France’s Route 7: The Road to Paradise

From the charcuterie of Lyon to the Pissa Ladieres of Provence, go on an eating tour across France's most legendary road — Route 7. These photos first appeared in our June/July 2012 issue along with Sylvie Bigar's story The Road to Paradise.

France's Route Nationale 7 covers rich culinary ground, from sun-soaked Provence, with its Mediterranean specialties like nicoise salad... See the recipe for Salade Niçoise » the grand brasseries of Lyon, like Brasserie Georges, in the north.
The author and her family start their road trip in Geneva, join Route 7 in Lyon, and drive until its end in Menton.
After Paris, the first major gastronomic destination on Route 7 is Lyon. Stop by a bouchon, a casual neighborhood restaurant such as La Tornade Blonde, offering simple, hearty fare...
...visit the legendary Brasserie Georges, known for its tableside steak tartare... See the recipe for Tartare de Filet de Boeuf (Steak Tartare) »
...or browse the Marche Saint Antoine, an excellent source for the city's famed charcuterie.
Lining stretches of the Route 7 are platanes, or plane trees, iconic markers of the French road. Though their numbers are dwindling, there are still places where their branches protect drivers from the sun. This one is north of Aix-en-Provence.
A sure sign that you have arrived in Provence, at the southern reaches of Route 7, is the appearance of pissaladieres on restaurant menus and in the markets. This oniony, olive-studded flatbread takes its name from pissala, the traditional anchovy paste that is the defining ingredient of this specialty. See the recipe for Pissaladiere (Caramelized Onion Tart) »
Provence is known for cooking that emphasizes clean flavors and local bounty, with dishes such as herb-laced fish en papillote... See the recipe for Poisson en Papillote (Red Snapper Baked in Packets) »
...but it's equally famous for its street foods, such as socca, a chickpea-flour crepe. See the recipe for Socca (Chickpea-Flour Crepes) »
From tapenade to fresh-pressed oil, Provence is swimming in olives; the town of Nyons on the N7 was the first to receive AOC status for its oils. See the recipe for Tapenade Noire a la Figue (Olive Spread with Figs) »
Flowers are a hallmark of summers in Provence: in abundant, colorful bunches on cafe tables; edible varieties, such as fragrant lavender and coquelicots, wild red poppies, that crowd the markets. In Avignon, acres of sunflower fields line the highways, while Mandelieu-La-Napole on the Cote d'Azur is famous for its mimosa forests.
Chef Fernand Point, the father of modern French gastronomy, named his Restaurant de La Pyramide after the Roman monument in the town of Vienne. In 1933, it was one of the first to win three Michelin stars, and became a destination of Route 7.
Eric Denis has been a waiter at Brasserie Georges in Lyon for the past 39 years. It's the city's oldest restaurant--open since 1836--and its largest, with 550 seats.
The breadth of dining options along Route 7 is among its greatest joys: the outdoor cafes of Aix-en-Provence...
...the Michelin-starred finery of Pic in Valence...
...satisfying truck stops like La Mule Blanche in Tain-l'Hermitage...
...and bistros such as Le Brulot in Antibes, with seasonal dishes like baked red snapper with fennel and tomatoes. See the recipe for Vivaneau Rouge Roti avec Fenouil et Tomates (Red Snapper Baked with Fennel and Tomatoes) »
No journey along Route 7 would be complete without a stop for almond-and-pistachio studded nougat in Montelimar; it's still made at Nougat Arnaud Soubeyran Museum. Parents traveling the N7 would placate their car-bound kids with these sweets.
A woman pauses for her daily bread at Boulangerie La Belle Epoque in Antibes.
At La Citronneraie, an organic citrus farm in the heart of the seaside town of Menton, owner François Mazet reaches for a branch heavy with fruit from one of more than 400 Menton lemon trees in his grove.
The allure of the beaches in the South of France is what compelled vacationing families to make the trip down Route 7. The French Riviera, also known as the Cote d'Azur, accounts for 124 miles of Mediterranean coast. Even Brigitte Bardot traveled down the N7 each summer; she owned a house in St. Tropez, and subsequently made the town famous.
Before the coastal towns on the N7 became glamorous resorts, many of them were fishing villages. In Antibes, commercial fishermen still spend the year harvesting the waters for sardines, daurade, and other local fish.
The release of two affordable cars in the postwar years, the Citroen 2CV and the Renault 4CV, empowered working-class French to take to the road. During peak season along Route 7, it was common to see cars pulled over for a mid-trip picnic.
The covered market in Antibes, brimming with lavender bunches and zucchini blossoms, offers an unexpected delicacy in the form of the jumbo madeleines from the family-run Boulangerie La Belle Epoque. See the recipe for Madelines »
The Route Nationale 7 leads from the temperate climes of Paris to the warmth of the Mediterranean coast, known as the Cote d'Azur. The name was coined by the writer Stephen Liegeard, a reference to the vivid blue color of the sea (Route 7 was also called La Route Bleue for the same reason). Here, the sun shines 300 days of the year.

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