Travel: Arles, France

France has always held a special place in my heart. As a child, my grandparents lived in the south and some of my fondest memories include shopping in the outdoor markets, swimming in lakes and of course the food. Even aged eight I could demolish a pizza bigger than my head and a pot brimming with fresh mussels.

Maybe it was the hazy combination of sunshine and very pale skin but everything seemed to taste better out there. After my grandparents came back to England and I was old enough, I booked many holidays to Paris with friends to kerb my Francophile ways.

Last year my grandfather sadly lost a short and unexpected fight with cancer. I had booked a trip to Arles before he fell ill and as his state deteriorated he would often talk to me about the plans for my trip, the places I’d see and of course whether or not I’d be eating any enormous pizzas. My love of France now not only stems from happy childhood memories but from his adoration for this beautiful country and the time we shared together there.

I visited Arles for a second time this summer to attend one of the world’s largest photography festivals. Whilst my other half is there for the art – I’m most certainly in it for the food.

Arles is a city on the Rhône River in the Provence region of southern France. It’s famed for inspiring the paintings of Van Gogh. Once a provincial capital of ancient Rome, Arles is also known for many remains from that era, including Arles Amphitheatre. Whilst this is all well and good a Gills Gal has only one thing on her mind – where to find the best seafood.

I visited two fantastic seafood restaurants this year. The first was Du bar à l’huitre.

Du bar à l’huitre

This famous seafood restaurant is situated just off a busy tourist square. Why is it busy you ask? Well, this square is where Van Gough painted Café Terrace at Night back in 1888. The bright yellow restaurant in his name that now stands there, does not do it justice.

Although it’s location is less than ideal – the oysters it is named after are well worth it. Served on ice with lemon and mignonette sauce, they tasted incredibly fresh as though they’d been plucked from the water moments before.

For our mains I had a tuna steak, grilled and served with vegetables and a pesto sauce. Simple, salty and delicious. My boyfriend had the langoustine risotto, with spelt and an almost BBQ flavour. There was food envy in every direction.

oysters in arles

The second restaurant, Le Criquet, is perhaps one of the best places I have ever eaten. To start the staff were incredibly helpful and their fluent English far outweighed by amiable but somewhat unsuccessful attempts at french. We sat outside in a tiny courtyard just off the street.

Le Criquet

To start I had the octopus salad with sliced radish and a basil and garlic oil dressing (seen in this blogs main image). Served chilled the octopus was unbelievably soft and served with the crunch of radish was simple and delicious. My boyfriend opted for razor clams, again served simply with garlic, parsley and oil. Dishes like these, with so few ingredients, really give the quality of the seafood a chance to show off. It’s been a week since that octopus and the thought of it makes me want to book a plane.

For the main, I opted for cod served with vegetables, aioli and an array of mussels and clams. Visually it was stunning. I mean look at that purple broccoli! The appearance was matched and perhaps even surpassed by the taste. If you aren’t a fan of garlic then perhaps the two courses I had may be a little much for you, but, if you are I cannot recommend it enough. This is what I love about the food here. There’s no need for thick creamy sauces or complicated cooking – the fish speaks for itself and all the other ingredients help to amplify that as well as standing alone in deliciousness. In total my three-course meal came to around £30, so about as much as one ‘artisan’ burger in London.

My final recommendation should you visit Arles, and you should, is to check out the market that runs along the main boulevard on Saturday mornings. It is over a mile long and a hearty proportion of that is delicious fresh food. Although I sadly couldn’t buy any the tables of fresh fish were incredible, with piles of fresh mussels and oysters being bought.

If you aren’t heading back to a kitchen you can still reap the rewards of the market. Try one of the huge paella stands or better yet grab a fresh baguette, rotisserie chicken (it’s okay to stray from fish once in awhile), and set up a picnic in the nearby park. Life doesn’t much better or tastier than that.  Bon Appetit!

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