You could have missed the restaurant if you weren’t paying enough attention. Luckily, we were on bicycles, so we saw the little white wooden sign as it emerged from beneath a tree on the front of the property. La Telline.
For my inaugural multi-day cycling trip, we had embarked for 8 days in the South of France. A loop starting from Avignon, going southwards towards the sea, then up and west through Nîmes and Uzès, and back again. We would spend two nights in the Camargue – a preserved wetlands region at the mouth of the Rhône river. The Camargue is known for its rice cultivation, its wild pink flamingos, and its gypsy population in the main city – Saintes Marie de la Mer.
Having done some restaurant research (but not too much) I found mentions of La Telline in a number of places and was charmed but the down-home feel from its website. In red italics at the bottom of the page with a little “no entry” symbol reads the warning “The restaurant does not accept credit cards.” I decided that if we were going to go all-out for one nice (cash only) meal, it should be there. I’d packed a nice-looking skirt that fit smugly over my bicycle shorts, and we set out in the morning from Arles riding along the banks of the Rhône before our lunch.
The interior of the restaurant feels like someone’s home – smartly decorated with antique radios, bullfighting posters from decades past, cast-iron tools, ancient water jugs and drinking glasses. Everything delicate about France that you can spy at garage sale is here – but it’s clean and displayed in an attentive, cozy way.
One of their specialties, of course, is tellines – little oblong clams that can be fished in and around the Camargue. They serve them cooked and cooled in a tall round white ceramic dish, stirred with an aïoli thin enough to not disturb the pleasure of a simple dish of steamed clams.
Another specialty is the grilled bull steak. Bulls are grown in the Camargue to support the local tradition of the ferias, or local festivals featuring bullfights. The bulls that don’t have the right “character” to fight are used for consumption. The meat, grilled in front of us on the fireplace, had that same tender firmness of duck breast – but with a distinctly beef flavor.
I ordered the grilled eel, which was also cooked in front of us on the fire. Both of our main dishes were served with locally grown red rice, and a side dish of sautéed carrots with garlic and shallots.
We enjoyed a locally harvested wine with our meal – first, a white with our starter, and then a red from the same vineyard for the main.
As we finished our lunch, the mood of the restaurant loosened up a bit and the patron and his wife chatted with us.The wine we’d drank was from a vineyard just down the road – we’d passed it on our way in.
Where were we staying? asked the patronne, and as it turned out, our innkeepers were close personal friends of the restauranteurs.
During our two days in the Camargue, we’d come to realize that most of the mom-and-pop tourist businesses all knew each other. When we cycled back to the vineyard to pick up two bottles for our stay, the winemaker also nodded at the name of the inn. “Ah! You’re staying at Irène and David’s place.”
We arrived at the inn and Irène was thrilled we’d had a good lunch – “ce sont nos amis proches !” We enjoyed our dinner that night on the small terrace of our little two-room rental apartment.
Besides the restaurant, and the winemaker, our other favorite food-related visit was the Maison du Riz – founded by a local riziculteur, they sell rice from their own production, as well as beer made with their own rice flour. The red rice beer, in particular, had a nice full flavor, with a hint of sweetness from the rice.
Links for the Camargue:
Restaurant La Telline: http://www.restaurantlatelline.fr/
Mas de Valériole winemakers: masdevaleriole.com
Holiday home Les Mazets du Paty: http://www.lesmazetsdupaty.camargue.fr/
La Maison du Riz: http://www.maisonduriz.com/
and also… excellent bike rental in Avignon: http://www.daytour.fr/?lang=en