One of the most pleasant ways of enjoying simple, home-made food, and the genuine warmth and welcome of local families, is to eat at one of the ferme-auberges that are scattered around some of our more unspoilt Provençal countryside. The menus are simple — usually home produced salads, terrine, charcuterie or quiche (often a huge platter containing all of these), followed by a farm-reared chicken, guinea fowl or rabbit with vegetables from the potager, then salad with goats’ cheese, and a fruit tart produced from the orchard. Often it’s washed down by their own wine, too. Everything grows and goes together. There’s nothing fancy and you don’t get much choice, but that’s the pleasure — it’s like eating with the family. And usually in superb surroundings with great views.
We first discovered this delight at the Domaine des Fouques, just north of Hyères, in the wilds of the Borrels, where the Gros family not only grow their vines according to the lunar calendar and Rudolph Steiner’s increasingly trendy “bio-dynamic” way, but since their poultry, fruit and veg are equally respected and organically raised, the flavours are unbeatable. You eat outside under the wisteria, the green of the landscape sweeping down to the sea and distant Porquerolles. The price is €25 plus their (cheap) wine. They are open for lunch every second Sunday, and Friday and Saturday nights in July and August.
Further east, off the tiny wiggly yellow road between Bormes and Collobrières, you seem to take your life in your hands as you go “off piste” at the Col de Babao, following the scant signs for the Ferme Gérin. (I advise against this in the rain, as the dirt track could be treacherous.) Just when you think you must be lost and should turn round (if you can find a safe turning spot), you emerge through the chestnut forest, at the alpine-looking farm with its bell-tinkling goat herd and absolutely amazing views over the Maures, not another sign of human habitation for miles and miles. There is a fabulous terrace which you share, I confess, with a few flies. (Well, that’s goatshit and organics for you). But the food more than compensates for this, and is served with pichets of local wine, at €22. Open every day for lunch, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings in July and August.
A few of you have already experienced the wholesome home-cooking and great position of Domaine les Fouquettes near Gonfaron, after visiting the nearby snail farm with me a couple of years ago. The Aquadro’s are still turning out the same super hospitality, proudly plying you, throughout their plentiful meal, with their own apéritifs, wines and liqueurs. The baronial room has grand open vistas over parasol pine-tops to the far hills of the Haut Var. They serve Sunday lunches for €28 and supper, in July and August, on Fridays and Saturdays.
By definition, they’re all off the beaten track, but, believe me, well worth seeking out. And as they are all small family-run enterprises it is essential to book beforehand.
REVISITED LES FOUQUETTES winter 06 & summer 07
This is a great place for real Provençal cooking, though the menu doesn’t vary a great deal. The starter comes in three central dishes which you all help yourselves to — quiche, salad and paté, all homemade. Then there’s a choice of rabbit or chicken, usually for main couse, followed by a generous platter of local cheeses, and a dessert. The wine is their own, and incredibly cheap at about €11 which really keeps the cost of the meal down to a very reasonable level. Great value for money, which is why it is very popular.