservation or get there early.
If you want to have a coffee and a croissant to start your day, a good spot is the Grand Café Riche. Another good place for a coffee is Bar-Tabac des Alpilles. It’s also my favorite spot for an afternoon drink. Café de la Place (kind of hidden in the back of the parking lot across from the church) is a good coffee spot with excellent food.
Pizza / Ice Cream / Pastries / Cheese
La Cantina has excellent pizza and pasta and real Italian espresso. A popular place for ice cream cones and scoops is Glacés de Saint Rémy, while you’ll find fancier ice cream dishes (and seating) at Le Roma. Maison Marshall has award-winning pastries. And just steps away is St-Rémy’s best cheese shop, La Cave aux Fromages.
St-Rémy has plenty of boulangeries but my favorite is on Rue Carnot. It’s not fancy, just a traditional old place run by a hard-working couple, and the sign outside says Boulangerie Patisserie.
St-Rémy is lucky to have its own Master Chocolatier, Joël Durand, and people come from all over to visit his shop. Be sure to sample his Alphabet of Flavors—chocolates stamped with different letters of the alphabet. Each has a unique flavor, like chocolate with rosemary or chocolate with lavender. Buy some for your friends and spell out a message!
Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Silicon Valley and Provence. He is the author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence and Are We French Yet? Keith & Val’s Adventures in Provence. Read more at Life in Provence.