I want to let you in on a little secret: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat and drink well, really well, in the south of France. Usually the Michelin starred establishments garner all the attention, but I am here to tell you that devoted foodies are really missing out on something special if they choose to snub their noses at lesser known country kitchens. I’ve eaten in many restaurants in France over the years and there is simply no substitute for the Mom and Pop operations. This is certainly not meant to be disparaging to restaurants that have worked hard to earn their stars. In fact, ask me about my experiences at one, two, or three starred establishments and I will regale you an entire evening with stories about the incredible attention to detail, the perfectly choreographed presentation of each dish, and the mind blowing service that reaches a level that can only be referred to as intuitive. You’ll hear at least one or two quips about the speed at which a server almost impaled himself on the back of a chair while rushing to light a customer’s cigarette (pre-smoking ban of course), and certainly there will be a mention, or two or three, of the bill.
No, don’t get me wrong, to dine in a starred restaurant is truly a magical experience.
However, there is another experience I much prefer, and I think you will too. Allow me to list several good reasons for driving into the back country and taking a chance on an unknown restaurant.
(1) A sense of discovery.
Anybody can pick up a guide book, dial the telephone, and book a table a month in advance at the latest “in” restaurant. Where’s the adventure in that? Get in your car, drive into the hills, get lost. There’s nothing like discovering a place that no one else, except the locals, knows about.
(2) Meet and greet.
When is the last time you had dinner at a starred restaurant and ended the evening by walking out into the parking lot, drunk, with five of your new best friends so they could pull the cover off the bed of a pick-up and show you the wild boar they shot that morning? I thought so.
It happened to me in January.
Now maybe experiences like that aren’t your cup of tea, but to me, that’s good living.
(3) Support the village.
Restaurants in small French towns often buy their produce, meats, and wines from local providers. In our global economy that lifestyle is quickly disappearing. Let’s support it while we can.
(4) The food.
Simple, fresh, delicious, and yes, sometimes sublime. Add a nice bottle of local wine and you’ve got the makings for a very pleasant afternoon or evening.
And who knows, you might even end up out in the parking lot yucking it up with your new friends and one very unfortunate wild boar.
Listed below are three restaurants in the Alpes Maritimes behind Nice and Cannes that you’ll never hear of, except here, of course.
Auberge De Courmes
3 Rue des Platanes
Tel. 33 (0)4 93 77 64 70
Fax. 33 (0)4 93 77 65 90
Hidden halfway up a mountainside and known mostly only to locals, the idyllic village of Courmes is the perfect setting for this welcoming country inn and restaurant.
Auberge de Gourdon
Route de Caussols
tel. 33 (0) 4 93 09 69 69
fax. 33 (0) 4 93 77 55 92
Open only for lunch
Comfortable and affordable, this restaurant/bar/tabac below the main village has a friendly atmosphere and a lively clientele. In warm weather try to get a table outside.
Auberge de Caussols
Tel. 33 (0)4 93 09 29 67
You’ll really have to drive into the hills for this one, but it’s well worth it. Simple, country fare at its best.