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France Glorious France

Our first stop in France, Vic-La-Gardiole, offered a surprising treasure trove of delicious food.

Sweet little “Vic” is not a typical tourist town. But it’s where Brian spent 2 weeks as a teenager as part of a school exchange program. Ever since, he’s been in touch with his host family, the LeQuangs. Little did we know the food they’d be treating us to.

For over 30 years, the LeQuangs have lived in Vic, which lies just outside Montpelier in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Two years prior, we visited them on a short vacation to France and England. That trip planted a seed for our long-term travels. The LeQuangs are interesting, fun and thoughtful people. We always learn new things from them and we were excited about our visit. By now, we’d been vagabonding for three weeks, sleeping in unfamiliar places and not knowing a soul.

What a welcome respite to finally be somewhere with people we know and love. It felt like coming home.

Arriving after a long overland trip from Madrid, Spain, the LeQuangs spoiled us with a delicious, multi-course home-cooked meal on our first evening. Each course was paired with a different wine. They even served the obligatory post-dessert cheese plate (we need this tradition back in the states.) Limited by our budget, the rare instance of fine dining was a real treat. Lucky for us, this amazing meal was just the beginning of our culinary adventures.

The next morning, the LeQuangs took us to Frontignan, a small pastry shop in the tiny historic center. Fifteen years ago, the same owner had baked a cake for Brian’s birthday during his initial visit. She remembered the blonde, freckled faced American teenager well. His birthday fell on Bastille Day and he only knew two words in French: fromage et feux d’artifice (cheese and fireworks.)

We picked up a cake in honor of King’s Day, a holiday dating back to Roman times celebrating the Wise Men’s visit to baby Jesus.

La Galette des Rois (King Cake) is a round cake made of flaky puff pastry layers and a dense center of frangipane, an almond-flavored cream. Baked inside is a hidden charm and whoever gets the chosen slice is crowned “king for the day.” But that would have to wait as Monsieur LeQuang had a full day of sightseeing planned for us.

We first drove to the impressive Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world. The contemporary structure is a stark contrast to the tiny villages that surround it. One of those villages, Creissels, is where a few of Monsieur LeQuang’s relatives have lived since birth. Continuing on, we pulled off the main road to find a place to eat.

Unbeknownst to us, we’d have our most memorable meal in France in a nondescript brasserie of a tiny country village.

At Bar Restaurant De La Fontaine, we spent over 2 hours indulging in a multi-course gastronomic journey of exotic food. Food we certainly don’t eat every day. Tender gizzards over a bed of greens. Cod fish in a wild mushroom cream sauce. Juicy ostrich burgers with carmelized onions. To-die-for chocolate mousse cake. Even Monsieur LeQuang was surprised by the five-star quality of this unassuming eatery. Yet, there was more food ahead.

At our visit with Monsieur LeQuang’s relatives in Creissels, we were handed decadent brioches baked from scratch upon arrival. They insisted we have some rich, dark chocolate too. We explained how full we were from lunch, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. A tough job, but someone had to eat those delectable homemade treats. And yet, there was still more food ahead.

With full bellies, we headed to Roquefort, the legendary home of blue cheese.

At the Roquefort Caves, we tried samples that ran the gamut in flavors. Musty barnyard. Buttery herb. Sweet caramel. Our favorite was Templar with its creamy texture and strong, balanced finish. We were surprised by the operation’s humble setup. A simple, tiny factory producing world-famous cheese. With a groggy, dairy-induced food coma, we headed back to Vic. Upon seeing how food-weary we were, Madame LeQuang prepared a light soup for dinner. Later, Brian was crowned “king for the day” after receiving the piece of King’s Cake with the charm inside.

Our last night, we celebrated the LeQuang’s 35th anniversary with another amazing meal. This time at Le Phare, a water tower turned restaurant with panoramic views over the town of Palavas. Knowing we’d soon be returning to standard backpacker fare, we savored each and every bite of the luxurious dinner.

Eating is a pastime the French inherently know how to do. And they do it well.

When the time came for us to move on, it was hard to say goodbye. During our stay, the LeQuangs provided us not only with delicious food, but a sense of belonging.The comfort of familiar faces had been a welcome change from our new vagabonding lifestyle. The LeQuangs offered us a home away from home. And if only for a few days, the feeling of family.

Merci beaucoup pour tout, Le Quangs – nous t’aimons.

Food: Bar Restaurant De La Fontaine, Roquefort Caves, Le Phare

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