Next stop on our voyage of discovery: the Var24-05-2018
Franceagroalimentaire.com continues its journey of discovery around France’s regions.
Here we introduce the very best of France; take a stroll through its picturesque towns and villages, savouring the finest gastronomy, culinary traditions and local specialities brimming with local heritage.
The Var, so what’s the story ?
Clinging to the Cote d’Azur and the Haute Provence Alps, the Var is one of France’s most popular departments, second only to Paris in visitor numbers. It is also one of France’s greenest, and is the second most densely forested departments. The diverse landscape features and countryside, from mountains to coast, taking in agricultural terraces, make this an exceptional area of France. The Var enjoys a Mediterranean climate and optimum sunshine, blessed with 3,000 hours of sun a year, which goes some way to explaining the appealing way of life in this corner of Provence.
Foods largely shaped by sunshine vegetables
Local Var cuisine goes hand in hand with typical Provence fare. The sunny soils have long since proved ideal for growing vines, olives, fruit trees and vegetables in abundance, while the proximity to the coast explains a firm focus on fish and shellfish in traditional recipes.
In winter, a local speciality is pumpkin soup, made with potatoes, onions and a hint of nutmeg.
In spring, artichoke hearts “à la barigoule” is a well-known delicacy, where scooped-out globe artichokes are stuffed with olive oil, tomatoes, onions and lardons and baked in the oven. It is served either as a starter or a tasty side dish.
Summer is when Provencal cooking really comes into its own, and features aubergine “tian”, or stew, Provençale tart and aioli, which is much more than just a garlic sauce, and is dish of its own including vegetables such as carrots, cabbage and potatoes, cod and eggs.
Sollies figs, the symbol of the Var
In the south west of the region, the Gapeau Valley is single-handedly responsible for 75% of France’s fig production. Here the fruit thrives in the rich, well-drained soils and unique micro-climate. Fig trees have been such a longstanding feature that they now form part of the landscape. Sollies-Pont, the fig capital, proudly boasts its own appellation d’origine controlee (AOC), for its delicious “Violette de Sollies”. Shaped like slightly crushed teardrops, the figs are purple to black in colour, ribbed in texture, concentrated, firm and supple. The fleshy interior is redolent of strawberry jam, and offers delicate vegetal and fruity notes of watermelon, melon, strawberries and red fruits. On the palate, the figs are tangy and sweet, crunchy yet soft, revealing intense vegetal, fruity and floral flavours.
To sum up, divine and delicious! Every year, during the last weekend of August, Sollies-Pont celebrates the delicious “Violette”. This is an event not to be missed, featuring a huge fig-focused feast, a bustling street market of local traders, guided tours in the fig orchards and the opportunity to sample a vast array of local fig dishes prepared by local chefs
Provence wines: the world’s leading producer of rosé wine
A trio of AOC wines take centre stage in the Var, alongside the AOP recognised “Vin de Pays du Var”. Bandol, Cotes de Provence and Coteaux Varois are the three wine appellations produced locally, whose original vines date back more than 2600 years.
Known primarily for its rosé wines, red and white wines have also begun to attract worldwide acclaim. Bandol reds are a tannic, full-bodied force to be reckoned with, largely by virtue of its constituent Mourvedre grape variety, which is a local hero. Unsurprisingly, rosé still takes up the lion’s share of production, and the Var is the world’s leading producer of rosé. Not taken seriously for a great number of years, these are now highly accomplished and technical wines which have won over the world’s finest palates.
Whatever the appellation, all Var wines are crafted with passion by winemakers often using age-old family techniques handed down through the generations. From modest vineyards to grand domains of world renown, no to mention local caves cooperatives, they are well worth a visit to taste the wines. Far beyond the local flavours, there is a whole world of history, of men and women, and sun-bathed vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see, often near to age-old villages. There are as many as 300 wine estates to discover in Var along the Vins de Provence wine route.
Christophe Bacquié, Michelin-starred chef
In 2018, Christophe Bacquié, resident chef at Hotel du Castellet, was awarded a much-coveted third Michelin star. A stone’s throw from Castellet Formula One race track, Christophe Bacquié restaurant is a tranquil setting in the heart of Provence, where the chef serves subtle, contemporary cuisine, which provides a modern take on old favourites such as aioli with local vegetables and Mediterranean octopus.
The Var in numbers
Region : Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur
Prefecture : Toulon
Population : 1, 048, 652
Agriculture : France’s leading fig producer
Getting there: By train, Paris – Toulon in 3h 50 minutes. By air, from Paris CDG in 1h 25 minutes.