If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, or following me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll know how much I love France. You might also know that in the past year or so, I’ve been travelling here more than usual. I’m actually on my fifth trip here in 15 months which sounds like a lot but in the context of buying and renovating (well, managing renovations, more like it!) a house in another country (famous for its complicated paperwork!), it’s actually not that many visits. We looked at the house on one trip, bought it on the next, inspected the works in progress on the third and fourth visits (and camped in the construction!) and this trip, I’m finally able to put the finishing touches on the place and get it “rental ready”. Of course, once the house itself is complete, there is the whole business of, well, the business as a vacation rental but that can be done from the comfort of my own home in Canada!
The past few visits have definitely not been “vacations” for either of us. In December and then again in March, we spent an inordinate amount of time inside Brico Dépôt, Leroy Merlin and giant “hypermarchés“. We learned to carry tape measures with us at all times. We chose appliances (I’ve never had to buy appliances in my adult life so this was a whole new world for me!). We spent a lot of time on Le Bon Coin (classified ads) looking for some old pieces of furniture to mix in with new. We spent a lot of time measuring furniture. We bought a bunch of furniture and assembled it. So, really, although very exciting, these were not exactly relaxing holiday trips to France. But in each of those trips, we’ve made sure to take a small amount of time and try to get out and explore the region and we’ve been really excited to try out some of the local restaurants (all in the name of “research” – we need to know what to recommend to our guests, right?!). We’ve discovered some gems – some on purpose and some completely by accident!
My most recent “discovery” was L’Auberge le Prieuré in Moirax. We’d always wanted to go here (so this was an “on purpose” discovery) but the timing had been off (and our priorities had been elsewhere) until last week when I took advantage of friends of friends passing through and suggested lunch there. Boasting one Michelin star, they offer a “Menu du Marché” at lunch for 27€ – some might think that is a bit of a splurge for lunch but the food and experience are well worth it (and, plus – Michelin star!!!). We sat outside under the shady trees in the courtyard across from the restaurant – the setting is so peaceful (surrounded by the quaint Medieval buildings) and enjoyed a leisurely-paced lunch. For an extra few euros you can get a glass of wine with your meal and a coffee afterwards. All the food was beautifully prepared – we enjoyed monkfish for the main course and a wonderful “red fruit soup” for dessert – they use what’s seasonal and really make the ingredients shine. My absolute favourite dish though was this starter of a light goat’s cheese mousse served with crunchy carrots and radishes with pickled mustard seeds. Stunning on the plate, exquisite to eat. I’ll be bringing Neil here when he arrives later this month…
L’Auberge le Prieuré
Tel:+33 5 53 47 59 55
One of our most serendipitous meals has to have been at Restaurant Le Florida, located in a charming typical Gascon stone-house in the middle of the lovely spa town of Castera Verduzan. Driving past (en route to Brico Dépôt), I spotted the building and immediately Googled it (another must – always have iPads at the ready to take notes and look up places of interest – mainly to see about opening hours because France can be unpredictable…) and saw that it was open for lunch. Then I started reading about it and realized how special it is!
Boasting a Michelin “Bib Gourmand”, this place was anything but stuffy. We arrived sans réservation but were immediately shown to a table by the chef. I think the friendly nature of the place is due to the fact that this is a family-run place – in 1968 Chef Bernard Ramouneda joined his grandmother Angèle in the kitchen she created in 1935 and in 2013, he was joined by his son, Baptiste. Baptiste and Bernard were very present in the dining room and chatted with what were obviously regular customers as we all enjoyed our 13€ 3-course meal (now 14€). Yes, you read that right – beautifully presented and exceptional Michelin-quality food for a fraction of the price you’d pay at dinner. This, my friends is the way to go. Though their dinner menus are reasonably priced as well – 29€, 33€ and 48€ is still under what you would pay in a larger city. Highly recommended.
2 Rue du Lac,
Tel: +33 5 62 68 13 22
One of the places we had researched and wanted to check out was La Table des Cordeliers in Condom (yes!) just a little south of us, in the Gers département. Eric Sampietro takes his inspiration from the Gascon terroir and puts a modern spin on it and this is definitely a restaurant worth booking ahead for. Again, we kind of stumbled across this gem (having had it on a list of places “to try”, we simply were not focussed enough on that type of travel on any of our trips) simply because we were late to the New Year’s Eve planning and ended up deciding to spend it in at our house (roast chicken and gougères in our tiny toaster oven!) but wanted to celebrate the New Year somehow so started looking around for a “bonne table” to check out. Time and time again in Google, La Table des Cordeliers came up but their New Year’s Day menu was 60€ (set menu) which we were in two minds about. In the end (after a particularly frustrating visit to a hardware place) we decided to treat ourselves and were glad we did! The main dining room is in a 13th century chapel and it is absolutely stunning. Though the food manages to shine just as much as the setting…
We had a spectacular meal but were also intrigued by the Côté Bistrot – a smaller room (and definitely not as pretty but still very charming and cozy) with a different type of menu – more accessible in price for most people. Their 22€ lunch is an absolute bargain – three wonderful courses at either lunch or dinner – I’ve now eaten at both and it’s absolutely excellent value…
Fantastic value, gorgeous setting (the Côté Bistrot seats you outside in the summer months on a lovely terrace) and excellent value. A must visit in the region.
La Table des Cordeliers
1 Rue des Cordeliers,
Tel:+33 5 62 68 43 82
A little closer to home is the easy to miss Le Moulin des Saveurs in Barbaste. Situated across from a 13th century fortified mill (read a wonderful account of its history over at AngloInfo), the restaurant is both cozy and refined, serving modern interpretations of typical Gascon dishes. Part of the restaurant is set in the old wine cellar so it is lovely and cozy in the winter but can be a little dark in warmer months. It’s a bonus when it’s 40˚C outside though… Other tables are at street level and offer a brighter location.
Neil and I ate dinner there and while we enjoyed the food a lot, we didn’t think the set menu (27€ or 32€) offered as much value as, say Côté Bistrot at La Table des Cordeliers. There is more choice on the menu, though. The lunch menu, which I enjoyed a couple of weeks ago with a friend visiting from Canada, offers excellent value at 17€ for 3 courses with a nice selection of wines by the glass too. I’d absolutely recommend this for a lunch venue.
Le Moulin des Saveurs
4 Rue du Moulin des Tours,
Tel:+33 5 53 97 06 60
Right in the heart of Nérac, you’ll find L’Art de Vivre – probably the “finest” dining in the actual town. Offering a seasonal menu with local products, this is the place for that one special meal in Nérac. The dishes are beautifully presented and offer good value at lunch (3 courses for 14€) and dinner (25€ for 3 set courses or 32€ for 3 courses you can choose from the menu). Open from Wednesday midday to Sunday night (inclusive) this is a “must” when visiting or staying in Nérac.
L’Art de Vivre
7 Rue du Château,
Tel:+33 5 53 65 69 43
*****Please note that this is NOT an exhaustive list of places to eat in and around Nérac, just some places I have enjoyed (so far). There will be more to come, trust me. And eventually, on the house website there will be a much more comprehensive list. It’s touch work researching all this stuff but hey, someone has to do it. For the future guests, right? 😉