La Petite Fontaine

La Petite Fontaine, Collobrières, Var Tel 04 94 48 00 12

It’s difficult to come up with good «winter restaurants» here in Provence, when everything is geared so much to being outside, normally. Also, it being January, and since we’re all now broke and bloated after the festive excesses, I am loathe to point you towards expensive outlets full of cream and lobster…So simplicity has been my goal this month.

First I thought of recommending to you the quaint little family-run “Auberge des Vignes” in Néoules (in the Var), which is brilliant value as long as you like Moules/Frites — their menu consists of a mere 40 creative variations on this theme…. The only problem is that even this is better in springtime, as — much as I’m sure you’d enjoy your meal - the lingering smell on your clothes may remind you of it all the way home, because the dining room is small, (always packed), and not very well aired. I’m also unsure whether I approve of the exploitation of the granny of the house, whose job, from 6 in the morning till noon is to peel the spuds for the chips and clean and beard the mussels. Should I, in truth, recommend such a place? Well, if you’ve no scruples and no sense of smell, tel 04 94 72 71 27 for a reservation.

I decided to plump for La Petite Fontaine, in the end — even though this, too, can be fun outside, sitting in the little square by the eponymous fountain, basking in the shade of trees and the near-white washing strung out between the balconies above.

But even inside this is a great little restaurant to visit — partly for its family hospitality and rustic warmth, but also for its winter specialities, constructed largely around game dishes.

Collobrières is a tiny village hidden in a valley below the Massif des Maures, amid forests of chestnut trees, where sangliers roam alongside rabbits, hares, woodcock, and pheasant - or so it seems, according to the 2 menus, scrawled on blackboards. The food is wonderfully unpretentious and copious — an onion tart or home-made paté to start, followed by hearty gamey main dishes, ripe local cheeses, and excellent home-made desserts (try the icecream made from the local chestnuts), washed down by the wine from the local co-op — no choice here, but it’s good and keeps the price right down.

You come away replete and completely happy — after the Fontana family bid you a fond farewell. And you’ll be sure to return — try to remember it for next September, when this pretty village celebrates its justly famed Chestnut festival...

Juliet Young

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