Perched high on the hill in a pretty mediaeval village outside Marseille, La Toupine is a family-run restaurant that boasts superb views, high-quality classic French food and great value for money.
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Much in demand in the high season, its terrace, shaded by ancient mulberry trees, overlooks the lake and olive groves around Miramas le Vieux. La Toupine isn't just a summer tourist trap, however.
It has a local reputation which - unusually for a restaurant in this location - allows it to stay open throughout the year. In winter, diners come to enjoy the large but cosy rustic bar with leather Chesterfield sofas and an open fire and the indoor dining room, always with those splendid views.
La Toupine has been around for decades. But it was taken over in 2012 by the young husband and wife team of Sébastien Fontaine (in the kitchen) and Sabrina (front of house). Their short menu, which regularly changes, is based on cuisine traditionnelle with modern touches.
It includes a mid-week lunch-time set menu called Ardoise Repas. We wandered around the restaurant for a bit looking for the slate (l'ardoise) in question, expecting the menu to be chalked up on it in the usual French bistro manner.
But, no: ardoise turned out to refer to the presentation. All three courses arrived at once, neatly arranged on a large slate tray. It was like a very upmarket aeroplane meal, and a neat way of streamlining the service for a quick lunch.
As well as an à la carte line-up, there were several slightly more expensive set menus and we also ordered one called Le Menu des pénitents, which came with an apéritif of kir and a dull nibbles dish of peanuts in the shell. They were the only unimpressive feature of this meal, which otherwise looked stylish and tasted excellent.
We sampled home-made seafood terrine, reblochon cheese in filo pastry (pictured top left), tender grilled squid with red peppers, tortellini with a chorizo sauce, strawberries au gratin (baked in a light spicy custard) and a café gourmand (coffee with four exquisite little dessert samplers).
The restaurant is also well set up for families. It offers a nice children's menu with a choice of main courses, including some healthy ones as well as the requisite burger, and has set up a kids' play area in one corner of the indoor dining room
There's a short wine list and local wines served by the glass or carafe were a steal. The dishes all appeared to be freshly prepared to order so this is not the place to go if you're in a hurry. But you're likely to want to linger.
La Toupine is one of the few feasible day trip destinations from Marseille if you're after a cracking traditional French lunch in an ancient hill village. But you will need to allow plenty of time for the excursion. Pictured: the view from the top of Miramas le Vieux.
Miramas Le Vieux is 55 km / 34 miles north-west of Marseille: to drive there takes about 50 minutes.
The modern centre of Miramas is also served by two train routes from Marseille, the beautiful Blue Coast line and the faster but much less picturesque inland line via Vitrolles and Rognac.
But do be warned that the Old Town lies quite a long way outside the station. So you'll then need to take either a bus (followed by a ten minute walk into the village) or a taxi. Whichever way you come, some uphill walking is involved to get to the restaurant.
By the way, in case you're wondering, a toupine is a local word for an earthenware pot used for cooking and preserving food.
Visited September 2016
Where: La Toupine, rue Mireille, 13140 Miramas le Vieux. Tel: (+33) 4 90 58 21 94. Website for La Toupine.