Sunday, February 2, 2014

Visit to Martigues and a scrumptious lunch at Le Bouchon à la Mer restaurant

I told you here that cousin Annick lives near Rognes but before that she spent some time in Marseille and knows the surrounding area very well. Although she has suggested we visit Martigues several times, the closest we have been was when we drove along the Côte Bleue after a day in Marseille.

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

Martigues door

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

Pleasure boats

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

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
13500 Martigues
Tel: 04 42 49 41 41

Have a great week. Chat soon.


  1. Never disappointed when following your restaurant recommendations Michel, I will keep this one in mind, it looks very tempting!

    1. If you get to Martigues, it is definitely a restaurant you would like, I am very sure.

  2. Michel, can you believe that I have never been to Martigues? It is so close by! And I have always heard that "le vieux Martigues" was I have proof and a restaurant to try to boot. Merci!

    1. We were surprised by how pretty the island section of Martigues is. You should try to get there and if you go, this is a very good choice for a place to dine. Reasonably priced too, which is the best part.

  3. Charming island - I'll bet it was a nice day. That meal looked fantastic as well!

    1. If you make your way along the Mediterranean coast, you should plan to stop here for lunch.

  4. This meal looks tremendous! Those roasted lamb chops look amazing!

    1. The meal was very good; we look forward to returning in the not too distant future.

  5. Wow, that looks like an amazing meal! Another great recommendation to try out :) Thanks as always for sharing!

    1. The meal was very good; nice to find such a good place in Martigues. We will be going back.

  6. This looks wonderful and what a way to spend a day! I'm going to send on to my friend who lives in Aix: a very short trip for her…..

  7. Michel, I'm sorry to report that we ate at Le Bouchon à la Mer before flying home from Marseille a few days ago -- and we were terribly disappointed. Perhaps the restaurant has changed ownership or has a new chef since you ate there. There was only one other couple (German) in the restaurant. When we don't see any locals, it's often a bad sign in our experience. Several items on the menu were not available, and what we did order was not at all good. The pork entree was very tough, and the rabbit plat so tasteless I couldn't eat more than a few bites. The dessert looked and tasted storebought, not home made. We had recently been to Gigondas, where we had some wonderful wine, but the Gigondas served at Le Bouchon was not good at all. We also felt the lunch was overpriced at 39.90 for the menu; it was the most expensive and the worst meal of our 3 weeks in the Vaucluse. But to end on a positive note, we did eat very well at many other places you'd recommended, so this was definitely a fluke. We do very much enjoy your blog and love that area of Provence. (You may recall, by the way, that we met you at Josiane Deal's cheese shop while staying in Vaison.)

  8. Wow, I am really surprised and very sorry to hear that. I looked on line and I see that they didn't keep their Michelin Bib Gourmand this year which means either the prices were too high or the value/quality ratio was no longer there as far as the Michelin inspectors were concerned. They did stay in the Red book which means they are above average. But obviously, you found out something different. Thanks for letting me and the followers of the Blog know about your experience.