If you are ever to understand the heart of a place, you must try its food. Food tells a story, and nowhere more than on the French Riviera, which has been rapidly transformed from a sleepy 19th century coastline of sheep farms and fishing villages to a jet-set destination littered with Michelin star restaurants and Provencal restaurants among the grapevines.
The delicacies of the French Riviera chart the cultural history of the area: of rustic peasant foods like socca and the fishermen’s hearty bouillabaisse stew, right through to the Tarte Tropezienne – a cake propelled to fame by a 1950’s silver screen starlet. Above all, Southern French food tells the tale of humble local produce done to perfection—of quality ingredients prepared in a way that startles the palate with something that it expects to be ordinary.
The food of the French Riviera is the cuisine of sun and sea, of deep red tomatoes ripened by the Mediterranean sunshine and dressed with glugs of local olive oil grown in sunny groves. It’s the taste of bright yellow lemons plucked from Menton’s seafront gardens, and the blissful smell of Herbes de Provence, which can transport you back to the summer fields of Southern France with just one deep inhale. The seafood is plucked straight from the sparkling Mediterranean: creamy oysters gleaming fatly on a bed of ice in the Antibes marketplace, a basket of crunchy fried calamari as an afternoon snack at a shady beachside shack in Saint Tropez, or a piece of grilled snapper with ratatouille at a glamorous beach club in Cannes.
There is no better way to experience the stunning cuisine of the French Riviera than by private yacht, as you float from Menton to Saint Tropez, stopping at Michelin star restaurants and Provencal marketplaces as you go.
Here are some delicacies you simply must try on your French Riviera yacht charter:
In Saint Tropez, sink your teeth into the soft, creamy deliciousness of a Tarte Tropezienne: the custardy, creamy brioche cake that sultry screen goddess Brigitte Bardot made famous back in the 1950’s when she was filming And God Created Woman. In fact it’s not a tart at all, but rather a cake made with round brioche and a pastry cream filling flavoured delicately with orange blossom water. The recipe is a secret to this day, which is why you must try it at the original bakery, which is rather predictably called ‘La Tarte Tropezienne’.
Perhaps the most famous dish of Provence is the Bouillabaisse, a once-humble fish stew handed down by Marseille fisherman that now graces the tables of the Riviera’s finest restaurants. Made with at least 4 types of fish (and traditionally no shellfish), this cult-status dish has a rich tomato based stock flavoured with saffron and white wine, and is served with croutons smeared in a spicy, garlicky rouille sauce. On the French Riviera, one of the best places to try the Bouillabaisse is Le Bacon, a superb seafood restaurant on the Cap d’Antibes which has been run by the Sordello family for over 60 years.
A pissaladière is a French-style pizza or tart made with caramelised onions, olives, and anchovies. It originated in Nice but is thought to stretch back all the way to Roman times, and the Monagesque version adds tomatoes to honour the Italian influences in the area. So head thee to a bakery in Nice or Monaco to savour the decadent sweetness of the caramelised onions balanced perfectly by the saltiness of Nicoise olives and anchovies. The pissaladiere sums up the bold flavours of the Cote d’Azur in one moreish bite.
Tarte au Citron Mentonnais
Any food lover worth their Maldon sea salt will be putting Menton on their gourmet yacht charter itinerary, as Mirazur just got voted the 4th best restaurant in the world. Yet Menton’s food culture extends a lot wider than that, with their world-famous lemon groves and spectacular winter citrus festival. Due to its gentle microclimate, Menton is known as the only place in France where lemons grow naturally, so you must try the lemon tart – a true taste of Mediterranean sunshine and made even more special by the use of local lemons and ground almonds. Expect a sweet crispy base and a bright yellow, wonderfully tart lemon filling.
Humble, finger-licking delicious socca must be one of the best things about visiting a market in the South of France. Originally a peasant food for farmers, this thin chickpea crepe is cooked in a wood-fired oven until crispy round the edges, and is served all hot and oily with a twist of black pepper. You can get socca in many Provencal restaurants, but our socca pick goes to Antibes market, where you can get a superb slice of socca and soak up the great atmosphere and colour of a bustling French market. Be warned though, one slice of socca is never enough.
This Nicois speciality of stuffed vegetables takes on many forms, but the crucial element is the wonderful array of Mediterranean vegetables – from aubergine to zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. Generally mixed with ground pork, beef, or leftover daube, the petit farcis is a riot of colour and flavour, with plenty of garlic, onions, basil, and generous sprinkles of Herb de Provence before being grilled with a crusty topping of breadcrumbs and parmesan. Rustic and utterly delicious. Restaurant Acchiardo in Vieux Nice is the place to try some authentic petit farcis.
Long before the superyachts and celebrities arrived, the pretty fishing village of Saint Tropez was famous for one thing: anchovies. This tradition lives on in the local speciality of anchoïade – which is a thick puree of anchovies mixed with capers and olive oil. Saint Tropez even has an anchoïade festival in December, but if you’re yachting in summer, we suggest heading to the Saturday St Tropez market to try the local anchoïade from one of the olive stalls. And sample some of the olive tapenade while you’re there – no Provencal gourmet experience is complete without trying this delicious olive paste.
The food of the French Riviera tells a story of the geography, climate and culture of this magnificent place. This summer, take a gourmet food journey down the sparkling Cote d’Azur with a yacht charter on the French Riviera.
To find out more, contact the French Riviera yacht charter experts at Bespoke Yacht Charter: