It seemed like a reasonable idea. We would drive to Marseille, try the famous Marseillaise bouillabaisse for lunch, and then on the way back stop in the Camargue, France’s wetlands west of Marseille, for a little post lunch hike.
I made reservations at le Miramar, one of the most recommended places to eat this classic Mediterranean fish soup. Some may wonder why fish soup is such a big deal, but this fish soup really is. First a rich stock is made with local Mediterranean fish and various herbs and spices. Then other fish, at least four varieties, are cooked to perfection in the resulting liquid heaven. At the traditional restaurants the soup is served in two stages, first just the broth – but there is nothing “just” about the broth, heady with saffron and other herbs and thick with fish bits, it’s perfection before you even bite into the other fish. Served with toast and aioli, a Cayenne pepper and garlic mayonnaise. Put a little aioli on the toast and float them in the broth. Yum! Second is the fish course. The same broth but this time loaded with the various local fish and in this case potatoes. This is totally unlike any so called “bouillabaisse” I’ve ever eaten before.
Miramar does a fabulous job. Their fish dishes are exquisitely prepared and proudly presented table side before they are served. Yes, it is a bit touristy and expensive, but this is France. It’s subtle. It’s touristy enough that you don’t feel out of place taking pictures, but you don’t feel it’s all show and no substance either. Prices are high, €58 per person, but they offer a number of high quality freebies, from the glazed mushroom on toast and a monk fish mousse garnished with a garlic parsley oil to start to the small patisserie and house digestive to end. If you are watching your budget or your waistline, the desserts are not worth the €16 a pop. Stick to the bouillabaisse.
I almost forgot the wine. The classic wine to drink with this famous fish soup is the local white Cassis, a subtle dry wine. Lovely on a warm afternoon.
So after all that, we think we are hiking? A nap would be more reasonable. Thankfully we have a bit of a drive and the Camargue is, after all, flat. Very flat. The one thing to remember when visiting the Camargue from Marseille, or the east side, is that there are limited places to cross the Rhone. You can take the ferry, or bac, at the south end that connects D35 to D36, or drive to Arles. We head down to the Gacholle Lighthouse (Phare de la Gacholle), hopefully to spot the pink flamingos summering from Africa. Although there are not big flocks at this time of year, mid June, we luck out and spot a pair dining just off the causeway. Now this is dessert!