The Ambitious Kitchen team spent eight days in France learning about the food and wine culture for the #HertzSuperStart scavenger hunt campaign. During part two of our trip we explored the Occitanie region of Southern France. This trip was sponsored by Hertz Europe, Air France, Briggs & Riley, and www.visitfrenchwine.com.
We’re back with part two of our epic road trip through Southern France! We left off back in Avignon, where Abra and I had a private wine tasting with a sommelier followed by dinner + a stay downtown. We were up early the next morning to head to our second region in Southern France called Occitanie.
After a bit of an adventure finding the underground parking where we left our Hertz rental car (our French was getting better, but not perfect) we were off to Marseillan-Plage for a day of food, beach time, and relaxation at Méditerranées Campings Villages & Spa.
Between our long walks on the beach + hangs in our little beach home, we feasted on some incredible meals for lunch and dinner at Le Bisto du Beach Garden – courtesy of head chef, Matthieu Revel and his wife, Emilie Wolff. We had gorgeous, fresh fish:
1. A raw salmon dish with cubed cucumber, a tangy whipped cream, and pickled red onions
2. Layered avocado + tomato purée with crab and that same tangy whipped cream
3. Grilled prawns and scallops with baked polenta and grilled veggies (my fav)
And of course, 4. DESSERT. Complete with crumbled meringue, fresh berries, sweet whipped cream, and candied, slivered almonds.
We wandered back to our beach home after a gorgeous day of wine, food & plenty of sun, attempted to log on and finish up some work, and promptly went to bed.
The next morning we were up early for our daily croissant, said goodbye to the palm trees from our mini beach vacation, and headed to Marseillan to visit Maison Noilly Prat – an amazing Vermouth distillery.
We were about to become James Bond and make homemade dry martinis at 10am? Oh yes.
The distillery, which has been around since 1850, was right next to a beautiful harbor, and the vineyard behind it overlooked the Mediterranean Sea. Did you know that French vermouth comes from wine?? Joseph Noilly (the man behind the liquid gold) created it back in 1813 and passed his recipe down for generations.
We actually tasted the wine straight from the barrel, which would later become vermouth. It was pretty sweet but surprisingly light and refreshing!
We also tasted each of Noilly Prat’s four flavors: Extra Dry, Original Dry, Rouge & Amber. As you might imagine the Rouge and Amber were sweeter than the other two – people in France typically sip on it during colder months.
In 1911 people started using Noilly Prat Original Dry flavor to make martinis in New York, and a legendary cocktail was born!
My martini creation: vodka, Noilly Prat Original Dry, orange bitters, and a twist of orange peel. Pretty good if I do say so myself! Abra and I sipped on *some* of our 10am martini before heading to Le Saint Barth nearby in Marseillan.
It was time for oysters.
I’ll be the first to admit – oysters have never been my jam. As you probably know I’m big on texture, colors, and bold flavors, so the idea of eating a relatively slimy creature straight from the ocean has never been my fav.
BUT Marseillan, and specifically the Thau lagoon at Le Saint Barth, are famous for their oyster farming. Ten years ago the Tarbouriech family patented oyster farming in this area with a solar tide system using photovoltaic panels. A scientific way of saying that they innovated a new, environmentally sustainable way to farm oysters & mussels in the region.
Lunch consisted of 2 different types of oysters, and two huge bowls of mussels cooked in a delicious, garlicky sauce made special at Le Saint Barth. I was pleasantly surprised at how non-fishy and non-slimy these oysters were. They tasted much fresher than ones I’ve had in the U.S., and were good with a squeeze of lemon on top.
Previous-vegetarian Abra even ate two, so if you’re an oyster fan and are in Southern France this place is a must!
After filling up on mussels, homemade tapenade (which was amazing) and mini ice creams, we explored the lagoon on a pontoon to learn more about the oyster farming techniques.
Finally, we hopped back in the good ‘ol Mercedes and headed to a spa afternoon + castle-like stay at the brand new Domaine Tarbouriech.
This gorgeous estate was nestled between vineyards and the water, and had beautifully designed suites & lodges. The decor was pretty much #roomgoals everywhere we went. Did I mention there was a spa? We dropped our bags and immediately made our way to our oyster massages.
After a relaxing afternoon of oyster massages and lounging by the pool (aka dream come true) we freshened up and ventured down to La Folie – the gastronomy-focused restaurant on the grounds.
Everything at the restaurant was local and super fresh. The vegetables all came from their own biodynamic garden and of course, the seafood came straight from the water nearby. We had:
1. Thinly sliced beets with a light vinaigrette
2. White fish that I think was mackerel? With a grainy mustard on top of eggplant
3. Flavorful ahi tuna with marinated zucchini, yellow squash, and sun dried tomatoes
4. Can’t forget dessert: raspberries & cream sandwiching a thin vanilla wafer
We loved trying out all of these super fresh small bites and pairing them with crisp white and rosé wines. After a lovely dinner we made it back to our rooms to catch up on work and settle in before our last full day in the region.
We woke up early for our daily croissants the size of our faces (had to) and then set off for Village Castigno in Assignan. This little town was nestled in vineyards and built by a Belgian couple, Marc and Tine Verstraete. They revived the village with houses, a wellness area, 3 restaurants, and a new winery with all organic wines.
The buildings and decor in the town were all gorgeous shades of pink, purple & red to represent the natural colors of wine. Truly a village out of a fairytale. We met with the director of Village Castigno, who helped us pack up a delicious picnic for the afternoon and brought us a vespa to ride around on…
Okay, you may have seen on Instagram stories that we in fact did NOT drive off with our picnic on the vespa. As adventurous as we are, Abra and I went about five feet on the bike before realizing that the two of us winding around country roads for the first time wasn’t the safest idea.
Instead we jumped back in our trusty (and safe) Hertz rental car and headed out, windows down, around the beautiful countryside. We picked a small spot in the surrounding vineyards to set up our “pique-nique” of local cheese, charcuterie, bread, olives, and fruit, and ended up having ourselves a lovely afternoon.
Village Castigno is known for being a “digital detox,” aka there was no wifi in the village. Admittedly we were a little stressed out when we first heard this, but we finally realized how amazing it was to just be that day without staring at our phones, scrolling through Instagram, and constantly checking emails.
That afternoon I took a nap and wrote four recipe blog posts while Abra read by the pool. When was the last time you took a digital detox?
That evening we visited a new, enormous wine-shaped cellar built by architect Lionel Jadot. The cellar had just been completed in May, and was made out of recycled materials like corks! We toured the cellar and tried out 5 of their amazing organic wines.
The structures for making red wine varieties were also wine-colored – so cool.
I bet you can guess what came next: dinner! We headed back to the village center to have dinner at La Petite Table. The menu here was much different than what we’d eaten so far – they had bistro-style comfort food and wood fired plates from an Uruguayan chef. We started out with a dish of some grilled, smoky flavored sausages with a delicious dip, and a crustless quiche with tons of veggies. YUM.
For our main course we had wood-fired lamb, pork, and steak paired with tons of grilled veggies: zucchini, mushrooms, beets, bell pepper, and sweet potato.
Although I typically don’t eat much red meat (you’ve probably noticed that I rarely have it on the blog) these were cooked very well – super flavorful and didn’t feel too heavy. Safe to say Abra and I were at our meat maximum by our final day here.
For dessert we ordered their special “chocolate soup” and were instantly at capacity. Chocolate ice cream on top of a fudgy brownie sitting in a creamy, delicious pool of more chocolate.
OKAY little Village of Castigno, you win.
We finally rolled back to our rooms – Abra continued her book and I wrote a few more blog posts – before getting some much-needed sleep for our final day in France.
After enjoying croissants and scrambled eggs (the first eggs we’d had in France?!) Abra and I set off for a 2 hour road trip to Montpelier on our way to our final destination: Paris.
All I can say is thank goodness for the GPS in our Hertz rental car. We made it to the train station in Montpelier just in time to drop of our lovely Mercedes, grab baguette sandwiches, and sprint from train car to train car until the whistle told us the train was leaving.
We live on the edge a little bit.
We took a 3.5 hour train through the countryside up to Paris, dropped our bags at our new hotel in the city, and ventured to Notre Dame to meet up with two other bloggers who were traveling through different regions in France.
Getting to Paris was a huge change of scenery for us after winding through the countryside for the past 6 days. I loved everything from the hustle and bustle of the city and cute sidewalk cafes to the fashion (so much outfit inspo).
Abra and I walked about 2-3 miles from the Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower, because it was a must. It felt SO good to stretch our legs after a lot of driving, and it was one of the best ways to explore the city. We walked along the Seine River and took in all of the sights & sounds.
We ended our final night in France with heart-shaped pizzas, one last bottle of rosé, and the sun setting behind the Eiffel Tower.
Things we learned, Part 2:
1. Beaches can go from fully-clothed to nude, real quick
2. Vespas are much harder to navigate than in movies
3. Oysters are not eaten with hot sauce in France, and some varieties are as big as your palm
4. Digital detoxes are great for the mind, body & soul
5. The Eiffel Tower is HUGE!
Read up more on the wines and regions we toured here, and if you’re visiting Southern France, be sure to head to Marseillan and Assignan to check out some of these amazing places.
Thank you to everyone we met in the Occitanie region for the lovely food, wine, and company.