That all changed one day last fall when I was looking through Michelin's "Bonnes Petites Tables" to find a Bib Gourmand restaurant to try. I noticed one in Martigues and thought it would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. So a quick phone call to make a reservation and off we went.
Martigues is located on a narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Étang de Berre not too far from Marseille Provence Airport. The two are connected by the Caronte Canal, the town's main canal, while other pretty waterways link the three separate "villages" that make up Martigues.
As the name suggests, L'Ile (the Island), sits in the middle of the canal. Here you will find the pretty Madeleine Church as well as Le Bouchon à la Mer restaurant on Quay Lucien Toulmond which runs along Baussenque Canal.
|Le Bouchon à la Mer restaurant|
The two-story restaurant was opened by chef Christophe Perrin 18 years ago when he was 20 years of age. His wife Stéphanie runs the front of the restaurant and serves diners. Upon arrival, we were led upstairs and seated in a room overlooking the colorful fishing boats, already full of hungry diners.
While we studied the menu, we nibbled on olive crisps with sun dried tomato tapenade. Our meal began with the amuse bouche of foie gras over toast with pickled onions seen below.
|Amuse bouche of foie gras over toast with pickled onions|
Check out the rest of our meal.
|Chilled butternut squash soup with wild mushrooms. Finished with crème fraîche.|
|Pan roasted sea bass over onions and leeks|
|Roasted lamb chops with a garlic cream sauce and baby vegetables|
|Pear with puff pastry filled with pastry cream and pear sorbet|
|Apple crumble with vanilla ice cream|
Toward the end of the meal, the chef's wife asked where we were from. I told her about our two homes and mentioned that we had a little bistro in Northern California. The next time she came by she brought champagne from the chef which was very nice and much appreciated.
|Café with chocolate mousse and almond cake|
After our leisurely and very satisfying lunch -- I judge meals based on plating/presentation, ingredients, flavors and service -- we left to tour the sights around the island.
The best way to visit the island is to stroll along the canal and the quays and through the pretty cobblestone streets and squares.
|Baussenque Canal near Le Bouchon à la Mer restaurant|
|Martigues street in the l'Isle (Island) village|
The Madeleine church on Rue de la République seen below, also known as the cathedral because of it's baroque style was built in 1680.
|The Madeleine Church|
|The interior of the Madeleine Church|
First settled by Gallo-Romans in the fifth century BC, Martigues took shape in the Middle Ages. Three fortified villages, Ferrières in the north, L'Ile in the middle and Jonquières in the south, sprung up in this highly strategic location, which controlled access to the Étang de Berre from the Mediterranean.
Anxious to end the rivalry between the villages and to preserve the strength of the site against the Spanish, King Henri III ordered their unification and a treaty was signed on April 21, 1581.
|Shirley standing on bridge near the Madeleine Church|
The island is formed by the main channel splitting into the Canal Galliffet that enters the Étang de Berre beneath the new drawbridge, and the northern Canal Baussengue, now blocked by the ancient swivel bridge.
|Le Miroir aux Oiseaux (Birds' Mirror) area|
The area seen below is called the Miroir aux Oiseaux (Birds' Mirror) and back in the 17th century, fishermen used to live in the colorful old houses lining the banks of the canal.
These houses have inspired a number of painters, including French painter Felix Ziem. He was the most ardent admirer of Martigues; his paintings and works by other contemporary artists can be viewed at the Ziem Museum.
|Pleasure boats line the quay in the Miroir aux Oiseaux (Birds' Mirror) area|
Spick and span, with brightly painted houses and flowers and shrubs everywhere, the heart of Martigues is the island which is bisected by the colorful Saint Sébastien Canal.
|Saint Sébastien Canal looking west|
|Houses along a Martigues canal|
|The Miroir aux Oiseaux (Birds' Mirror) area with Saint Madeleine Church in the background|
The Saint Genest Church seen below was built in 1625.
|The Saint Genest Church|
|Pleasure boats line Quay Brescon|
|Laundry hanging out to dry on a Martigues house|
|A Martigues square|
|Saint in alcove on corner of house in Martigues|
|Shops and cafes along Galliffet Canal|
|Shops and cafes along Galliffet Canal|
|Martigues fisherman heads out to Mediteranean Sea|
|Saint Sébastien Canal looking east|
The young man reads the plate on the monument below which says "To Étienne Richaud, Governor of Indochina, Inspector of Marine and Colonies. Died Wed, May 31, 1889 aboard the "Caledonia". His compatriots and friends wishing to honor the memory of this son of a fisherman elevated by his merit to the highest offices of the French authorities have erected this monument by public subscription."
|Monument to the memory of Étienne Richaud|
The Notre Dame de Miséricorde Chapel seen below was built during the 17th century.
|Notre Dame de Miséricorde Chapel|
From the chapel, there is a panoramic view over the Étang de Berre and the town of Martigues.
|Panoramic view toward windmill and the Étang de Berre|
|Martigues windmill along the Étang de Berre|
I'm not sure that Le Bouchon à la Mer restaurant is so good that it's worth a drive of 1 1/2 hours to get there. But we certainly think it's worthwhile to visit Martiques and the Côte Bleue and if you are in the area, Le Bouchon à la Mer would be a wonderful choice for a place to have lunch or dinner. I assure you that you won't be disappointed.
Le Bouchon à la Mer
19 Quay Lucien Toulmond
Tel: 04 42 49 41 41
Have a great week. Chat soon.