Eating Out

The sooner you relax and go with the French flow, the more you'll enjoy your stay. Expect to spend at least two hours for lunch in a restaurant, savoring three courses and talking over the wine; dinner lasts even longer. If you keep one eye on your watch and the other on the waiter, you'll miss the point and spoil your own fun.

You may benefit from a few pointers on French dining etiquette. Diners in France don't negotiate their orders much, so don't expect serene smiles when you ask for sauce on the side. Order your coffee after dessert, not with it. When you're ready for the check, ask for it. No professional waiter would dare put a bill on your table while you're still enjoying the last sip of coffee. And don't ask for a doggy bag; it's just not done.

Also a word on the great mineral-water war: the French usually drink wine or mineral water—not soda or coffee—with their food. You may ask for a carafe of tap water, une carafe d'eau. In general, diners order mineral water if they don't order wine. It's not that the tap water is unsafe; it's usually fine—just not as tasty as Evian or slightly fizzy Badoit. To order flat mineral water ask for eau naturelle; fizzy is eau gazeuse.

Restaurants along the coast are generally more expensive than those inland; basic regional fixed-price menus average about €17 to €22, though the high end of this figure represents the usual cost of seafood so often featured on restaurant menus. In high summer reserve at popular restaurants, especially if you want a coveted outdoor table.

Meals and Mealtimes

If you're antsy to get to the next museum, or if you plan to spend the evening dining in grand style, consider lunch in a brasserie, where quick, one-plate lunches and full salads are available. Cafés often serve casse croûtes (snacks), including sandwiches, which are simply baguettes lightly filled with ham or cheese; or croques monsieurs, grilled ham and cheese open-face sandwiches with a rich layer of béchamel. Bakeries and traiteurs (delis) often sell savory items like quiches, tiny pizzas, or pastries filled with pâté. On the Côte d'Azur there's a wealth of street food, from the chickpea-based crepes called socca to pissaladière (onion-olive pizza) and pan bagnat (a tuna-and-egg-stuffed pita-style bun).

One of the wonderful aspects of breakfast in Provence and on the Côte d'Azur is eating outdoors, whether on the restaurant terrace or on your own tiny balcony. Breakfasts are light, consisting of croissants and bread, jam and butter, and coffee. Many hotels also serve yogurt, fruit juice, cereal, cheese, and eggs on request.

You'll notice here more than anywhere in France that the lunch hour begins after 1; some places don't even open before that. If you don't mind being a gauche foreigner, eating at noon is one way to get into those sought-after restaurants that do open at noon. If you want to really do as the locals do, reserve for a lunch at 1 or 1:30.

Breakfast is usually served from 7:30 to 10:30; if you want it earlier, arrange a time the night before. Dinner is usually eaten after 8, and most restaurants do not open for dinner before 7:30.

Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed in this guide are open daily for lunch and dinner.