From the humble ratatouille to the queen of comfort food, cassoulet – this guide takes you through some of southern France’s most celebrated and essential dishes.
Bœuf à la bourguignonne and coq au vin in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
Bœuf à la bourguignonne is a warming winter dish
Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is home to one of France’s most celebrated dishes, the grande dame of stews, bœuf à la bourguignonne. While you’ll find this dish on most bistrots’ menus, the dish takes its name from the wine of Burgundy. A recipe designed for a cold winter’s day, this combination of beef, bacon, onions, mushrooms, garlic and thyme is slow-cooked for hours with helpings of full-bodied Burgundy red wine, until it forms a dark, simmering and rich cauldron of delicious savoury beef.
For a slightly less boozy meat-based dish, opt for the coq au vin de Bourgogne: tender braised chicken in a red wine reduction. Visit Dijon and indulge, before sleeping it all of at La chouette d'or.
Aligot and Puy lentils in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
Aligot is similar to fondue but has a smoother and thicker texture
It may come as a surprise to hear that according to the French, Lyon, not Paris, is the culinary capital of France. Less surprisingly, cheese and meat specialities play a starring role, and a central dish is Aligot; a fondue-like dish, consisting of nutty Tomme d’Auvergne cheese, mashed potatoes, butter, cream and garlic, that has a smooth and moreish taste. Accompanied by local sausages or roast pork, it’s a rich,utterly delicious dish.
For those in search of something lighter, try the Puy lentils. These robust, peppery pulses are renowned for their distinct flavour and texture. Cooked with garlic, bay leaves, thyme and onion, and served alongside herby sausages, these lentils are a fantastic introduction to the regional food. La Demeure du Lac de Fugeres is located in Le Puy en Velay, a central base for your stay.
Bouillabaisse and ratatouille in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Ratatouille is a medley of gorgeously-coloured vegetables
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur has some of France’s most cinematic scenery, so it follows that its food is as worthy of attention. Among the iridescent lavender fields and the golden, Provençal hills, you’ll find that no matter the village you end up in, ratatouille will be on the menu. A riotous jumble of aubergine, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, courgettes and onions, with a generous handful of herbes de Provence added in (think lavender, thyme, sage); the dish is then slow-cooked to form an earthy, rugged stew.
Head down the region’s glittering coastline to Marseille for another essential staple of Provençal cuisine – bouillabaisse. A Provençal fish broth is made from seafood shells, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and saffron. Generous helpings of white fish, prawns and shellfish are then spooned into the mixture, served with a crusty bread and a red pepper rouille sauce. Soak up the soup with bread, and the region will have you in its culinary grasp. Alex Hotel & Spa is boutique hotel in Marseilles’ old port, close to some of the city’s top eateries.
Cassoulet and sausage in Occitanie
With sausages, duck and beans, cassoulet won't leave you hungry
In Occitanie, among the pretty pinks of Toulouse and wide boulevards of Montpellier, is a thriving food scene, and one signature to the region is the cassoulet. Believed to have originated in the city of Castelnaudary, under siege from the English, citizens gathered all the available food to make a ragout to feed the troops. White beans form the base of the dish, which is then loaded with tomatoes, duck confit, Toulouse sausages and various other meats, all of which eventually form a thick, warming stew.
Equal attention should be given to the Toulouse sausage however; one of the few kinds of sausages that by law cannot have preservatives added to it. A red wine, garlicky and smoky meat, that you’ll find at market stalls across the city; these sausages are ideal for cassoulets or just on their own, perched atop a delicate mountain of potatoes. Head to Chambres D'hôtes Amarilli for a well-deserved nap afterwards.
Duck and Bayonne ham in Nouvelle Aquitaine
Head to a local market in Bordeaux for a range of duck-based dishes
Known as France’s farming region, Nouvelle Aquitaine puts produce first. Duck is the meat of choice in these parts, and a classic magret de canard is a quintessential recipe. Grilled duck breast, often in a red wine and shallot sauce, it’s a dish that’s delicious and effective in its sheer simplicity. Duck confit is another classic duck-based dish, where the meat is salt-cured with a salt, garlic and thyme rub, before being cooked in its own rendered fat for a truly indulgent affair.
The region’s proximity to Spain can be seen in its cuisine; salty Bayonne ham is a pre-dinner necessity with a glass of Bordeaux, or cooked with poulet basquaise, a pepper-based chicken dish baked in a white wine sauce. Le Clos d’Emile is a suitable base to launch your gastronomic adventure.