Carcassonne is only about 45 minutes away by train from Toulouse, thus making it a perfect day out. It’s famous for its impressive walled city and castle, restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. It’s also famous for being a board game, which is probably how most people are familiar with the name! The town itself is made up of two parts – the walled city/castle on one side of the river Aude and the lower city (la ville basse) on the other side – and altogether it’s small enough to explore in one day.

From the train station, It’s a bit of a walk to the walled town but not a difficult one. As we were there on a Tuesday, we encountered their weekly market in Place Carnot and it was fun walking around the small square and seeing what was in season. It took great effort not to walk away with a melon or a head of pink garlic. But we weren’t there for the market – onwards we went.

Melons were in season

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It was only from the old bridge crossing L’Aude that we got our first view of the walled city and it was impressive.

A First Sighting of the Old Town

Crowded!

It’s absolutely lovely walking through the walled town, even though it’s quite crowded (just like the Middle Ages perhaps?). Our tummies, though, demanded lunch not long after we entered it. We avoided the super touristy al fresco eateries near the main entrance of the old town and headed further in to find Comte Roger, a restaurant with a fine lunch prix fixe (€21 for two courses) and a shaded terrace.

My Salade de melon et jambon du Pays, vinaigrette balsamique was just the ticket for that warm day.

Salade de melon et jambon du Pays, vinaigrette balsamique

Blai’s Terrine maison de merlan frais, haricots verts, pois chiches et coulis de poivrons rouges was not to be sniffed at either – the terrine of whiting was very light and pleasant.

Terrine maison de merlan frais,  haricots verts, pois chiches et coulis de poivrons rouges

We both opted for something light – Blanc de seiche cuit plancha, brandade de morue et tapenade d’olives noires. This was a tumble of thinly sliced grilled cuttlefish on a little hill of brandade de morue, that delicious paste of salt cod and olive oil.

Blanc de seiche cuit plancha, brandade de morue et tapenade d’olives noires

The other option for the main course was cassoulet and it looked remarkably good. Dessert options weren’t terribly exciting, however, so we decided to skip dessert and head straight for the castle after lunch.

Comte Roger
14, rue Saint-Louis
11000 Carcassonne
France

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the main castle. It was certainly worth the entrance fee and walking along the walls of the town (included in the ticket) was an experience I won’t soon forget. (Then again, I do love a good castle.)

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Yes, Carcassonne is also worth the visit even though it’s significantly more touristy than Toulouse. Time for me to dig up my board game!

Toulouse feels like so long ago already! We spent three nights in Toulouse (a quick and pleasant 5.5 hour TGV ride from Paris Montparnasse) and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘pink city’ (named for the pinky-orange colour of its bricks). Apart from the grand sights, including the grand Basilica of St. Sernin and the beautiful Church of the Jacobins, the food was amazing! We didn’t make any bookings and mainly just walked in off the street based of the menus outside and most everything was very good. Only once did we use an online recommendation and that was at J’Go.

Rue du Taur

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Cloitre

We were hungry and tired from walking on our first full day in Toulouse and we settled for a little restaurant along a narrow alleyway in central Toulouse – this was Le Coq Hardi. It was full of locals on their lunch break, always a good sign! We opted for the lunch menu, which was about £12 for two courses if I recall correctly.

A Tarte Mozzarella et Tomate was a simple but lovely start to the meal.

Tarte Mozzarella et Tomate

Blai’s Poulet Fermier à la Crème et aux Champignons was the better of our choices. Actually, it was incredible. The roasted leg was massive and doused in a delicious creamy mushroom sauce. The fries that accompanied it were just about the best fries ever – freshly cut, crispy, crunchy, a bit of tenderness, wonderful flavour.

Poulet Fermier à la Crème et aux Champignons

My cassoulet was not the best example, with its very dry beans, but the meats on top – duck confit, Toulouse sausage, bacon/ham – were all excellent.

Cassoulet

My Île Flottante was simple but the perfect light finish to the meal.

Île Flottante

Le Coq Hardi
6, rue Jules Chalande
31000 Toulouse
France

For dinner on our first night, we headed to the restaurant-rich area around the Marché Victor Hugo and ate at J’Go, one of a small group of restaurants in Toulouse and Paris.

Œufs pochés sur toast et poitrine de Porc Noir grillé, façon piperade

Blai’s Gigot d’Agneau fermier du Quercy à la broche were thick slices of a most tender roasted lamb leg and he opted for yet more fries on the side. These had clearly been fried in duck fat!

Gigot d’Agneau fermier du Quercy à la broche

My Grande Salade Fraicheur was the most popular item on the menu with half the tables ordering it. And I could see why! This massive salad with lettuce, tomato, green beans, melon and grilled peppers was topped with duck ham, grilled duck breast, cold roast lamb and the most amazing slice of buttery foie gras I’d ever had.

Le Grande Salade Fraicheur

Desserts were equally impressive. Blai’s Sablé aux abricots et zeste de citron vert was again simple yet well executed and delicious.

Sablé aux abricots et zeste de citron vert

My Assiette gourmande autour de l’abricot was a little selection of different apricot preparations – a macaron (dry and the only dud), baked, in a financier and in a pudding. Yeah, we were stuffed afterwards!

Assiette gourmande autour de l’abricot

J’Go
16, place Victor Hugo
31000 Toulouse
France

After a long day in Carcassonne (that’s the next post!), we returned to Toulouse tired and hungry and we fell into one adorable place with great outdoor seating in the centre. Le Troquet was full of locals again and they looked to be having a grand time. I must say what sold it to me was the al fresco seating and the Toulouse sausage on the menu.

And indeed, my sausage was far from disappointing – it was excellent. And that homemade potato puree on the side was wonderfully creamy and buttery.

Toulouse Sausage

Blai ordered the fish special of the day – the grilled cuttlefish, which was perfectly cooked to tenderness.

Grilled Cuttlefish

For dessert, we ordered the profiteroles. Our waiter teased me for ordering it after seeing it go past me but I was confused. I ordered profiteroles; what passed me had been a mountain! Yes, it turned out to be a single giant profiterole!

Giant Profiterole!

Le Troquet
11 Rue Baronie
31000 Toulouse
France

There’s some seriously good eating to be had in Toulouse and I do hope to return one day, not only to eat, but to further explore the surrounding region.

Getting between cities and towns along the Côte d’Azur couldn’t be easier. For only €1, you can hop onto a bus in Nice and hop off anywhere between the city and Menton. On our day off, we chose to visit just the next town along the coast – Villefranche-sur-Mer. It’s utterly beautiful with a beach surrounding a deep natural harbour and we spent the morning exploring its citadel and the old town.

The Town

We happened upon the restaurant La Grignotiere in the old part of town and I got a good feeling when I realised that most of the people lunching outside were locals. A sign announced that the restaurant offered a set lunch menu for €16 for three courses for lunch so here we stayed. We were unable to get a table outside but inside was just as comfortable if a little bit dark.

On the lunch set menu, there were about five choices available for both the starter and main course. I started with a giant salade Niçoise. I do love these and never encountered a bad one while in Nice. Boiled egg, canned tuna, anchovies were all encountered but never a boiled potato!

Salade Nicoise

My main course was one of the specials of the day – une Petite Bouillabaisse (I think a simpler version of the classic bouillabaisse from nearby Marseille). Two large fillets of fish (different types), a pile of mussels, a large prawn and a large potato were nestled together in a very large bowl full of a delicious thick fish soup. This really hit the spot – it was fantastic and quite a big portion too.

Une Petite Bouillabaisse

Une Petite Bouillabaisse

A list of desserts was recited to us – we did notice that some that were available earlier were no longer on the list. Ah well, that’s our own fault for having lunch so late! Luckily, what took my fancy was the profiterole. I did think there would be a few profiteroles but what arrived at our table was a single huge profiterole filled with vanilla ice cream, surrounded by whipped cream and topped with lots of chocolate sauce. Excellent.

Profiterole

After lunch, we proceeded to burn it all off by…um…. lazing around on the beach. It was clearly a very productive afternoon!

What a beautiful town. The only downside? Well, its bay is naturally very deep and so is the perfect stop for cruise ships, with one blighting our view that day. Luckily they don’t stay for long and the one that day was off again after lunch.

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La Grignotiere
3 rue Poilu
Villefranche-sur-Mer
06230 France

That’s the end of my short series of posts of my trip to Nice and the Côte d’Azur. All my photos (including a night trip to Monaco) can be found in this Flickr photoset.

There was certainly some good eating throughout my work week in Nice. Even my work conference offered up some proper three course lunches (with wine!). On one night, a couple of colleagues and I managed to get a last minute table for dinner at La Merenda (which runs a “no telephone, no cards” policy), near the Cours Saleya. The tiny restaurant is packed with tables and you’ll be eating elbow-to-elbow with your neighbours. And I’m still not sure how they manage to churn out all those dishes in their tiny kitchen.

It turns out we got the last table for the last seating that night and we had to patiently wait our turn to see the chalkboard menu. Though service was brusque, they did answer our million questions about the menu and the local specialities offered on it. And they kindly let us split a large portion of Soupe au Pistou (pistou being the Niçoise version of pesto) by three to start! We had seen other patrons slurp up this magical elixir and yes, it’s as good as it looks. Cheese, ham, vegetables, basil…it’s all in there.

Soupe au Pistou

Beignets de Fleurs de Courgette were just that – battered courgette flowers. This was the first time I’ve ever had them not stuffed! They were fine but not particularly exciting; this does seem to be the way they’re prepared here in Nice though.

Beignets de Fleurs de Courgette

A Pâtes au Pistou (pasta with pistou) was perfectly al dente and bathed in a luxurious basil- and garlic-rich dressing.

Pâtes au Pistou

Of all the mains available, we were all drawn to the Daube de Boeuf à la Provençal. What emerged was a hearty beef stew served with…chips? No, the texture was too smooth, too…wait, do I detect the flavour of chickpeas? The large golden chips sitting alongside our daube turned out to be panisses, fried cakes made of chickpea flour. I believe the flour is first cooked like polenta and when its cold and stiff, it’s sliced and fried. They originated down the coast in Marseille. They were beautiful and so good with the thick, wine-rich stew.

Daube de Boeuf à la Provençal

Desserts were also good. A Compote de Figues was sweet and simple with its dollop of fromage frais.

Compote de Figues

A Mousse au Chocolat was a little stiff but still went down easily. By this point, we were pushing the remnants of our desserts to our colleague with the largest appetite but even he was starting to have trouble. Oof.

Mousse au Chocolat

To get a table in this tiny restaurant, you’ll need to book and to do so, you’ll need to pop into the restaurant (remember: no telephone!).

La Merenda
4 rue Raoul Bosio
Nice, France

As I mentioned previously though, not all was brilliant eating in Nice. Meals at Le Safari and Du Gesu were fine, if not spectacular, but our dinner at La Zucca Magica, Nice’s highly lauded vegetarian restaurant and which came recommended by a friend of a friend, was distinctly mediocre and unmemorable.

Back to the good. My favourite pizza place turned out to be this takeaway joint – Pili Pizza. Any pizza on the menu for €6,50. And they were excellent! Great crusts and very good quality toppings. I have no shame in saying that we even tried their kebab pizza – good stuff.

I miss you, Pili Pizza

On our penultimate night in Nice, we all ordered pizzas and took them to the beach to eat by floodlight. It was brilliant.

Pizza on the Beach

Pili Pizza
24 rue Benoit Bunico
Nice, France

I spent my last day in Nice revisiting the Cours Saleya Market for the colours and smells and hustle and bustle.

Vegetables and Eggs

"Pepper" Tomatoes

Spices

Pink Garlic

I wanted to take lots with me but as my next stop was Barcelona (a very short work/play related trip and I won’t be blogging it this time), bringing perishables with me didn’t seem like the best idea.

Along the Quai des États-Unis

Finally, a restaurant worth looking out for in nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer – that’s the final post in this short travel-eating series.

Nice is nice, to sum up my first trip to the Côte d’Azur. Actually, it’s awfully grand and I wish Blai could have come along on this work trip of mine. As it was, I had my lovely colleagues as company and we did pretty well on the eating front though there were a couple disappointments along the way. But the city, oh the city is beautiful and lots of fun with the sea and the hills and lots to see and do; I do hope to return one day.

I developed a slight obsession with the Niçoise socca during my week in Nice. This soft/crispy baked pancake is made of chickpea flour and is usually served as a snack with drinks. On our first night in the city, I dragged my friend and colleague to Chez Pipo, one of the best places for socca according to David Lebovitz. We grabbed the last available table outside and set to work on the menu. With such low prices (everything was about €2,50 per portion), we ordered one of everything to try. Salty tapenade noire and anchoïade were served with little toasts.

Tapenade Noire et Anchoïade

Their pissaladière was delicious and I could easily have handled about three portions of this. However, there was cause for restraint as I’ll explain in a minute.

Pissaladière

We had quite a wait for our portion of socca as only a tray’s worth is made at a time (each tray being about the size of a wagon wheel). It was incredibly addictive with it’s crispy edges and softer centres…but then again, I adore chickpeas.

Socca

Chez Pipo
13 Rue Bavastro
Nice, France

After dinner, we strolled through old and new Nice to our next destination, a very important destination.

Nice at Night

Place Masséna

The reason for our restraint at dinner was this: Fenocchio. One hundred flavours of ice cream. We made it our mission to try as many of these flavours as we could during the week. I think I only managed 7 overall.

Fruit Flavours

My first tasting was of two scoops: an exquisite marron glacé studded with lots of the candied nut and a brilliant speculoos. It was a good start.

My First Fenocchio Ice Cream

Later in the week, two more flavours: a bright and fruity guava and a slightly disappointing, subdued salted butter caramel. I heard that the intensely chocolately flavours were excellent as were the other fruity ones. I can also vouch for the ginger flavour!

Guava and Salted Caramel

We started at their stand in the old city by the tram line but then became loyal to their main stand in Place Rossetti. They have seats in the square and you get to gaze upon the imposing Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate. Oh, and they serve sundaes and waffles there too.

Fenocchio
2 place Rossetti (main shop)
6 rue de la Poissonerie (not open every day)
28 boulevard Jean Jaurès (by the tram line)
Nice, France

Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate

On most days, there’s a fruit and vegetable market at Cours Saleya – more on that in the next post. What you want to look out for is Chez Theresa and their excellent socca.

Socca

The large tray of socca sits on an oil drum stove, frying gently. It’s not cooked there but in an oven of Chez Theresa, located in the Old City; you can buy your socca at this location but it’s not quite the same. To get the socca from one site to the other, there’s a man and a moped and a trailer for the large tray.

Theresa herself serves the socca. It’s a pretty no-nonsense affair – hand over your €3 and get your portion. She’ll direct you to the salt and pepper (both recommended) and off you go with your snack.

Serving the Socca

Her socca isn’t much of a looker and could certainly be improved by being more crispy (it’s soft almost all the way through). However, what’s amazing about it is its flavour – all toasty and coated in extra virgin olive oil and so so good. It’s hard to stop burning your fingers as you reach for more. It’s highly recommended. On weekends, you can expect a queue for it.

Socca

Were these the best soccas in Nice? Well, I did try a couple others but mainly their flavour was weak. These two were certainly the best I tried on this visit.

Chez Theresa
Cours Saleya (stall in the market)
28 Rue Droite (shop in the old town)
Nice

When in Nice, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a place that serves pizza. Nice is located very close to the Italian border (and was itself under Italian rule until 1860) and this shows in its local cuisine and well…all those pizza and pasta joints. We grabbed a random takeaway one from a cafe in the old city and took it over to the base of the castle. It has a good thin crust and good quality toppings – it sure beat most of the takeaway pizzas in London.

Pizza

I love that every takeaway pizza comes with a sachet of sauce picante, which turned out to be some pretty good chilli oil.

Sauce Picante

We had also grabbed some pastries from the renowned Patisserie Lac. My friend’s intensely chocolate macaron filled with chocolate ganache almost did her in (in a very good way). I tried Lac’s version of the Niçoise tourte de blettes, a Swiss chard tart that comes in both sweet and savoury varieties (here be sweet). It was delicious with the raisins and pine nuts coming through rather than any vegetal flavour.

Pastries from Lac

Our lunchtime view was nothing to sniff at either.

Our Lunchtime View

More in Part 2!

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