Keith Van SickleRestaurant RecommendationsTaste

Enjoy a Seaside Lunch in Niolon on Provence’s Côte Bleue

My wife and I recently enjoyed lunch at La Pergola in Niolon, one of our favourite restaurants. And we found an easy way to get there: by train.

Provence’s Côte Bleue

Niolon is a lovely little seaside village five miles from L’Estaque, the westernmost neighbourhood of Marseille. And even though it is close to one of France’s largest cities, you feel like you are a world away. Niolon is home to just a few hundred people and is built around a calanque, a tiny fjord. Its little port has boats bobbing in the water and beautiful views of Marseille and the Mediterranean coastline.

Niolon view from Pergola

© Keith and Val Van Sickle

Seaside Lunch in Niolon

One of the best things about Niolon is La Pergola restaurant. It sits just above the port, with wonderful views of the water. On a warm day, the pergola overhead provides shade and a light sea breeze, making it a perfect place for lunch.

Seaside Lunch in Niolon

© Keith and Val Van Sickle

The menu is weighted heavily towards seafood, and my favourite is the fresh grilled fish with vegetables on the side. The restaurant also has an excellent panisse, a classic Marseille dish made from chickpea flour. Their small but well-designed wine list offers plenty of choices to match your meal.

La Pergola is very popular, so you are advised to book ahead. The best tables are those along the side next to the port, with the best views.

Seaside Lunch in Niolon

© Keith and Val Van Sickle

More about Niolon

If you visit Niolon, stroll around the port and maybe even put your feet in the water on the small beach.

The one downside of Niolon is the parking: it’s very limited. And because only locals are allowed to drive in town, you have to park well above the town and then walk down to it. This isn’t so bad, but remember you must walk back up after!

My wife and I avoided this by taking the Côte Bleue train (Le Train de la Côte Bleue) between Miramas and Marseille. Part of the route is along the coast, considered one of the prettiest train routes in southern France.

We started our trip in the town of Miramas. The train took about an hour and cost 24 euros for a round trip. Initially, the views weren’t great, but they improved as we approached Niolon with glimpses of the Mediterranean coastline – the Côte Bleue west of Marseille.

If you are staying in Marseille, a trip to Niolon is a nice way to escape the busy city. Trains from the city’s main Saint-Charles station to Niolon take about 20 minutes and cost about 10 euros each way.

Seaside Lunch in Niolon

© Keith and Val Van Sickle

Practical Information

La Pergola Restaurant is open every day. Lunch service begins at noon, and dinner service begins at 19h (7 pm).

La Pergola de la Côte Bleue
13 Chemin de la Pergola
13740 Le Rove

Train de la Côte Bleue
TER Marseille-Miramas railway line
14 return trips daily with 15 stops.
Train fares are often discounted, especially in the summer months.

Côte Bleue Recipes

Panisse Recipe
Made with chickpea flour, panisse is naturally gluten-free and can be enjoyed hot or warmly. Panisse makes a great side dish, or try it as a snack with cocktails.
Check out this recipe
Learn How to Make Panisse
Fried Panisse – Panisses Frites
Panisse is best eaten very hot with a bit of salt and pepper, accompanied by a green salad, as an accompaniment to a dish or as an appetizer, or as a snack instead of socca. Panisse can also be rolled in powdered sugar at the end of cooking for a delicious dessert.
Check out this recipe
Chickpea Flour Panisses Frites
Panisse (Panelle, Sicilian-style) or Chickpea Fritters   
Panisse is very popular in Provence, although a similar recipe can be found in other places along the Mediterranean as I discovered in Sicily. Impress your guests with this salty, yet slightly sweet nibble with cocktails.
Check out this recipe
Panisse Chickpea Fritter Recipe Cote d'Azur Tasha Powell
Marseille Fish Soup - Soupe de Poissons
You will want to make a big batch and freeze what you don’t eat. Making fish soup at home can be a very messy, labor-intensive process. Trust me, you will thank me later for this advice. I usually make a few gallons and then freeze leftovers in quart sized mason jars ready to use at a moments call.
Check out this recipe
Marseille Fish Soup Poissons
Marseille Classic Bouillabaisse
A Bouillabaisse, to be served in perfect conditions, should be prepared for a party of at least 6 to 7. This allows the cook to purchase a wider variety of fish. You will have to be persevere to find all the different types of fresh Mediterranean fish. If you are far from the Mediterranean, use your local white fleshed fish. The recipe proposed here, consists in poaching the bigger fish into the small fish soup. It is the luxury version of the recipe, as it differs from the original fishermen who were simply recuperating the damaged and unsold parts. Follow the steps to create this a gastronomic recipe.
Check out this recipe
Marseille Classic Bouillabaisse

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Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

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