Fresh bread, patisseries, fine wines, regional cheeses and more - this is what holidays in France are all about
Whereas in Britain, eating is too often considered to be a functional task, in France, it is no less than a hobby. Something to take time over and enjoy, and very much a social experience. As you Francophiles will know, this is one of the main joys of holidaying in France.
This section of our Travel Directory looks at the cuisine of Aquitaine, including some of it's famous wines. Here, we've also listed the top-rated restaurants in Aquitaine. We'll be adding restaurants recommended by clients soon. Do also check our Eating Out andShopping sections of the Survival Guide for further information.
> Aquitaine specialities
> Gascon specialities
> Béarnais specialities
> Pays Basque specialities
> Wine & other tipples
> Michelin Star restaurants in Aquitaine
Aquitaine is France’s gastronomic heartland, and much of the country’s finest ingredients are sourced here. Gascon cuisine in particular, is raved about all over France. Here is a selection of produce you are likely to come across, in restaurants, food shops or at the market:
Fruits de mer (seafood): with a shoreline of almost 200 kms it's little wonder that seafood is the speciality of the region. In particular, huitres(oysters) are the crustacean of choice, especially in Arcachon & Cap Ferret and there are many oyster huts ('cabanes') and villages throughout the Arcachon Bay where you can try them direct from the producer.Crustacés are any shellfish; moules (mussels), crevettes (prawns),coquilles St Jacques (scallops) and bulots (sea-snails) are also common menu-items.
Poissons (fish): the range and quality of fish in Aquitaine is outstanding. Here are the main ones you will come across and which aren’t always in the pocket dictionairies or phrase books:
le bar = seabass
l’églefin = haddock
la dorade, la dorée or le Saint Pierre = John Dory
le flétan = halibut
le loup = bass
la morue = cod
le merlan = whiting
le rouget = mullet
le thon = tuna
The easiest way to identify them is in a poissonnerie!
Salade Landaise: a wonderful mixture of fresh, cold salad and warm, salty meat - various, hard-to-identify (best not ask), fried cuts of fowl. The Landes is renowned in France for its poultry, especially, canards (duck) and oies (geese), and parts of some or all of these are to be found in the landaise salad. Makes a perfect lunch with a glass of rose.
Confits and patés: This isn't the place to explain the differences between the two, just to say that the Landes duck and geese populations are raised in a laudable purpose, maintaining the local tradition of making fine accompaniments to toast and a glass of chilled white wine.
Cèpes and girolles. There are a lot of words for 'mushroom' in French, a testament to the depth of its culinary heritage. Look out for these delicately-flavoured fungi in September/October, either in the forest itself, or on the local restaurant's 'specials' menu. Hunting for wild mushrooms, or cèpes, is almost a national sport!
The further south in Aquitaine you go, the more the Basque & Spanish influence is evident in tastes, in offerings such as jambon de Bayonne(air-dried ham) and pimientos (spicy peppers). This fusion of Spanish and French cuisine is made in heaven! Also try: ttoro (fish soups),marmitako (stews) and pinchos or pintxos (Basque tapas).
Of course, every region in France has its speciality cakes and pastries. You'll find canelés in every boulangerie and patisserie and it's quite likely you'll eat several on your holiday here! Interesting fact: canelés are made from egg-yolks left after the whites have been used for purifying barrel-aged wine before it is bottled.
It’s not much fun being a duck in Gascony. Foie gras, magrets andconfits represent the preferred form of duck as far as your average Gascon is concerned. This region is the largest producer of foie gras in France. In fact, the diet in the south west is based largely around duck (or goose, and often cooked in its own fat), game, red wine and garlic. A little known fact is that heart disease in this area of France is half that of the USA and don’t be surprised to see locals living into their 90’s.
Game is very popular so look out for dishes such as palombe (wood pigeon), bécassier (woodcock) and ortolan (bunting) on the menu.
In the Landes area of Gascony, wild mushrooms or cèpes are treated like gold. The forests in between Biascarrosse and Sanguinet are prime areas for hunting down this delicacy. It is not unknown for fights to break out if more than one person stumbles across the same mushroom patch. Cèpes are included in many dishes, omelette aux cèpes being one of them.
If you’re in Les Landes, you won’t be far from a Salade Landaise. Inevitably it involves duck. Gésiers confits (gizzards preserved in fat) to be precise. This may sound revolting but it really is a treat. With the appearance of small beetroots, this is enough to bring even the blandest of salads to life. Add a few more slices of duck, a medallion of foie gras, a few slices of other meats and sprinkle with a dressing made of hazelnut oil, sunflower oil, wine vinegar and a little salt. Oh, and with it try a glass of dry Jurançon.
In truth, not disimilar to Gascon cuisine so expect to see the odd duck or goose. A favourite local dish is poule au pot, which, it is said, Henry IV wanted every French family to eat once a week. It is essentially a chicken and vegetable stew, the chicken having first been stuffed with breadcrumbs and (preferably Bayonne) ham.
Tourin is a Béarnais soup which consists of the following French essentials: garlic, onions, duck fat, bread and a dollop of tomato paste.
Despite Bayonne being in Pays Basque, jambon de Bayonne is actually made in Béarn and it has AOC status. Pigs must be local to Béarn, Pays Basque or Armagnac and the salt must come from Salies-de-Béarn.
Unique to Béarn is the sheep’s milk cheese fromages de brebis which you will often find served with red cherries - a very civilised way to end a meal.
True to form, the Basques like to be different when it comes to their food. Basques like their food spicy and this is thanks to the localpiments d’Espelette – red chili peppers. Every year in October, these are hung out to dry all over the village of Espelette – it really is quite a sight. They form the main ingredient of piperade, a relish used for all manner of dishes, especially seafood.
The Côte Basque delivers some of the best seafood to be found anywhere in France. Local specialities include thon Basquaise (tuna in tomato and pepper sauce), and coquilles St-Jacques (scallops). The Basques also have their own ‘special soup’, ttoro, based on the local catch of the day.
Our favourite of all though, is the sublime gâteau Basque, a heavenly cake with plentiful supplies of confiture or crème inside. And just because it is called a gâteau, it doesn’t mean you can’t eat it as a mid-morning or afternoon snack!
Wines & other tipples
For something to accompany your meal, then obviously you are spoilt for choice. If you are in a restaurant and ever unsure what to drink, ask for a recommendation (within a budget), it’s bound to be good!
Wines of Bordeaux: the Bordeaux region covers crisp dry whites and easy-drinking reds as well as the prestige appellations of Margaux, St Emilion, Graves, Sauternes and so on. (See our Pays Des Vins region guide for a Quick Guide to Bordeaux wines.) There are over 5000 wine-producing chateaux from 57 different appellations, representing 30% of France’s total appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) wine production. Try this website to find our more about Medoc Wines.
Wines of Gascony: the regions of Tursan and Chalosse south of the Adour both produce good wines – Vin de Tursan and Coteaux de Chalosse respectively. Tursan reds are highly tannic wine. Whites are fruity and are popular with asparagus dishes. Both The Tursan and Chalosse wines are little known outside of France today; they had their hay-day in the 17th and 18th centuries when the wine was transported down the Adour to Bayonne and then exported to England. Around the small town of Geaune, the capital of Tursan, wine has been produced for nearly a thousand years. Mugron is the best place to taste Chalosse wines.
Wines of Pays Basque: There is one wine of AOC distinction in Pays Basque and that is Irouléguy. Red, white and rosé are all available but the reds are best.
Wines of Le Béarn: the most famous wine of this area is Jurançon, supposedly the favourite wine of Henry IV. It has AOC status for two of its wines: the sec (dry) and fruité (sweet) varieties. Both are reknown for their exotic fruity fragrance. To the north of Pau there is more excellent wine to be found in another two AOC wine areas – Madiran andPacherenc du Vic-Bilh (the former is just over the border in Hautes-Pyrénées). Madiran is known as the most tannic wine in all of France and therefore a good accompaniment to red meat or strong local cheese.
Other drinks of the region: the eastern part of Gascony is the westernmost section of Armagnac country. It has been said that armagnac is the life-blood of Gascon culture! It certainly features heavily on local menus; basically, if it’s edible, it has every possibility of being 'armagnac-ed'! This after-dinner tipple dates back to 1411 which makes it the oldest spirit distilled from grapes in the world. Apparently the armagnac from Ténarèze is said to be the finest but then it depends on what town you are in at the time. The ageing process is not rushed; the finest armagnac brandy will be barrelled for over up to 40 years before it is bottled, and with no preservatives added at any stage, it is almost a health-drink!
Also from Gascony is the sweet and delicious tipple, Floc de Gascogne. Its basically a mix of grape juice and armagnac and it has AOC status. There are two varieties, floc blanc and floc rosé. The blanc variety is favoured as a chilled aperitif whilst the latter is often seen alongside a plate of sheep’s cheese.
The Basques make their own liqueur called Izarra, which looks frightening (it’s green) and is available in every restaurant and bar in Pays Basque. It’s a sweet liqeur made from Pyrénéan herbs, spices and a drop of Armagnac. You can do a tour of the Izarra distillery in the Quartier St-Esprit district of Bayonne.
And finally, there’s Oldarki, the local beer in the Basque Country. Quite strong with a pink hue. It’s memorable.
Dégustation: Eating/Drinking Direct from the Producer
You’ll see signs saying dégustation a lot: it means the producer of oysters, foie gras, wine or whatever other delight it might be is offering the chance for you to try. This is as fresh and real as it gets! There is an implicit understanding that you’ll buy something, even if it’s not in huge quantity. It’s a fun, highly memorable experience and even if your French is very average, sign-language and pidgin English can go a long way – give it a go!
Michelin Star Restaurants
These are the Michelin star restaurants we know of. Visit the CRT Gourmet Aquitaine website for a useful map and further links. There are several more Michelin star restaurants just over the border in Spain - San Sebastien in particular.
La Gueriniere BAYONNE (Urt)
Hotel du Palais
Chateau de Brindos
Campagne & Gourmandise BORDEAUX
La Table de Montesquieu
La Grand Vigne
Le Pressoir d'Argent
Saint James Bouliac
Le Gabriel CONDOM
La Tables des Cordeliers EUGENIE LES BAINS
Michel Guerard GUETHARY
Hotel des Lacs d'Halco LANGON
Relais de la Poste
"excellent, looked after the children well; food 9/10" - Ferrer family July 2010 PAU
Hotel Parc Beaumont
Au Fin Gourmet
Chez Ruffet PUJOLS
La Toque Blanche PUYMIROL
Aubergade ST EMILION
La Hostellerie du Plaisence ST JEAN PIED DE PORT
Les Pyrenees Other web resources
Authentic Aquitaine Eateries- cafes & restaurants using the best local produce. Visit the website to see a map of locations